Dare to struggle, dare to win; women hold up half the sky.
Mao Zedong, 1968
The rise of communism opened new avenues for women in China. This can be seen in the 1953 print depicting traditional versus modern marriage. The series of panels on the right shows the traditional marriage – a woman in a domestic setting as her mother arranges her marriage. A woman was taught from a young age to be submissive to her father before being passed to a husband selected by her parents. Women cared for the men, seen in the second image, in which a wedding banquet is depicted. Due to the significant role that families played in marriage and because of women’s financial dependence on men, divorce was hard for women to attain. Strained marriages were not uncommon, as is seen in the lower three panels.
With the Communist takeover in 1949, women gained a greater degree of autonomy. The tradition of foot binding was universally banned. The New Marriage Law of May 1950, the first law passed in the PRC, required both individuals to consent to a marriage and made divorce easier for women. Communist rule also encouraged women to find work outside the home and to attend school. Mao Zedong’s famous quote, “Women can hold up half the sky”, reinforced government support for equality between the sexes. Women joined the Red Guard, wearing the same uniforms as men, thus visually presenting themselves as equals. Greater participation in education, labor, and society allowed women to be a part of traditionally masculine activities. The change is seen in the image “A Good Daughter of the Poor Peasants”. While Chinese women have made great strides since 1949, officials today acknowledge that more needs to be done to maintain this progress.