Women and the Cultural Revolution



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Women and the Cultural Revolution
The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), aimed at a complete cultural transformation of China, including on the issue of gender. Yet it was not the first time the Communist regime tried to erase the symbolic differences between gender. A poem written by Mao Tse-tung glorifying women in military uniform was set to music and became one of the popular songs in the 1960s and 1970s. It went roughly as: Spirited and attractive, with a five feet rifle/arriving at the training ground with the first rays of morning sunshine/how magnificently ambitious Chinese women are/they prefer military uniforms to feminine clothes.
During the Cultural Revolution, violence also became women's identity, especially because they wanted to escape from a conventional perception of them as passive and gentle, which were all labeled as "bourgeois" by Mao during the Cultural Revolution. It was not uncommon for girls to interrogate and beat up the "bad elements." Women invariably dressed as men or as male army combatants because it was "considered very glorious." And often, the belt on their uniform became their instrument to beat up their suspects. Rejecting a bourgeois lifestyle and engaging in aggressive, violent attacks both mandated that girls dress like boys, cut their hair like boys, and borrow their fathers (not their mothers') leather belts.
(The above is from Emily Honig, "Maoist Mapping of Gender: Reassessing the Red Guards," 255-268, in Susan Brownell and Jeffrey Wasserstrom eds., Chinese Femininities/Chinese Masculinities: A Reader [Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002])
During the Cultural Revolution, political correctness consisted largely in women wearing the same dark colors as men, keeping their hair short, and using no make-up. On the other hand, men did not have to dress up like women. Therefore, it was women’s symbolic difference from men, reflected in their appearances (clothes, hair style, etc.), that was repressed by the state. Compared with Western feminists who try to deal with gender based on the differences between men and women, in China, gender differences were minimized. In the West, women can protest against their marginalized status. In China, women find their political identity completely determined by how the state defines it and how this definition is implemented by the All –China Women's Federation.
(The above is a paraphrasing from Lydia H. Liu, "Invention and Intervention: The Making of a Female Tradition in Modern Chinese Literature," 149-174, in Susan Brownell and Jeffrey Wasserstrom eds., Chinese Femininities/Chinese Masculinities: A Reader [Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002])


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