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Women’s Movement in China

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China is among the countries where women suffered subordination and domination by men. The sexist ideologies and practices in China originated from the “filial piety” philosophy of Confucius between 551-479 BC which revolved around obedience. Women had to obey men, the same way children were expected to respect elders as did citizens with their rulers. Although the philosophy helped them maintain patriarchal order, it constituted the root cause of women’s subordination in the Chinese societies. Women were mistreated and owned like properties, being sold like slaves or beaten.Female infanticide was practiced. Young girls from the age of five years were put under brutal ritual of forcibly folding their toes using a tight long cloth, a practice known as foot-binding. This was meant to last for the whole life and made girls largely dependant on men for support and sustenance (Wang 2010).

Although women empowerment was officially outlawed in the year 1902 during the reign of Qing Dynasty, it took more years to end. It was the formation of reformist movement that brought the end to the dynasty and foot binding tradition in the end of 19th century. The reformist movement started by some intellectuals who  got their western education and were exposed to understand the anture of human rights and the importance of equality in the society. They started pushing for democratic social system, scientific orientation, equality between women and men, reforms in family and marriage patterns, educational opportunities for women, and labor force participation of women.

The period of women movement during 1910s and 1920s was named May Fourth Feminism. It was the time when most intellectuals protested against the Government corruption and foreign invasion in China. Even though the movement was spearheaded by males, it is known to be  advocated for the liberation of women which would then transform China into a stronger nation. The reformers argued that the problems and underdevelopment of China was due to women’s lack of education, foot-binding and other modes of subordination. It therefore meant that in case China likedto have a strong and healthy population that would makes a bright future, women had to be liberated.

It was the first movement to openly criticize gender stratification in China.  Apart from men  whose number preceded over that of women in the movement, female activists mainly came from the urban sides, not the rural regions. Countryside women only felt a minimal impact of the movement. The efforts of women movement bore fruit during the 1949 revolution when the Government of the Republic of China made a commitment to guarantee gender equality. Other dramatic changes were also witnessed. Article 6 of the 1949 established law of the People’s Republic of China’s constitution stated that:

“The People's Republic of China shall abolish the feudal system which holds women in bondage. Women shall enjoy equal rights with men in political, economic, cultural, educational and social life. Freedom of marriage for men and women shall be put into effect” (Wang 2010).

In the following year two important documents were adopted, helping liberate women’s position in the society. These were the marriage law and the land law. The  first banned prostitution, child and wife battering and concubinage. Marriage was only to be done based on mutual consent. Women realized their freedom constitutionally as this saw women’s independency, divorce freedom that was previously a matter of western nations. Although freedom was laid down in the constitution, most women were not aware and conversant with the constitution and their freedom mainly because of the lack of education and exposure. Women movement then advocated for the constant and intensive training of women about marriage law and their rights of freedom. This resulted in most women breaking their feudal marriages, so that the divorce rates increased in the early 1950s.

Women’s freedom granted them an opportunity to participate in the labor force. Campaigns were carried out by women’s movement to mobilize women to join the China Labor Force. Many women were recruited in various occupations as the job opportunities also increased since the government was at the same time involved in the expansion of industrial economy, rebuilding cities as well as restoring social institutions.  This expansion and development initiated rural-urban migration as women came from countryside to cities to get jobs in the industries such as textile and silk production. More women were attracted to industrial areas and other sectors for employment until they became excess to be supported by the economy by 1953. 

Men, on the other hand, opposed the marriage law. The family conflicts resulted in the increase of murder and suicide amid those women, who wanted to get divorced. It forced the Government to intervene by giving priority to collective stability rather than individual freedom of women. Stiff regulations were put on divorce law and the Government advocated the harmonious family life.  Women were encouraged to be social housewives and perform their domestic duties. This resulted in the reduction of the number of women in the labor force for few years before agricultural collectivization and the start of the Great Leap Forward Movement in 1958.

After 1958 China began to speed up its economic development through technological expansion.. Industrial development attracted women to labor force again. Various service centers such as cafeterias, nurseries and kindergartens emerged, becominga supplement to domestic duties performed by women. An estimated 980,000 nurseries and kindergartens and over 3,600,000 dining-halls were set up in rural areas by 1959.  Great Leap Forward Movement brought women’s Labor Force participation throughout the Cultural Revolution Period of 1966-1976.


Internal migration in China mainly involves the movement of citizens from rural to urban areas. However, it was influenced by the Government who introduced Hukou permanent residence registration system, infrastructure investment, land-sale policies, and the incentives offered to local government officials (Jie, 2011). People tend to move to urban centers in search of employment, education, businesses and higher standard of living. Most facilities especially better ones are located in urban centers for instance colleges and universities, better medical care and industries due to big market in cities. Increased food supply that resulted from agricultural reforms also attracted people to cities. These are some of the pull factors in urban centers in China (Jie, 2011). 

The control of internal migration began in way back in 1952. Only those permitted were able to move between villages and cities that was believed to to prevent them from taking advantage of better living standards in cities. During Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) youths were directed to move back to the countryside for political reasons, eventually being allowed back in 1980s. Authorities relaxed migration rules due to increased food supply in cities in late 1970s and early 1980s. Migration restrictions and residence control were again strengthened by 1984. Migration regulations were revised in 1986 to make it stricter in the effort to control population (Jie, 2011).

Migration restrictions could not work well with agricultural responsibility system. Rural-urban migration therefore continued and rapid urbanization flourished. A new method of population control was adopted by the Government that was realized via Household Registration System. The main aim was to promote the development of the small towns and centers. This could not however deter people from moving to urban cities to meet their needs especially for education and employment purposes. However, government granted a controlled number of people temporary migration for a specified period of time ranging for days, months or few years. This helped unemployed agricultural workers to seek jobs in cities and help develop their local rural-based towns or urban centers (Jie, 2011).

Temporary migration to cities was of great benefit to the local citizens, being controlled by the   Government. Some individuals would still find their way to such cities without permission granted by the Government. For instance, the survey done in April 1985 showed that non-resident population in eight selected areas of Beijing was 12.5% of the total population. It also showed that people entered or left Beijing 880,000 times per day (Jie, 2011).  Neighborhood committees and work units  were required  to keep records of visitors. Those who stayed for a period of three day had to be registered, while any longer stay would need a permit from police stations. 

The frontier regions of China were less populated and as early as 1950s the Government started funding migration for land reclamation, industrialization, and construction in those regions in order to attract people. Many migrants were moved to outlying regions such as Inner Mongolia Autonomous region and Qinghai Province to secure jobs in factories and mines. Others went to Xinjiang Autonomous region and Heilonijiang Province to develop agriculture and industry. Much of the resettled population was unable to survive in the harsh living conditions and failure to adjust to frontier life and lack of government support. This caused unbalanced population distribution in 1986 but the government continued to encourage migration to frontier regions (Jie, 2011).

The floating population has been a major concern for the Government of the Republic of China. Huge number of people moves from less economically developed to developed areas. Generally, the main moves are made from western and central regions to the eastern and coastal parts of China, where development and economic opportunities is higher. The need for large agricultural labor force is reduced in these regions. Government has only relaxed residency regulations, having not done away with migration control restrictions. This means that floating populations has no permission to permanently reside in unregistered places, particularly cities. A survey conducted in 2005 reported that floating population increased tremendously within a decade of 19993-2003 from 70 million to 140 million respectively. Analysis revealed that it accounted for over 10% of the National population and 30% of all rural laborers (Jie, 2011). The 2000 People’s Republic of China Census showed that majority of the floating population is youths. Young and middle aged account for 70% of the total floating population (Jie, 2011). This is because these age groups are the working groups and energetic to move in search for “greener pastures”.

However, migratory issue is not acute only within, but also across the boarders of China boarder. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 2,000 Tibetans cross into Nepal annually. North Koreans also cross into Northeastern China. However China government is not interested in offering asylum to immigrants. For instance, in 2004 when 1,850 North Koreans fled their country to China, they were not considered as refugees but sent back while those who found themselves in international institutions or places were directed to South Korea (Jie, 2011).


The 1949 victory of the Communist Party of China brought about radical changes in agriculture. Agricultural lands were repossessed by the Government and redistributed to the 300 million landless peasant farmers (Xiao-Yuan Dong, 2006). The Government then realized that individual ownership of the land was not any longer agriculturally productive. Peasant farmers were organized into various teams which later combined into cooperatives with the aim of increasing agricultural production through collective ownership of land.  The Government later took control of the lands in order to restructure them into large and collective farming 1956.

In 1958, Mao Zedong initiated Great Leap Forward campaign that saw Government gain control over farm lands in oreder to increase agricultural production. Collective ownership was transformed to communes, while private food production and collective eating were burned. At the same time, industrialization rather than agriculture was given first priority. This led to the great Chinese famine which resulted in deaths of many people. Later in 1962, private farm land ownership was re-instated, but communes were still the dominant agricultural organization until early 1980s when they were replaced by townships (Xiao 2006).

Communes were totally dismantled in 1978 when Family Production Responsibility System was created. All agricultural lands and responsibility were handed over back to family and individual households. Households are therefore free to use their respective given lands as they wish to include leasing provided that they abide by the required crop quotas. Individuals are now able to meet their individual needs.  Chinese government also has various irrigation projects such as Three Gorges Dam irrigation project that is used in large state farms. The project also encourages mechanization and fertilizer usage.

Approximately 99% of farm production teams adapted the Family Production Responsibility System and the next Government’s task was to liberate agricultural pricing and marketing. Mandatory procurement was replaced with voluntary contracts between the farmers and the Government. Old grain rationing was abolished in 1993 and this increased the annual products sold at market determined prices. Agricultural policy changes were instituted in 1994 including artificial increase of grain prices above market levels. This was meant to limit grain importation into China. Grain production increased but the government had burden in maintaining the prices (Xiao 2006).

"Governor’s Grain Bag Responsibility System" policy came in 1995 to hold provincial governors responsible for balancing grain supply and demand, alongside stabilizing grain prices in their provinces. The grain policy placed monetary burden on the Government, but it was relieved in 1997 by “Four Separations and One Perfection" program. In spite of the immense agricultural contribution to the development of China, industrialization and modernization affects agriculture in China by reducing agricultural land. Agricultural lands are converted to industrial and urban areas due to urban expansion. This has displaced farmers who are only left with an option to migrate to those urban centers in search of factory jobs . Other farmers who have not succeeded in industrial jobs feel deprived of their agricultural privilege by industrial encroachment.

China has also made use of its innovation in organic agriculture. The advantage of organic agriculture embraced by China is its multipurpose nature. It is used in food safety, export opportunities, health benefits, providing price premiums for the production of rural communities. This has also made it practice very intensive type of farming. Only 15% of its total land area is cultivated for agriculture. Despite its small cultivatable land, it has been producing the world’s largest agricultural output. The arable land is only 10% and is able to support over 20% of the world’s population. Only 1.2% of the total arable land supports crops while the remaining parts are extensively irrigated. The land is fairly distributed to about 200 million households, with an average land allocation of 1.6 acres (Wang 2003).

China has tried to solve its problem of limited farm space through irrigation and also tried to expand other regions such as west and north with little success. These areas are very dry and colder in comparison tothe eastern parts of the country. The only option to make these regions productive is to increase industries and cities development.  The expansion of the cities and increased number of population has forced the administrative districts of various cities such as Beijing to adopt periurban agriculture. Such adoption has led to the increase of food production particularly more than 70% non-staple food like vegetables and milk (Garnaut & Song, 2006). Agricultural developments have not only resulted in the improvements of quantity of food, but also the quality of food production. Urban agriculture has also done experiments in Modern agricultural Science Demonstration Park in Xiaotangshan.

China produces both food crops and cash crops. About 75% of China's cultivated area is used for food crops. Examples of cash crops production include rice, wheat, sweat potatoes, white potatoes. Rice is China's most important crop, grown on well over 25% of the arable lands. Rice is mainly grown in the Yangtze valley southern of the Huai River. The staple food is also grown in the provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunna and Zhu Jiang delta. Similarly, wheat is grown in most parts of the country, especially on the North China Plain, the Wei and Fen River valleys on the Loess plateau, and in Sichuan, Hubei and Jiangsu provinces. Millet and corn are also grown in the northeast China, while oat is grown in Inner Mongolia and Tibet. Sweet potatoes are prevalent in the south, while white potatoes are found in the north. China also grows fruits and vegetables such as tropical fruits on Hainan Island, pears and apples in Liaoning and Shandong, and citrus fruits grown in South China. Other food crops include green and jasmine teas, black tea, sugarcane and sugar beets (Xiao 2006). Cash crops include Oil seeds such as Chinese soybeans, peanuts, sesame, sunflower, rapeseed and tungtree seeds which supplies edible and industrial oils and forming a large share of agricultural exports.

Livestock farming is also common in China,mainly in rural areas. Livestock kept in China includes pigs, fowl, sheep, goats, and camels raised by nomadic herders. Other includes cattle, horses, mules, donkeys and water buffalo, the latter  of which is unique as buffaloes are mainly wild animals in most parts of the world. These buffaloes are also used in the production of milk. The increase incomes and demand for meat, particularly pork, has led into an increased demand for the development and subsequent supply of hybrid livestock.

Aquaculture which is breeding of the fish in ponds and lakes is practiced in China and accounts for more than half of output in fishing industry. The main aquaculture-producing regions are close to urban markets in middle and lower Yangtze valley and the Zhu Jiang delta China accounts for about a third the total fish production of the world. Fishing is also done in the coastal region of China.


People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Public Health controls activities related to health care. The Ministry regulated a network of industrial and state enterprise hospitals and other facilities, covering the health needs of workers of those enterprises. Currently, China is undertaking reforms on its heath care system. Various initiatives are undertaken to ensure citizens benefit from health sector. For instance, the New Rural Co-operative Medical Care System (NRCMCS) is a 2005 initiative to overhaul the healthcare system in an attempt to increase its affordability in the rural areas. The improved health status of China can be supported by the lower fertility rate and low infant mortality rate. However, in 2005 about 80 percent of the health and medical care services are concentrated in urban centers. This denies 100 million Chinese living in rural areas an access to health facilities and timely medical care. The Government made an effort to initiate a 20 billion project aiming to rebuild rural medical service system, composed of clinics and township and county-level hospitals.

China mostly depended on traditional herbal medicine in its longest history. Even today Chinese people still use traditional medicine alongside the western medicine. They have also received the western medical training and offers primary care giving in the clinics and pharmacies in rural and urban areas. The goal of China's medical professionals is to synthesize the best elements of traditional and Western approaches. The effort to integrate these two types of medication faced challenges. Traditional medicine men and physician trained in western modern medication have in some occasions differed as both don’t believe in the other medicine. Few physicians are able to be competent in both traditional and modern western medicine. Some hospitals offer only modern medication, while  others  have both departments of traditional and modern medication.

Medical issues in China include sex education, contraception and women’s and children’s health. Chinese are not free to discuss sex issues due to their cultural conservatism. They feel that sex education should be limited to biological science. Young unmarried women and girls who migrate to the cities engage in unsafe sexual act due to ignorance about contraception. This coupled with the impacts of one-child policy has increased the incidences of abortion.

Some of the public health problems faced by China include severe acute respiratory (SARS), HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB), mental health and malnutrition among children.  Contagious SARS first hit China in 2002 in Guangdong and caused deaths. However, a vaccine was developed and first testing round completed in 2004. Despite the announcement made by World Health Organization that China was free from SARS, citizens still live in fear. HIV/AIDS also affects people of China just like any other country.

According to the findings of 2005 WHO survey, about one million Chinese were infected with HIV leading to 150,000 AIDS related deaths per annum. The report further states that Tuberculosis (TB) is a major public health predicament in the country, since China records the second highest rate of tuberculosis epidemic in the world after India.  Mental illness affects Chinas’ population and the sector of mental health service experience various challenges such as dilemma in human rights versus political control. About 100 million people have mental problem with varying degrees. The 2008 Chinese children Nutrition and Health Conditions survey shows that rural children especially from West China were also shorter by 4 centimeters and 0.6 kilograms short of the World Health Organization standards.

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