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10-08-2015, 22:47


Originally, the Chinese Communist Party intended to bring an end to the Confucian legacy in modern China. At the root of Marxist-Leninist ideology is the idea of building a new citizen free from the prejudices, ignorance, and superstition of the “feudal” era and the capitalist desire for self-gratification. This new citizen would be characterized not only by a sense of racial and sexual equality but also by the selfless desire to contribute his or her utmost for the good of all. In the words of Mao Zedong’s famous work “The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains,” the people should “be resolute, fear no sacrifice, and surmount every difficulty to win victory.” 6 The new government wasted no time in keeping its promise. During the early 1950s, it took a number of steps to bring a definitive end to the old system in China. Women were permitted to vote and encouraged to become active in the political process. At the local level, an increasing number of women became active in the CCP and in collective organizations. In 1950, a new marriage law guaranteed women equal rights with men. Most important, perhaps, it permitted women for the first time to initiate divorce proceedings against their husbands. Within a year, nearly one million divorces had been granted. The regime also undertook to destroy the influence of the traditional family system. To the Communists, loyalty to the family, a crucial element in the Confucian social order, undercut loyalty to the state and to the dictatorship of the proletariat. At first, the new government moved carefully to avoid alienating its supporters in the countryside unnecessarily. When collective farms were established in the mid- 1950s, each member of a collective accumulated “work points” based on the number of hours worked during a specified time period. Payment for work points was made not to the individual but to the family head. The payments, usually in the form of ration coupons, could then be spent at the collective community store. Because the payments went to the head of the family, the traditionally dominant position of the patriarch was maintained. When people’s communes were established in the late 1950s, payments went to the individual. During the political radicalism of the Great Leap Forward, children were encouraged to report to the authorities any comments by their parents that criticized the system. Such practices continued during the Cultural Revolution, when children were expected to report on their parents, students on their teachers, and employees on their superiors. Some have suggested that Mao deliberately encouraged such practices to bring an end to the traditional “politics of dependency.” According to this theory, historically the famous “five relationships” forced individuals to swallow their anger and frustration (known in Chinese as “to eat bitterness”) and accept the hierarchical norms established by Confucian ethics. By encouraging the oppressed elements in society—the young, the female, and the poor—to voice their bitterness, Mao was breaking down the tradition of dependency. Such denunciations had been issued against landlords and other “local tyrants” in the land reform tribunals of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Later, during the Cultural Revolution, they were applied to other authority figures in Chinese society. The post-Mao era brought a decisive shift away from revolutionary utopianism and a return to the pragmatic approach to nation building. For most people, it meant improved living conditions and a qualified return to family traditions. For the first time in more than a decade, enterprising Chinese began to concentrate on improving their standard of living. For the first time, millions of Chinese saw the prospect of a house or an urban flat with a washing machine, television set, and indoor plumbing. Young people whose parents had given them patriotic names such as Build the Country, Protect Mao Zedong, and Assist Korea began to choose more elegant and cosmopolitan names for their own children. Some names, such as Surplus Grain or Bring a Younger Brother, expressed hope for the future. The new attitudes were also reflected in physical appearance. For a generation after the civil war, clothing had been restricted to the traditional baggy “Mao suit” in olive drab or dark blue, but by the 1980s, young people craved such fashionable Western items as designer jeans, trendy sneakers, and sweat suits (or reasonable facsimiles). Cosmetic surgery to create a more buxom figure or a more Western facial look became increasingly common among affluent young women in the cities. Many had the epicanthic fold over their eyelids removed or even added to their noses—a curious decision in view of the tradition of referring derogatorily to foreigners as “big noses.” Religious practices and beliefs also changed. As the government became more tolerant, some Chinese began returning to the traditional Buddhist faith or to folk religions, and Buddhist and Taoist temples were once again crowded with worshipers. Despite official efforts to suppress its more evangelical forms, Christianity became increasingly popular; like the “rice Christians” (persons who supposedly converted for economic reasons) of the past, many viewed it as a symbol of success and cosmopolitanism. As with all social changes, China’s reintegration into the outside world has had a price. Arranged marriages, nepotism, and mistreatment of females (for example, many parents in rural areas reportedly killed female infants in the hope of having the next one be a son) have returned, although such behavior had likely continued under the cloak of revolutionary purity for a generation. Materialistic attitudes are highly prevalent among young people, along with a corresponding cynicism about politics and the CCP. Expensive weddings are now increasingly common, and bribery and favoritism are all too frequent. Crime of all types, including an apparently growing incidence of prostitution and sex crimes against women, appears to be on the rise. To discourage sexual abuse, the government now seeks to provide free legal services for women living in rural areas. There is also a price to pay for the trend toward privatization. Under the Maoist system, the elderly and the sick were provided with retirement benefits and health care by the state or by the collective organizations. Under current conditions, with the latter no longer playing such a social role and more workers operating in the private sector, the safety net has been removed. The government recently attempted to fill the gap by enacting a social security law, but because of a lack of funds, eligibility is limited primarily to individuals in the urban sector of the economy. Those living in the countryside—who still represent 60 percent of the population—are essentially left to their own devices.