The Impacts of the 1950 Marriage Law on Chinese Women
Banner Photo Credits: New Marriage Law (1950) Poster Collection via https://chineseposters.net/themes/marriage-law
Chinese women went from having their femininity dictated to being feminists for the 1950 Marriage Law. Mao Zedong, through his Maoist ideology, created social change with the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. He combated historical Confucianism and brought women closer to equality. The 1950 Marriage Law had limited impact when it was first instituted, yet the law redefined women’s roles for the future.
Confucianism was an old world ideology that went against Chairman Mao’s goal of social equality. An example of Confucianism is the traditional Chinese cosmology of Yin and Yang. Yin represented feminine and the moon which was weak and passive.1 Yang, on the other hand, referred to masculine and the sun which was strong and open.2 Women were in lesser positions from birth through this ideology.
The 1950 Marriage Law was how Chairman Mao aimed to bring more equality. The law has four notable sections.
“General Principles,” provides an overview of the law stating that the new marriage system is based on free choice in marriage, monogamy, equality, and protection.3
“The Marriage Contract” explains how marriage must now be voluntary and also created new age minimums for marriage. Men could marry at twenty years old and women at eighteen.
“Rights and Duties of Husband and Wife” redefined the roles in the household. A married couple had rights to the other’s inheritance, free choice in work and activities, and were to love and assist each other.4 This granted the wife more freedom in their personal life and also gave more financial rights.
The “Divorce” section was important and gave women the ability to leave a marriage without stigma of being impure from consummating a previous marriage.5 Women were also now protected in divorce. For example, a husband cannot divorce his pregnant wife.
Maoism is what made the 1950 Marriage law have impact. A key feature of Maoism is the mass line, which was intended to keep the people in control. The masses would first express their desires by participating. Then, the leader followed the expressed desires.6
The Land Reform Movement reorganized property rights and gave women more control over their own.7 Women now had more freedom, and could then take more advantage of the 1950 Marriage Law. Female jobs, education, and politics expanded. Then, the home lives of women expanded. Chores and responsibilities were being split between husband and wife since women worked outside the home more.8
The successor to the 1950 Marriage Law was the 1980 Marriage Law. The 1950 and 1980 Marriage Law are identical other marriage age changing from twenty-two years-old for men and to twenty for women.9 The latest law restates the previous law, with only a few alternations.
There was resistance to the 1950 Marriage Law. Older women did not want to lose their higher status in the family and be equal to their daughters-in-law. 10 Yet, the law did not fail. Women’s movements grew and social structures changed.
Rural areas also received these changes. There was natural spreading of the message with women who worked in the city but lived in the countryside bringing back information.11 More people were drawn to the city with industrialization. China was actively becoming more unified with the new communism format.
The marriage law normalized divorce. The rates were high when the law was first instituted, but dropped back down a few years later.12The higher divorce rates were due to women escaping unhappy marriages and they lowered as the law became more accepted.
The 1950 Marriage Law created a lasting effect on the lives of Chinese women. Understanding the marriage law and the growth of women in China created an understanding of China’s evolution. Women are tied to the larger aspects of economy, social order, and the government. The female development in these areas caused them to be redefined in a way that remains today.