The Role of Women in the Great Leap Forward

The era of “The Great Leap Forward” was a time of social and
economic campaign in China spearheaded by Mao Zedong under the umbrella
of Communist Party of China. This campaign was aimed at transforming the
country from the traditional agrarian economy to a modernized communist
economy in social status. The paper will highlight the input of
women’s participation in Chinese revolution during Mao’s era. The
role of women in this revolution brought remarkable progress and changes
for the people of china. This comprehensive research will discuss
women’s contribution in legal status, education, political
development, and economic progress.
During the revolution, in 1958, China focused on making speedy steps for
industrialization in order to put up with with capitalist states in the
region and beyond (Lee and Guobin 24). In this period, China was
occupied by foreign authorities who had been in china beyond a hundred
years. The Soviet Union was funding development projects throughout
china under Nikita Khrushchev, head of the Soviet Union in china (Ebrey
23). Mao and Nikita came to a point that they differed in their
political ideologies that lead to Nikita withdrawing the projects from
china. After the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, China lost the facility
to continue with these projects. According to Andors, Chinese economic
progress was performing “poorly due to the corrupt political
It was in the course of this historical period that Mao Zedong, the
prime frontrunner of the communist party began a revolution with the
goal of developing China on capitalism (Andors 12). Mao believed that
china had the capacity to develop on itself without the support of the
Soviet Union. The project brought some essential reforms yet, on the
other hand, disastrous moments were witnessed in Chinese economy.
Zedong’s political plan was met with hostilities in some quarters. He
had proposed policies that would propel china to make a massive leap
forward economically. However, during the implementation of these
policies, a crisis was generated throughout China resulting in a
widespread disaster after his death (Andors 37). His plan had failed in
the implementation stage, and there was a total collapse of all systems
of governance. The country experienced acute famine in the aftermath and
so people were doomed to hunger.
The Role of Women
The “Great Leap Forward” program had many benefits in women’s
movement, in china. Because of their extreme low status in china, they
had suffered seriously just like many women in other parts of the world.
The “filial piety” of the women, in china, subjected them in total
abuse of their rights as equal citizens (Lee and Guobin 29). They
experienced abusive practices like wife beating, female infanticide, and
sale of women. At the time, china was considered to be the most brutal
towards women in the world. In the cause of time, educated women in
china began advocating for democracy which would provide for equal
rights. Their main motivation in advocating for women liberation was to
revolutionize the Chinese society, and make it stronger and equal for
both genders than was before (Ebrey 23).
They apportioned blame of poor Chinese economy to poor a family
structure that undermined women. Women without education as Ebrey argues
could not “bring up a healthy family” (134). Their future was also
grim and hopeless without education. Consequently, the need to liberate
women against humiliation was developed with the few educated ones
spearheading the push. The “Great Leap Movement” in china was a
landmark season in Chinese women history. This season brought profound
benefits and developments to women. On February 1960, women federation
of china convened the second executive delegation of women. In this
conference, women’s role in “The Great Leap” was improved and
adjusted (Lawrance 122).
Economical Participation
Lawrence, states that, although the end of The Great Leap Forward
Movement was disastrous, women’s labor force and “their
participation in national building were increased substantially. During
this time, there were establishments of communal kitchens in the effort
of freeing women to work in agricultural fields. Women participation in
agriculture was increased during this season. Women labor force was
mobilized to contribute in rural development (Andors 56). Their role in
rural development was mainly in intensive land cultivation through
cooperatives and communal service groups. Out of this mobilization,
women’s participation in Chinese development rose to 60 percent.
Mao’s belief that a woman can as well do what a man can do seemed to
be the motivation behind the inclusion of women in the workforce.
Another productive role that women undertook was on domestic labor,
which included shoe making, sewing, food processing, and child care.
Women’s participation in the workforce brought substantial gains in
the overall national production. According to Wemheuer and Kimberley,
inclusion of women in the workforce improved “their social status and
financial standing in life” (47). Their participation earned them
economic independence thereby improving their image in the society
(Andors 87). The general public attitude towards women and their social
identity changed. Working women were praised for being part of Chinese
Formal education before the revolution was reserved for men. There were
a high number of illiterate women especially in rural china where formal
education was traditionally a reserve for men. However, numerous
campaigns were conducted to combat women illiteracy around the country.
In Mao era, women were given equal treatment in education for the first
time, enhancing their roles in the education sector (Hershatter 40).
These campaigns resulted in a sharp decrease of illiteracy among women.
Educated women took up roles in various companies and political
positions to foster national building, which was most needed during this
great revolution (Andors 123).
Political participation
Mao launched an added campaign to include women in politics of the
country. This was part of his policy that targeted gender equality.
Educated women were given political positions as part of this policy.
“Cadre management system” ensured that women got political positions
by being appointed to these positions by the state (Hershatter 45). This
system enabled women to participate fully in political scenes. The only
thing that stood on the way for women not to be appointed for political
positions was illiteracy which resulted from previous denial of
education for women. However, women’s future participation in
political structures was well assured with the necessary education. They
were well accommodated in the political structures, and the impact of
their service could not be denied (Andors 123).
In this study, the role of women during the “Great Leap Forward” was
highly significant to achieve the goals the revolution although
political mismanagement collapsed these efforts. During Mao’s era, the
presence of ladies in the work place created high revenue collection and
speeded the goal of the revolution. Education of women, on the other
hand, assured the country an added workforce and talents for positive
developments of the Chinese future. Undoubtedly, there were greater
achievements of the entire country following the participation of women
in all sectors of society.
Works Cited
Andors, Phyllis. The Unfinished Liberation of Chinese Women: 1949-1980.
Bloomington: Indiana university press, 1983. Print.
Ebrey, Patricia B. Chinese Civilization and Society: A Sourcebook. New
York: Free Press [u.a., 1981. Print.
Hershatter, Gail. Women in China`s Long Twentieth Century. Berkeley:
Global, Area, and International Archive, 2007. Print.
Lawrance, Alan. China Under Communism. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.
Lee, Ching K, and Guobin Yang. Re-envisioning the Chinese Revolution:
The Politics and Poetics of Collective Memories in Reform China.
Washington, D.C: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2007. Print.
Wemheuer, Felix, and Kimberley E. Manning. Eating Bitterness: New
Perspectives on China`s Great Leap Forward and Famine. Vancouver: UBC
Press, 2011. Print.