notably, I was struck by the extent of
active participation of people in their
social, economic and political affairs and
the determined spirit and varied capabilities in their work.
Our entire delegation looked at the
PRC's child care system with perhaps a
little envy when we reflected upon child
care in our own country. We were amazed
by the number of support systems provided for working women.
My greatest surprise in China was to
see the progress made by women in neighborhood organizations and in their daily
lives. That is the focus of my story.
"Before the revolution in Old China, life
for the people was like a deep well full of
bitter water, the woman was at the bottom of all," an old woman told us.
Footbinding lasted more than a thousand years. In Peking (Peijing) I met five
women whose feet had been bound. I visited them at their early morning exercise
time for six days. Their ages ranged from
50 to 65 years. Some of them could not
walk. Others could walk with a cane.
When they did, their weight was on their
Footbinding, an excruciating and crippling custom, was forced upon little girls
between the ages of three and 12. It was a
prerequisite to a proper marriage.
"The tiny and fragile appearance of
the foot aroused in the male a combination of lust and pity. He longed to
touch it, and being allowed to do so
meant that the woman was his."
(Chinese Footbindings by Howard S.
Footbinding was more prevalent
among the middle and upper classes.
However, in an attempt to emulate the
upper classes, lower class women also
One historical account gives a Chinese
husband's view of footbinding.
"I am timid, and my voice plays me
false in gatherings of men. But to my
footbound wife, confined for life to
her house except when I bear her in
my arms to her planquin, my stride is
heroic, my voice is that of a roaring
lion, my wisdom is of the sages. To her
I am the world; I am life itself."
How did a little girl feel about footbinding? The following records her
"Mother betrothed me at the age of
nine to a neighbor named Chao, and I
went to the home of my future husband. My mother-in-law bound my
feet much more tightly than mother
ever had, saying that I still hadn't
achieved the standard. If I unloosened
the binding, I was beaten until my
body was covered with bruises. Mother-
in-law insisted that the foot must become inflamed to get proper results.
Day and night, my feet were washed
in a medicinal water. Within a few
washings I felt special pain. Looking
down, I saw that every toe but the big
one was inflamed and deteriorated.
Mother-in-law said this was all to the
good. I had to be beaten with fists before I could bear to remove the bindings, congealed with pus and blood. To
get them loose, such force had to be
used that the skin often peeled off,
causing further bleeding. I suffered
indescribable pain. Being in an average
family, I had to go to the well and
pound mortar unaided.
Eventually my feet were only three
inches long. Relatives and friends
praised them, little realizing the cisterns of tears and blood which they
had caused. My husband was delighted
with them, but two years ago he departed this world. The family wealth
was dissipated, and I had to wander
about looking for work.
I envy the modern woman. If I too
had been born just a decade or so later,
all of this pain could have been avoided. The lot of the natural-footed woman and mine is like that of heaven and
Including her forced economic dependence, much was involved in the oppression of Chinese women. As one old foot-
bound woman said, "Better eat than
feet." Little wonder that the All-China
Women's Federation was organized six
months before the People's Republic was
founded. It is easy to understand why the
women's movement spread rapidly in
The women organized teams to visit
families where women were treated badly. They arranged meetings for all women
in the village and persuaded each other
that, if united, women would be treated
better. If a woman were beaten by her
husband for attending such meetings, the
women would go in a group to confront
the husband, and in some cases, beat him.
The women's association went through
this first stage in order to ensure security
for women who joined the revolution. To
this day, we were told, collective structures, societal pressures and marriage laws
provide support for women.
The All-China Women's Federation
Our closest contact with the Chinese
women was the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF). It extends over all of
China, in both urban and rural areas. The
organization's overall goals are to reduce
the burden of domestic work for women,
to provide a support system which includes a paying job, health care, child
care, educational opportunities and to encourage political involvement. ACWF has
a great concerh for world peace and
maintains contacts with women in other
In an interview with Professor Le Zhe-
shing, the group's vice-president, we
learned that the original purpose of this
organization was to eliminate polygamy
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and feudal practices relating to women.
Now it works for modernization and social development in connection with the
needs of women.
Their current priority is to develop
and consolidate new family concepts.
This goal is directly concerned with the
best age for marriage. Professor Le Zhe-
shing said, "The big question now is over
age. Some people say boys and girls
should marry young because of health,
others say they should marry older in
order to practice family planning." She
explained how the neighborhood organizations hold meetings, discuss the issue
and bring their questions to the upper
level of the organization. The higher level
then meets with the people to answer
Since birth control practices are very
acceptable in China, I found it difficult
to reconcile delayed marriage with family
Care and Socialization of the Children
In China, beginning in the nursery,
children have many people care for them.
The child care centers are open 24 hours
a day. They are either free, almost free,
or in many cases paid for by the parent's
place of employment. Child care in China
is not the exclusive responsibility of parents. It is the responsibility of the entire
This creates a bond between child and
the larger community. The relationship
seems to encourage the children to have a
good self-concept. When one member of
our delegation asked, "How do you help
the children develop such good self-concepts?" their reply was simple: they
cared for their children.
As part of the neighborhood organization, specific systems are being designed
and carried out by workers' teams. In this
way, childrearing is done collectively.
Each production unit plans for the education and care of their children. They decide how much to pay the teachers, if
fees will be charged, and the amount and
cost of health care.
Because they are involved in planning
and maintaining such a system, I asked
the parents how they felt about the child
care provided. The interpreter replied,
"They like it. They know the teachers are
trained to be gentle with the children,
whereas the grandparents, from Old
China days, sometimes spank the children." (Corporal punishment is not allowed in the PRC.)
In the centers, we observed the teachers and workers treating children with
warmth, kindness, and respect. When
asked about the teacher's training and
qualifications, the response was, 'The
teacher must know how to sing, or play
a musical instrument and love children."
At the kindergarten level, there is an emphasis on music and dance. Everywhere
we went children entertained us. When
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asked what other things the children
learned, I was told, "They learn to do for
themselves." They acquire personal autonomy quickly.
Children of all ages decide which
neighborhood work to take on as a group.
Even kindergarten children are involved
in productive labor which is related to
their family situation and/or employment.
The work might be as simple as sticking
labels on a package, watering plants on
the farm, or assembling a simple cardboard box. Apparently, this early participation is not an attempt to capitalize on
every available source of labor but to
teach children, from the beginning, that
work is useful to society. Consequently,
the children's first contact with work is in
a collective atmosphere of production
and workers. A worker from their neighborhood will go to the kindergarten or
school to instruct the children in these
The older children are provided numerous responsibilities such as, forming
work teams to clean streets, to do housework for families, conduct education
campaigns or to teach people about preventive medicine. These tasks are the sole
responsibility of the children.
Another example of the relationship
between children and adults is the representation of children at neighborhood
meetings. School children elect fellow-
pupils to represent their worker's team
and they attend meetings. In this way,
children participate in leadership and re
spect is shown to them in the collective
By experiencing a different lifestyle,
there's an emphasis on developing interpersonal skills among children. As an example, students often spend their summer
doing "farm or factory work." It may
sound unpleasant but it introduces children to a wider spectrum of society.
According to our three young interpreters, working with the peasant families
helped them learn about life in the country, to appreciate work and the different
areas of food production.
In China, considerable attention is
given to eliminating the absolute dichotomy between school and work. The importance of learning, as it relates to the collective good, is stressed. University students as well as those in the public
schools participate in the "farm or factory work" system.
agricultural and industrial work and for
cultural, educational and health work.
The number of people in these administrative units vary.
Each commune is run by a committee
which is responsible to a regional committee, then to provincial and ultimately
to the central government. However, at
each place we visited, it was stressed that
each commune is relatively free to decide
how to best achieve its goals. For their
achievement and production, they receive
pay and social support.
We visited the Fusuijing Neighborhood,
or residential committee. The Fusuijing
Neighborhood is part of Beijing's West
District and is under a regional committee
that administers 20,000 households with
77,000 people. In this unit there are 34
residential committees. The Fusuijing
Residential Committee cares for five to
six hundred households.
Then there are usually street committees and sub-committees for every 3 to 5
streets with a group leader on each street.
These committees are self-governing and
the leaders are elected. Many of the leaders are aged women and retired workers.
This highly developed network of ^neigh-
borhood offices serve as coordinating and
communication links from the grass roots
to the top. It is this mechanism which allows people to feel "a part" of the system
as an effective, productive citizen.
Mr. Liu Wen-yi, the vice director of
the neighborhood administrative office
described the committee's tasks as follows: to provide residents with health
care, education and sanitation; to encourage unity among neighbors; to set up
small repair shops, and to provide assorted support services for workers and to
organize all students for after school activities.
I was told that the high mobility factor among Chinese does not alter this
close, cohesive organizational structure.
The Chinese are moved to various administrative units where neighborhood committees make decisions for the collective
good. The collective goal is to work in
four areas of modernization which are:
agriculture, industry, national defense,
science and technology.
The Collective System
Dating back to the revolution, the
ACWF's neighborhood organizations are a
part of the total collective system in the
PRC. All people are organized into administrative units for political, economic,
Support Systems for Working Women
In 1959, large numbers of housewives
joined the workforce. They formed
groups to organize the domestic work.
Now, women are no longer solely responsible for housework. A wife is assisted by
communal work groups, and her husband.
This support is considered so important
that an article in the Marriage Laws was
designed for working women to provide
protection from extensive housework.
Understanding the importance of women's
contribution to market production and
family life is clearly reflected in what the
Chinese refer to as "guarantees for the
Although the PRC is now rewarding
couples who agree to have only one child,
the woman is "guaranteed" two, 56-day,
paid, maternity leaves. In addition, her
work assignment is modified to accomodate nursing her baby. We were also told
during several interviews that women
were assigned lighter work during menstruation.
In an interview with an American
woman in Beijing who had lived in China
for over 40 years, we learned that if a
husband does not help his wife with
housework, she can divorce him. This
woman said she is considered a respected
citizen in the PRC and is sometimes asked
to serve on the neighborhood court. She
related events regarding a divorce case in
which she participated as an official of
The trial was held in the neighborhood.
The person serving as judge, and two
peers, one man and one woman, sat on a
raised platform, a space set aside for this
purpose. The neighbors, family, relatives
and factory workers were in the room.
The woman who was seeking divorce said
she worked all day at the factory, came
home to domestic duties, and when she
asked her husband to help, he said, "No.
That is your role." She tried to convince
him that under the new system he was
supposed to help, but he said, "I like the
old ways best."
Everyone there discussed the problem
and decided that the woman should go
live in the factory dormitory while the
neighbors, relatives and factory workers
gave the husband instructions in modern
After several weeks of instruction the
people had "broken through the husband's feudal thinking" and impressed on
<him the importance of effective relations
and a happy home life. They suggested
that the wife go home. She did, and was
greeted "by a very friendly, smiling face,
and a clean house." She dropped her case
Professor Le Zhe-shing of the ACWF
told us that among the older generation,
some men are reluctant to share the
housework but it was very rare for persons under 40 because they grew up with
the new ideology. She said divorce was
allowed, but first the neighborhood
worked for reconciliation. "Some couples
have different opinions, but sometimes
stay married," she said.
The Chinese women reported with
satisfaction that the divorce rate is low
now, one out of every 100. Whereas, immediately following the revolution, many
arranged marriages were dissolved.
One official of a neighborhood administrative office said, "The residents know
each other and this gives a sound basis for
decision making." They realize the importance of living in harmony.
One American woman living in China
pointed out without complaint, "This is
a socialist society and you devote your
best energies to improve the group or collective life."
Peggy Chausse was selected by the People's
Friendship Association to be part of an all-
women's delegation to China in the summer