Maoism, the post-Mao reforms and the changing status of Chinese rural women : Chinese women speak for themselves
This study analyses the implications of the state development strategies of the past four decades for gender relations in rural China. Based on rural women's own perspectives, the research examines their gains and losses under the Mao and post-Mao development policies, and allows women themselves to define their needs, priorities and interests as against those defined by the state. The research reveals a fundamental collision of the Maoist urban-centred development strategy of agricultural collectivisation with the interests of rural women. It demonstrates as well an essential congruence of the ostensibly iconoclastic Cultural Revolution with the orthodox Confucian patriarchal familial and state systems, and thus oppressiveness for women. The post-Mao reorientation of the official development strategy has brought a gradual shift in the function of the state, leading to a changing relationship between the state and women. Rural women, in this process, have acted as agents of change in both defying the state-imposed restrictions and contesting the patriarchal gender rules that have posed constraints on their lives. Women's actions as such have constituted an unprecedented challenge to traditional values, gender expectations and the existing political, social and sexual orders. However, rural women's inroads into male-dominated occupations and their hopes for further empowerment through education, training and employment, and through political participation and representation have been impeded by the structural urban-rural cleavage, unequal gender power relations, traditional ideas and male prejudice, as well as inadequate government actions. Sexism has simply assumed new forms: the gendered allocation of rights, opportunities and resources in the marketplace. Women are more able now to organise their independent interests and exert pressure on the authorities. Meanwhile, the growing gender inequalities during the economic transition call for a bigger role of the state in guaranteeing social justice and gender equity in the fresh redistribution of rights and interests.