Family and Gender Relations
Pre-twentieth-century Chinese society was patriarchal, patrilineal and virilocal. Most of contemporary Chinese society still is. Of course, much has changed and is still changing but scholars are divided as to the significance of those changes. In the study of gender and the family ‘socialist transition’ is rarely seen nowadays as a simple unilinear process. The debate has been influenced by considerations of the ‘unhappy marriage’ between feminism and Marxism and a rejection of economic determinism which sees gender simply as a dependent variable. Feminist scholarship has eloquently revised Engels’ proposition that participation in production is the most significant step towards women’s liberation and the argument that women’s liberation depends on the successful outcome of class struggle. Nor is ‘modernisation’ seen as a simple unilinear process. Scholars have been forced to consider arguments that modernisation does not automatically erode the power of the family and even that kinship networks (especially Confucian ones) might strengthen and be strengthened by that process. Discussions on China, moreover, have had to take into account arguments about revolutionary motivation. Whereas gender equality might oe a motivating factor amongst intellectual revolutionaries, peasants might be concerned simply to restore the security of traditional family life, as we noted in Chapter 3.
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