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the beginning of the twentieth century, before the founding of the Peoples
Republic of China (PRC), all aspects of a Chinese person’s
life from education to social associations were influenced by the family
institution (Yang, 1959). Since the establishment of the PRC in 1949, the family
as an institution in China has remoulded in order to keep up with the economic
and social change. Besides comparing the impact of family as an institution in
the early years of the PRC to present day, this essay will also argue that a minimisation
of gender inequality since the early years of the PRC could be a contributing
factor to the changes of the traditional Chinese family.


the Chinese family was patrilineal and consisted of several generations all
living in one household. Marriages were virilocal, meaning that sons would take
a wife back to their family where she would live with his parents, this was to
ensure that the family would not lose their name. This would have caused
problems within the household as it was found that the mothers would often
compete with their son’s wives for love and attention (Jordan, 2006). The
society was patriarchal as everyone followed Confucianism ideology, not having
a son was seen as the worst possible outcome for a family (Jordan 2006). Families
would even sacrifice their daughter’s education to ensure that their son was
educated, this meant that men were the breadwinners and would go to work as the
women would stay at home and raise the children, however the work always
remained in a family-owned business (Yang, 1959). Gender inequality in China
was provoked by the Confucian teachings of the ‘Three Obedience’s and Four
Virtues’ (????)
these were moral principles set for women,  it was demanded of women to obey their
fathers, husbands, and widowed sons. Such teaching meant that women were placed
lower than men in society (Johnson 1985). Marriage was necessary for the family
as it not only guaranteed heirs to the family but also meant that the family
could have more security. The average marriage age for women was sixteen and
men was slightly older at eighteen. Marriage was not a love affair, but rather
an arrangement between parents (Yang, 1959).

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the founding of the PRC in 1949, the status of women began to improve as new
laws were introduced to minimise the inequality gap and ensure that “women hold
up half the sky” Mao Zedong was
passionate about the emancipation of women and created more education and work
opportunities for females. Women were also allowed to vote and work in
government positions (Hu, 2016). This would have encouraged more women to go to
work and leave their responsibility of looking after the children to the grandparents,
which undermines the traditional family structure.  The new marriage law in 1950 meant
that women had equal rights as arranged marriages, dowries and concubinage were
made forbidden (Stewart, 2006). These changes allowed women more freedom which
challenged the traditions of the Chinese family. The abandonment of arranged
marriages resulted in weaker family relationships as parents no longer had
control over their children’s marital affairs. Religious acts during weddings
such as bowing to ancestors were also expunged which weakened the dominance a
family had over the married son and daughter-in-law (Yang, 1959). In 1951,
agricultural producer’s cooperatives were established, this involved people
giving their production, animals, and machinery to the central management,
which was then distributed amongst everyone evenly (Stewart, 2006). This also
played a role in destructing the traditional family structure as it means that
individuals were no longer working for their family, but for a community as a


significant factor that impacted the traditional Chinese family was the
cultural revolution in 1966, the aim of the revolution was to destroy anything
that indicated old ideas and old culture. Mao started with the young people as
he believed that they were the ones he could trust as they were so devoted to
him (Esherick, 2006). The young people, also known as the ‘Red Guards’ were
instructed to rebel and help to destroy the ‘Four Olds’ which were culture,
ideas, customs and habits, these were to be later replaced with new ideology (Declassified- Chairman Mao, 2006). Art and culture were banned and
exchanged for propaganda films made by Jiang Qing, a former wife of Mao. The
‘Red Detachment of Women’ was a Chinese ballet that dominated the national
stage during the Cultural Revolution, the story depicts a group of women who
received training from the Red Army to free peasants and enslaved girls from
oppression. This not only gives women a stronger image but also portrays them
as being more powerful, a good starting point to minimise gender inequality. This
new revolutionary material brainwashed people, and led them to putting Mao
before everything, even their own lives. (Declassified-
Chairman Mao, 2006). Mao also opposed family traditions as they were built
upon the teachings of Confucius; for example, filial piety (?). The
Chinese Character for filial piety is made up of two parts, the top part ?is
the radical for the character’?’which means ‘old’, and the bottom part  ‘?’ means ‘son’. The fact that ‘old’ is on top
of ‘son’ suggests that the older generation have dominance over the children
and that the children are oppressed by their parents and grandparents, it could
also imply that families are supposed to be in a hierarchal order and continue
the family line (Ikels, 2004).


in contemporary China are different to what they were during the early years of
the PRC (1949-1960s) especially after the implementation of the one-child
policy in 1979. The one-child policy meant that a child will have two parents
and four grandparents which is a top-heavy structure, this can cause problems
as it means that the child has a lot of pressure from older generations (Upton-
McLaughlin). This contrasts to the traditional family as there were usually
more children, so contribution to the household, as well as the
responsibilities to take care of the older generation were divided. The policy
has impacted the number of people living in one household, as families of three
or four are much popular now than what they were before. For example, in 1982
the number of households with three members (suggesting two parents and one
child) was at 16%, however, this percentage increased to 26.9 by 2010 (Xu &
Xue, 2016). The statistics for families of four are slightly lower, suggesting
that the policy is a big factor for the downsize of family members under one


can also be argued that the one-child policy improved the conditions for women
within the family and in society, this is mainly because the government
enhanced the importance of women by creating propaganda that claimed that
giving birth to a boy or girl was the same, and that girls can even continue
the family line ‘???????? ???????’ (Koetse, 2017). This led to an overall
improvement to the status of women, it also gave them a more important role in
the family which contrasts to the traditional role they played. Daughters were
often spoiled by parents, hence referred to as a little princess ‘???’,
this emotional and financial investment from parents meant that they could
receive a high-quality education (Koetse, 2017). A high- quality education
resulted in better work opportunities for women, this then influenced their
attitudes towards the family; for example, a study in 2017 showed that 40.1% of
working women in China were contemplating having children, and 63.4% said that
having children would impact their career (Catalyst, 2017). This shows that
women in contemporary China are becoming more independent and care more about
their career, this is very different from women in the traditional family who
were oppressed and unable to work outside the family.


the one-child policy was introduced, later marriage was encouraged by the
government, this was to persuade women to concentrate on their studies and
career before taking on their new role as a wife or mother (Koetse, 2017). This
implies that women no longer had the pressure from family to get married at a
young age as late marriage was seen as acceptable by society, this is an
improvement from the marriage arrangements women faced in a traditional Chinese
family. Improvements to the healthcare system was also another positive outcome
from the implementation of the one-child policy as it resulted in thousands of
lives saved due to the lower risk of maternal death. In traditional China,
women would give birth at home, whereas after the one-child policy, in-hospital
births grew from 43.7% in 1985 to 96.7% in 2011 (Koetse, 2017). Therefore, we
can conclude that the one-child policy had a positive impact on pre-natal and
post-natal care for women.


to an article in The New York Times, more than half of people over the age of
sixty in China live separately from their family (LaFranerie, 2011), this shows
that the family structure has changed from before as adults are no longer
living with their older parents.

Economic Reform led by Deng XiaoPing in 1978 opened up China to the rest of the
world, this caused a rapid development of the Chinese economy which could be a
reason for why the elderly today are living separately from their adult
children, this is because more adults are travelling to the city to find work
and leaving their families behind in their hometowns. Living away from extended
family and setting up a new life in the city where work is more available could
be another reason for why there is an increase of nuclear families in China. However,
although moving to the city for work disrupts the traditional structure of the
family, it is evident that family is still important for Chinese people as they
make great efforts to return home and spend the Chinese New Year with family
(Upton- McLaughlin). The economic reform also had an impact on the role of
women in the family; for example, traditionally, women were not allowed to
leave their home without permission from their parents. However, under the
economic reform, the restrictions were lifted and women who lived in rural
areas were allowed to migrate to more economically developed cities. In the
cities, women worked low-paid jobs such as working as waitresses, house maids
or selling merchants, although the jobs were not as good as the jobs available
to men, it was still a significant change from their life under the traditional
family household (Jing, 2017)


conclusion, it is evident that the family as an institution has changed in
order to keep up with the rapid economic and social development. The main
influences for change in the family were the emancipation of women during the
early years of the PRC, as well as the increase of job opportunities which were
created as a result of the Economic Reform in 1978. The increase of gender
equality is noticeable and has also impacted the family as an institution,
however, we cannot say that women and men are equal in China, even to this
present day.

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