The impact of the Communists’ reforms 1949-63



The CCP did not just want to reform industry and agriculture – it wanted to reform completely the whole of Chinese society and introduce a Communist way of life.  Immediately, therefore, the Communists passed laws to:
•  transform the lives of women,
•  improve health,
•  improve education,
•  destroy religion, and
•  destroy traditional culture (he put his wife, Jiang Qing, in charge of this).


The traditional role of women

a.  Three obediences

Traditionally, women were regarded as inferior to men. Girls had to be obedient to their fathers, wives to their husbands and old women to their sons (the Marriage Law abolished this)

b.  Female babies

Baby girls were sometimes killed or abandoned (the Communists banned this)

c.  Lotus feet

Before the age of 7, many upper-class girls’ toes were broken and their feet bound, to keep their feet small; this was regarded as beautiful, but it also restricted movement and freedom (the Communists banned this)

d.  Child marriage

Child-marriage was still common, and helped ensure that husbands dominated their wives (the Communists banned this)

e.  Concubines and prostitutes

Girls could be sold as servants, concubines or prostitutes (the Communists banned this)


The role of communist women

a.  Marriage Law, 1950

Mao Zedong declared that 'women hold up half the sky'.  The Marriage Law abolished the supremacy of man over woman, and also concubinage and child-marriage. It allowed a wife to divorce her husband, but forbade a husband to divorce his wife if she had a child less than one year old.

b.  Work and creches

In the communes, women were regarded as equal to men, and had to work like men; their children were put in creches so they could work, but this damaged their role as a mother

c.  Destruction of the family

The CCP actively tried to destroy the family; in some communes men and women lived in single-sex barracks.

d.  Divorce discouraged

So many women asked for a divorce that Party officials started refusing permission, despite a re-issuing of the Marriage Law in 1953

e.  Setbacks during the Famine

Under the pressure of the Famine of 1959-61, women lost many of the social advances they had made; men sold their wives to be servants, and their daughters as prostitutes



a.  Success – Patriotic Health Movements

Teams of cadres went into the villages explaining the connection between dirt and disease, and how to avoid dysentery and malaria (e.g. the ‘Four Pests’ campaigns – flies, mosquitoes, bed bugs, rats)

b.  Success – Barefoot Doctors

A million people were given 6-months basic medical training and sent out into the villages to provide basic medical care free of charge; their most effective improvement was inoculation

c.  Success – Opium addiction

Poppy fields were burned, and addicts killed or forced to reform cold turkey; their families were made responsible for their future good behaviour

d.  Failure – Commune medical care

Under the Great Leap Forward, the commune was supposed to provide medical and hospital facilities; mostly this proved impossible

e.  Failure – Anti-movements

During the Cultural Revolution, properly trained doctors were despised, and forced to show solidarity with the workers by mopping the hospital floors, in order they might learn the dignity of labour; this actually reduced the standard of medical care in China



a.  Success – Primary education

A national system of Primary education was set up; the literacy rate, 20% in 1949, was 70% by 1976

b.  Success – Pinyin

To help with communication and writing, the government introduced a phonetic form of Mandarin called pinyin; this greatly eased the learning of Mandarin

c.  Failure – equality of education

Officially, education was free and for both boys and girls; unofficially, parents ended up paying for books, pens and paper, and even helping towards the teachers’ salaries, and many more girls dropped out of education than boys

d.  Failure – higher education

Education beyond the basic was despised; a survey in 1982 found that only a quarter of the working population had been to school beyond the age of 12, and only 1% had a degree. Even among the party leaders, only 6% had been educated beyond the age of 16

e.  Failure – Cultural Revolution

The Red Guards of the cultural revolution despised education – 130 million of them left school and rejected learning as ‘bourgeois and reactionary’


The destruction of traditional religion and culture

a.  1.5million propagandists

Propagandists were loyal Party members charged with spreading the latest Party message; mainly they put up wall posters, but propaganda also blared out of loudspeakers, in the newspapers and in films

b.  Struggle meetings

Ordinary people would be made to attend one or two meetings a week, people needing ‘re-education’ would have to go to more; they would listen to lectures, and be asked to denounce their neighbours

c.  Religion

See that section

d.  Culture

See that section

e.  Buildings

Including Tiananmen Square – many of Beijing’s ancient houses and structures were pulled down and replaced by Soviet Realism concrete eyesores


Religion in Mao’s China

a.  Religion was 'poison'

Mao said religion was as bad as Nazism, and had to be eradicated; during the Cultural Revolution it was denounced as one of the ‘Four Olds’

b.  Attacks on religion and clergy

Churches were destroyed, priests and monks mocked and beaten – ancestor worship was condemned as a superstition

c.  Patriotic Churches

Some churches were allowed to remain to give the appearance of toleration, but they had to preach communism

d.  Tibetan Buddhists

In Tibet, the government feared the mixture of Buddhism and nationalism, and embarked on a campaign of religious persecution and genocide

e.  Xinjiang Muslims

In Xinjiang, the government feared the mixture of Islam and nationalism, conquered the area in a military campaign, and settled huge numbers of Chinese immigrants in the region to try to counter the local population


Culture in Jiang Qing’s China

a.  Bourgeois culture had to be eradicated

Mao believed that the Communist revolution should brutally overthrow every aspect of the past, and he put his wife in charge as ‘the cultural purifier of the nation’

b.  Attacks on customs and traditions

The government banned traditional songs and dances, festivals and wandering poets; instead, children were made to chant communist slogans

c.  Agit-prop performers

These troupes toured the countryside giving long performances of politically correct propaganda, sometimes films

d.  Proletarian literature and art

All traditional and western culture was banned, only politically-correct proletarian culture was allowed, which furthered communist ideals

e.  Artistic persecution

Musicians, authors etc had to conform, or they were persecuted and sent for re-education; many gave up or committed suicide – culture died



Read the following passage from China Reconstructs (a bi-monthly periodical, published in the English language, under the strict control of Chinese government) and write answers to the questions which follow:

Tung Hsiu-Ching, an old resident, quoted in China Reconstructs, 1973
Before liberation, our land three 'manys' – many poor people, many slum houses and many children... 

With liberation in 1949, we working people stood up and became masters of the new society.  As soon as the People's Liberation Army men entered the city, they got us together and explained the revolution to us.  The people's government began solving the problem of unemployment and we all got jobs.  With stable monthly wages, our life improved steadily.

Our people's government thinks of everything for us.  More than 100 families have moved into new apartments or houses.  The homes of the others have been well-repaired.  The street's housing management office always asks for the opinions of the neighbourhood representatives before they distribute or renovate housing.  If anything goes wrong with the electricity, water or drains, we just tell the office and it sends repairmen right away.

What does this Source tell us about the impact of the Communists’ social reforms?

Describe how the Communists tried to destroy traditional Chinese religion and culture.

How sucessful were the Communists in transforming Chinese society, 1949-63?