China: Communists Lead the Fight for Women's Rights

Xiang Jingyu (向警予): Militante comunista china, pionera en la lucha por la igualdad de las mujeres, asesinada por contrarrevolucionarios

Communists Lead the Fight
for Women's Rights

Chinese Communism arose along with the Chinese workers
movement from the milieu of mass student protests
in 1919 against colonial domination known as the May
Fourth Movement. The young militants of that period
sought to modernize Chinese society as they fought the
country's subjugation to imperialism. Thus, they were
wide open to radical ideas from the West, not least in
regard to the question of women and the family. Not
only did they realize the  centrality of the woman question
for China, but many were' themselves in open revolt against
the oppressive family system.

Chinese translations of sections of Friedrich Engels' work,
The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State
(the entire work was not available in Chinese until 1929)
were a profound influence on this layer, who found in
it the materialist understanding that footbinding, concubinage
and arranged marriages were rooted in the institution
of the family. Opposition to such "customs" was
thus raised from moral outrage to an appreciation that
they would be wiped out through overcoming the backwardness
of the country as a whole. The knowledge that
the family developed with the emergence of class divisions
in society was particularly liberating: for years to come,
Chinese Marxists would refer to early matriarchal societies
to prove that women's oppression was not a natural condition
of human existence.

Under the impact of the October 1917 revolution in
Russia, key May Fourth leaders such as Li Dazhao (Li
Ta-chao) and Chen Duxiu (Ch'en Tu-hsiu) were won to
communism. A valuable book by U.S. academic Christina
Kelley Gilmartin, Engendering the Chinese Revolution
(University of California Press [1995]), documents the
pioneering efforts of Chinese communists in undertaking
special work among women. This work was consciously
modeled on the experience of the Bolshevik Party, which
championed the rights not only of the working class but
of all the oppressed.
Lenin, Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Chen Duxiu
Even before the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) 1921
founding congress in Shanghai, communists in Guangzhou
(Canton) were publishing a women's journal, Labor and
Women, co-edited by Chen Duxiu. At the 1921 congress,
the party moved to do more systematic work, launching
the journal Women's Critic. This was not narrowly conceived
as "women's work," but the work of the whole party. (It
couldn't be otherwise, as the CCP at the time had only
two female members out of 57.) While today most of
the left, which caters to bourgeois feminism, would see
this as a crime against nature, no Chinese radical of that
period saw the fight for women's emancipation as separate
from the broader revolutionary struggle.

A party congress held the following year established a
committee to oversee its work among women-later
called the Central Women's Bureau-which was modeled
on the Bolsheviks' women's section, the Zhenotdel. The
work among women was initially concentrated in Shanghai,
where women constituted over half of the working
class. Communists intervened into and eventually took
over the local Federation of Women's Circles and helped
set up schools to teach women literacy, such as the Shanghai
Pingmin Girls' School, out of which they recruited
party writers and working-class organizers. This work
become a springboard for similar efforts from Beijing,
where communist activity faced unrelenting repression
under warlord rule, to Hunan province where the party
was led by the young Mao Zedong, and especially
Guangzhou, the center of nationalist fervor.

In the revolutionary upsurge beginning in 1925, the
CCP developed a mass proletarian base. In 1926-27, an
estimated one and a half million women were members
of women's organizations generally led by Communists.
In Guangzhou, International Women's Day rallies initiated
by Communists grew from around 3,000 in 1924
to 25,000 in 1927, as demonstrators demanded abolition
of arranged marriages, the right of women to divorce and
an end to exploitation of women workers. Polish Marxist
Rosa Luxemburg, who was murdered by right-wing German
Freikorps troops at the behest of the Social Democratic
government in 1919, became a special hero for
women throughout Guangdong province. Not only were
there memorial meetings and newspaper articles every
January on the anniversary of her and Karl Liebknecht's
assassination, but provincial peasant associations even
named their self-defense units "Rosa Luxemburg

However, the young party's ground-breaking efforts
were fatally compromised by the CCP's alliance with the
GMD [Guomindang], which after 1925 was led by Chiang Kai-shek. This
suicidal policy was foisted on the CCP by the leadership
of the Communist (Third) International under Stalin,
who represented the consolidating bureaucratic
caste which had seized political power in the
Soviet Union. Whereas the Comintern of Lenin
and Trotsky had sought the extension of socialist
revolution internationally, Stalin preached reliance
on "progressive" bourgeois forces considered to
be allies of the USSR. Thus the GMD, whose
founder Sun Yat-sen had professed admiration for
the Soviet workers state, was held by Stalin &
Co. to be the natural leader of China's impending

Chinese Communists were directed to sign up
as individual members of the GMD. The CCP
turned over its membership lists and even its stock
of weapons to Chiang. The leader of the party's
women's bureau, Xiang Jingyu (Hsiang Ching-yu),
was assigned to build a women's organization
for the GMD. Trotsky sought to oppose this policy
in writings later published as Problems of the
Chinese Revolution. There was also strong opposition
inside the CCP among those who recognized
that Chiang Kai-shek, who was beholden to the
warlords and imperialists, was the bitter class enemy
of China's working masses. Peng Shuzhi (Peng Shu-tse)
fought against the atrophying of CCP work among
women. Peng, together with Chen Duxiu, the principal
leader of the CCP, was won to Trotskyism as a result of
the defeat engendered by Stalin's policies.

The liquidation into the Guomindang led to disaster.
Beginning in Guangzhou in March 1926, Chiang moved
to behead the CCP, culminating in an anti-Communist
bloodbath in Shanghai in April 1927 where tens of thousands
of militants were slaughtered. The white terror that
followed particularly targeted Communist women, tens
of thousands of whom were executed from 1927-1930,
including Xiang Jingyu. In a single incident in Guangdong,
200-300 women were slaughtered for having untraditional
bobbed hair or unbound feet.

Shanghai 1927, terrorismo blanco: Contrarrevolucionarios decapitan a un comunista