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Centennial commemorations of 1911 Revolution: family and marriage change


14:02, October 07, 2011

(111006) -- BEIJING, Oct. 6, 2011 (Xinhua) -- The file photo taken on Nov. 17, 1951 shows a worker explaining China's Marriage Law to women in Shanghai, east China. (Xinhua)

In October 1915, four years after the Wuchang Uprising, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the great forerunner leading the 1911 Revolution, married Soong Ching Ling, who was 27 years younger, escaping from her family in pursuit of true love. Of course, their marriage was strongly opposed by Soong's family and their friends. At that time, notions such as marriage based on love and freedom of divorce were still not widely accepted.

On the contrary, in the long history of the feudal and patriarchal Chinese society, "getting married by parents' order and on the matchmaker's words" was held as the marriage rule for thousands of years. However, this rule started to fall apart since the 1911 Revolution, or the Xinhai Revolution. It not only put an end to the monarchy of China, but also greatly promoted democracy and other western ideologies among the Chinese people, thereby contributing much to the country's transition from an inanimate feudal society towards a modern, open one.

Many old-fashioned ideas, such as the old family system, absolute obedience to parents, discrimination against women, were condemned by young intellectuals. At this turning point of Chinese history, Qiu Jin, a great revolutionist, feminist, writer, and mother of two children, stood out as the first Chinese woman to confront gender inequality.

Seeing the humble status of Chinese women under oppression from the feudal government and patriarchal society, she left her family behind and joined the anti-Qing Monarchy societies. She founded a radical women's journal and a school for girls to advocate ideas such as women's equal rights of education, freedom to marry and divorce, and the abolishment of bound feet. Though in 1907, at the dawn of the 1911 revolution, she was killed at the age of 31 after a failed uprising, her name was immortalized as the symbol of women's independence in China.

History turned a brand-new page after the founding of new China. In October 1950, China's first marriage law was enacted, giving men and women equal right to get married on a voluntary base. The principles of gender equality and freedom of marriage and divorce were realized since then.

Three years later, gender equality and equal pay for equal work for men and women were constitutionalized. In 1968, Chairman Mao Zedong gave one of his most famous sayings -- "Women hold up half the sky!" The female emancipation not only enhanced women's status and living conditions dramatically, but also boosted China's booming economy by releasing a huge portion of the population to working posts of production.

Nowadays, coming through the chaotic decades of war times and the peaceful years of China's reform and development, the notion of marriage and family of Chinese people has experienced world-shaking changes. Small families composed of parents and one child replaced the previous big families connected with kindred clans.

Notion of equality of men and women is so common that women's status is even higher than men in many families. Instead of parents, children often become the center of focus in a family, and sometimes are so spoiled as the nickname "little emperor" shows. Young people are able to pursue different living style, being a celibatarian or a DINK (Dual Income, No Kids) family, as they like. However, brand new phenomenon like "left-over ladies" with high education, increasing divorce rate, naked marriage without material foundation are becoming new worries of the Chinese people.

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