Writer’s Choice

Susan Mann’s assessment of the 1950 Marriage Law is ambivalent. While acknowledging that the law’s “provision for divorce did have a wide impact,” she criticizes the law’s hidden premise, that “women’s rights under these laws were defined exclusively in the context of marriage and reproduction,” as one that perpetuates old gender stereotypes (Mann, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History, 77, 76). Is the law’s focus on marriage as a venue to women’s liberation misguided? Or does this focus stem from an astute understanding of the centrality of the family to a woman? In light of the rise of youth autonomy, conjugal power and decline of patriarchal power in Xiajia village portrayed by Yunxiang Yan (Private Life Under Socialism, especially ch. 2, 3, 4), how would you assess the effects of the 1950 Marriage Law? How much of the progress described by Yan can be credited to the Marriage Law?

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