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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Chinese Domestic Life between State Ideologies and Family Strategies, 1800-1985
3: Landlords, Model Workers, and Matchmakers: Family and Marriage Reform in 1950s Chinese Films
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Notre Dame, United States
The Marriage Law of 1950 drastically changed patriarchal family traditions and the family-state relationship in post-1949 China. It is often viewed as a law that promoted the liberation of Chinese women. This paper examines the cinematic campaigns to promulgate the Marriage Law in rural China and reevaluates the primary goal of the law. By analyzing the propaganda films which publicized the Marriage Law of 1950, including Children’s Marriage (Ernü Qinshi, 1950), Zhao Xiaolan (1953) and Liu Qiao’er (1956), this paper explores how the newly formed socialist government utilized films to remold the family-state relationship in rural China. From close readings of the contrasting representations of landlords and communist cadres, “backward” peasants and model workers, matchmakers and women’s directors (funü zhuren) in the films, this paper argues that proponents of marriage reform adopted strategies from land reform such as class struggle and “speaking bitterness” (suku) to form a new class identity in rural China, thereby shifting loyalty from the individual/family to the socialist state. The paper also examines the overarching theme of “production” (shengchan) in the films, and situates the marriage reform of the 1950s within the context of Chinese land reform, which emphasized class struggle and mobilized women to leave the household and join the workforce. It argues that the primary goal of the Marriage Law of 1950 was to reshape the family-state relationship rather than to liberate women.