Women in China:
Free Market Slavery

Revolutionary Worker #1001, April 11, 1999



During the first half of the 20th century, the people of China waged an epic struggle to throw off oppression. It was Mao Tsetung who pointed out that three mountains weighed on the Chinese people. They were feudalism, bureaucrat-capitalism, and imperialism. Each of these mountains produced untold suffering for women. But in 1949, after more than 20 years of armed struggle led by the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Tsetung, the Chinese people overthrew these mountains. From 1949 until 1976, there was great struggle against women's oppression and the life of women improved dramatically. Today, these three mountains of feudalism, bureaucrat-capitalism, and imperialism have returned, and so too the most horrendous oppression of women. Once again, these mountains will have to be destroyed.

"We are all masters of new China! Now women have equal rights. We have political rights and economic rights. Women used to have a low position in society...but now it is entirely different. Now our great ambition is to make revolution."

woman in revolutionary China,
in the time of Mao

"I know it's dangerous, but I don't have any other choice. I'm not going back to the village. Life is too hard there. Every week you hear about another one. It's unavoidable. But I don't think it will happen to me."

Fu Litong, 20-year-old woman, trying to find a job
in the city 200 miles from her village--
after hearing about a case where a woman
was kidnapped, raped and sold

Xian, China: In the shadow of the ancient wall that still surrounds this city, several hundred people gather each day along a muddy street to offer themselves to employers at an unofficial labor market. Many are young women from the countryside, and for them the market holds a special danger: it may be the first stop on a journey that begins with the promise of a job, sees rape and violent beatings along the way, and ends in a life of domestic slavery.

Countless women have been kidnapped from this market in Xian, from similar markets in other cities and from bus stops and train stations in towns all over China. Typically, a woman is lured into the custody of one or more criminal middlemen, beaten into submission and delivered to a stranger who will call her his wife.

The New York Times, "Women as Chattel:
In China, Slavery Rises," September 6, 1995


The practice of "abducting and selling of women" has been on the rise in today's capitalist China. Unmarried farmers buy young women for $250 to $500, with middlemen roaming from city to countryside to facilitate this "business" of human slavery. The police are sometimes bribed to look the other way.

Statistics are incomplete and many cases go unreported. But there are estimates that at least tens of thousands of women are now sold into slavery in China each year. And while some women do manage to escape, they are often ashamed to return to their families.

The selling of women in China is happening mainly in the rural areas. But many of the women sold are kidnapped in the cities and are then delivered to small villages and towns in the countryside. In some cases, government officials even participate in getting these so-called "marriages" sanctioned. One paper said, "Not only do they (officials) not stop the villagers from abducting and selling or buying women, but they also act as go-betweens, put themselves forward as witnesses, provide relevant paperwork and go to the house to celebrate the `wedding.'<|>"

The New York Times told the story of one woman, Zhao Meimei, a 32-year-old married woman, who was kidnapped and then delivered to a farmer named Wang in a village 400 miles away. Wang kept her in a cave and frequently beat and raped her. After more than a year of living in the cave, Zhao Meimei showed signs of mental illness, which grew worse after she gave birth to a daughter--who was taken away. No neighbors complained about the situation--they seemed to consider this "none of their business."

The police eventually came and freed Zhao Meimei from the cave. But when they tracked down her home village, officials there said that her husband, after hearing about her baby daughter and her mental illness, did not want her back. No effort was made to prosecute Wang or find the man who sold Zhao Meimei. By this time, after all she had been through, Zhao Meimei was unable to care for herself. But instead of finding a safe living situation for Zhao Meimei, the authorities contacted Wang, told him he could no longer mistreat Zhao, and then handed her back to him.


Before China was liberated by Mao's revolution in 1949, many women and children were sold by families that were starving. And even when families were not forced by poverty to sell a daughter, marriage was essentially a business transaction between families--with the woman having no choice in the matter.

Among the people there was a lot of struggle to put an end to the brutal way women were being treated by fathers, husbands and mother-in-laws. And the women got organized to fight against things like wife beating in a collective way. They didn't want a situation where each individual woman had to fight her husband or father by herself to be free.

In fact, one of the ways women's oppression was perpetuated was that everything remained private. Things stayed just between the husband and wife and it was "nobody else's business" what went on "behind closed doors." But this was no longer acceptable in the new society. If a man mistreated his wife this became the concern of the whole community.

And everyone was responsible for making sure women were not brutalized and treated as private property. When a man beat his wife, a committee of women would get together and go over and struggle with the man to change his ways. Then they would monitor the situation. They continued to struggle with the husband, but if he still mistreated his wife, they would punish him. And if he did not change, the women's committee would encourage and support the woman in getting a divorce.

In revolutionary China, all of society was mobilized to struggle against the oppression of women and for the first time in history, the masses of Chinese women were able to raise their heads and smash all the traditions which had kept them in virtual slavery. But after Mao's death in 1976, socialism was overthrown. And with the restoration of capitalism--the most barbaric treatment of women as private property and slaves has also been restored.

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