New Marriage Law By Mao Zedong

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The New Marriage Law was the first official act passed by the CCP, and signalled a radical change from the existing patriarchal Chinese marriage traditions. It was accompanied by an extensive propaganda campaign, as shown below. Its main purpose was to eliminate ‘feudal oppression’ and promote freedom of choice within marriage, equality, and strengthen family ties. It has since been superseded by the Second Marriage Law 1980.

Traditionally, Chinese marriage had often been arranged or forced, concubinage was commonplace, and women could not seek divorce. The law, championed by Mao Zedong himself, aimed to change these traditional approaches through multiple legislatorial measures. Firstly, the law provided a civil registry for legal marriages;
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For example, the law’s emphasis on the freedom of choice in marriage perhaps is a by-product of the frustration and resentment Mao held towards his father, a ‘third party’, when he was married off, against his will at the age of 14. The issue of age, with the age of marital consent being raised to 20 for men can also be linked to Mao’s earlier experiences. Not only did Mao most likely feel he was far too young to be married out 14, perhaps the age of 20 reflect a view that men should enjoy a certain amount of sexual freedom before being tied down. This line of argument is, in some ways, supported by the nature of the relationship Mao enjoyed with his eventual second wife Kai-hui, who he persistently persuaded to engage in pre-marital sex with him. Alternatively, the law could be seen as a pragmatic act, intended to spread support for the party. Instead of marriage being a feudalistic affair, it became a state-procured act, and after the early years of Mao’s rule, marriage became a ceremony in which the two parties were expected to express their love and loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. The second propaganda poster displayed below (‘a free and independent marriage is good, there is great happiness in unified production’) highlights the political implications behind the law; marriage was displayed as being intrinsically linked with production, thus presenting both as being essential to the life of a communist, or anyone living under the rule of the Party in
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