When will it no longer be necessary to attach special weight to the word ‘woman’ and to raise it specially?

Each year this day comes round. Every year on this day meetings are held all over the world where women muster their forces. Even though things have not been as lively these last two years in Yenan as they were in previous years, it appears that at least a few people are busy at work here. And there will certainly be a congress, speeches, circular telegrams and articles.

Women in Yenan are happier than women elsewhere in China. So much so that many people ask enviously: ‘How come the women comrades get so rosy and fat on millet?’ It doesn’t seem to surprise anyone that women make up a big proportion of the staff in the hospitals, sanatoria and clinics, but they are inevitably the subject of conversation, as a fascinating problem, on every conceivable occasion.

Moreover, all kinds of women comrades are often the target of deserved criticism. In my view these reproaches are serious and justifiable.

People are always interested when women comrades get married, but that is not enough for them. It is impossible for women comrades to get onto friendly terms with a man comrade, even more so with more than one. Cartoonists ridicule them: ‘A departmental head getting married too?’ The poets say: ‘All the leaders in Yenan are horsemen, and none of them are artists. In Yenan it’s impossible for an artist to find a pretty sweetheart.’ But in other situations they are lectured at: ‘Damn it, you look down on us old cadres and say we’re country bumpkins. But if it wasn’t for us country bumpkins, you wouldn’t be coming to Yenan to eat millet!’ But women invariably want to get married. (It’s even more of a sin not to be married, and single women are even more of a target for rumours and slanderous gossip.) So they can’t afford to be choosy, anyone will do: whether he rides horses or wears straw sandles, whether he’s an artist or a supervisor. They inevitably have children. The fate of such children is various. Some are wrapped in soft baby wool and patterned felt and looked after by governesses. Others are wrapped in soiled cloth and left crying in their parents’ beds, while their parents consume much of the child allowance. But for this allowance (25 yuan a month, or just over three pounds of pork), many of them would probably never get a taste of meat. Whoever they marry, the fact is that those women who are compelled to bear children will probably be publicly derided as ‘Noras who have returned home’.footnote Those women comrades in a position to employ governesses can go out once a week to a prim get-together and dance. Behind their backs there would also be the most incredible gossip and whispering campaigns, but as soon as they go somewhere they cause a great stir and all eyes are glued to them. This has nothing to do with our theories, our doctrines and the speeches we make at meetings. We all know this to be a fact, a fact that is right before our eyes, but it is never mentioned.

It is the same with divorce. In general there are three conditions to pay attention to when getting married. (1) Political purity; (2) both parties should be more or less the same age and comparable in looks; (3) mutual help. Even though everyone is said to fulfil these conditions—as for (1), there are no open traitors in Yenan; as for (3), you can call anything ‘mutual help’, including darning socks, patching shoes and even feminine comfort—everyone nevertheless makes a great show of giving thoughtful attention to them. And yet, the pretext for divorce is invariably the wife’s political backwardness. I am the first to admit that it is a shame when a man’s wife is not progressive and retards his progress. But let us consider to what degree they are backward. Before marrying, they were inspired by the desire to soar in the heavenly heights and lead a life of bitter struggle. They got married partly due to physiological necessity and partly as a response to sweet talk about ‘mutual help’. Thereupon they are forced to toil away and become ‘Noras returned home’. Afraid of being thought ‘backward’, those who are a bit more daring rush around begging nurseries to take their children. They ask for abortions, and risk punishment and even death by secretly swallowing potions to produce abortions. But the answer comes back: ‘Isn’t giving birth to children also work? You’re just after an easy life, you want to be in the limelight. After all, what indispensable political work have you performed? Since you are so frightened of having children, and are not willing to take responsibility once you have had them, why did you get married in the first place? No-one forced you to.’ Under these conditions it is impossible for women to escape this destiny of ‘backwardness’. When women capable of working sacrifice their careers for the joys of motherhood, people always sing their praises. But after ten years or so, they have no way of escaping the tragedy of ‘backwardness’ (i.e. divorce). Even from my point of view, as a woman, there is nothing attractive about such ‘backward’ elements. Their skin is beginning to wrinkle, their hair is growing thin and fatigue is robbing them of their last traces of attractiveness. It should be self-evident that they are in a tragic situation. But whereas in the old society they would probably have been pitied and considered unfortunate, nowadays their tragedy is seen as something self-inflicted, as their just deserts. Is it not so that there is a discussion going on in legal circles as to whether divorce should be granted simply on the petition of one party or on the basis of mutual agreement? In the great majority of cases it is the husband who petitions for divorce. For the wife to do so, she must be leading an immoral life, then of course she deserves to be cursed!

I myself am a woman, and I therefore understand the failings of women better than others. But I also have a deeper understanding of what they suffer. Women are incapable of transcending the age they live in, of being perfect, or of being hard as steel. They are incapable of resisting all the temptations of society or all the silent oppression they suffer here in Yenan. They each have their own past written in blood and tears, they have experienced great emotions—in elation as in depression, whether engaged in the lone battle of life or drawn into the humdrum stream of life. This is even truer of the women comrades who come to Yenan, and I therefore have much sympathy for those fallen and classed as criminals. What is more, I hope that men, especially those in top positions, and women themselves will consider the mistakes women commit in their social context. It would be better if there were less empty theorizing and more talk about real problems, so that theory and practice are not divorced, and if each Communist Party member were more responsible for his own moral conduct.