The Center of the Women's Rights Movement Should Move to the Fourth Class

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Author(s) Wang Jianhong
Written 10 December 1921

First published in the first issue of Women's Voice, under the pen name Jian Hong.

The women's emancipation movement has clamored on from May Fourth to the present. Yet women have not accomplished much in terms of building a movement truly grounded in reality. Sure, we can find in any newspaper or magazine a shallow and superficial history of the women's emancipation movement. Yet none of these is untainted by elitist thinking biased toward the third class.[1] Everyone thinks that merely to gain for women the same political rights and inheritance rights that men have would be enough, and that these rights by themselves will put men and women on equal footing. They think that, once this is accomplished, it will not be necessary to go any further; that it will be time to stop fighting. But would the attainment of these rights really mean that the women's emancipation movement has succeeded completely? Would it really mean that society has become completely humane?

I think that this kind of movement is slanted in one direction. It has deserted many poor compatriots; it has left them in the fiery pit and forgotten them. And this cannot truly be called a total awakening of consciousness.

Inequality between the two sexes does not lie merely in the political realm. The most important inequalities still lie in the educational and economic realms. Those lacking economic independence, education, and opportunities to get an education certainly cannot think about getting a foothold in the political realm. If the issue of food has not been resolved, can we ask them to participate in politics on an empty stomach? If they still lack sufficient knowledge, can we ask them to participate blindly in Congress?

Because humankind is governed by its material conditions, robbing and fighting are social realities. This gave rise to all kinds of classes. At the very beginning, when the male sex conquered the female sex, men were the oppressing class, and women were the oppressed class. At the same time, several classes formed within each sex. One class oppressed another, and the history of humankind became the history of class struggle.

As a result of the recent Industrial Revolution, the capitalist system has simplified the class system. Thus, society has been divided into two classes: a capitalist class and a proletarian class. We women have been laborers since ancient days; we were always the victims of plunder. The capitalist system has cleared away the obstacle of gender, and we have become members of the proletariat. Therefore our demands for emancipation arise out of the realities of this class struggle. The tactics we use to achieve emancipation must also be born of these realities. Now let's see if the consciousness of our class is up to it.

In male-centered society, women have no status to speak of. For women, marriage is a means for survival. Women's status depends completely on whether they make good or bad marriages. Whether a woman becomes an official's wife or a laborer's wife depends on the kinds of marriage opportunities she has. This social system relegates women to the status of slaves without the slightest consciousness. Thanks to the protection of their fathers and brothers, some women have the opportunity to make good marriages. They marry officials or capitalists, and then adopt the imposing air of officials' wives or capitalists' wives and oppress and abuse proletarian women. Thanks to the protection of their fathers and brothers, some women have the opportunity to get an education or study overseas. Once they have obtained good qualifications for marriage, they suddenly put on the haughty, holy airs of upper-class women and despise uneducated women. These educated women are sometimes exposed to the new tide of thought sweeping over the world and calling for action, and they have spoken out about the women's rights movement. Yet their motive is merely to raise their own status especially high in women's circles. The contemporary economic system has already separated male and female capitalists from male and female proletarians at a fundamental level. This women's movement is merely an expression of upper-class women's class thinking. They have forgotten the circumstances of their dependency and cannot develop a movement with an awakened consciousness. Therefore, on the one hand, we must feel sorry for them; on the other hand, we must raise a special warning about the future of the women's movement. The warning is this: the center of the women's movement must move to the proletarian class.

Recently, the struggle between the capitalist class and the proletarian class has gradually become more obvious. We women who have an awakened consciousness should organize a group, join the proletarian army at the front lines, and work hard to fight against all plunder and oppression. We must fundamentally transform society and construct a free and equal society in which men and women work harmoniously together. We must end this historical period of inhumane principles, disgrace, and unanswered demands for emancipation. Only then can we say that our goals have been accomplished!

  1. Wang Jianhong uses the term "fourth class" to refer to the working class, and the term "third class" to refer to the middle class. This terminology is loosely borrowed from the language of the French Revolution, which classified society into the first, second, third, and fourth estates (Gilmartin 1995, 244).