Pre-1949, religion was a huge part of people’s lives. Different religions were strong in different areas of China, for example Islam in Xinjiang and Buddhism in Tibet. Confucian thought was also a major element in people’s lives pre-1949.
Pre-1949 the education system was very elitist and old fashioned. Only 30% of males and 1% of females over 7 could read a simple letter. Children were taught Confucian thought, not important, forward looking subjects. Rote learning was the method of teaching – this indicates how old fashioned the whole education system was.
Pre-1949 women played no real role in Chinese society. They were expected to simply to do as they were told and be almost ornaments to men. Foot binding is a clear indication that they were expected to be pretty, not practical. Very few girls went to school (2.2% of females had received schooling) and they were basically sold off to another family when they got married. The life of a women was not a good one.
There were very few cultural changes in the first 10-15 years of communist rule in China. Some shows were banned and there was widespread censorship.
Pre-1949, most Chinese people still relied on traditional medical methods such as acupuncture and herbalism. People didn’t have good hygiene and healthcare was never a priority. Overall, healthcare was extremely rudimentary and basic.
Possibly the most important educational reform was the introduction of Pinyin, a new universal language which massively improved communication throughout China. Overall, the reform made education far more accessible to the peasants, more children went to school and min-pan primary schools meant there was a school in every village. Furthermore, many more people went to university. However, in reality, the schooling system remained elitist and the old bourgeoisie children and children of party cadres had a massive advantage over others.
The protestant Church was pressured into organising a ‘Patriotic Church Movement’, which was designed to convince congregations into being loyal to China and the Communist Party. The government also took over schools, universities and hospitals from the Protestant Church. Overall, the Party wanted to completely dominate the Church and take it away from and traditional values – and to a great extend succeeded. The same method was tried on the Catholic Church, however the Vatican rejected to ‘Patriotic Church’. Therefore, the Party cracked down on Catholicism and limited it massively in society. Overall, the government either took over the Churches, or shut them down.
Muslims fared relatively well compared to other religions. As the government were worried about a revolution in the Xinjiang region, the Party were more relaxed and generous towards Muslims. Muslims were allowed to keep some of their traditions and local government could be run by Muslim leaders. However, some Mosques and school were still closed and Islam wasn’t completely free.
Much like Christianity, the government simply wanted to control Buddhism in every way. When the government invaded Tibet, they were faced with violent resistance. Due to Buddhists not accepting and embracing communist rule, Buddhism was denounced as one of the ‘Four Olds’ and subjected to huge destruction. The Dalai Lama had to be smuggled into India and almost all temples were destroyed, and monks were forced into manual labour. Overall, Buddhism didn’t fare well under communist rule.
The Party focused on the prevention of disease rather than expensive cures. Campaigns were set up to improve basic hygiene and they were extremely effective – smallpox, cholera, typhus, typhoid fever, plague and leprosy were all but eliminated. Gradually more money was invested, new hospitals were built and new doctors were graduating. Early reforms were a huge success.
The New Marriage Law gave women legal equality to men. The law protected women and gave them more power than they ever had before. They could hold property and seek divorce and couldn’t be exploited by men (in theory). In reality this wasn’t always the case and women’s lives weren’t necessarily drastically improved.
During the Great Leap Forward, education was massively pulled back to be replaced with agricultural work and study. Mao introduced ‘half work half study’, where students would spend half their school day working. Min-pin was extended to secondary school, so skilled teachers were now few and far between. In reality, the Great Leap Forward made students focus more on work than education.
Communes were a huge failure in helping women. In theory, they freed women from the traditional family system and allowed them to work, equal to men. In reality, this was far from the case. Kindergartens were of a terrible standard – they didn’t look after children effectively, in one kindergarten, 90% of children fell ill. The food in the canteens was poor and not enough was given out, women fell ill and got less than men. Overall, women were still second rate to men, but there were now even more problems for them to carry – many turned to prostitution and suicide was rife.
During the Cultural Revolution students were encouraged to denounce and attack their teachers. Teachers were forced into struggle meetings, some ended up being killed. Students ended up not partaking in any education and instead doing whatever Mao asked of them. The whole education system was completely destroyed, leaving it in a far worse state than pre-1949.
Jiang Qing radically reformed Chinese culture during the Cultural Revolution. She introduced extreme censorship – to the extent where only eight revolutionary ‘performances’ were allowed (five operas, two ballets and a symphony). Her slogan was “make it revolutionary or ban it.”
Barefoot doctors were meant to be doctors of the people. They weren’t hugely trained and were really part of the peasantry. They were only used in rural areas and would help with basic problems in a local village clinic. They were called barefoot doctors as they were meant to be poor enough they would cherish their shoes too much to wear them whilst walking around the fields. Whilst good in theory, in reality barefoot doctors had such little training they were largely ineffective and peasants would always use trained doctors before resorting to a barefoot doctor.