Chinese state patriarchy – the alliance of the Emperor and his bureaucrats with patrilineal extended families and clans and patriarchal authority, under the sign of Confucius – was extraordinarily resilient. Over the course of several thousand years, it bounced back again and again in the face of foreign invasions, and neutered potentially disturbing influences like Buddhism and Christianity. It was finally severely weakened, if not quite eliminated, in the twentieth century. Chinese intellectuals, including the student reformers of the May 4th movement, regarded the traditional Chinese family system as a source of backwardness, which would have to be overthrown for China to take its rightful place among the world’s powers. After the Chinese Communists took over in 1949, they promulgated a revolutionary new marriage law (1950), which stated, in part
The feudal marriage system, which is based on arbitrary and compulsory arrangements and the superiority of man over women and ignores the children’s interests, shall be abolished.
The New Democratic marriage system, which is based on the free choice of partners, on monogamy, on equal rights for both sexes, and on protection of the lawful interests of women and children shall be put into effect.
Bigamy, concubinage, child betrothal, interference with the re-marriages of widows, and the exaction of money or gifts in connection with marriages, shall be prohibited.
Marriage shall be based on the complete willingness of the two parties. Neither party shall use compulsion, and no third party shall be allowed to interfere.
(The law, however, allowed traditional rules of exogamy, requiring people to marry outside their clan, to stand.) A campaign began, launched in 1953, to enforce the new law. The Communist Party in China would prove willing to use extraordinary violence to attack old ways, including a kinship system that stood in the way of new forms of state power.