China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
During China’s Civil War (1946-1948), a form of violence embodied in the Land Reform was erupting within the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “liberated” areas. Initially popular among the peasant population, land reform was a key component of the CCP’s victory and was especially welcomed by women. The National Women’s Federation believed that land reform was the most effective way to emancipate and mobilize rural women. At the early stage of the movement, the term “broken shoes,” meaning “loose women,” emerged. This term became a notable rhetorical device to label female actors whose usefulness and/or participation in the revolution was a subject of debate. Some segments of the male peasant population used the term to criticize the moral character of female revolutionaries. Others believed they could be a passionate part at the early stage of the revolution. And still others considered these women to be too unstable for the revolution. Many women followed in the footsteps of these early pathbreakers to become activists in the struggle sessions. This paper focuses on rural areas of North China and examines how different actors chose to employ “broken shoes” rhetoric. This examination reveals a complex labeling system in which male and female peasants, party cadres, and “broken shoes” conflicted, cooperated, and compromised during these violent meetings. In the process, low-level party and local actors built a new revolutionary morality for women that focused on their work ethic and expectations of sexual purity related to their class status.