By Paul Kengor
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at The American Spectator.
I recently wrote about a shocking piece in the New York Times peddling a line we literally would’ve once expected from the Daily Worker or Pravda. The Times ran a strange article asserting that Soviet Bloc women enjoyed “better sex under communism.”
This was merely one such article in an odd and at times almost-celebratory series by the Times on the so-called “Red Century,” marking this year’s centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Most people might prefer to solemnly mark those 100 years with more significant facts like, say, the 100 million corpses produced by communist governments in those years, and still accumulating in places like North Korea, Cuba, and China. But not the folks at the New York Times: the Times informs its readers that communism … well, it wasn’t so bad after all—especially for women.
Well, the Times struck again last week with another stunner that once upon a time would have been immediately dismissed as silly communist propaganda fomented by a party organ in Moscow or Havana. Last week, the Times doubled down with another jaw-dropper on how communism has been just fabulous for women—this time in China.
“The Communists did many terrible things,” conceded this latest Times assessment, quoting a Chinese communist grandmother. “But they made women’s lives much better.”
The piece stems from an increasingly predictable and lamentable set of assertions being pushed by the political left in regard to communism. To wit: communism graciously delivered women into the workforce, communism generously took care of women’s (burdensome) children in daycare centers, communism bestowed upon women magnificent new rights (read: abortion), communism handed women great “free” education, and communism generally turned the lucky woman worker-bee of the Proletariat into a dazzling new Communist Woman.
Schools. Factories. Farms. Abortion clinics. And 24/7 state daycare for the worker-child.
Presumably, to today’s progressive, this litany is judged a bountiful buffet of ideological eye-candy. These are deemed terrific advances that made women’s lives better under communism.
And yet, this particular Times article is actually worse than that. The author argues that Mao’s totalitarian state didn’t quite go far enough into the home. The chairman and his central planners didn’t do enough in freeing women of their children and household chores. The author writes:
While the Communist revolution brought women more job opportunities, it also made their interests subordinate to collective goals. Stopping at the household doorstep, Mao’s words and policies did little to alleviate women’s domestic burdens like housework and child care. And by inundating society with rhetoric blithely celebrating its achievements, the revolution deprived women of the private language with which they might understand and articulate their personal experiences.
When historians researched the collectivization of the Chinese countryside in the 1950s, an event believed to have empowered rural women by offering them employment, they discovered a complicated picture. While women indeed contributed enormously to collective farming, they rarely rose to positions of responsibility; they remained outsiders in communes organized around their husbands’ family and village relationships. Studies also showed that women routinely performed physically demanding jobs but earned less than men, since the lighter, most valued tasks involving large animals or machinery were usually reserved for men.
The urban workplace was hardly more inspiring. Women were shunted to collective neighborhood workshops with meager pay and dismal working conditions, while men were more commonly employed in comfortable big-industry and state-enterprise jobs. Party cadres’ explanations for this reflected deeply entrenched gender prejudices: Women have a weaker constitution and gentler temper, rendering them unfit for the strenuous tasks of operating heavy equipment or manning factory floors.
In this author’s ideological rendering, the Chinese collectivist-administrative state didn’t manage women’s lives intimately enough. The state, apparently, didn’t have enough responsibility.
Quite astonishingly, the article makes no mention of poverty or starvation for women in communist China, where more people died than in any other country under communism (no small achievement). The 2000 Harvard University Press work, The Black Book of Communism, estimates that 65 million people died under Chinese communism mainly between 1957 and 1969 (the period covered in the New York Times piece). The latest research pegs the number nearer 70-80 million. That’s more than perished under Stalin’s Russia (the Black Book credits Russia with a mere 20 million killings). It also vastly surpasses Hitler’s Holocaust, and it’s actually higher than the combined deaths tolls of World War I and II.
The article doesn’t mention the government one-child cap on the offspring that women were permitted to bear; the forced abortion and sterilization; the abandoning of baby girls; the lives of prostitution assumed by countless Chinese women; or the fact that female infanticide (as a whole and as a percentage) and suicide is more prevalent in China than any other nation. Think about this: China has 20% of the world’s women but 56% of the world’s female suicides. For at least 20 years now, Chinese women have accounted for over half of the world’s suicides. According to the World Bank and World Health Organization, about 500 Chinese women kill themselves every day. Women under Chinese communism have killed themselves at a stunning rate.
Modern China faces a stunning demographic reality of tens of millions of missing women, particularly due to the one-child policy. Countless female fetuses were aborted once identified via ultrasound by Chinese parents who, given the option of having one child—and preferring a boy—decided to abort the girl. Moreover, among undesired girls who were at least fortunate to be born, many parents opted to abandon their baby girl at an orphanage. Notice that the vast majority of Chinese children raised by adoptive American parents are girls.
It’s a grim picture: abandoned girls, female infanticide, female suicide. That’s the shocking truth about women under Chinese communism.
Even Hillary Clinton, way back when she was first lady, criticized China for its poor treatment of women. “It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food or drowned” simply because they are born female, said Clinton in Beijing in September 1995, and “it is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution.”
But the Times piece wasn’t focused on that. It’s a new day at the Times—a day and time to hail (not condemn) the achievements of the Red Century.
Sadly, I’m not surprised by this. I’ve long observed carefully and painfully how modern leftists—especially in education—have been making a hard push to portray communism as good for women (and racial minorities). I first noticed this bizarre reality nearly 20 years ago when I was asked to do a comprehensive review of civics texts used by students in high schools. There, in these texts, I found the breathtaking assertion that communism had been good for women in Bolshevik Russia—with the only evidence offered that women were thrust into the workforce and were given the ultimate gift of legalized abortion.
What more does a gal need, eh?
As for China, I saw similar claims in the texts, especially regarding the population situation. The first thing that should come to mind when thinking of communist China and population is the state’s refusal of a woman and her husband to have more than one child. It’s difficult to imagine a more demeaning and crude and crass violation of a most basic human right: the right to reproduce. How dare any government tell its people that they can’t have children? But such is not the take in many of these awful texts. The texts present the one-child policy as a prudent, caring government step to curb “overpopulation” and to achieve “modernization.”
One is left puzzling at how every nation in history that achieved modernization managed to do so without a one-child limit. (For the record, China is now moving to a two-child policy.)
Sadly, such basic facts and common sense are absent from many of the textbooks used to “teach” students today. They are sorely lacking in our K-12 schools, our universities, and (of course) at the newspaper-of-record for the progressive left: the New York Times.
So, here we are again, with the Times carrying the torch. The political left has found a new front in arguing for communism: Marxism-Leninism, dear progressives, was just tremendous for women.
What an outrage. This October 2017 marks the centenary of communism. Let’s remember communism in China and worldwide for what it truly delivered unlike any other ideology: death.
First published at Center for Vision & Values
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