At the beginning of the twentieth century, a time when China’s educated, progressive younger generations came into contact with various Western ideologies—including liberalism, anarchism, Marxism, and so on1 —taken as a hallmark for individual freedom, romantic love became the preoccupation of many. This phenomenon had hence sparked discussion among intellectuals over the relation between love and revolution.2
In light of prevalent foreign oppression and the incompetency of the domestic government, political entrepreneurs sought to harness and direct the power of love to aid their own cause by reframing its rightful interpretation as universal human love and the love for the nation, rather than romantic love oriented towards individual fulfilment.3 After the familial reform advocacy was circulated during the New Culture Movement4 , the GMD government became the first political institution to formalise the idea of xiao jiating and to incorporate it into legislation. The logic behind such actions is that satisfactory home life and the liberation of individuals from oppressive big families enhance the productivity and creativity of the population, which would, in turn, serve to strengthen the nation and benefit industrialisation. Such are the only ways to save China from foreign threats and internal degeneration.
Later on in the century, the Marital Law issued by the CCP in 1950 demonstrated continuity of this view on the relation between love and national interests, and had furthered the state’s effort to integrate the two matters. The Marital Law, together with the land reform, were seen as the two pillars of a total social reform that aimed to overturn the feudal power relationships.5 Historians like Susan Glosser believe that this consolidated association between family reform and the revolutionary agenda was not established until the CCP came into power.6 We can hardly deny the CCP’s effort in compressing private spaces and making conjugal union increasingly a political matter, however, given Glosser’s less than subtle anti-communist tone, her opinions need to be taken with some reservation. The views presented in Revolution of Heart, a Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950 implicitly disagreed with those articulated in the Chinese Visions of Family and States.
Whereas the CCP developed the tie between the society and the state to the fullest through a redefinition of love and marriage, the effort to tame various forces—women’s agency, individualistic romantic love etc.— under the roof of the “family” had existed since the 1920s. Political entrepreneurs and intellectuals constantly sought to reconcile the preconceived contradiction between one’s personal fulfilment and one’s responsibility to the nation by redefining love and family in accordance to their own ideologies. For example, as Revolution of Heart had pointed out, criticism for individual fulfilment was voiced by GMD propagandists such as Hong Ruizhao had appeared as early as the 1920s.7 Hong denounced romantic love manifested in the form of individual fulfilment and urged the younger generations to devote their energy not to love but to their nation.8
To conclude, the conflicts and overlaps between personal interests and the greater good of the nation manifested in the dilemma of love is a persistent debate among politicians and intellectuals, and the systematic usage of marriage and family reform to aid revolutionary goals appeared as early as the 1910s. Governments and political parties appropriate the ideal form of love and family to pursue their vision of a productive and efficient state-society relation, during which the line between public and private matters in China was increasingly blurred in the past century.
- Susan L. Glosser, Chinese Vision of Family and States, 1915-1953 (Berkeley, 2003), Chapter 1, p.3
- Haiyan Lee, Revolution of the Heart: a Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950 (Stanford, 2007), p.257
- Ibid., p.264; Glosser, Chinese Vision of Family and States, Chapter 4
- Glosser, Chinese Vision of Family and States, Chapter 1, p.9
- Ibid., Chapter 4, p.2
- Ibid., Chapter 4, p.4
- Ibid., p.257
- Lee, Revolution of the Heart, p.262