Change Comes to China’s “Granite Women”

Change taking place in China is not happening as fast as many Western critics want it to. To these critics, China should flip the feudal switch to democracy and the light should come on without effort.

However, in spite of Western pressure to speed things up, changes are taking place as planned by China’s government—one step at a time.

For example, foot binding was around centuries when the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911) first attempted to end the practice that would continue until 1949.

In 1976 when Mao died, twenty percent of the population was literate. Today more than 90% can read with a goal to reach 99%.

In 1985, school reform was implemented making nine years of education mandatory for all children. Academic achievement became the new priority over the political consciousness of the Mao era.

An example of how China’s education policies have brought about change may be seen among the “Granite Women”, who live near the coast in southeast China.

For centuries, these women carried blocks of granite from the quarries where their husbands, brothers and fathers worked cutting the stone.

However, today, China’s economic reforms along with education are changing the old ways.

Younger women, who have now had an education, know what they don’t want to do with their lives.

For centuries, others such the Qing Dynasty and the Nationalists failed to improve the quality of life in China for women. Where these others failed, the CCP appears to be succeeding.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This revised and edited post first appeared on November 7, 2010

12 Responses to Change Comes to China’s “Granite Women”

  1. Marjorie says:

    Thank you so very much for sharing the video of Lisa See, I really appreciate your kindness in searching this out for me.

  2. merlin says:

    One step at a time. lol. Like TX, China builds big. Disney in Shanghai for example. It’s not JUST Disney, but they are also building a few subway lines to go out to the sticks where Disney will be. …speaking of that…maybe I oughta look for a place out that way and sign a 10 yr lease, then when I want to move I can sub lease it out for more since it will be on the same metro as Disney. 😛 Start my own “rent a room” business…well….”rent 1 room”. That was one of my ideas before I got the boot since I was on the hunt for an apartment. Unfortunately, at the time I couldn’t get anybody to help me find a place down there. The 2 friends I knew in that area would only provide translation services and assistance if I got a room near their place just south of Century Park because they thought it would be cool to have somebody to play tennis every day. Nice thought, but only if they were offering to pay the rental fee as the cheapest places around there go for about 1500 at that time for a 1 room + toilet (the current tennant lived in what looked like my cousin’s room on the farm with clothes hanging on top of appliances, underwear on the ac, and dirty dishes piled up on the 1 desk).

    Regardless of Disney, my former subway line was in the process of extension…which recently I heard from a friend the city began test runs on a track to the far south western district next to Fengxian. Add to that the “modernization” is not only Shanghai. Each city is modernizing. I’m sure by now Hangzhou probably has a subway line going out to West Lake.

    I wish I made it out to the center/western cities (besides Guiyang). It’s one of my goals next time to visit Xi’an and Chengdu, although that will have to wait when sneaks are on the ground as I’ll be busy getting a place to crash, reconnecting with my Chinese “relatives” (friends), and finding a good investment I can put funds into in order to make a return profit to float the boat through July 2013. I had a LOT of free time before and used it “wisely” if one considers reaching high scores on the Papa Taco Mia game, or searching for a way to bandage the visa.

  3. Marjorie says:

    Another book I recently read is All the Flowers in Shanghai, revolves around how “saving face” was so import to the Chinese families.
    It also has the Great Leap Forward included in the story. This book is written by Duncan Jepson, it is his first book and I hope he has more novels to follow.

  4. Marjorie says:

    I also recently read All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson that gives details of the Great Leap Forward. This is a great read.

  5. Marjorie says:

    This book sounds like an excellent read. I have read many of Lisa See’s books on China and the history of China is just unbelieveable especially under Chairman Mao.

    • Marjorie, what book are you talking about?

      • Marjorie says:

        Snow flower and the Secret Fan, where she gives a very graphic description of foot binding. Dreams of Joy is about the Great Leap Forward and the horror of Chairman Mao’s reign.
        I really enjoy the history she gives in these 2 books.

      • I’ve read Lisa See’s “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”, and I attended one of her author events during the promotion of the novel. She went to great lengths to research the material for her novel even traveling to the remote area of China that she wrote about. The film of the novel, on the other hand, took liberties and did not follow the novel closely.

        However, I haven’t read “All the Flowers in Shanghai”.

        Is the setting of the novel mostly in Shanghai or does it also take place in the rural, agricultural regions where the drought and famine that took place during the failed Great Leap Forward also took place?

        My wife was a child in Shanghai during the Great Leap Forward. She remembers the hunger but no one that she knows of died of starvation in Shanghai. Her memoir, Red Azalea, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and won the Carl Sandburg Award for literature, covers most of the Mao era except for the first few years since she was born a few years after 1949.

        I found this quote from the most popular customer Review on Amazon for “All the Flowers in Shanghai.”

        “This book reminded me very much of ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’ The historical detail was very well done and it was interesting to read about the revolution from the point of view of the working class. Unfortunately, Feng was fairly oblivious to the revolution for most of the book, so we only get hints of what it was like for the upper class.”

        Unless a author is steeped in a holistic view of China during that era, I question the accuracy of the historical details. How does any reader know how accurate those details are? What materials did Duncan use for his research?

        Wanting to learn more about Duncan Jepson, I did a bit of digging and learned that he is the award-winning director and producer of five feature films. He has also produced documentaries for Discovery Channel Asia and National Geographic Channel. He was the editor of the Asia-based fashion magazine West East and is a founder and managing editor of the Asia Literary Review. A lawyer by profession, he lives in Hong Kong. However, I had trouble finding how old he was and if he has visited China outside Hong Kong. From his photo, he doesn’t look as if he is old enough to have lived in China during the Mao era so he had to rely on mostly Western historical sources of that era and the accuracy of those sources may be questionable since they tend to lean toward demonizing Mao while ignoring the positive things that were achieved during the same era.

        As for the Chinese upper class during Mao’s time, in rural China they suffered horribly. In fact, almost a million of the land owners were tried by the rural peasants in the villages that had been victimized by many of the land owners. Once found guilty by the same rural peasants, they were executed. Although Mao and the CCP didn’t have much to do with that, they also did nothing to stop it since they had gained the support of the rural peasants curing the Civil War with promises that this abuse would stop and there would be land reforms. The CCP, as harsh as it appears during Mao’s time, did follow through with the promise of land reforms, abolished private ownership of land and divided the land up among the peasant farmers into small plots that could not be sold and were owned collectively by the village and the government.

        For example: Before 1949, the average lifespan in China was age 35. By the time Mao died in 1976, the average lifespan had improved to age 65. Even though the Great Leap Forward failed, the quality of life in China did improve for most of the people compared to the average quality of life before 1949. In fact, since 1851, most of the peasants had lived at a marginal level and widespread hunger was constant. In 1949, the CCP was the only government in China’s history to implement plans to aleviate that suffering, and they made mistakes.

        There are twenty-two provinces, 5 autonomous regoins and 2 special districts in China. According to studies, only six provinces suffered losses from starvation from the drought and famine, which lasted for about four years… The two provinces hit the hardest were Anhui and Sichuan. Some recovered faster than others.


      • Marjorie says:

        Thank you so much for the follow-up to my comment, I had no idea so much went on in China, the history is beyond belief.
        On Gold Mountain by Lisa See takes her back to her roots visiting China and her ancestors. I loved this book as well. The history of her great grandfather moving to California and his success there and in the homeland is documented by her, through her travels to
        China. Wow, what an amazing book. Many pictures are included in the novel.
        All the Flowers in Shanghai are set in Shanghai and ends up in the countryside with the beginning of what was to come the Great Leap Forward. This book deals mainly with a family trying to save face.

      • Marjorie,

        Saving face in China does have its drawbacks but so does boosting a false sense of self-esteem in America. Did you know that “On Gold Mountain” was produced as a stage play. My wife and I saw the production on stage in Los Angeles. You may enjoy Lisa See talking about aspects of “On Gold Mountain” in this video.

        In addition, I found this trailer for the production of a “Gold Mountain”, which might not be Lisa See’s.

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