In my previous post, I first proposed the idea that China under the Ming Dynasty was the world’s first fascist state. I also defined fascism as:
a political system distinguished by an emphasis on patriarchal, rural values; corporatist economic policy; extreme nationalism and patriotism, often involving extreme xenophobia and/or racism; and militant authoritarianism in both domestic and foreign affairs.
This post will be dedicated to explaining the first of these characteristics: patriarchal and rural values.
It is no secret that until no earlier than the late nineteenth century, China was among the most misogynistic societies in the world, if not the most. However, during the Ming Dynasty, this misogyny further intensified. Perhaps the most infamous example of such social trends involves the practice of foot binding, in which young girls’ feet were bound tightly to maintain their small size and break their arches for aesthetic purposes. Although this practice had existed in China for centuries prior to the rise of the Ming, it was much less common and virtually nonexistent outside of rural areas. Under the Ming, foot binding started to become mainstream in cities as well with the government’s encouragement.
Like the Ming, fascist rulers of European states in the twentieth century were also deeply misogynistic. In Italy under Mussolini, traditional gender roles were highly valued. Men were expected to be athletic and physical strength was prioritized over academic intelligence. Men who displayed any “feminine” attributes were regarded as biologically inferior to those with fewer or none. Not surprisingly, women were expected to work as housewives and avoid the public sphere.
Similar attitudes prevailed in Nazi Germany, where women were encouraged to leave the labor force and work as housewives. Due to the Nazis’ vision of the supremacy of a pure, Aryan race, German women were encouraged to only marry Nordic men and were expected to have as many children as possible. The Nazis even awarded those women who had given birth to at least four children.
The rural values of Ming China stemmed from the dynasty’s founder, Zhu Yuanzhang, also known as the Hongwu Emperor’s, peasant background. All too aware of the injustices Chinese peasants faced at the hands of the wealthy and the Confucian scholar bureaucrats that constituted the core of Imperial China’s political system, Hongwu instituted land reform intended to prevent peasants from losing their lands. He also implemented a caste system in which peasants were near the top and merchants were at the very bottom. Because merchants did not produce anything, Hongwu reasoned that their contributions to society were inferior to those of peasants, indicative of a sort of rural populism that would permeate Chinese society under the Ming.
In fascist Italy, ruralism was a product of Mussolini’s rejection of modernity in favor of tradition. The fascist ideal of a rural man was reflective of the regime’s traditionalist, anti-modernist worldview. Italian men were discouraged from relocating to metropolitan areas, as the urban lifestyle was considered emasculating.