Chiang’s ‘New Life Movement’ was introduced on 19 February 1934, during the Nationalist decade. This campaign aimed to ‘create a citizenry that was self-aware, politically conscious, and committed to the nation’, attempting to instil social decency, right conduct and self-respect. Soong Meiling described it as ‘a direct attempt to complete with the Chinese platform of economic and social reform, substituting a retreat to Confucius for an advance to Marx.’ 96 rules that were to govern all conduct were introduced, based on Confucian values such as filial piety. Many of these were seen as arbitrary and beside the point in a time of national crisis, such as the ban on women walking male dogs in the streets or stipulation on the length of skirts. Resentment towards the Movement was deepened by the fact that many of the KMT’s officials glaringly ignored it, enjoying wine, women and gambling, and even Chiang’s wife smoking a pipe despite one of the rules prohibiting the act. This sentiment was echoed in the North China Daily News, which observed that ‘the New Life Movement would have its best chance of success if it could begin at home’.
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