Women in China at the beginning of the twentieth century China was suffering a great loss at the beginning of the twentieth century since half of its citizens were not able to contribute much to the country. The Chinese society at that time was male dominated, so though women comprised almost half of the total population, they had actually very little part to play in uplifting the country economically, socially and intellectually. Nevertheless, Chinese women should not be blamed for that. They had their own reasons for being so unproductive, which they later tried to overcome successfully. Firstly, they were 'physically confined.' This takes us back to the practice of foot binding in China, which was started early in the tenth century by a prince who loved the small 'lily feet' of his concubine (Golden). 'Lily feet were considered very dainty, beautiful, and a symbol of gentility and high-class' (Golden).
They could fit into three inches long shoes. This practice of foot binding began when a girl was between three and eleven years old. 'The child's toes were turned under and pressed against the bottom of her foot and a bandage would be tightly wound around the foot from the toes to the ankle' (Golden). This indeed was a very cruel thing to do because sometimes the toes even fell off due to the lack of blood... Foot binding was an extremely painful process. The arch of the foot was broken and the foot was bound to keep the foot from growing.
If the feet were not kept bound, they might heal. Bound feet often became gangrenous. It was really hard for women to walk with bound feet because they could barely support their weight. Even pea sent women had to have their feet bound, so this meant while they were working in the fields, they basically had to crawl. Foot binding was not only for the sake of beauty, but it also served the purpose for the Chinese young girls to be restricted from going out of their houses. This practice lasted for about a thousand years.
Thus this unhealthy practice prevented Chinese women from going beyond their homes and thus limited their freedom to gain knowledge from the outside world. Secondly, Chinese women were socially restricted. 'Chastity for women was more valuable than life itself. The definition of chastity became ridiculously broad -- to the extent that a girl was considered unclean if she happened to see a man's sex organ when he urinated in the public place.' Unless she married him she had to commit suicide to protect her reputation (Yao 106). 'Moreover, women who were disowned by their husbands due to unfaithfulness and disobedience were deprived of employment, bearing remorse and disgrace for life' (Yao 79). Since these women had no other source of living as they were completely dependent on their men, suicide was the only alternative (Yao 79).
More often the family made those decisions of suicide because that saved its name. So, there was a lot of pressure from the society which suppressed Chinese women's hopes and desires to be equal to men in every aspect of life. Once a women got married she was limited again. In China the family was the model of all types of relationships, including between ruler and subject. In the family, the father was like the ruler and the rest of the family was expected to obey him. Since a daughter could not pass on the family name, she was nothing until she got married.
Once she got married she had to live with her husbands side of the family and was now able to be place on the ancestor shelf. Traditionally in the family the woman was supposed to do the work in the home like spinning and weaving, cooking, taking care of the children, etc. Women were completely dependent of men. If they were not married they had no other means of support and therefore suicide was the only other option. When a young Chinese woman married, she came under the control of her mother-in-law. One of the only ways a woman could gain respect was to have as many sons as possible.
Chinese women also had a lack of education, which limited them also. The number of girls in school in China was almost zero until the beginning of the nineteenth century, but it slightly increased at the beginning of the twentieth century. Women were also politically ignorant since they never really went out side of their homes. Gradually, women tried to come out of their homes and face the world in front of them.
The practice of foot binding also started to be less common as people realized the cruelty behind it. Women's organizations were also being established like The League of Women's Right and Women's Suffrage Association which voiced women's opinion (Yao 128). Women were able to overcome all the social, political and traditional pressures and identify themselves to the world. This indeed was a good start for Chinese women to pave the way for later generations to follow.
Thus no matter how much women suffered in China in the early stage of the twentieth century, they made a good start and continued to reach the present state of freedom and equality. Works Cited Bingham, Marjorie W. , and Susan H. Gross, Women in Modern China. Minneapolis: Glen hurst, 1980. 'Golden Legacy Curriculum.' web (29 Sep.
1998). Yao, Esther S. Lee. Chinese Women: Past & Present. Mesquite: Ide House, 1983.