Although there have been women in China that have held positions of power and even lead in prominent positions, the history of the Chinese civilization has been one of male dominance. "Unfortunately, no level of leadership, education or social prominence for women has changed the patriarchal nature of traditional Chinese society (Perry 279)." Women in Chinese society are still considered to be a possession of the man or are looked upon as servants. Because they are seen in this manner, except for a few, women have not been able to contribute spiritually, politically or scientifically to Chinese society. It is to say almost for certain that women being constrained in this manner has prevented China from advancing to its full potential. The morale of a suppressive society is not one that encourages imagination, exploration or advancement. Although the Chinese in general are an efficient people, they have not continued their at one time rapid advances in technology.
This is partly due to the fact that women have so often been kept to the side and unable to be involved in the same aspect as men are. Some may argue that the women influence in the home as a caregiver would have somewhat of an impact on their value and importance. However, in Chinese and many other societies, "homemaker" is thought to be the only role for women and not considered to be one of great value. It is not surprising that after thousands of years, the transformation of the Chinese society still reflects the patriarchal history of traditional China and the defining characteristics that define women in a submissive role to men. This paper will examine the attitudes and feelings toward women, give examples of women in leadership positions throughout the history of China, discuss their inability to bring forth change to the patriarchal society and the modern day status of women. Since as early as the 7 th century BC, gender inequality in China has been an on going problem from before the birth of a child until after its death.
The 'We want a boy' mentality still exists today in Chinese thinking when it comes to young couples planning to start a family. What's even worse is that it is reinforced by nonsensical family traditions in a nation where filial piety often dictates family decisions. Parents usually desired sons in order to make familial propagation, security for the elderly, labor provision, and performance of ancestral rites (Perry). Giving birth to a girl meant that not only these things would fail to be performed, but that the family name would not be carried on. Families would sometimes be devastated by the news that a newborn baby is a girl. The desire to give birth to a boy far exceeds that of a girl and people go to great lengths to ensure themselves the birth of a boy.
One of the methods people use to increase there chances of giving birth to a boy is called "sex-selective abortion." This is the practice of aborting a fetus after an ultrasound determines that the fetus is a girl. Sex-selective abortion was rare before the late 20 th century because of the difficulty of determining the sex of the fetus before birth. "This method has become increasingly popular since the invention of ultrasound and is believed to be responsible for at least part of the skewed birth statistics in favor of males in Mainland China. Sex-selective abortion is illegal but nearly impossible in enforce because there is no practical way to determine the parents' true motivation for seeking abortion (Wikipedia)." Before the invention of the ultrasound, people could not perform sex-selective abortion but rather would perform sex-selective infanticide or sex-selective child abandonment. Sex-selective child abandonment is the practice of giving an infant of an undesired sex, which was typically female, up for adoption or even simply leaving it somewhere to die. That is if the parents decide to allow the child to live.
Those parents that don't even want the child to live commit sex-selective infanticide. This type of infanticide appears to have been practiced at various times in Chinese history, such as in the Qing dynasty, due to population pressures. An example of this horrible atrocity is told by a women know as "Rani." When Rani returned home from the hospital cradling her newborn daughter, the men in the family slipped out of her mud hut while she and her mother-in-law mashed poisonous oleander seeds into a dollop of oil and forced it down the infant's throat. As soon as darkness fell, Rani crept into a nearby field and buried her baby girl in a shallow, unmarked grave next to a small stream. Rani expressed that she never even felt any sorrow and that there was a lot of bitterness in her heart towards the baby because the gods should have given her a son. Rani's story is just one example of an unfortunate and sad truth that takes place hundreds or even thousands of time each year throughout the world.
There are though many people that do keep their newborn daughters and take care of them. However, girls are often deprived of many of the things that boys receive during childhood and life in general. Boys are not only generally breast-fed longer as infants then girls, but also comparatively better fed and nourished as they grow up. "A survey on health conducted among 44, 530 children of minority ethnicity in 10 areas of Yunnan Province in 2001 showed that the malnutrition rate among girls is 22. 12 percent and among boys, 14.
4 percent. The causes of the girls higher rate of malnutrition are insufficient protein intake, too much housework and lack of sleep (un china)." The survey also shows that 90 percent of girls in poverty-stricken areas have much more domestic work to do than boys. They have to look after children, cook for the family, chop firewood, carry water and feed the pigs and then get less than eight hours sleep a night. If a boy gets sick, the family will take him to the hospital immediately, even if it is the middle of the night or is rainy and windy. When a girl gets sick, however, the family will wait for a convenient time to take her to the hospital. A number of family members will accompany a boy to see the doctor, but girls are often taken to hospital by their mothers alone.
"Once a boy is known to be sick, it will be 10 hours on average until he is taken to see a doctor. For girls it is an average of 17 hours (un china)." In many parts of rural China, the education of girls has been neglected. Girls have less access to primary schools and fewer girls attend school than boys of all ages. The reason for this was often because there was not enough money for the both to attend school and the girls were needed to help with household chores and farming.
More girls than boys are taken out of school and there is a much higher proportion of girls among the young illiterate. Statistics from 1995 show that the male literacy rate was "89% while the female rate was 71% (gb gm)." The problem is so deeply ingrained that the phrase, 'It would be better to let the girls stay at home and take care of pigs than send them to school,' entered common usage. With all the negativity and feelings of inequality towards women since the Han Dynasty till today, there have been women in China permitted to hold positions of power and even lead in prominent positions as national figureheads. Unfortunately, no level of leadership, education or social prominence for women could change the patriarchal nature of traditional Chinese society (Perry 279). One of the reasons for this was that women were generally regarded as unworthy or incapable of an education, mostly due to the philosophical limitations of Confucianism.
Confucianism was a male dominated philosophy in which women had no dignity or human rights. According to Confucianism, women had to absolutely obey their fathers when they were not married, obey their husbands completely after wedlock and obey their sons in their widowhood. Morality, proper speech, modest manner and diligent work were basic virtues they were required to have. If women were barren, unfaithful, talkative, jealous, heavily sick, adulterous or caught thieving, they would be divorced no matter what the reasons were. With all the pressures and obstacles that women faced, they still played a significant and defining role in the political structure of China. However, many of these roles were defined by the death of their husbands and their circumstances rather than by the social acceptability of female leaders in Chinese society.
There are a few women throughout the history of China that stand out as examples of people that were subjugated to men in the patriarchal design of traditional Chinese society but were still able to play a defining role and attempt to break some of the many stereotypes that existed towards women. In every age, a handful of extraordinary women managed to acquire an education or otherwise achieve positions of far-ranging influence and authority despite these social constraints. The foremost female Confucian in the age of Han was Ban Zhao (45-116 CE). Ban was born into a scholarly Chinese family in which her father, Ban Bio, was a famous historian.
Madame Ban received her elementary education from her literate mother while still a child in her father's house. Other than that, her early life was pretty much standard for a young girl at that time. She married at the age of 14 and soon after began to bare children. Her husband died shortly after their marriage causing her to turn to writing and research and eventually earning a reputation as a respected scholar. Her brother Ban Gu was a poet and historian who died before finishing his authoritative history of the Han dynasty, called the Ch " ien Han she.
When her brother Gu died, Ban became an imperial historian under Emperor Han Hed i and completed her brother's Han Annals, a history of the Former Han Dynasty, which is generally regarded as second only to the historical work of Sima Qian. Among her many literary works, Ban Zhao composed a commentary on the popular Lives of Admirable Women by Liu. Later in life Ban produced her most famous work, "the N"u Jie, or Lessons for women," which acted as an instructional manual on feminine behavior and virtue for her daughters (Mann). Realizing that Confucian texts contained little in the way of specific and practical guidelines for a woman's everyday life, Ban Zhao sought to fill that void with a coherent set of rules for women, especially young women. Wu Zetian, the one and only woman ruler in Chinese history, was another remarkable person that broke through the stereotypes placed on women of the time. Wu was born into a rich and noble family during the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD).
She grew up playing music, writing for leisure, and learned to read Chinese very well by the age of thirteen. She was known for her wit, intelligence, and beauty and was soon recruited to the court of the Emperor Tai Tsung. Wu Zetian utilized her wit and began to plot her way to the top immediately after being recruited to the Emperor's court. With a little bit of luck and a lot of deceitfulness, Wu found herself as the Empress of the late Tai Tsung's son, Kao. Wu ran the administrative duties of the court with as much power as the emperor himself did. She elevated the positions of the women in society, challenging the beliefs of Confucianism.
She thought that war was a minor issue and reduced the army's size. Wu also stopped the aristocratic military man in government and replaced them with scholars, including hiring scholars to write biographies about the strong, influential famous Chinese women of the times. Wu also was fair to the low class of peasants, lowering the overwhelming taxes, increasing the agricultural production, and strengthening public works, resulting in China's most flourishing developments up to that point (Mote). Wu Zetian was a remarkable Chinese woman in the ways and rights she made available to her people.
Her country was peaceful and calm during her reign and she gave women rights that were unheard of. Tzu Hsi, known as Yehonala as a child, was another empress that used deceitfulness in order to gain power and stature within China. Little is known about her background besides that she was born on November 29, 1935 and her father guarded the emperor's home, the Forbidden City. China at that time was ruled by the Manchus, originally nomads from Manchuria, northeast of China. Like the emperor and most other prominent people in China at that time, Yehonala and her family were Manchu and had little contact with Chinese people. At the age of 16 she was chosen to be one of the concubines of Emperor Hsien Feng.
The emperor had many wives and concubines, but only Tzu-Hsi gave him a son. Upon the birth of their son, she immediately moved up in the court and upon the death of her husband she was given the title of Empress of the Western Palace. Hsien Feng died in 1861 at the age of 30 with no sons from his primary wife, allowing Tzu Hsi's five-year old son, Tung Chih, to become emperor. Tzu-Hsi was now the dowager empress. It was at this time that Yehonala took on the name Tzu Hsi, that ironically means 'Kindly and Virtuous," two things that Hsi lacked a lot of during her time in power. Although the emperor was just a child, the empresses couldn't rule openly.
The empress had to go through the little boy in order to carry out her plans. Before visits by government officials to deliver their reports to the emperor, Tzu Hsi would have a bamboo screen set up behind the boy's throne. She would then listen and tell the emperor what to say in return. Dutifully the young emperor repeated her words. Tung Chih had died and left no children to inherit the throne. Determined to maintain her power, Tzu Hsi chose the next emperor, her own three-year old nephew, Kuang Hsu, who was not in direct line of succession to the throne, therefore maintaining her power.
The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 was a key turning point of her reign. The Boxer Rebellion was named after the secret society of the 'Righteous and Harmonious Fists' a group of poor Chinese who blamed Westerners and their imperialism for their poor standing of living. First organized in 1898, they were tacitly supported by Tzu-Hsi's government. Rising in rebellion in early 1900, the empress and her government both helped and hindered the revolt. The Boxers attacked Western missionaries and merchants, as well as the compound in Peking where foreigners lived, beginning a siege that lasted eight weeks. On August 14 th the 19, 000 troops of the allied armies of the Western imperialist Powers captured Peking and ended the siege.
Tzu-Hsi decided to flee the city with the emperor. The Boxer Rebellion was over. At least 250 foreigners had been killed and China had to accept a humiliating peace settlement. Tzu-Hsi's legacy is clearly an important one. Whether the people liked her or not does not take away the pivotal role she played in the history of China. During her life in politics, Tzu-Hsi was clever, masterful and deceiving.
Her narrow-mindedness and ultra-conservatism in government policy delayed what China needed to do to keep pace with the rest of the world in the late 1800's. By the time she realized that she was causing China to fall behind the rest of the world in many aspects such as technology and economics, it was too late. Tzu Hsi was a cleaver and powerful leader of a crumbling empire who, even though she failed, fought to see China through difficult times. Many historians believe that Tzu-Hsi's success in the politics of her country helped put an end to any realistic hope of modernized imperial China. One of the better known historical figures or legends of China's deep history is a woman known as Hua Mulan, a heroine. Hua Mulan was said to be from a region known as the Central Plains and lived during the Sui and the Tang Dynasties.
It is said that Hua Mulan's father received an order to serve in the army. He had fought before, but by this time was old and infirm. Hua Mulan knew it was out of the question for her father to go and her only brother was much too young. She decided to disguise herself as a man and take her father's place. The troops fought in many bloody campaigns for several years before they obtained permission to return home. Hua Mulan was summoned to the court by the emperor, who wished to appoint her to high office as a reward for her outstanding service.
Hua Mulan declined his offer and accepted a fine horse instead. Only later when her former comrades in arms went to visit her did they learn that she was a woman. The story of Hua Mulan is well known and has provided much inspiration for poetry, essays, operas and paintings, as well as the Disney movie. The legend of Mulan is an example of the bravery; courage and potential women were capable of.
Whether Mulan is a fictional character or not isn't as important as the meaning of the legend. The story of a brave and courageous female that defies traditional roles has been a source of inspiration for young Chinese girls for many years. This sort of inspiration is vital in influencing women of even this generation to break the barriers and overcome the stereotypes that have been placed upon them for so many thousands of years. Since the earliest days, China has remained paternalistic in its attitudes and social reality.
Regardless of the many women that have striven to over come it, the patriarchal familial relationships in the Confucian tradition has seemed to remain intact. Despite the efforts of figures such as Ban Zhao, Wu Zetian, Tzu Hsi or even Hua Mulan, the role of men still often dictate the social standings of women and their worth is often defined as a possession rather than a partner. The role of a woman in China, which has usually been no more then a central component in the family and to maintain the customs of the communities and provide healing, has remained intact despite the several challenges to the more complacent and subservient roles. These women went to great efforts to reverse the stereotypical roles and call for societal support for gender reversal. The fundamental Chinese belief that this would be a violation of nature continued to stand in the way. The gender differences and roles distinguished for men and women were not only related to the patriarchal nature of the society, but to a premise of biological and sociological arguments that demonstrated the differences between the genders and the necessity for the subjugation of women.
Though there was some female leadership and at times sparks of matriarchy, the underlying traditions of society went mostly unchanged and there was never much general societal support for the introduction of women as leaders. Even educated, well informed, dominant and convincing females like Wu Zeit an, Ban Zhao and Tzu Hsi were unable to challenge the premise of the structural patriarchy to effect change that supported an integrated view of women. It is not surprising that centuries later, the transformation of the Chinese society in the modern day still reflects the patriarchal history of traditional China and the defining characteristics that define women in a submissive role to men. While it is easy to belabor the oppression of women in China, one must look to the monumental strides that the communist government was able to take in the last 50 years. An unparalleled determination rested in the communists goal for answering the woman question. Since women wanted more equality, and equality is doled out from the hands of those in power, communist China has sought to address the women rights question and has created some policies to begin to reform the social inequalities of the Chinese society.
One of the policies that was put in to place to help resolve the economic issues of repressed Chinese women was the Land Act and the Marriage Act of 1950. The land reform was intended to create a more balanced economic force in marriage and was the beginning of governmental efforts to pacify women, with no real social effect. Small-plots were redistributed to each family member regardless of age or sex. Land reform provisions stipulated that property would be equally divided in the case of divorce. Nonetheless, their husbands effectively controlled land allotted to women.
The Marriage Law of 1950 legalized marriage, denounced patriarchal authority in the household and granted both sexes equal rights to file for divorce. The second and most prominent element of the strategy was the integration women into economic development. Women's employment was viewed as a prerequisite for emancipation from the middle class structures as embodied in the patriarchal family. Furthermore, at the core of the governments strategy for political consolidation was economic reconstruction and rural development.
The full participation of women was not only an ideological imperative but also a pragmatic one. The third element, the All-China Women's Federation (W. F. ), was established by the government to mobilize women for economic development and social reform. Women did succeed in gaining materialistically. However, culture dictates whether these governmental attempts can be successful and China has proven that they were only panaceas for the real issue.
Materialistic approaches could not shadow the issue of the view in Chinese society of the role of women. In the struggle for equality, China did not go to the women to find what they believed to be the most effective answer to the issue. The paternalistic powers gave women what they thought they needed for an equalizer, not understanding the need for self-affirmation and independence. The issue the women rallied under was that men were answering the woman question.
Women's organizations were not allowed their voice, which became an ironic and frustrating endorsement to the pathetic state of women in China. Women in China must still adhere to the traditional roles set about by their culture. The Communist Revolution provided the examination of the roles of women in China and implemented important steps toward the recognition of their legitimacy. Rightly so, Chinese feminists are not satisfied with their place in society and continue to campaign for a new and better understanding of the value of women in society.
The results caused by the frustration of the way women are treated in China goes far beyond rallying against certain issues. "A medical research team in Beijing has found that the suicide rate among women in China is 25 percent higher than that of men (china. org)." The study also found that females living in rural areas were three times more likely to commit suicide when faced with unresolved problems. In comparison to Western countries, China's suicide rates are quite different. Suicide rates in the West show that males are 3.
6 times higher than that of women. Believing there is no possibility of change, many women in the rural areas where people have less access to the expression of complaints and to the courts seek extreme ways to express their desperation. The situation is better in urban areas, but sharply increased competition in modern society has also driven many vulnerable women to commit suicide as a way to escape tough problems. The need to focus on women is obviously the first step that should be taken by China to reduce the suicide rates. Not withstanding all of the obstacles that women have faced in the past, there is an upswing in women's involvement in China's politics today. According to information released by the All-China Women's Federation:" Seven women currently hold posts in the leadership of the state and the Communist Party of China (CPC).
They are Wu Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and vice premier of the State Council; He Lul i, Gu Xiulian and Uyunqimg, vice chairwomen of the Standing Committee the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature; Chen Zhi li, a State Councilor; Liu Yan dong and Hao Jian xiu, vice chairwomen of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPP CC). Women now hold 14 ministerial positions in departments of the State Council, 56 leading posts of 31 province-level administrative zones and 4, 353 leading posts of 2, 813 counties. Gu Xiulian, vice-president of the All China Women's Federation (A CWF), stated that Chinese women were participating in the administration of state and social affairs on a greater scale, a clear indicator of the improving status of Chinese women. The brilliant performance of Chinese women leaders has caught attention on both the domestic and the world scene.
Wu Yi, dubbed 'China's iron lady', won world acclaim in steering the recent fight against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China. When she served as China's minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, Wu had already exhibited her high caliber in dealing with China's WTO talks and Sino-US negotiations on intellectual property rights. There are many other achievements showing Chinese women's contributions to politics. More than 600 women were elected deputies of the 2, 985-member 10 th NPC, of which 21 women were elected members of the Standing Committee, four more than in the ninth NPC (English)." Despite the active roles of Chinese women in politics, experts pointed out that China was still behind the goal of women holding 30 percent of the political posts raised by the United Nations. The Chinese Government is vigorously working achieving that goal.
In Beijing, a five-year target has been set to have women occupy more than 28 percent of the seats in the municipal congress of the Communist Party of China, the municipal people's congress and the municipal committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. "The ratio of women serving as heads of departments of the municipal government shall rise from the present 16. 7 percent to more than 20 percent (English)." This paper has examined the attitudes and feelings toward women, examples have been given of women in leadership positions throughout the history of China, their inability to bring forth change to the patriarchal society has been discussed and the modern day status of women has been examined. There is a growing awareness that attitudes and behavior towards women, both of individuals and of institutions, must change to take in to account the real rights and real needs of women.
China will someday more fully realize that women are of not only great and unique value, but a necessity to sustain steady development. Chinese women change as their country changes, however, some of the problems in the area of gender equality continue to hold back progress in women's rights in this country. Equality of dignity is far from being achieved, with discrimination on the basis of gender still widespread. They will know that they can contribute to society and advance themselves mentally and financially. Women - their lives, their roles, and their aspirations - are the keys to development in every dimension. Equality, opportunity and development must reach every woman in China.
Women's advancement is something that can be measured, not only economically but morally as well. Not only will the economic potential and development of the country grow in leaps and bounds when the people realize the addition that women can bring to society, but also the moral of the country will be raised. Just under half of the population will start feeling worthwhile and a sense of contribution and achievement. The beliefs that have been engraved into the Chinese society for centuries will not easily be changed, but remembering that girls were once considered useless, brings to light the true strides that have advanced Chinese society in the form of legal recognition.
Securing the equality of women and men, in law and in fact, is the great political project of the 21 st century. Works Cited web "Medical Research Team Finds Higher Suicide Rate Among Women." China Daily. 4/April/2002 web Beijing Time. "Women a Rising Force in China's Politics " People's Daily Online web profiles / country statistics. cf m? Id = 235 web china / html /gender.
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