The Role of Women in Chinese Culture
Most traditions in the world have always maintained minuscule and degraded status for the woman. Women’s inferiority and men’s superiority has always been prevalent in most traditions and is particularly deeply rooted in the Chinese culture. Evidently, China has always been a patriarchal society suggesting that the significance of women was and is very dismal in the society. The interpretation of the role of women in Chinese culture was always oppressive to the women in many ways. For instance, it denied a woman the right to education. Since imperial China, the woman assumed a relatively subordinate position to the men, was inferior, and her role in the Chinese culture had quite a dismal significance.
The traditional patriarchal culture influenced the oppression of the woman since her birth. Evidently, the birth of a boy was preferred and acknowledged more than the birth of a female. In China, from birth, it was evident from their naming that a woman was inferior to her brothers and other males. The names such as ‘Little Mistake’ given to girls illustrated their desire to have a male child. A birth of a boy was called ‘Big Happiness” while the birth of a girl was ‘Little Happiness.'(Ryan). The notion of women’s inferiority was breed from the tender years of an individual’s lifetime and thus became prevalent in the society even at old ages. This practice changed in the years of high economic reforms and girls were given names that expressed splendor and veneration.
Women in tradition China were not entitled to the right to education. Education in most ancient societies such as China was male oriented. The organization saw no need or importance in educating women. As such, women could not take up significant roles such as positions in government services. Women only received training on family roles and responsibilities. Some families were regarded as custodians of conventional education and had to ensure perpetual transmission of classical education. However, where a male was not available, the woman was not allowed instead. Thus, education for females was strongly abetted by the centrality of the family and requirements of family life. (Bary, Bloom and Chan).
The ancient oppression of women and denial of the right to education has affected their involvement in teaching and school leadership in modern times. Since the traditional society did not take the severe education of the female, today, men are still preferred in school leadership positions as compared to women. Women character images don’t quite coincide with the competence required for administrators, and so women are not thought to be as adaptable as men are to leading roles at school and university levels. (Sobehart, Administration. and University.)
Ironically, the women in Chinese tradition were considered to play a fundamental role in the education of the young, yet it did not find it important to educate the women. Mothers were required to master classical text and primers. They were expected to teach these to the young males before they went to school. This role was a maternal responsibility. Women bear the physical abilities of childbearing and breastfeeding, which extends culturally such that women’s primary role is to shoulder all domestic work by the traditional division of gender labor. (Sobehart, Administration. and University.)
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The Confucian model advocated that women ought to be subservient, passive and yielding. The standard stipulated that a woman’s role was to submit to the man. The male gender was supposed to be the most dominant as per the Chinese culture. Male dominance was a key element in the social system of ancient China. (Willian J. Duiker) The woman’s role was subordinate and restricted to family issues. Women were supposed to raise the children and fulfill their home duties. This fact meant that women were not allowed to take up any formal positions of authority.
During ancient times, women apparently did not usually occupy official positions of power, but they often became a force in politics, especially at court, where wives of the ruler or other female members of the royal family were often dominant in palace intrigues.However, people frowned on such activities. (Willian J. Duiker)
The ‘Admonition for women’ by Ban Zhao portrays a woman as an inferior being who is supposed to be selfless and not care about herself. She stresses that a woman should put others first and not herself. Zhao goes further to explain that a woman is not entitled to expect respect from other people. She writes that a woman always is in fear, always trembling. As such a woman will have shown humility to others. The words of Ban Zhao suggest that a lady ought not to get respect from others, that she is not entitled to feel sad or complain when others talk evil about that. She evidently signifies that a woman is an inferior being who does not deserve humility from others.
In marriage, the position of women was subordinate. In ancient China, the woman was subservient to the husband. It is important to notes that the parents made the decision of marriage for their daughters. Parents would make marriage arrangements for their daughters without their consent. The wife had an obligation to serve her husband, and failure to do so would neglect the right principles. Zhao stresses on the corresponding and mutual responsibility that exist between a woman and a man.
The women in ancient Chinese culture did not have an upper hand in any case whatsoever. This statement is because the teachings of the Confucian principles illustrate that a man had the power to beat a woman if he runs out of rage. The woman was neither given space to justify herself nor was she allowed to defend herself when being battered by a man.
The Chinese beliefs put a lot of prominence on the concept of virginity before marriage. In addition to that, the culture advocated for fidelity in marriage for women. As such, it was the role of a woman to remain pure and keep herself undefiled. The woman was expected to demonstrate chastity and preserve her honor. This practice was supposed to help a woman establish herself as a person although treated as less of a person. The Chinese culture located women with the family and gave them the roles of mothers and wives with an aim of controlling their sexuality. Despite the government encouragement for women in Indonesia to participate in economic activities, the Chinese still relate women’s role in society to motherhood which seems sacred. (Ryan)
Apparently the role of women in the ancient China has influenced the position of women in the modern world. The issue of gender role socialization is standard in China, especially for the ladies. The role of the woman in the Chinese culture was within the family, and it also affected the roles she has taken on the family over the years. Since the traditional Chinese culture held it that women’s roles were supposed to be domestic, as a mother or housekeeper, women choose careers that befit this stereotype. Gender role socialization further reinforces the sexual division of labor, with the family as women’s primary role obligation, even when both spouses are working outside the home(Granrose). Regardless of whether a woman is working or not, her primary function as a woman has to be fulfilled.
In addition to that, the interpretation of the role of women as per the principles of ancient China has limited the job opportunities available for women. The argument behind this assertion is that girls continue to limit the opportunities available for them by taking up careers that they believe fit their stereotype of what being a woman is. Consequently, their male counterparts take up career paths without any restriction resulting to high salary discrepancy between women and men. When women socialize into jobs consistent with traditional gender roles corresponding to their primary responsibility of home management and child care, these jobs are feminized and as a result, women segregate in low-paid, dull, monotonous, and routine jobs.(Granrose)
Research shows that although male-to-female average income ratios have upgraded over the years, there still exist a disparity in the incomes earned by both men and women. This occurrence is because women take up most of the low-rank job positions while men take higher rank job positions that pay high wages. For example within the category of legislators, government administrators, business executives and managers, the females on average earned a monthly income of NT$58595 in 2000 whereas their male counterparts made NT$70980 per month(Granrose). Therefore, the pay gap remains significant. Research reveals that women continue to receive 65 percent of what men earned in China regardless their relative advances in education.
Domestic abuses remain a huge problem in China even in modern times. The practice can be traced back to the inferiority of the female gender from time immemorial. Domestic violence, marital rape, and beatings continue to be a problem in China, yet legislation to curb such heinous acts have been dismal. The belief that if a husband does not beat up the wife she will run out of control has influenced the culture of violence in homes in China. Nevertheless, the suppression of the women in modern times can be attributed to the inferior position of the woman in antiquity.
As much as the women seemed to be inferior beings, they can excel professionally. Evidently, women such as Ban Zhao prove beyond any reasonable doubt that women can excel professionally. Since the years of revolution in China, women have continued to acquire education and are proving to be professionally as capable as men. Currently, China’s female employment rate is one of the highest with 73% of the working-age women employed. Nevertheless, half the university graduates in China are girls. This fact illustrates that given the opportunity and education, women are not lesser beings than men. On the contrary, they can take same career paths as men and do as equally well.
Ban Zhao, being the first female Chinese historian made significant contributions to the role and position of women in China today. She was one of the best Chinese scholars. Hence, she portrayed that it was important to educate women, something that greatly ignored in traditional China. Zhao is the epitome of women’s success in the professional world, therefore, dispels the fact that only men can excel in such careers. Therefore, it is true to say that the position of women in China today can be traced back to Ban Zhao. Nevertheless, her book ‘Lessons for women’ advised women on the need for fulfilling their high purpose of maintaining the harmony in their families.
It is imperative to note that unlike in the past, the role of a woman in China is not only confined to the family alone. Women in modern day China take positions that would be considered manly and do them with the same vigor and excellence as men. However, the role of the women as interpreted in the traditional Chinese culture is deeply still entrenched in the society today. Women in career position always feel the need to fulfill their family duties. The desire to balance between family obligations and job responsibilities is one of the challenges women in China have to battle with in their daily lives.
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Bary, William Theodore De, et al. Sources of Chinese tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
Granrose, C S. Employment of Women in Chinese Cultures: Half the Sky. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Pub, 2006.
Ryan, Jan.Chinese women and the global village: an Australian site. St. Lucia, Qld: Univ. of Queensland Press, 2003.
Sobehart, Helen C, et al. Women leading education across the continents: sharing the spirit, fanning the flame. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2009.
Willian J. Duiker, Jackson J. Spielvogel. World History, Volume I: To 1800. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing ., 2012.