“Golden Ages” ) Essay, Research Paper
Women and Family
In the Golden Ages
28 November, 00
In ancient Chinese history, between the time periods of the Song Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, family relationships have maintained a steadiness in the elements and characteristic of family life. The social structure and the family structure strove to follow hierarchy, and filial piety, the ideals of families of that time and times before.
In the family, men were seen as the dominant figures of the household. It was expected that the men would work and handle all of the important things, for example the business matter and financial matter. Men wanted to feel empowered and have subordinates such as their female counterparts. Women, on the other hand, were supposed to tend to the needs of the family and their children. They were to handle the cooking and the cleaning of the house, while raising the children. For the women that did have jobs like their husbands, they were not given any power or any leniency; they were expected to take on all of the jobs a wife without a job would take on.
In Chinese family, harmony, the hierarchy and filial piety were inter-dependant upon each other. Harmony was promoted and sought after by the Chinese. Fighting war and conflict were all discouraged and were thought to have brought about failure and cause unnecessary problems. The hierarchy which people followed was the relationships on how parties should respect each other despite their different statuses in the five relationships. Ruler to subject, father to son, husband to wife, older brother to younger brother, and friend to friend were the five relationships. For all of these relationships, except for one, the status of one party is higher than that of the other, yet still each party was to show the same amount of respect towards each other. Filial piety is a person?s desire to help his family and the devotion he gives. A son will follow the wishes of his parents, and in return, his parents will lead him in the proper direction. It is obvious how these all connect. Without the respect of the hierarchy, one would not have respect for his parents and would, therefore, cause conflict. When there is no harmony, evil will get inside a person and will blur his perception of right and wrong.
Although many families tried to achieve these ideals, they were only ideals and could not be obtained by all that believed in them. As with all families, problems are inevitable, but in the Chinese culture of the time, many families faced common problems. In nearly all households, men had all of the power and women were often treated as inferior. All through out life women never get to experience power, ?females were subject first to their fathers and brothers, then to their husbands and to their husband?s male relatives,? most of them remain servile their entire life (Murphey 158).
Women were plagued with a number of acts that mistreated them and made them feel subordinate. Before marriage, men were encouraged to practice sex so they can be experienced for their wedding night. But there was a double standard, for women in marriage ?any bride discovered not to be a virgin was commonly rejected? while men were privileged with the ability to dally around with other women without being shamed by others (Murphey 159). Displaying infidelity are men, they purchased concubines and had second and third marriages. The addition of wives or concubines by a male usually displeased women that already had a relationship with the same male. The extreme double standard was that widows were not supposed to remarry or even have male friends. They were assumed to remain chaste.
In China, a family?s class would determine almost everything of a family?s lifestyle. It decided the clothes one would wear, the resources available to one, and most importantly, the way one lived. The most extreme differences are apparent when comparing the upper class to the peasants. Poor families could not afford to marry off their daughters and in other extreme cases they could not afford to feed them either. Selling off their daughters as a concubines and servants was a way of ?turning an economic liability into an asset? (Ebrey 245). The peasant-class families were the suppliers of concubines. A family of modest means would resort to a concubine if the primary wife could not produce and surviving sons. Usually the rich and well of families were the ones that had enough money to purchase concubines. Peasant families would sell daughters in hopes that they would end up with a rich family and have a much better life than the one that would be had if she remained in the poor lower class family.
Most girls were sold from the poor to a broker for a sum of money and would be put in the market and sold in the ?thin horse? business. In the ?thin horse? business if someone was interested in taking in a concubine, a group of a broker, a judge and a scout buzz around the person like flies. Early in the morning groups gather around the houses of potential customers. The group that wins the eye of the customer leads him to the broker?s house, serves him tea, and displays the girls. The broker leads each of the girls out, and has them follow some commands. A girl would show her face, tell her age, and lift her skirt to show whether her feet are bound. If a customer sees a girl he likes, he places a gold hairpin in the girl?s hair. The idea of a man taking home a new concubine does not sit well, in many cases, with wives or previous concubines.
Despite the man?s unfaithfulness to women, women were expected to remain loyal to them. Some even remained loyal unto death. During these times it was preferred that widows should not remarry. A neo-Confucian thinker, Cheng Yi (1033-1107), had declared that it was better for a woman to starve to death than to remarry, since personal integrity was held more important. The cult of widow chastity reached extreme level with ?many young women not merely refusing to remarry, but committing suicide? (Ebrey 253). These actions of committing suicide were viewed as honorable. When a widow committed suicide her family were often given banners proclaiming her virtue. Most widows would commit suicide even if they did not even know the husband to their prearranged marriages. Some, however, devoted themselves to the mothers of their husbands to show their loyalty.
An issue burdening poor families was infanticide. It was customary to have orphanages where deserted children are taken into the city. The countryside, however, was immense and travel was difficult, so poor people could not bring their children to the city. Therefore when poor families had too many children, they are forced by rational consideration to drown their newborns. This was a practice that became so big that no one thought of it as unusual. People even toned down this horrible act by using euphemism such as ?giving her away to be married? and ?transmigrating to the body of someone else? to describe it. The infants drowned were not only female, at time the poor drowned their males too. In some cases, families that were well off, and could manage more children also committed this act of infanticide. This got out of hand and got the attention of others. People inquired about the matters of the poor families. They then created The Infant Protection society. This was a government-based organization that assisted poor families by giving them money and food, or by helping them transport their children to those orphanages.
The problems families and women faced during the time from the existence of the Song Dynasty to the Qing Dynast were innumerable.
Work Cited Page
(Murphey)Rhoads Murphey.East Asia. 2nd ed.
A New History. Addison Wesley Longman, 2000
(Ebrey)Patricia Ebrey.Chinese Civilization.2nd ed.A Source Book. Free Press, 1981