– Ancient Times And Today Essay, Research Paper
The role of women in China has changed dramatically, from one of servitude and repression in ancient China, to one of equality in modern communist China.
For two thousand years in ancient China women lived under the rules set by Confucius in his analects. Confucius doctrine said women weren?t equal to men, because women were unworthy or incapable of a literary education. Other than this Confucius says little about women, which perhaps shows better than anything else how a standing they had in ancient Chinese society. The author of the books that set social standards in China for two thousand years barely mentions them. This was probably because most Confucians accepted the subservience of women to men as so natural that it wasn?t really needed to write it down in the first place (Andrea and Overfield, pg.82-90).
Throughout ancient Chinese women were in a position of servitude from birth till death. They were actually considered a man?s private property (Heng) This was justified because it was said, ?disorder is not sent down by heaven, it is produced by women? (womeninworldhistory.com pg.3). Women were subject from birth to their fathers and brothers. They had to obey them without question. Women were often despised by their fathers, so much so that many Chinese women had no name. They were simply called daughter No. 1, Daughter No. 2 and so on.
After women got married conditions remained much the same, only instead of being subject to a father they were subject to their husbands. Like they had to with their brothers and fathers they had to obey their husbands absolutely and without question. Their husbands often had two or three wives. A major change though when a woman got married was that she was also subject to her mother in law, a relationship that was often very nasty (Zhou). When a woman?s husband died she couldn?t remarry, that would be disloyal to her husband. Even if she had no food it was better for a woman to die of hunger than remarry. If a woman did remarry she had her skin peeled of the bones to death. Some women even committed suicide when their husbands died (Wudunn, pg. 1). A woman could rarely hold a job outside the house. They were supposed to spend their time cleaning the home for their husbands, indeed it was said, ?the woman with no talent is the one who has merit? (womeninworldhistory.com). A woman?s main job in ancient China was to produce sons.
A somewhat trivial, yet disturbing aspect of aristocratic Chinese marriages was the tradition of foot binding. It is said that foot binding was started around 1000 because an Emperor that his concubines small feet were beautiful. What happened is when a girl was between three and eleven years old, her toes were turned under and pressed against the bottom of her foot. The arches were broken as the foot was pulled straight with the leg, a long narrow cotton bandage would then be tightly wound around the foot from the toes to the ankle to hold the toes in place. After two or three years, the girl’s feet shrank to about three inches long. Her feet where then called lily feet. Lily feet were deformed and very painful to walk on. Sometimes the toes even fell off, because blood could no longer reach them. This identified women of the aristocracy, because in the in China, a good marriage would be impossible to arrange if the girl had big ugly feet. Lily feet also prevented women from wandering, because a woman with bound feet wasn?t able to walk unassisted. Going even a short distance was very painful. Women had to walk with very short steps and could stand only with difficulty (askeric.org).
Perhaps nothing shows the low status of women in ancient China than a custom that was done girls three days after their birth. On that day a girl baby was placed under the bed and given her a piece of broken pottery to play with. Then her birth was announced to her an offering. Lying the baby below the bed meant that she was lowly and weak, a second-class human, that her parents would have preferred a child. It also signified that it was her duty to humble herself before others. Giving her a piece of broken pottery signified that she should practice labor and consider it her duty to be productive. Announcing her birth in front of her ancestors meant that she should to consider it as a duty to continue the observance of worship in the home (Zhou).
In China as I have discussed above for thousands of years were considered inferior in every way to a man. They had almost no rights and little freedom. Then suddenly in the twentieth century, everything changed. Women went almost overnight (in terms of the history of China) from second-class humans, men?s property, to equals.
This was probably because at the start of the 20th century, western ideas began filtering into China. A women?s movement began to spread, reformers demanded greater literacy for women and an end to foot binding (which was finally outlawed when the communist came to power,) (Wuddun).
Another main factor that helped women?s rights was communism. Communist believed that women were equal to men; Mao Zedong (the communist leader) even said that that women held up half the sky. The communist government thought that the liberation of women, who make half the population of China, was necessary for China to have complete freedom (Heng). Child weddings were banned, concubines were outlawed and brothels were closed. Women were allowed to hold real jobs. Some went to night school, or worked at the factory (Wudden). Laws were passed that equalized women under the law. The major ones were, The Chinese constitution of the early which 1950s. Which stated that Chinese women enjoyed equal rights with men in political, economic, social, cultural, and family life. The state protected women’s rights and interests, practiced equal pay for equal work, and provided equal opportunity for women’s training and promotion (Heng). The Marriage Law, which eliminated arranged marriages, saying that both women and men were free to choose their marriage partners, and widows were allowed to remarry (Heng). The Inheritance Law, which recognized the equal right of women to inherit family property (Heng). The Labor Insurance Regulations Law of 1951 guaranteed women 56 days of maternity leave with full pay (Heng). The Land Reform Law of the early 1950s provided rural women with an equal share of land under their own name, protecting their economic independence (Heng).
These laws and other have worked dramatically. Today 35 million, 40% of agricultural workers are women. 6 million businesswomen are employed in Chinese cities (Heng). In large cities, 80-90% of working age women are employed in factories and businesses (Heng). Women are now mayors or vice mayors in 250 of the 514 cities in China (Heng). In Beijing, 345,453 women are government official, 44.26% of the total (Heng). 275,415 women are technical workers in business enterprises they make up 51% of the total. 200,000 women are university graduates 33.3%. Women make up over one-third of workers in the fields of trade, industry, finance, and communication, and almost half of those in education, culture, and health (Heng).
Despite the rapid success of recent years women still face many challenges in China. While they are equal under the law, not all Chinese sees them as so. Because of China?s recent moves towards capitalism (meaning that businesses have to efficient) women have found it harder to find well paying jobs. Factories and businesses prefer to recruit men more because of women’s traditional responsibilities of having kids and maintaining households. Women are not seen as efficient as men are; so many women have gone into low-paying jobs or are receiving lower pay for the same work (Heng). Another more starting fact is that China currently has a one-child policy, which with a 1.3 billion people that?s understandable. This though has had unfortunate side effect. Families, especially those in the country, want to have a boy to do heavy farm work and to continue the family line. If they get a girl it isn?t uncommon for her to be killed (Heng) Fewer girls than boys are enrolled education in China today, especially in poor areas. More than 70% of school dropouts are girls, some because many fathers want them to take a traditional role and look after the house. This has led to more than 70% of China’s 220 million semiliterate or illiterate people being women (Heng)
In conclusion, as I have shown above women in China have made phenomenal progress in the past fifty years and there is still quite along way to go. But considering that the changes I have described above only took fifty years in China, they took hundreds in the West, it won?t be long until we see a woman President in China, probably before we get one in America.