Something About Women

Humility, resignation, subservience, self-abasement, obedience, cleanliness, and industry.  Back in the day these were the qualities deemed appropriate for China’s little girls to aspire to.  The seven virtues that author Ban Zhao (a woman) urged China’s women to display in her book Admonitions for Women.    Women in feudal China were birthed and grown and shaped for men and men alone.  Confucian philosophy preached the highness of men and the lowness of women.  The overriding attitudes towards China’s women in the past were pretty clear.   They were mostly considered as property.  The women of China were there to obey their fathers, husbands and sons, no questions asked.

Image

A women’s role was firstly to keep the hubby happy and second to have babies.  Specifically little, bouncing boy babies, who, if their father ever died, would take on the task of making sure their mama was behaving herself.   In feudal China an arranged marriage was just the way society rolled and regardless of how miserable a women was her responsibility was to stay married.  No divorce.  No remarriage.

The idea of widow chastity really sunk it’s teeth into Chinese society and not only were women unable to remarry if their husband passed away, many actually took to committing suicide to ensure their purity and virtue was intact for the entirety of their lives.  “By the early Qing period (1644-1911), the cult of widow chastity had gained a remarkably strong hold, especially in the educated class. Childless widows might even commit suicide. Young women whose weddings had not yet taken place sometimes refused to enter into another engagement after their fiancé died. Instead, they would move to their fiancé’s home and serve his parents as a daughter-in-law.”  (Patricia Ebrey).

It seems fairly obvious that women were made for men.  When it was decided during the last Tang dynasty that itty bitty baby feet were beautiful women took to binding up their daughters feet in order to make them more desirable.  Long strips of cloth were used to restrict growth by wrapping them so tightly that the toes would curl under creating a much shorter, narrower and more arched appearance.Image

During the Ming and Qing dynasties women were actually not eligible for marriage unless they had bound feet and despite the obvious pain this would cause a young girl this practice was carried out for almost a thousand years.

Times would change however, and so did China’s feelings towards its young ladies.  During the mid 1900’s and with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China the life and prospects of young girls changed drastically.  Gone were the days of complete obedience and arranged marriages.  The early 1950’s introduced laws that radically altered the lives of China’s women.  They now had equal rights with men.  They were to receive equal pay and the same vocational opportunities as men.  They were not required to have an arranged marriage.  They were let loose and allowed to follow their dreams.

Today, although the women of China are still the main homemakers and do the bulk of the child rearing they are also at the forefront of the workforce.  China’s women are ambitious and are now encouraged to work their way to the top even if that means trampling over the men, that a hundred years ago they would have been serving.    “Today China has a greater percentage of women in its Parliament (21.3 percent) than the U.S. does in Congress.” (Newsweek Magazine, 2010).   The attitudes towards women that preached lowly subservience and resignation are seemingly a thing of the past and women are finally able to be recognized right alongside their male counterparts. Image

Advertisements

The “I Don’t Knowers”

These are the days.  The days when we can ‘know’ everything, but understand very little.  The days when we can find out anything, but don’t really bother. Knowledge, information, statistics, data; grasping hold of these are but a click away thanks to the wonderful world of internet and television.  These contain a universe of constantly updated information, not just about here and now, but knowledge about then and before and faraway regions; places and peoples that most of us will never meet, at least not face to face.  WWW and TV-the god’s of our present day.

These amazing ‘information stations’ are able to bring life, stories, cultures, peoples, tastes, sights and experiences and plonk them right down in the middle of our cosy little homes.  So with all of that unlimited knowledge sitting right in our living rooms we are the generation of ultimate “knowers” right?  Ummm no.  I think not.  Despite all of that information on tap do we even know where our shirts or shoes come from or how they were made?  Do I even know where this lovely, flat little piece of technology that is making perfectly formed letters appear on a virtual page as I ‘write’ is from?  Ahem, no.  I could guess?

When given this assignment to go out and talk with shoppers, I knew that for me this would probably be counter productive.  I am not really what people would call socially inclined.  In fact I am the mostly the opposite and strangers seem to know this and will gladly step into puddles or will dodge into unplanned shops to avoid being caught in unwanted dialogue with me.  However, all is not lost and thanks again to the web I decided to throw out a little survey asking anyone and everyone I know some questions about their shopping tendencies and more importantly what do they know about the purchases in their bags.  Well, it turns out not much.

Exhibit One

Question 1: Do you know how the products you buy are manufactured?/if so how did you find out?

Answer: Ummm…no not really.  I mean, I know that most of the stuff I have is made in factories.

Question 2: Do you know if any of the things you buy are made in China/if so what types of products do you own that are a Chinese make?

Answer:  Well, yeah I think a lot of the stuff I buy is made in China because they all have those little tags that say “Made in China” on them or it’s like stamped on the back of stuff.   I think my phone is a Chinese make…and my shoes…and my bag…and my headphones…and my top says “Made in China”, yeah pretty much everything I have on me right now.

Question 3:  What do you think about the quality of products made in China vs. those made in the west?

Answer:  Ummm I don’t really notice a difference.  I guess they both have stuff that is good quality.

 

Exhibit Two

Question 1: Do you know how the products you buy are manufactured?/if so how did you find out?

Answer:  I know how some my things are made because of watching TV documentaries but I guess apart from that not really.

Question 2: Do you know if any of the things you buy are made in China/if so what types of products do you own that are a Chinese make?

Answer:  Mostly no.  I mean I know that my Ipad was made in China and I think my shoes might be a Chinese make but that’s about it.  Isn’t most stuff made in China though?

Question 3:  What do you think about the quality of products made in China vs. those made in the west?

Answer:  I don’t know I think they are about the same.  I think it just depends on how much you pay not really where it’s made.

 

It appears that many of us are guilty.  We don’t really care about the ins and outs of how are stuff came to be or by whose hands.   Quality does not seem to be an issue either.  As long as we have bills in the bank and our products do not immediately perish it doesn’t really appear to matter where or how they were made

Whilst a few of the people who took part in my mini research project were slightly more clued into the origins of their purchases and how they came to life, I have to say that most (like myself embarrassingly) were almost completely oblivious about the beginnings and birthplaces of their stuff.  I mean I don’t know about you but I was pretty sure all of those, computers and t-shirts and mobile phones just sort of appeared when needed and restocked themselves on the shelves of the Apple store and Topman.  Right?

I read a quote recently that said something along the lines of “ This is the generation of smart computers and lazy people”.   Although this can not be said of the faces behind the factory fences in places like China, for many of us on the ‘western’ side of things, it seems this statement pretty much sums us up.

 

A Chinese Distinction

It all began with an illusion.  A cylindrical device with narrow slits cut along the sides provided the first glimpse of a moving motion picture, the humble beginnings of modern day animation.  The invention was given the title “Zoetrope”.  The life turner.  A contraption in which a series of little characters could be viewed, as it’s spinning motion tricked the eyes from behind the slits into believing the characters themselves were moving, leaping, running, living.  It was a moving story, alive and birthed through the hands of Chinese inventor Ting Huan in the long ago days around 180 A. D.

Despite this birth however, it was not until hundreds of years later in the early 1920s that a group of four men, known as The Wan Brothers produced the first filmed animations.  In 1922 an advertisement for the Shuzhendong Chinese Typwriter saw Wan Laiming reveal the first documented animation piece.  This film clip was closely chased by subsequent cartoon shorts produced by The Wan Brothers, who had successfully grabbed the position of China’s animation pioneers.

 

From the beginning The Wan Brothers sought to ensure that their animations were not just entertaining.  They wanted their films to instruct and provide lessons for the young minds of China and they also wanted to produce an animation quality that was specifically Chinese.  China’s animations were not yet to be a thing of the future but were merely a new medium to promote ancient tales and traditional Chinese style.  The old culture and art was simply being showcased in a new way and for many years China drew much of its inspiration from ancient folklores.

Whilst the western world’s kids gobbled up the images of “Popeye” the sailor man and “Betty Boop” the children of China were feasting their eyes on animations such as “Princess Iron Fan” and “Uproar in Heaven”, both of which were adapted from the Chinese folklore “Journey to the West”.    China’s aim to make sure it’s culture and traditions were translated into film is overwhelmingly obvious to anyone who would wish to compare say “Popeye” with “Uproar in Heaven” and it is here that some clear distinctions can be seen.

 

Whilst “Popeye the Sailor Man” is an arguably simple character both in terms of stylisation and personality,  “Sun Wukong “or the “Monkey King”, the main character seen in “Uproar in Heaven”, reeks of Chinese culture.  “Uproar in Heaven” contains not only a much more complex storyline but also the colourful and flamboyant character style and traditional Chinese musical accompaniments, inspired by the Beijing Opera traditions, set it apart from any other countries animations.

 

China’s animation industry steadily grew throughout the mid 1900’s with the first Chinese coloured animation “Why is the Crow Black Coated” appearing, courtesy of The Wan Brothers, in 1956.   At this point in the animation story China was still pretty much on a par with other countries film pieces, at least technologically speaking, however, China’s desire to keep animations so close to home in terms of style and message was still blatantly transparent.

“Why is the Crow Black Coated”, although the first Chinese animation to be noted internationally, was again driving home an instructional message to its audiences.   This was not just for entertainments sake.  Take heed, it said.  All life is not a “happily ever after” story, especially if you are a pompous and somewhat arrogant bird (the main character seen in “Why is the Crow Black Coated”) who is lazy and neglects to prepare for the winter.  “There are consequences” China’s animation said.  The bird, though beautiful, did not prepare for the winter like the other animals and thus, found himself cold and without a home.  A forest fire seems like an unlikely friend to our poor freezing bird, however, life teaches a quick lesson and the bird burns his tail feathers black.  No longer a beautiful bird but a black crow.  The western world sold “happily ever after” and China continued to instruct.

 

Distinctions in Chinese animation further grew as China’s style took on new techniques, mainly folk art cut-paper animation and origami animation, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Again these animations were based in Chinese Folk tales and there style was China all the way.  Clear examples of these types of animations can be seen in films such as “Pigsy Eats Watermelon” and “A Clever Duckling”.

 

Although in times closer to ours China has tried to adapt it’s animation industry to compete with the likes of America and its neighbour Japan, they seem to be struggling to keep up the currant pace, and one might argue that there would still be some clear distinctions undermining China’s present animation status when films like “Kung Fu Panda” were created by the Americans and not the Chinese.

 

China Anyone?

 

I have never been to China.  In fact, I have never been on a holiday or vacation at all.  I have not experienced the wonders and mysteries of the eastern world, nor tasted their authentic cuisine.  I have, however, taken a lovely mental journey throughout the stretches of China, from Hong Kong to Beijing, courtesy of a few compelling travel brochures.

A visit to China now on my list of “Things to do Before I Die” as I have been hooked in by the vast array of exciting new experiences and inspirational sights that are offered up to hungry tourist eyes.  China it seems, is being “sold” to potential tourists as the ultimate package holiday; catering to the desires of everyone from the adventurer, to the foodie, to the photographer, to the ones who just want to get their “shop” on.

One of the main ways in which China is portrayed is through its magnificent historical sights.  Brochure after brochure features images of ancient wonders such as the Temple of Heaven, The Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army. Scattered amongst these historical snapshots are the stereotypical images of men and women hunched, straw hats on, over rice paddies; just to make sure us tourists don’t forget that it’s China we are drooling over. STA Travel describes its “Roam China” tour as a way to combat boredom with majestic sights and adventures that are sure to inspire.

When vacationing in China, tourists are not only able to witness ancient treasures and architecture, they are also reeled into the holiday by the beautiful natural scenery that is splashed across every travel book page.  Kuoni’s “Incredible China” tour includes cruises along China’s Yangtze River that is described as having “beautiful mountain countryside and dramatic gorges”. Photographs of winding rivers and mountains subdued by mist tantalise the eyes, drawing potential tourists further into the mysteries of China.

Panda Bears also seem to be a big selling point as their cute and cuddly (looking) faces are often featured in brochures.  Vacationers are able to visit Chengdu’s Giant Panda Breeding Research Base to get up close and personal with China’s most famous, Bamboo eating bears.

However, for those individuals who are not so inclined to wildlife and nature, China has something for them too.  The midnight lights and the hustle and bustle of cities like Shanghai and Beijing are offered for those who want to see the awesome skyscrapers or for those whose main aim is simply to hit up China’s extensive shopping districts.

Chinese cuisine is also one of the key highlights for tourists.  Brochures tickle the taste buds of potential travellers as they offer up the opportunity for those on tours to sample the many authentic dishes and specialities available.  Foodies are given the best of both worlds, as they are able to roam around China’s food markets sampling local delicacies and are also able to enjoy meals from many of China’s modern restaurants.

China is clearly being sold as an exciting, inspirational and unforgettable country to visit.  Brochures and websites alike boast a country that is not only steeped in ancient history and jaw dropping, natural scenery, but it seems that China is being bottled up as the ultimate cure for those of us suffering from an “average” life.

Although many of the featured highlights of a holiday in China are the amazing historical sights, it is very apparent that China is eager to show off its contemporary, new world status.  “Modern” and “vibrant” are two words that pop up again and again in brochures portrayals of China.   With nearly every vacation tour featuring the lights, sounds and tastes of the big super cities, whilst ensuring that customers are appropriately wined and dined in luxury, it appears that China is doing a pretty good job at representing the modern country status they so desire.