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.
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.
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.