From the prehistorical era till today’s modern development in the 21st century in China, the female positions have changed mainly in three historical phases according to the changing gender ideologies.[ Ya-chen, C, (2014), New modern Chinese women and gender politics: The centennial of the end of the Qing Dynasty, Routledge
] In the beginning of the Ancient Age, females were high respected in the early stage of primitive society. Then the position of female drastically fell in the feudal society and they the didn’t have rights and positions, which made them become ruled by men in the male-dominated society; afterwards, in the period of Republic of China, the status of female changed along with female rights liberation movements and activities; finally in current era of New China, women and men achieved a kind of equilibrium and equality at present and in the future society. The essay aims to investigate different changes of female positions in the above mentioned three historical periods and also discussed changes of gender ideologies accordingly.
During Qing Dynasty
During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the ruling class also built and strengthened the feudal systems to uphold the decadent governance. In order to satisfy the desire of males, the governments also further oppressed female’s positions in society. Thus, the petty and inferior position of female was not only revealed in legislation of Qing Dynasty but also in various kinds of traditions or details in life. For instance, in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the society has very cruel and strict regulations on the free choices for marriage. Since the Ming Dynasty, the phenomenon of foot-binding had been more prevailing and this was also a specific revelation of oppression on female’s rights. In the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, the tradition of foot-binding was forbidden; however till 1668, the tradition was popular again and the ruling class was also assimilated by the Chinese traditions. Furthermore, the government also made detailed classifications of the status of wife, concubine and maid servant at that time.
First in the aspect of marriage, female didn’t have rights to choose their husband and they also couldn’t express their own ideas or willingness for different options. Even the parents or other relatives of the female never actually thought for them or considered their feelings. Therefore, the females in Qing Dynasty could be perceived as a kind of tool in exchange of gaining more benefits. When the women were not married, they should live with the maiden home without rights to choose life and marriage, which made them become manipulated by their parents. During the process of engagement, the betrothal presents were also considered as a part of pay-back for the maiden family to raise the girl. Thus, female was only viewed as the “other part” of right and power. And the previously mentioned betrothal presents also became a kind of mark to evaluate the value in the marriage market. In most cases, engagement and marriage were viewed as a kind of transaction or bargain and the so-called betrothal presents were also beyond the scope of etiquette. According to the traditions, the money in betrothal presents was gained by the maiden family while the dowry was also collected by the husband. In this process, women were actually a kind of tool and they cannot consider their own value or rights. Through this activity, the maiden family hoped to support their family depending on the presents and money while the husband treated women as a tool to carry on the family line[ Katherine, W, (1937), The role of Chinese women through 2000 years, New York Times, Nov28th, pg. 106]. It can be seen that the Qing Dynasty represented the peak period of the feudal society and people were strictly regulated under the governance of the ruling class. Furthermore, the situation that female were at the inferior position was pretty clear and strengthened at that time compared to that in Han or Tang Dynasties. Female’s positions were at the lowest positions. Nevertheless, due to impact of the enlightenment, women’s thinking patterns began to change slightly, which also lay certain foundation for future pursuit of equality between male and female in the periods of Republic of China and New China after 1949.
During the Republic of China
In the beginning of the Republic of China, women started to pick up the awareness of liberation, which was directly and especially revealed in the changes of clothing and accessories. The changes in customs and traditions related to marriage were also important parts during this period. Thus, the coexistence of both old and new traditions and western and traditional styles were also major features at this time. The activities against foot-binding were also major revelations and major forces to push the trend and raised awareness of equality between men and women. In this process, enhancement of female education (see the following figure 1) played a crucial role accelerating the development to strive for female rights.
Figure 1 Status of female overseas education in late Qing Dynasty[ Ya-chen, C, (2014), New modern Chinese women and gender politics: The centennial of the end of the Qing Dynasty, Routledge]
From the chart it can be seen that from the period of late Qing Dynasty, the female overseas education has been formulated and further strengthened during the stage in Republic of China. More women got the chances to go to school or improved the literacy situation in a wider range. Moreover, some previous symbols in traditional beliefs such as “red silk veil” which was viewed as the symbol of old marriage and customs of food binding were also on certain level discarded by more and more women at this historical phase[ Katherine, W, (1937), The role of Chinese women through 2000 years, New York Times, Nov28th, pg. 106]. Other social activities or movements were also initiated by different organizations. For instance in 1883, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union also started their centers in China in the purpose of fighting against opium, cigarettes and alcohol. With the introduction of another important organization Young Women’s Christian Association, these organizations help more women to be more devoted to different kinds of social services for the working women[ Ya-chen, C, (2014), New modern Chinese women and gender politics: The centennial of the end of the Qing Dynasty, Routledge]. All these are signs that women received better education and more chances to fight for their own rights and also the equality for the entire group as a major force in the society. Although there might be many inequalities and problems to be resolved to protect the rights of women. These efforts were good signs as the start in women movements. The period of Republic of China was also a phase witnessed many intertwined ideologies or traditions related to gender difference with both the old and new concepts for women’s social status. Especially after 1919, female were more likely to be freed from the family and clan to gain the rights of freedom in love and marriage. The rights for women transactions were changed to women liberation, which greatly improved the rights of female and rising social position so as to give a major push to the female emancipation.
The period of New China
In the period of New China, the government has abolished any legislation or regulations towards various kinds of discrimination and oppression for women so as to give female the equal legal positions for women as men. Since then, women developed into the actual owners of the country. Thus, the changes of positions can also be revealed in different aspects including economic rights, education rights and positions in marriage and family. First, female can gain the sense of independence in economy. According to the law in the period of New China, women have the same rights with men in employment and acquiring the same salary. Especially after the establishment of New China, more women stepped out of their families and participated in building of the country. Moreover, the constitution also gave the same rights for women to receive education. One activity held by the government was to accordingly organize women in groups to eradicate illiteracy. More schools or training classes were also organized in 1950s[ Zheng, W, (2010), Creating a socialist feminist cultural front: women of China (1949-1966), The China Quarteryly, No. 204, pp. 829-849]. In the aspect of status in marriage and family, more cases such as arranged marriages, inferiority of female, and ignorance of women’s rights in the feudal marriage system were abolished by the newly established Marriage Law so as to protect the freedom of marriage choice, monogamy and protection of rights for women and their children[ Liu, H, Economic reforms and gender inequality in urban China, Economic Development and Cultural Change, vol. 59, no. 4, pp. 839-876]. However, there are many related traditions and customs related to marriage. The corresponding customs might include wedding ceremony such as flowered sedan chair, drinking wine before meeting the bridegroom’s parents[ Blanshard, P, (1927), Women of the New China loose their age-old shackles, New York Times, Nov6th, pg. 11]. The women in New China still respect or hold no objection towards the ceremony and the details may change according to the changing situation.
In addition to the above mentioned aspects, women also raised their social status by improving their political rights. Along with the establishment of the new government, the number of women in leadership circles has gradually increased in the Communist Party, People’s Congress and also in the government. Furthermore, the educational gap and income gap between men and women have gradually narrowed. Women also strengthened their position in families and played a bigger role in decision making such as investment or career change. It is obvious that women’s position has already been greatly raised; however, there still exists certain imbalance between women in different regions or groups[ Liu Weifang. (2010). Tremendous changes in status of women in new china. Contemporary China History Studies.]. In other cases, the inequalities are still prevailing in some cases such as in career choice or career development. Some women may face up with the phenomenon of cement ceiling in lifelong career planning and future development. However, there have been better changes and improvements. More efforts can be made to further reach a satisfactory level.
To sum up, the essay discussed changes in three historical periods: Qing Dynasty, Republic of China and New China. This historical development has witnessed the transformation of ideologies for women’s positions in all aspects in the society, which significantly marked the improvement from the backward concept in Qing Dynasty to enlightenment since the Republic of China. Finally in New China after 1949, the positions of women have been greatly improved and the ideologies towards gender differences and gender discrimination has also been gradually eradicated. Since 1978, more rights have been improved for women and the Chinese government also adopted a series of policies or national strategies are also made to promote gender equality and constructing harmonious society. This kind of preferential policy even shows civilization in modern Chinese society so as to enable female to participate in social resource allocation and decision making. At present, there are still some hindrances for women to participate in developing into a real and independent social person, which shows great social progress and more efforts to be made in the aspects of female education, career development, politics and shouldering social responsibilities. In this way, females potentials can be given full play and contribute more to social progress. Therefore, it is safe to draw the conclusion that along with national liberation and economic development, women’s position in society has been greatly valued in three historical phases. Women should grow into a major force which is similar as man to share equal rights from female emancipation and also to make greater contribution.