China, located in East Asia, is the third largest country by area and the largest country by population in the world. While China has one-fifth of the world’s total population, and it also has one of the earliest civilizations, dating back to some 5000 years ago. China is often distinguished for its technological advances and intelligence, but in the early 20th century, Chinese society was far from perfect. The women in China, lived a slow and difficult life, bound by tradition and obedience. Women had to bind their feet at birth or face adversity throughout their entire lives.
Footbinding was a painful rocess that allowed women to be thought of as beautiful and a good future wife. However, their roles in society soon changed, with the invading Communism. Women soon received the same treatment and the respect Chinese men had because of Western ideas and influence. Chinese women suffered pain and heartache their entire lives. From the moment a woman was born, she was considered nothing, she was unimportant. 1 Sons were all that mattered because the family name would live in them, while a daughter would be married off and take on the duties for their in-laws.
A woman earned little respect from er family. For example, when a son born was born, the umbilical cord was saved in a jar. However, if a daughter was born, her umbilical cord was buried outside because she left and married off when coming to age and there was no need to save the umbilical cord of a guest. 2 They were mostly uneducated and played out the role of a servant or slave. They did everything: they washed, knitted, and were required to serve our marital duties. 3 In dealing with the challenges that women faced, one primary fact becomes apparent- a woman rarely had a free day without chores or problems.
Unborn while inside he womb, a girl baby faced the possibility of being aborted because there was no time, or money, to care for her. 4 Each day she lived she was forced to complete so many chores that she became tired out when the day was over. Along with basic necessities such as bathing and eating a women served their families, cooked all the meals, cleaned all by themselves, and then worked the humid fields. 5 It was nearly impossible for women to leave the family and make something out of themselves because they had very little education.
They were required to leave when the boys were studying or asked to copy ome words out of a book, when the tutor was free. 6 Although they were given some money for groceries and other supplies, women could not spend cash freely, without a man’s permission. 7 In addition, when their husbands brought home a concubine, a mistress or prostitute, there was no scene of jealously, unacceptance, or animosity. If these feelings were displayed, the women were shamed and this was a way for the male to request for a divorce. 8 Death, a time for release and independence, was not such a time for women. There were two worlds.
The Shadow World was female, with a negative ssence, and all things motionless and deep. The Light World was male, with a positive essence, with all things strong and high. Women still endured agony while a man had nothing but happiness. 9 Constrained by tradition and the family, a women complied to the rules of filial piety. They accepted that their lives and bodies were not their own, but gifts from their parents. 10 Women were not loose or casual, but very closed and formal. Thus, women informed their parents where they were going, what they were doing, and needed permission on important life decisions. 1 Simply, they were restricted in every way ossible. If women were ignorant that was their virtue; they were more obedient to their in-laws. 12 In childhood, the father was in control.
They never entered the father’s vicinity unless asked and never left it without his consent. Girls spoke when they were spoken to, had to anticipate their fathers’ wishes, and when scolded, they thanked him for his corrections. 13 Moreover, love was not a deciding factor, in marriage. The women were promised to other families by their parents or masters, and could not object. 14 The in-laws and husband were in power after a women wed.
Distant behavior and respect and love for the in-laws, were a must. The relationship with the in-laws was more important than the one with the husband. 15 Motherhood was where the in-laws supervised a child’s upbringing while the mothers only tended her children occasionally. The children did not belong to the mothers but to the families. 16 In a society where they had no power or decision, footbinding held women to the old customs. The origins of footbinding are vague and mostly unknown, although there are momentary references in early Chinese works, from the Han dynasty, that small feet ere favored over larger feet in women.
The court of the Southern Tang dynasty in Nanjing, offered the first documented reference to the practice of footbinding. In Nanjing, dancing girls were acclaimed for their little feet and beautiful bow shoes. 17 Their feet were wrapped in strips of silk cloth and they danced among the petals of the lotus. The beauty in this and the Emperor’s satisfaction began the tradition of footbinding. 18 Evidently, footbinding later became the model for feminine beauty in the imperial court until its demise in 20th century China. The rise of footbinding in China was contributed by various reasons.
Bound feet were a part of Chinese culture, the custom was done for thousands of years and women were expected to follow tradition. 19 They were a woman’s prized possession, part of her dowry, a gift from a wealthy father to be presented to a worthy man. 20 Footbinding was believed to assist health, conditioning, and fertility. The practice offered dignity and a sense of class while footbinding also maintained a woman’s good family values, which were inseparable from society’s values. 21 The bind in a woman’s eet determined the reputation of both her natural family and the family she married into. 2 The appearance of a bound feet, to Chinese men, was aesthetically pleasing, while big natural feet showed signs of poverty and being raised poorly.
Big feet limited a woman’s chances for a “good” marriage. 23 Footbinding was where a three year old girl wrapped her feet in binding in order to bend the toes under, break the bones, and force the back of the foot together. This process gave result to tiny three inch feet, shaped like a golden lotus or a moon crescent. 24 A basin of warm water and strips of heavy hite cotton began the process of footbinding. The feet were then soaked in water where they were next binded with thick wet bandages.
When the binding ended, pain emerged from the feet caused them to feel as if the feet shrunk into thousands of small insects. This was not a one-day process, however; footbinding took many years of careful wrapping. 25 The toe bones had to be broken slowly, until they were curved gently around the sole of the foot and where the toe could touch the heel. 26 Footbinding disabled the normal routine and lives of women. The feet were so compressed with pressure, that omen did not walk, but rather they limped with excruciating pain, leaning on walls or on other people for support and balance.
The feet became so bad that women could not physically move freely or without another person and consequently they could do anything really meaningful with their lives. 27 In wealthy families, servants took care of personal needs and carried the women when the feet were too weak for walking. Beside from the daily torture and soreness, problems like ulceration, paralysis, and gangrene developed. In extreme cases, about ten percent of Chinese girls died in the initial process f footbinding. 28 The rise of communism in China challenged traditional beliefs about the role of women.
It was thought that Communism would bring an equal amount of work to all people and equal benefits. 29 In 1921, The Chinese Communist Party was formed in Shanghai. One of the leaders, Sun Yat-sen, admitted Communists to Kuomintang membership. Sun’s basic beliefs were the Three Principles of Nationalism, Democracy, and Socialism, were charged with the spirit of anti-imperialism and national unification. 30 The old Chinese government was one with massive military opposition. Communism merged in order to destroy imperialism in China and to reintroduce national unity. 1 Chinese officials and government believed that the revolutionary changes in Russia and the beliefs of Marx and Lenin would benefit and occur in China. 32 The main function of this new government was to change society.
Communist ended the old ways and moved the country into a socialist society. 33 With the achievement of Communism in China, the purpose of women in Chinese culture, drastically changed. Women began to have the same type of education as the men did and later went on to universities and schools. In the schools, the women learned and studies science, foreign language, literature, mathematics, and history. 4 This education paved the way to careers in medicine, business, banking, and even education. 35 More and more of them wanted education to be apart of their lives. Women were now expected to take education and make something out of themselves. Bound feet, concubinage, polygamy, and sale of children or slavery were banned. Although Communism has many downsides and problems, it still changed the women into becoming more involved in all aspects of China; its culture, government, ociety, and business. 36 As time went on and as Communism began to spread rapidly, new rules were accepted for divorce.
The law granted that divorce was possible if both the man and woman agreed. But, corresponding to the conventional rites of filial piety, if the man was under thirty years of age and the woman was under twenty-one years of age, permission for a divorce was to be granted by both families. The bride’s family and the husband’s mother and father, the in-laws, had to decision to grant or deny divorce, upon agreement. 37 To an extent, there were certain things, a woman did that could force a usband to request a divorce. The husband would sign a bill of divorcement that named one or more the seven recognized grounds for divorce.
These reasons were the Zi Chu, the “Seven Outs” for a wife: One if she disobeyed his parents. Two if she could not bear him any sons. Three, if she committed adultery with another man. Four, if she acted jealous and was unwilling to take in another women, or concubine. Five, if she were repulsively sick. Six, if she gossiped and talked for a great deal. Seven, if the wife committed theft towards her in-laws, or her husband. 8 Divorce for love, divorce for marriage to another man or woman, and alimony payment became accepted, more common, and fashionable in China.
It was the thing to do, to end prearranged marriages and the downed ways. 39 The wife’s in-laws would help pay alimony for each family: one third of their income was reserved for themselves, one third was reserved for their son and their new daughter-in-law, and one-third of the income for the old daughter-in-law. Adultery, one of the seven outs, began to form in some relationships, where the husband didn’t care about his wife’s other lovers. 0 Families no longer consisted of the in-laws, husband, wife, and children but were varied. There were stepfamilies and people no longer lived all together in one large house.
Each husband and wife lived with their children, while the in-laws lived alone in their own homes. 41 Divorce left a lasting effect on a woman’s life. Some were so disgraced by divorce that they committed suicide or left their families never to return. Their only three options were prostitution, the nunnery, or suicide. 42 Abortions, became popular, along with divorce. Although it was life-threatening and angerous, women did it regardless, out of contempt for the man they married. Desperate circumstances also caused abortions; such incidences included having an affair, extreme starvation and hunger, and poverty. 3 On the other hand, divorce allowed men and women to find true love and happiness with someone they cared for. Divorce could free them from a family they had no emotion for, and allow them to become more independent and carefree. 44 The customs of the West were greatly different from traditional China. Western ideas began showing up in Chinese women, when they started breaking ancient traditions nd becoming less filial towards their in-laws or elders(yelling and talking back to them). 45 Women would begin demanding things or possessions that they admired.
They ate only half a bowl of rice when it was improper to not finish the every piece of rice. They would no longer act distant towards their husbands like society wanted, but instead ask the husband to finish their meals or even carry them up and down the stairs. 46 Soon afterward, Western influence took control of hairstyle, appearance, and clothing. Waved, bobbed, and short hair flooded the streets of China. Women wore white gauze shirts with ight brassieres clearly visible underneath and knee-length skirts and high-heeled shoes, worn with flesh-colored silk stockings. 7 Other types of modern apparel, instead of long dresses, included hats, navy woolen jackets, jeans of various colors, and different types of skirts. Finally, makeup, eyeliner, red lipstick, and other treatments were used on the face regularly. 48 Chinese women owned a paradoxical role in society because, although they were restricted in education and society, women also were necessary and vital in making society function correctly. While Chinese society initially held on and believed in the raditional ways, roles, and customs, the government soon realized that this would not work.
Practices such as arranged marriages, concubinage, and footbinding, indicated a flawed character and connected the women to the past. What is important to understand about Chinese culture, is that it is not confined to the past 100 years. It spans over thousands of years, and includes many good things along with the bad, as with any civilization. The culture has grown and understands the mistakes and wrongs of the past. China is gradually transforming itself into a better country.