The Desire to Change the Subservient Role of Women in Old Chinese Society Chinese women stayed in an unequal status with men in old Chinese Society. Shen Congwen’s “Xiao Xiao” and Ding ling’s “When I Was in Xia Village” are two stories about village women’s lives during modern time in China. The stories in both of these works present an important traditional Chinese belief that it is profitable to raise geese than to raise daughter.
In “Xiao Xiao”, she is a twelve-year-old girl who is married with a two-year-old husband, Chunguan, and as his caretaker in her youth. While “When I was in Xia Village” is a period when narrator spends his/her time in Xia village and make friends with a village girl Zhenzhen. She is sent to Japan to spy Japanese government after she is raped by Japanese soldiers. When she goes back village due to her disease, people look down upon her and laugh at her. Finally she runs away from Xiao Dabao’s propose and seeks for a fresh life in city.
Xiaoxiao and Zhenzhen have something in common that they are both independent-minded woman; also they are from village and ever desired to live in city to find new life and to have education; they live under the tradition of gender discrimination in old China. While their experiences are different, and, at the end, Zhenzhen is seeking for her new life in another place, yet we see Xiaoxiao and her husband’s family is still within traditions in their small village.
In men’s world, women are like a tool which they can use to make their life good, but we see some of women have desire to change their subservient role to become independent in Chinese society. Xiaoxiao and Zhenzhen are independent-minded women compared to other women at that time in Chinese society. They are not afraid of break down the present life and live in their owns. When Xiaoxiao’s grandpa and other relatives make joke on her about figuring out her should become a coed when she grows up.
Then she has thinking that how coeds’ life is, “…she felt vague stirrings of unrest, and took to imagining herself as a ‘coed’. Would she behave like the ‘coed’ Grandfather talked about? In any case, there was nothing frightful about these ‘coeds’ and so these notions began to occupy this smile girl’s thoughts for the first time” (Shen 86). Although the author does not mention Xiaoxiao’s desire to become a coed directly in the story, I feel that Xiaoxiao wants to have a different life from her present life as a caretaker in village. She is young and hopes her life to be colorful and meaningful.
After her stomach gets bigger, she wants to have a new life in city, “After a while, Xiaoxiao would finger her snakelike black braid, and, thinking of life in the city, she said: ‘Brother Motley, why don’t we go where we can be free in the city and find work there? What do you say? ’” (Shen 91). She knows if she keeps living with her husband’s family, she would go to dead. No more clearly than herself that she knows her situation is worse. If she elopes with Brother Motley, she could be same as those coeds in the school and live her own life with a normal marriage.
Obviously, Xiaoxiao has her idea what her life she wants. In “When I was in Xia Village”, Zhenzhen is an independent-mind woman as well. Even though she has been raped and treated unrespectable. Zhenzhen does not care about surrounding people’s misunderstandings. For others’ sneer, she thinks she need to find another life but not surrender to marry Xiao Dabao, so she said to narrator “I feel that living among strangers and keeping busy would be better than living at home where people know me… It’s better for each of us to go our own separate ways than it is to have everyone stay together in one place.
I’m doing this for myself, but I’m doing it for the others “ (Ding 146). Just like Xiaoxiao, Zhenzhen wants a new life in city and to start over. She hopes in a new place where not many people know her, so she could start over, “A person’s life is not just for one’s father and mother, or even for oneself. Some have called me young, inexperienced, and bad-tempered. I don’t dispute it. There are some things that I just have to keep to myself” (Ding 146). From these two stories, Xiaoxiao and Zhenzhen are two women who have their own thought instead of under control of traditions.
Xiaoxiao and Zhenzhen have the same desire which moving from village to city. On one hand, Xiaoxiao wants to escape from her offence, on the other hand, she has desire to have sex with a real man, she cannot wait her little husband to grow up when she is twenty years old. So she cheats on her little husband “involuntarily” on surface. In addition, her husband’s families take her in but she never drops the idea to be like a coed, “One day, word spread that the coeds were back again.
When Xiaoxiaoheard this, she eyes stared out unseeing, as if in a daze, her gaze fixed on the eastern horizon for some time” (Shen 93). She bent on joining the coeds on their way to the big city in search of freedom, unfortunately she is discovered. I guess Xiaoxiao does not have any ideas about having education in the city; she just has to get away from village. However, from her grandpa’s description on coed, she is interested in coed’s life and she thinks if she becomes a member of coed, she has holidays and does not need to do farm works. Zhenzhen is different.
Although she is from village too, she has live in Japan many years. So she knows she goes to city because she wants a bright future and escape the sad village then to be educated in order to get a job with other communists, “What I do feel is that after I go to [Yan’an], I’ll be in a new situation. I will be in a new situation. I will be able to start life fresh” (Ding 146). Their movements illustrate that new Chinese women are changing people’s views and have sense of education is more and more important. Life in city is realistic and bright for them.
Gender roles is very similar between “Xiaoxiao” and “When I Was in Xia Village”, they both present that women stand subservient role in society. Starting from Xiaoxiao’s marriage, her marriage is arranged by her uncle when she is only twelve. People at that time set this tradition because they think girl is useless because daughters will be others’ sooner or later, so it is better to send her earlier to save family’s food. To the bride’s family, accept a girl into their family is not only a way to take care of children, but also add a worker to help farming as a free labor.
That’s why to be contrast with other female students in town, Xiaoxiao is adulterer. To punish Xiaoxiao’s cheating on her husband and families, Xiaoxiao is arranged to wait for her second marriage but no one come. Nevertheless, Xiaoxiao is lucky that her child turns out is a boy; she does not have to be married off after all. This tradition does not change after Xiaoxiao, then her son who is ten-year-old and have his wedding ceremony. Women in tradition could not hold any position of power. In the other story, people in Xia village are uneducated, so when Zhenzhen came back from Japan, they laughed at her and think she is dirty.
Women have physical disadvantage than man, therefore, chastity becomes extremely crucial especially at that time. People in the village can not understand her grievance, this is one of the reason why Zhenzhen wants to go to [Xi’an] where most people are educated, at least not so care about her background. No matter from which aspect, Xiaoxiao and Zhenzhen seems like a tool in men ruled the world. Xiaoxiao is portrayed as “object” sold from a place to another. She could not have her own happiness because she belongs to her husband’s family.
Zhenzhen looks like more freedom than Xiaoxiao physically, but in fact, she is slaved by internal. Something she cannot shake off is her hatred and interiority, “…in a very calm voice, she said, ‘I can’t say that I hate him. I just feel now that I’m someone who’s diseased. It’s a fact that I was abused by a large number of Jap devils. I don’t remember that exact number. In any case, I’m unclean, and with such a black mark I don’t expect any good fortune to come my way…” (Ding 146). Zhenzhen is used to her reputation and body to help Chinese government but at the end, she could not get any sympathy.
These things always happened to women, but not men. In conclusion, Xiaoxiao and Zhenzhen are two uneducated women living in old Chinese society where unbalanced gender roles and old traditions exist. They both from village and dream to move to city meanwhile they have “sins” could not be excused. Through their different experience, they have similarities that they both independent-minded to change their lives to take education in big city. The ending of stories are different that Zhenzhen’s regardless of objection enable her goes to city as she wants, but Xiaoxiao still stays in village and keeps her original life.
In old Chinese society, woman is absolutely not profitable than men. So people use women like a functional object to help working or take care of family. I think women are living a hard life and very powerless in society. Even thought they want to take education to change their lives, reality makes them difficult. However, women play many different roles which cannot be ignored. The authors express their thought and show the current situation through these good works.