Term Paper: Shifting Gender Roles Within Chinese

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[. . .] "The wife, while at rest, will certainly be correct so as to guard against harm" to being exposed to evil sights, sounds, and talk, and "fulfill her moral character" (De Bary 426). Hard work is essential for both men and women: a life of unreflective, decorative ease is harmful to women just as it is to men and a moral character for a woman enables her to order her household correctly (De Bary 427).

Thus, although Xu seemed to accept the traditional place of woman as caretaker of the home, within their roles women actually had the duties of study and self-scrutiny comparable with the duties of their husbands. Xu's investiture of the importance of the duties of woman stood in stark contrast to the laws banning women from inheriting property and even from remarrying (by prohibiting offspring of remarriages from taking the prestigious civil service exams) across all of East Asia (De Bary 586). Faithfulness was supposed to last indefinitely for the woman, even after her husband's demise. However, as noted in the text Sejong Sillok, when males showed disregard for the union between husband and wife that for the wife was to last after death, there was considerable social censure of males who acted carelessly towards their wife's needs: "If someone loves his concubine and estranges his main wife, his property is generally transferred entirely to the concubine's house, leaving the main wife poor and destitute and causing mutual resentment" and thus the man was to be punished, noted one official (De Bary 586). This is no doubt partially to the female authorship of Confucian texts counterbalancing the views of males.

Even in female-authored texts specifically emphasizing the 'instruction' of wives can be read as subliminally highlighting how men could be bad husbands (given the many missives to women about the need to cope with bad husbands). Song Ruozhao, author of Analects for Women, tells her wifely readers "don't be like those women who do not correct their husband but also lead them into indecent ways" (De Bary 421). Implied in this statement is that the woman is the educator of the man, a man who can possibly go astray. Education is mutual in the relationship; it is not merely the elder teaching the younger, even though the wife has the socially subordinate position.

Ruozhao's words "to be a woman, you must first learn to establish yourself as a person," even have an explicitly feminist ring (De Bary 418). Someone cannot be a bad person who gives little care and attention to herself and a good woman. Even though Ruozhao urges women not to raise her voice and go into the men's quarters, she simultaneously makes a case for the critical place of women that extends to every sphere of society, well outside the home. Even a well-prepared dinner is essential to ensure that the household runs smoothly. "As a couple, you and your husband share the bitter and the sweet, poverty and riches" (De Bary 421).

If a woman shirks her duties, chaos ensues, including the education of her daughters. "Worthy of derision are those who do not take charge of their responsibility…The sons of such women remain illiterate…The daughters of such women know nothing about ritual decorum (De Bary 421). A woman with ill-behaved children is directly responsible for their misbehavior, thus she must strive to educate herself and be educated to ensure that the next generation does not fall into ruin and folly. Women also have the economic responsibility for the entire household: "if she is diligent, the household thrives, if it is lazy, it declines" (De Bary 421).

Of course, it is possible to argue that one cannot read these texts as 'feminist' because virtually all of these women re-interpreting Confucianism still view the role of the woman as home-bound and the fact that men undeniably had more political power in society. Because of inheritance laws, there was a limit to the degree to which a woman could make her will felt in a palpable, legal fashion. But given the defined limits of their roles, the rhetorical artistry to make a claim for the vital place of women and the need for education is striking in the words of Ban Zhao and Empress Xu. Even Song Ruozhao who stresses the separation of the spheres of influence of male and female notes that the household will fall and thus all of society will fall if women do not fulfill their duties. In doing so, all of these women made a case for the significance of the female gender in a male-dominated world. Confucian ideals were primarily responsible for shaping the intellectual landscape of China, but all of these women show that Confucian notions were not as fixed and unchanging as a male-dominated version of history might lead us to believe.

Works Cited

De Bary, William… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Shifting Gender Roles Within Chinese.  (2013, October 28).  Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/shifting-gender-roles-within-chinese/1333947

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"Shifting Gender Roles Within Chinese."  Essaytown.com.  October 28, 2013.  Accessed July 18, 2019.