Unprivileged Chinese Women in the 18th Century Research Paper

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Women in 18th Century China

The Unprivileged Chinese women in the 18th Century

The role of Chinese men has always been dominant in the China. In the 18th century, unmarried Chinese women consistently lived what most would consider an underprivileged life. The unmarried Chinese female was restricted to traditional customs and did not receive equal treatment from society. Their status as a woman was inferior to the status of men as both children and adults. Once a female was born to the family, it seems that their fate has been made by their family without their consent or input. The research on this subject has been extensive, though often associated with an external view, sighting sources from western onlookers and minimal masculine sources from within China in the period. This work will address the preconceptions of the inferiority of women in China and attempt to seek perceptions that are more founded in insider knowledge, to demonstrate if such perceptions, as those voiced above, are well founded or simply preconceived notions of the western tradition with a limited view.

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TOPIC: Research Paper on Unprivileged Chinese Women in the 18th Century Assignment

From the perspective of the 18th century, and the literature of the western tradition the status of women is wholly absent from society as they were not given a position in the outside world and were expected to be confined to the home of the family. Unmarried Chinese females are depicted as an item that can be exchanged for money; they are of no value and status as individuals beyond their perceived economic value. Unmarried Chinese women were not allowed to lead their own life but to only follow the men of their household to demonstrate their loyalty and dedication; the daughter to her father. Once she married, she is only to follow her husband, in his wishes and his physical reality. In addition, the women are differed by the view of internal and external dimension; where by the women are bounded only in the expanse of their home and not to be involve in the external dominion of municipal affairs, public politics and even religious traditions and rituals. (McLaren & Qinjian 205-206) Yet, it must be made clear that many of the traditional sources that expressed these views where 19th rather than 18th century missionaries from the Western nations and a few Chinese radicals who viewed the position of women in China during the Qing Dynasty as a mark against the progress of Chinese society in general. (Mann 222)

According to Esther S. Lee Yao, daughters are unwanted in the family and considered as 'nothings'; merely a weary load to the family. The sons of the family are precious as they are able to carry on the family name for generations (Yao 18-). To add on, Esther S. Lee Yao also concludes that the refinements unmarried Chinese women are not allow proceeding in accordance with high education. They are classified to be employ at home and carry out the housewife duties (Yao 90). Furthermore, as it has been stated by Joseph Tamney and Hsueh Ling Chiang, daughters are depreciated to the extent that baby girls are murdered upon their birth or they will be traded as slaves to wealthy households (Tamney and Chiang 131). In the Chinese society, males are a cut-above the female and females are rarely given the opportunity to have voice. In addition, Delia Davin has also pointed out that if there are no male in the household, the daughters are not to own any land and would be passed down to a male relative alternatively. The unmarried Chinese women are bounded to only household works and looking after her family. In addition, females are not allowed to oppose to whatever has been decided for them even if it is to their disadvantage (Davin 115).

Stressing the Negative

Given countless years of observations and literary context for these views of Chines women in the 18th century it would seem difficult to challenge such ideals. Yet, challenge these ideals we must as they are fundamentally flawed by the view of the outsider, "us" looking at "them." Contrary to this evidence there is a new and emerging sense of seeking an insider view of the role of gender in Chinese society, looking toward sources that offer a more holistic (and insider) view of the position of women. This is not to say that women were equal to men in Chinese society in the 18th century or that they were not to some degree subservient to a very traditional and patriarchal standard but there is still much room for a more subjective standard of view. In particular issues of female roles in class and society, other than in the upper classes, where women hold a precarious position of protection, as they do in western society in the period and are not only not permitted to work but choose not to, supported by servants. (Mann 57) Clearly this view is askew as it is one that looks at only a small fraction of the culture of women.

Women's Work

Women in nearly every other class, than the elite were expected to work, in and outside the home and to aide in supporting the family. It is also clear that much work in the home was not simply the role of the work for the household, cooking, cleaning, growing food, household sewing but industry inside the home that earned money for the whole household, which included many trades from weaving to agricultural pursuits. (Mann 149) There is a clear sense that in all those classes below the very high ranking women's labour was a substantial aspect of the household economy and in some regions and periods of the 18th and previous centuries it was the backbone of the family earning, in much the same way as it was during the early years of the U.S., when "pin" money or money earned by women through sewing and other handwork at home paid for all or most of the daily needs of the family, while masculine work sometimes outside the home paid for major expenses, like paying off debt and purchasing land or large supplies. Though it is clear that women's work was devalued even in the western tradition, where the term "pin" money itself is associated with diminutive or small amounts of money, the tradition was nonetheless essential to the economy of the family as was the trade work women did in the home to earn money as part of cottage industry. The reality is that in many periods of western and eastern history the money that women earned as either part of the family business or as a separate profession was the only source of daily cash afforded the family, and this is again true of all the classes but the highest, who were set apart in part because women did not have to work. (Wasserlein 280-281)

Nanhui women's labor in the production of cotton was an indispensable part of the family income.'3 the gazetteer portrays a grim picture of condi-tions during the nineteenth century: "The women weave in order to supplement the [family] income and provide clothing and food. This is true not just for village settlements but also for the townships.... The rate of woven cloth is one bolt (pi) per day but sometimes they can reach two bolts per day. They [women] work through the night without sleeping. The income men earn from the harvest of the fields goes to official coffers to pay interest and is exhausted before the year has even come to an end. For their food and clothing [the family] relies utterly on [the work of] women." (McLaren & Qinjian 212)

There is a clear sense here that women's very existence determined the fate of the family, i.e. whether the family had clothing, children had education or the family had food to put on the table. This distinction is clearly lacking from much of the preconceived notions of the masculine nature of tradition in the Chinese society, as it is clear that women's work was highly valued and integral in more than 99% of society, as the elite were a very small percentage of the population.

Mann notes in fact that class distinction during the Qing Dynasty and before was often idealized through the practice of foot binding, as lower class women's feet were bound less severely or not at all because it created undue burden on her ability to work, while upper class women's feet were bound in the extreme to render her deliberately unable to work and to have to be waited on by servants. (Mann 167) This distinction offers a standard that though controversial in western society is not unlike the practice of corsetry that pervaded western society far longer than the close of the 18th century. Women who were of the upper classes were expected to dress themselves in such a way that they could not dress alone, but required the aide of servants and where then… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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