The position of women in traditional Chinese society and family was predetermined from the moment of birth. It was believed that everyone has their own destiny established by Tian or Heaven (Back 2). There was no such thing as inequality between men and women in Chinese society. The man was in charge of the “external,” which included working in the field, participating in hostilities, and working as an official. The woman was in control of the “internal,” that is, she took care of the children, cooked food, did handicrafts, cleaning and other things in the house and was not supposed to engage in social activities. The task of social institutions was to put man and woman in their respective places in the human microcosm.
Role of a Chinese Woman
The attitude of the ancient Chinese to the girl, and then to the woman, is quite well manifested in this passage. The woman was appreciated because she was necessary for the functioning of the family and the provision of home life. She was assigned a secondary role since when she got married, she lost touch with her family and could not continue the family line and maintain the graves of her ancestors. The status of a wife increased the range of responsibilities of a woman, who continued to be a powerless member of her husband’s family. A wife who did not have children or had only girls became evil in the family if there was no financial opportunity to buy a boy for adoption or take another wife or concubine (Hinsch 138). The mother was revered in traditional society as the keeper of the family, the steward in all matters related to family relations.
In medieval Chinese law, the dominant position of the husband in the family was enshrined. For the inappropriate treatment of her husband, insult, or harm to the father-in-law or mother-in-law, for the murder of her husband by mistake, the wife was punished heavily. While for such actions in relation to his wife, the husband suffered a small punishment. The husband had a number of legal grounds for divorce, such as the absence of children, the wife’s infidelity, jealousy of the husband on the part of the wife, the wife’s serious illness, or theft committed by the wife (Chen 96).
If a husband, having not a single reason for divorce, nevertheless divorced his wife, then he was punished by one and a half years of hard labor. Only on three occasions was the husband unable to divorce his wife. 1) the wife had neither a father nor a mother to whom she could be returned; 2) the wife was in mourning for three years after the death of her father-in-law or mother-in-law; 3) the husband became a wealthy person after marriage. Divorce could also take place by mutual agreement of the spouses (Hinsch 166).
According to Chinese law, after the death of the father, the family’s property was considered equally inherited by all his sons, but the property given by the wife’s family was not subject to division (Hinsch 102). The widow had the right to manage the family property after the death of her husband and to share it for her funeral. Married daughters lost their inheritance, and unmarried daughters acquired only half of the brothers’ amount. Thus, women in traditional Chinese society did not play any social and political roles. The whole range of their interests and responsibilities was concentrated in the family sphere, where the Chinese woman most often remained a powerless and silent member of the family.
Women at the Present Stage
The socio-economic processes that began in China in the late 80s of the XX century led to the transformation of the social structure of Chinese society and traditional values, property and social stratification of the population, and a change in the behavior model of young people (Yu-ning 56). The transformation of society is observed at all social levels, including the family, and other small and large social groups. Its manifestations extend to almost all spheres of private and public life and are copies of the Western moral and ethical system of values. The modern Chinese woman is an active participant in socio-political, economic, social, and legal activities.
Modern Day China
The modern family model in China has characteristic features, such as nuclearity, equality of spouses, and bilateral relationship of kinship. Some forms of the contemporary family organization did not exist in traditional society, such as single-parent families, childless couples, elderly couples living separately from children, and spouses who meet exclusively on weekends and holidays. The examples also include middle-aged couples who remarried because the traditional society had a negative attitude towards the remarriage of widowed people, especially women, and other forms of family organization. In a modern family, the interaction between parents and children is losing its paramount importance, and the relationship between husband and wife as two equal partners becomes structure-forming.
Many of these new trends are the result of both the influence of the Western system of values on Chinese society and an objective consequence of the modernization of socio-economic processes taking place in modern Chinese society. The role of man, his significance in the system of industrial relations, and society have changed, which directly affected the institution of the family. In modern Chinese society, new ones have been added to the traditional value orientations of girls, such as marriage, family, and children. The latter includes getting an education and profession, career, and financial independence (Hinsch 178). Girls are focused on equal relations in the family, joint housework, and raising children. The position of women in the family has completely changed. Obtaining an education, the opportunity to have a job, and gaining financial independence allowed a woman to become freer and more independent in family relations. The age of marriage for women has changed. On the one hand, this is the result of an increase in the level of education among women, and on the other hand, it is associated with the increasing migration of women from the village to city in search of work, a more promising partner and other reasons.
In general, following changes in the economic sphere, and an increase in the quality of life of the population, the satisfaction of Chinese women with marriage and family relations is increasing. They gained relative independence in matters such as love, the right to participate in decision-making in the family, and personal affairs. The policy of restricting the birth rate, the ubiquitous equipping of household appliances, has reduced the amount of time spent on domestic work.
Back, Youngsun. Confucian Heaven (Tian): Moral Economy and Contingency. Sungyunkwan University, 2016.
Chen, Li. Chinese Law in Imperial Eyes: Sovereignty, Justice, and Transcultural Politics. Columbia University Press, 2016.
Hinsch, Bret. Women in Ancient China. Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.
“Shijing: The Book of Odes.” Wengu, 2020. Web.
Yu-ning, Li. Chinese Women Through Chinese Eyes. Routledge, 2015.