Women's Place in Traditional Chinese Culture

Women's Place in Traditional Chinese Culture - 1 *...

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1 ******* Professor Lin Topics in Chinese Culture (0952-110-004) 21 December 2007 Women’s Place in Traditional Chinese Culture The women of ancient Chinese society were mandated to live restricted lives based on traditional Chinese cultural values and beliefs. The constrained lives of Chinese women are graphically depicted in Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth . Buck portrays life in China during the reign of the last emperor, where women lived as second-class citizens that were subservient to their male counterparts. These women lived their lives in fear of not living up to their expectations or not correctly performing the duties transcribed by society. Life for women in China was barren and restricted, but they lived their lives with courage. Life for women in China was under strict control from the day a woman was born until the day she passed away. Lu states that in order to control women, Chinese society dictated that women must follow a certain set of guidelines in order to live a proper life. According to Confucius texts, a woman must live a life consisting of three submissions. “Chinese women must submit to their fathers and elder brothers prior to marriage, to their husbands after marriage, and to their sons in widowhood (Lu).” This ensured that women would always have a man to submit to, and that they would never fully be in control of their own lives. Lu also states that these submissions gave women a reason to live. In addition to these three submissions, women also had four virtues by which they were supposed to live their lives. These four virtues were “feminine virtue, feminine work, feminine deportment, and feminine speech.” Lu believes that
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2 by following these four virtues, it “effectively ties up women's hands and feet” and forces women to live lives filled with nothing but “gentle submission, cowardice, and ignorance (Lu).” In addition to the three submissions and four virtues, Lu says that women were expected to adhere to a strict life of chastity. Unmarried women were expected to remain chaste until their marriage, but widows were also expected to remain chaste for the rest of their lives. Even if a young woman became a widow, she was expected to never marry throughout her entire life. Women from upper-class families were not allowed to remarry in the Sui Dynasty, chaste widowhood was “glorified into the highest ideal for women” in the Song Dynasty, and chaste widows were honored with memorial arches in the Ming Dynasty. Most alarmingly, during the Qing Dynasty, unwed girls who received advances from men were “expected to kill themselves,” all in an attempt to glorify chastity (Lu). O-lan, wife of Wang Lung in Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth , obediently follows the prescribed virtues and duties for women. Upon first seeing O-lan, Wang Lung is pleased to see that she is “not loud, not soft, plain, and not-ill tempered (17),” four attributes that were considered desirable in a woman. After Wang Lung and O-lan are married, O-lan prepares dinner
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course FYO 110 taught by Professor Lin during the Fall '07 term at Adelphi.

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Women's Place in Traditional Chinese Culture - 1 *...

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