Traditionally, the Chinese society was patrilineal, patriarchal, and patrilocal. Being a male dominated society, most parents preferred to sire sons instead of daughters. Women were customarily insubordinated to their husbands, fathers, sons and so forth. For hundreds of years Chinese women have been viewed as inferior to men. The inconsiderateness towards the girl child in the Chinese society in the past can be seen in their culture. For example there is an ancient Chinese folk lore that praises the birth of a baby boy while disparaging the birth of a girl. Even though compositions against women were made thousands of years ago, they still ring true as they once did. This has had countless detrimental effects for women over the ages. However, there has been tremendous chang in such ideals with the change in times. This paper analyses the evolution of the role of women in the Chinese society (Zhang, Kao & Hannum, 2007).
The Chinese tradition of seeing men as superior to women has been around for centuries, from generation to generation. This is evident in traditions such as the binding of feet by women in order for them to fit the customary definition of “beautiful”. The women were forced to break their feet, bound them in order to make them only three inches long. This practice continued for many centuries. Another instance that helps in illustrating the superiority complex of men during those times is the behavior of the emperors. An emperor always had harem of concubines to satisfy his desires whenever they would arise (Zhang, Kao & Hannum, 2007).
However, much has changed with the influence of the times, since then. Even the many views and ideals of those Dark Ages have changed, too, due to the influence of the times. Although the worth of a woman in the society has increased, there is still more to be desired in terms of gender equality. Even though there has been remarkable progress in gender equality, women are still prejudiced against, especially in the rural areas. This can be seen through issues such as gender imbalance, lack of equal opportunity for education and careers. Unfortunately, some age-old traditional views against women are still prevalent in these places (Hu & Scott, 2016).
There is much gender imbalance in China where women are not regarded in equal importance as men. This has been brought about by a variety of causes such as the one-child policy. The Chinese administration enforced this policy back in 1979. This was aimed at altering the fertility rates drastically. However, this policy didn’t change the son preference culture in the Chinese society. The discrimination towards the girl child was evident when the National Census Bureau admitted that the country’s Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB) was biased in favor of males. This bias had major implications on the society in the subsequent decades (2016).
Gender imbalance became worse in the subsequent years due to the enforcement of the one-child policy by the Chinese government. The number of sons born continued to increase while that of girls showed a swift reduction. Prior to this policy in 1970, the ratio of boys to girls was 106:100. The ratio skyrocketed in the following years and by the year 2000 there were 117 boys per every 100 girls born. From that time onwards, the statistics begin to improve. However, even though the numbers may seem better, the overall number of “missing” girls – over 4 million – is massive. The experts warn that the perpetuation of this trend would cause about 40 to 60 million girls to become “missing”. The reason why the one child policy caused the gender imbalance to worsen is because now many people had a preference for sons instead of daughters. The new technology of obstetric ultra sound contributed to the sudden escalation of the SRB. This is because it makes selective abortion very easy to do. There are also high cases of infanticide as a result (Gupta, 2005).
Feudal rule ended in China with the decline of the Qing dynasty. China, like Korea and Japan, is located in East Asia. Yet in cultural and historical contexts, it is clear that the three countries were quite influential on each other in many ways. As a result, the countries had so much in common. Most ethnic groups throughout the world have for many years viewed womanhood as the originator and ancestor of humankind. As such, different traditions are rich with histories of female deities. In ancient China there was the “Nuwa and Fuyi” myth. In this myth it was believed that Nuwa was the ancient of all holy women and that she was the creator of all things. Thusly, there were female gods in China that were held in high regard in the ancient mythology. Deducing from the high status of female gods in ancient Chinese mythology, this highlights on the status of women in early China people’s minds. For example, Kuan Yin, popularly known as the goddess of mercy, is one of the most ancient deities in Chinese Buddhism. She is also known as the goddess of compassion (Jacques, 2012).
The sudden change in obstetric technology caused the increase in gender imbalance as mentioned above. As a response to the increased selective abortions and infanticide, the Chinese government banned the use of ultrasounds in 1994. Even after the ban, people continued to use means such as bribing health care officers for them to disclose the sex of the babies. Parents continued to hold their sons in a higher regard than the boys. Thusly inferior care in terms of prevention of diseases and accidents, food allocation, and treatment was provided to the girls. The prevalence of disease and illness amongst the girls saw an increase during this period. The end result of all this was a reduction in the number of female infants since a majority of them was dying fast.
Following these developments, it is clear that girls are not seen the same way boys are seen in the Chinese society even today. The boys are given a greater preference than the girls. Women in China go through numerous challenges trying to maintain their pregnancies for a girl child. Some women are “encouraged” by their husbands to rid the pregnancy if it is deemed to be for a baby girl. There has been cases of many women who have sent their pleas in Chinese local media and radio station expressing their grievances. Due to similar pressures in the society, there are women who dump their children if they give birth to daughters. This has been a major cause of increased in the number orphanages. There are tens of thousands of girls currently living in orphanages across the country of China. The reduced number of women in China has been a crisis over the years. For example, the Nations stated that there was approximately a total of 250,000 women and children kidnapped in China and sold as wives (UNICEF, 2006).
Another cause for the continued, relentless gender imbalance in the society is the indifference of the Chinese people on the matter. Since the issue is universally debated, the Chinese people must be aware of the situation but choose to ignore it. Also, since most parents selectively choose to bear sons while discriminating against the girl child, the SRB continues to increase. When there are much fewer girls, then the boys cannot have anyone to court and marry. Hence, this dilemma portends a serious challenge for the Chinese community in the near future. According to research, there will be about 20 million men who will be unable to get married due to shortage of women. There have been extremes to this case such as the advertising by some men in the newspapers in search of women to marry (Whyte, Feng & Cai, 2015).
Since 2004 – the “Year of the Girl” – , there has been increased efforts in a bid to promote the idea of the empowerment of the girl child. The government promoted this ideology and spirit through initiatives such as providing better housing facilities in some parts of the country. Also, pensions and lower school fees were offered for elderly parents who didn’t have sons – if they would give birth to a girl. The purpose of this drive was in order to offset the gender imbalance and improve the situation in the next few years. Nevertheless, this would not materialize as fast as the government had anticipated. Therefore, the indifference of the Chinese citizens towards gender imbalance can be seen in the unchanging statistics. The statistics show that Chinese women are still not being held in exactly equal regard as men are. They are still perceived as designed to be society’s baby-making machines only (2015).
Apart from playing the role of a mother, housewife, and sex objects, prerevolutionary Chinese women had no status in their families or society. These traditional beliefs and stereotypes about women haven’t changed much in rural China. In order to have a better understanding of the preference for sons especially in rural China, it is best to understand the traditions and customs concerning the ideal Chinese family. It was preferred that four generations lived together with as many males as possible. Men were responsible for providing financial support, and presiding in traditional customs and rituals. Moreover, men were considered as the only ones responsible for the continuance of the family lineage. The daughters in a typical Chinese family were trained to become the “perfect” housewives. This meant that they would do everything possible just to make their husbands happy. Daughters are generally regarded as not good for investment in education. Many families refuse to educate their female children due to this bias. They reason that when she gets married she will become the “property” of the spouse’s family. This discrimination has had terrible implications on the ability of Chinese women to compete equally with men (Hesketh, Zhou & Wang, 2015).
There exists a peculiar separateness between “urban China” and “rural China” when it comes to discussions concerning this matter of the role of a woman in the society. Both factions hold different [traditional] views about the doctrine of son preference. Parent’s education level and income bracket majorly influences their values in regard to the gender of their child. Urban families hardly have situations of gender bias because most parents have higher education. This makes them to be more open minded than the rural families. Since they better income and practice the one child policy, they embrace and value gender equality. They invest in their children’s education regardless of gender. They also have no worries about their financial security in old age since they would be enjoying retirement benefits. On the contrary, the “rural China” families look upon their sons to fend for them in their old age since they will have no access to pension benefits. Thusly, all resources are dedicated to bringing up the boy child, at the expense of the girl child, since they are perceived to have the best “return on investment”. This lowers the chances of women getting equal opportunities as men. It also sets them up for a gender-based employment bias (Tatli, Ozturk & Woo, 2017).
The need for women to be prepared for equal opportunity should be taken seriously not only in China, but also in all parts of the world. Girls deserve to be exposed and support for equal opportunities. The modern Chinese civilization has advanced so much in everything except in the way women are treated. Gender equality is yet to be achieved in China in spite of the slow, gradual improvements over the years. It is important to foster women empowerment throughout China so that women can be regarded as of equal importance as men.
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