9/8/10 - women in confucian china

In today's excerpt - in Confucian China, women were little more than slaves, a status that remained true through the turn of the twentieth century:

"Nowhere were women treated with greater contempt than in a Confucian state. Chinese ideographs that include the character for 'woman' mean: evil, slave, anger, jealousy, avarice, hatred, suspicion, obstruction, demon, witch, bewitching, fornication, and seduction. Confucius warned gentlemen against being 'too familiar with the lower orders or with women.' As the poet Fu Xuan wrote in the third century:

How sad it is to be a woman!
Nothing on earth is held so cheap.
Boys stand leaning at the door
Like gods fallen out of heaven.

"Marriage in China was less of a union between man and woman than a contract of indentured servitude between a girl and her mother-in-law. A wedding was arranged by parents in an effort to advance themselves socially, politically, or financially.  In traditional Chinese society a girl married into her husband's family and gave up all contact with her own parents. A bride was subservient to everyone in the new household but especially to her husband's mother, for whom she toiled without rest. Wife and mother-in-law were jealous rivals for the affection of the husband/son.  Publicly a husband and wife were indifferent toward each other, never openly acknowledging the existence of the other. In private the wife would have to struggle to win her husband's respect, and only through her grown sons did she have any real hope of  security. No wonder she then exhibited little affection toward her son's bride, and the cycle repeated itself.

"A concubine was a serious and usually permanent member of a household. She was brought in to bear a son, after the first wife had failed, then remained as an assistant wife, with all the responsibilities and few of the privileges. Once the man lost interest, she was just another servant. In most cases she was purchased from her parents, so in fact she was a slave, though she could not be discarded without arriving at a settlement with her family."


Sterling Seagrave


Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China


Vintage Books a division of Random House, Inc.


Copyright 1992 by Scribbler's Ltd


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