Western views of chinese women
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Western Views of Chinese women. From “Western Views of Chinese Women” Online Source - http://chnm.gmu.edu/wwh/modules/lesson10/lesson10.php?s=0 -Chinese women became representative objects for Western observers, proof of the failings of Chinese culture and the necessity of Chinese conversion

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Western Views of Chinese women

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Western views of chinese women

Western Views of Chinese women


Western views of chinese women

  • From “Western Views of Chinese Women”

  • Online Source - http://chnm.gmu.edu/wwh/modules/lesson10/lesson10.php?s=0

    -Chinese women became representative objects for Western observers, proof of the failings of Chinese culture and the necessity of Chinese conversion

    -Described as victims of their own society, in Western journalistic pieces Chinese women were deprived of any agency in their own existence and judged with a sympathy born of arrogance


Western views of chinese women

  • The representations of Chinese women in these journalistic accounts bear uncanny similarities to popular conceptions about the “place” of women in Confucian societies today

  • Primarily that they are passive, obedient, and oppressed

  • A guided critical analysis of samples from 19th-century Western writing about Chinese women is one means of confronting popular stereotypes about Chinese/Asian women that abound in Western culture


Western views of chinese women

  • Generally speaking, women in 19th-century China followed gender norms classed by Western scholars as Confucian or Neo-Confucian

  • These norms emphasized the family as the primary social unit and advocated the primacy of women in the domestic sphere


Western views of chinese women

  • Within the Chinese family, one’s position in the hierarchy determined rank and responsibility

  • Daughters were expected to obey their parents’ authority, assist their mothers in domestic tasks, and in elite families, learn to read and write


Western views of chinese women

  • When the time came, young women would marry into a family of their parents’ choosing, leaving the home of their birth permanently

  • Once married, young wives would enjoy a position relative to their husband’s place in the family

  • The wife was always subject to her mother-in-law’s authority in addition to her husband’s


Western views of chinese women

  • She took management of the household when those duties were ceded by her mother-in-law, ensuring that its members were well cared for and that its finances remained in order


Western views of chinese women

  • The birth of a son would be a happy occasion for the entire household, as it would guarantee not only the continuity of the family line, but also insurance for both parents that they would be provided for in their old age and worshipped after their death

  • The mother would have the added comfort of knowing that her own subservient position in the household would be reversed when her son married


Western views of chinese women

  • Whereas elite standards of gender were promoted as the ideal throughout Chinese society, in reality “feminine” behavior was shaped by economic class and social status

  • Among elite families, proper young women were sequestered in the “inner quarters,” their chief company the other women of the household

  • Their self-imposed cloister within the domestic sphere was considered a marker of propriety and restraint, qualities promoted for both men and women in neo-Confucian culture


Western views of chinese women

  • However, this “restraint” was only possible for women who had servants to facilitate their seclusion

  • By contrast, rural women who lived in farming communities regularly left their homes to tend fields or visit the market, their economic situation making the division of their household into inner and outer (private and public) realms near impossible


Western views of chinese women

  • Western observers often remarked on two customs prevalent in the 19th-century China: concubinage and foot binding

  • Although taking a concubine was supposed to be a method of last resort for a patriarch to acquire a male heir, the practice was long established as a marker of elite status


Western views of chinese women

  • Western writers improperly termed this practice “polygamy,” or taking multiple wives

  • In fact, the position of the wife remained sacrosanct with regards to her authority in the household and her role as “mother” to all of her husband’s progeny

  • A concubine was not a wife


Western views of chinese women

  • Foot binding is best understood as a form of beauty culture that became increasingly popular in China during the late imperial period, reaching its height during the 19th century

  • Thought to have originated in the late Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), foot binding was first adopted by elite women


Western views of chinese women

  • By the 19th century, the practice transcended class, although families of lesser means would bind their daughters’ feet at a later age than occurred in elite families due to the need for their daughters’ labor


Western views of chinese women

  • During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 CE), foot binding became a marker of Han Chinese ethnicity, as neither the ruling Manchus nor other differentiated minority populations (such as the Hakkas) promoted the practice


Western views of chinese women

  • The first Christian missionaries in China were the Jesuits, who arrived at the Ming court in the 16th century

  • Their activities were strictly proscribed in the 18th century, however, and Catholic priests were forbidden to make converts among the Chinese people


Western views of chinese women

  • Protestant missionaries arrived at China’s southern coast in the beginning of the 19th century

  • Their activities were limited to Macao and Canton due to Chinese restrictions on foreigners

  • This situation changed following the Opium War (1839-1842), when five “treaty ports” along China’s southeast coast were opened to foreign residence and trade


Western views of chinese women

  • Another significant development occurred in 1858, when foreign missionaries won the right to travel inland and establish Christian communities in the Chinese countryside

  • From this time forward, female missionaries who were able to directly preach to Chinese women arrived in China in increasing numbers


Western views of chinese women

  • There is very little in the source which follows that provides substantive information abut how Chinese women lived in the 19th century

  • Instead, in reading the source, students learn about the prejudices and mindsets of their authors


Western views of chinese women

  • The intended audience for the source is the West and the subject is the Chinese


Western views of chinese women

  • This distinction between self and other is also marked in the text: the observer/author is the active agent (describing) and the Chinese woman is the passive object (being described)


Western views of chinese women

  • In many of the articles, this passivity is made real: Chinese women are presented as victims without recourse, their only hope the renovation of their own society

  • In some cases, however, Chinese women are endowed with the “universal” female attribute of moral authority; this development marks a shift in representation whereby Chinese women are transformed from victims in need of rescue to ignorant souls in need of enlightenment


Western views of chinese women

  • The Source:

    ~Article published in a Protestant missionary journal, based in Canton, that operated from 1832 until 1851

    ~Its readership included both the foreigners living in Canton and home religious communities in Britain and the United States

    ~The author maintains a sympathetic attitude towards Chinese women, citing their beauty and charm, yet paints them as victims of insensitive males in an oppressive culture, presuming an invisible sorrow shared by all women in China


Western views of chinese women

  • Confucianism is named as the primary offender, and Christian conversion the sole savior

  • One may presume that this portrayal of delicate Chinese women as victims of brutish Confucianism helped to excite enthusiasm for the missionary cause in China both at home and abroad


Western views of chinese women

The Source:

Lay, G. Tradescant. “Remarks on Chinese Character and Customs.” Chinese Repository 12 (1843): 139-142.

“No apology can or ought to be made in the behalf of the unfeeling practice of spoiling the feet of the female. It had its origin solely in pride, which after the familiar adage, is said to feel no pain. It is deemed, however, such an essential among the elements of feminine beauty, that nothing save the sublimer considerations of Christianity will ever wean them from the infatuation…”


Western views of chinese women

“…When gentlemen are reciting the unparalleled charms of Suchau ladies they seldom forget to mention the extreme smallness of the foot, as that which renders them complete, and lays the topstone upon all the rest of their personal accomplishments…”


Western views of chinese women

“The compression of the foot does not render the Chinese lady incapable of walking, nor does it give that awkwardness to the gait which one might be apt to expect. Walking among females of the lower orders is often effected with difficulty, but this arises from the imperfect manner in which the operation has been performed, and the inequality of the surface they are obliged to tread upon…”


Western views of chinese women

“…At home or abroad, in holiday robes or in plain clothing, the heart of a Chinese female seems to be at all times ready to overflow with mirth and good humor. Ill usage or misfortune may make her sad for a while, but the smallest efforts to soothe or amuse on the part of one whom she values drives away all her heaviness. Confucian philosophy has done its best to unfit a Chinese for the possession of such an heritage, by assigning to woman nothing but the privilege of drudging for her lord…”


Western views of chinese women

“Those well chosen terms of esteem and preference with which we are wont to address females, and the countless variety of polite offices which we perform as matters of course, find no place either in the written or unwritten laws of Chinese society…”


Western views of chinese women

“…Whenever the light of heaven-born Christianity shall dawn upon this people, and begin to dissipate the mists of a diabolical system of ethics which has so long brooded over the land, one of the first evidences of its presence will be a restoration of fair woman to all her rights and privileges; she will then be regarded, as she ought to be, ‘the glory of the man,’ and a Chinese will then behold a paradise yielding flowers to embellish his feasts, to adorn the friendly board, to refine, ennoble and rejoice his own heart…”


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