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Chinese Woman

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Chinese Women

Traditional Chinese society was patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal. In this male dominated society, sons were preferred to daughters, and women were expected to be subordinate to their fathers, husbands, and sons. Because marriages were arranged, young women and men had virtually no voice in the decisions on their marriage partner, resulting in loveless marriages. Once married, it was the woman who left her family and community and went to live with her husband's family, where she was subordinate to her mother-in-law. In some cases, female infants were subjected to a high rate of infanticide, or sold as slaves to wealthy families. Men were permitted to take as many wives as they wished and bound feet, which were customary even for peasant women, symbolized the painful constraints of the female role. Chinese women were considered second-class citizens and were subject to the wishes and restraints of men.

The basic unit of Chinese society, the family, was male dominated. The oldest living male ruled the patriarchal Chinese family. As the head of the family, the grandfather or father decided whom the children and grandchildren would marry. Because the Chinese practiced a patrilineal system, ancestry was only traced through the male side of the family. When a woman married in the patrilocal system, she was no

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longer a member of her own family and was sent to live with her husband's family. Her mother-in-law was to be considered her own new mother and her authority was absolute (Major 107-109). "Her rule could be benevolent but, far more generally, is reported to have been harsh and autocratic in the extreme, leading at times to suicide (Tregear 120).

Daughters, whose long-term contribution to their families was limited, were valued much less than sons. Traditional Chinese philosophy was that, "raising daughters is like raising children for another family" (Major 109). After O-lan delivers her first daughter, in the novel The Good Earth, she says to her husband Wang Lung, "It is only a slave this time Ð'- not worth mentioning" (Buck 65). Sometimes daughters were sold as servants or prostitutes, or even killed in order to give sons a better chance for survival in times of stress or prolonged famine. During a time of great famine, O-lan, wishing to do what is best for husband, suggests selling their daughter, "If it were only I, she would be killed before she was soldÐ'...the slave of slaves was I! But a dead girl brings nothing. I would sell this girl for you Ð'- to take you back to the land" (Buck 118). Bearing much emotional suffering, O-lan offers to sell her daughter into servitude, which she had been forced to endure, to help her husband return to his homeland in the north (Buck 65, 118-120).

In General, Chinese marriages were arranged by a go-between overlooking love as a requirement. In most cases, the bride and groom met for the first time on their wedding day. The purpose of marriage was to provide a male heir to continue the family line. Hence, men and women were thrown together without consideration for their desire to join in matrimony (Major 131).

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In China, the practice of taking a concubine was fairly common. This custom was originally introduced to increase the population, and was the excuse used by Chinese men to alleviate tension between themselves and their wives. Wang-Lung's wife is ugly so he searches for love and beauty elsewhere. He finds it in his concubine, Lotus (Buck 202-210). Some men take concubines because their legitimate wives do not provide them with a son. In this case, the man will dismiss the concubine as soon as she bears him a male child. However prostitution and concubinage were rampant due to the lack of love and romance in arranged marriages (Grosier 25-26).

It was considered socially acceptable for a man to keep mistresses. Keeping one or more mistresses symbolized wealth, high status and authority. This institution probably arose because marriage was a means of perpetuating the family line and thus within the marriage, interaction between a man and woman was confined. Respectable men and women were not permitted to associate with each other in a friendly manner, inspiring men to turn to concubines for entertainment and emotional fulfillment. A wife however, was not allowed to indulge in extra-marital affairs. A wife's adultery was a criminal offense and constituted grounds for divorce (Grosier 26). Men never thought about how their affairs affected their wives. "Some women will even hang themselves upon a beam with a rope when a man takes a second woman into the house" (Buck 202). Wang Lung attempts to convince himself that he has not done anything wrong. He tells himself that all reputable men take concubines and, therefore, it is acceptable to do so (Buck 204).

Another practice that mistreated women was footbinding:

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Footbinding was the act of wrapping three- to five-year old girls

feet with binding as to bend the toes under, break the bones and force the

back of the foot together. It's purpose was to produce a tiny foot, the



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