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Feminist Theory In Chinese Ghost Stories And Fox Tales

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Feminist Approach to Chinese Ghost Stories

While the role of women in China has changed drastically, the history of Chinese women's studies is clearly based in repression and servitude. Today the women of communist China have gained equality but this liberation has slowly evolved from a history of oppression. When examining the significance of women in the Chinese culture, and their role in the society both past and present it is important to consider the literary works of ancient China. Since so much of China's rich history is embedded within the pages of ancient Chinese ghost stories and fox tales, conclusions can be drawn about various aspects of Chinese civilization through the study of these works. The feminist perspective is no exception to this as there are an abundance of stories that include female characters who are vital to the plots of these tales. So while a broader Chinese history can be extracted from Chinese ghost stories and fox tales, it is clear that a relevant representation of Chinese women's history is also chronicled.

Before understanding the role of women in Chinese ghost stories and fox tales it is of the utmost importance to understand the extensive history of the women role in China and how the cultures view of women has evolved from past to present. For thousands of years in the ancient China women lived under the ethical rule of the Confucian way, set forth by the master himself and his analects. Confucian belief was that women were not equal to men, nor were they worthy of a proper education. Other than these restricting guidelines Confucius hardly mentions women at all in his teachings, which in it self shows a great deal about his perspective on women; inferior and unimportant.

Within the Confucian family structure women are always submissive to their male counterpart. From birth till death it seems that women from the ancient Chinese cultures were in a position of service to men. At first women are expected to be submissive to their father's and brother's, gaining little or no respect as a member of the family unit. Conditions seem unchanged still after marriage as women are then confined to the authority of her husband. Much like was the case with a women's father, she was now expected to obey her husband with out resistance.

As was practice in ancient China, men often had several wives, while this was unacceptable for women as it would be a sign of disobedience and disloyalty. Even after her husband died, it was frowned upon for that woman to be re-married. Sometimes even a women's mother in law would even gain dominance over them. This often time was another representation of a cruel confining relationship.

Lastly, yet probably most disconcerting part of ancient Chinese women's history is the application of foot or toe binding. This was a practice that was common in ancient China to ensure that women would be properly married. At a young age girl were subjected to several manipulations of their feet. After parts of the feet and toes were broken and bound it became impossible for the feet to grow. Since men at the time didn't want to marry women with big feet this was very attractive and selling point of sorts in arranged marriages. The binding of feet also ensured that women could not travel far distancing forever binding them to the symbolic cage of there husbands domain. While at the time this was an accepted practice, it is clear that this was a very degrading, vulgar, and ultimately oppressive movement which is very representative of the patriarchal dominant society of ancient China.

While much has changed in China, which is now a much more liberated environment for women, its history is unchangeable. Through a concise examination of a four ancient Chinese ghost stories the role of women within the Chinese culture will be very apparent. This study is can easily be successfully because of the closely related themes in Chinese ghost stories and fox tales and actual Chinese history. And finally we can draw parallels between the role of women in these stories, and the highly controversial theory of feminist literary criticism.

The first of these stories is the "Concubine of Tou Ning". This ghost story has many examples of how the Chinese perspective of women is housed in their literature. Before further assessment of the story it must be understood that the status of a concubine in ancient Chinese culture, was often even lower than that of an average women of a household. This will set the foundation for the plot of the story. In the "Concubine of Tou Ning" Tou Ning has as a supplement to his fiancÐ"©e, Lady Ts'ui (a member of a prominent family), a Concubine. Because Lady Ts'ui was soon to be wed to Tou Ning she requested that the Concubine be sent away. This may seem unrealistic due to the role of women in a marriage, but it also must be considered that Lady Ts'ui is probably of a higher social status than Tou Ning. Tou Ning takes the Concubine by boat through a river away from Lady Ts'ui. When they stop to rest the Concubine delivers twin girls which are undoubtedly Tou Ning's offspring. While the mother and twins rest Tou Ning takes there vulnerability to his advantage and drowns them to death to avoid marital complications.

Tou Ning clearly displays an accurate portrayal of the ancient Chinese society were women (especially concubines) are expendable. Rather than dealing with the problem he chooses to do away with it. This is easy for him because it is women and even worse a concubine. Another realization that can be made is that fact that both twins of the Concubine and Tou Ning were female. Had one or both of the children been male, perhaps Tou Ning would not have slain them. This again sets the tone for the women in the story playing a very submissive role.

Later in the story however the Concubine returns to Tou Ning as a ghost seeking revenge. She seems to have cursed the family because all of Tou Ning and Lady Ts'ui male children die prematurely only leaving them with two girls. This disappointment again reflects that boy babies are of a higher value to the Chinese culture and also symbolizes the two twin girls the concubine has lost as a result of Tou Nings slaughtering.

Another perfect illustration of how the women's stereotypical role in the Chinese culture is reflected in ghost stories is the play "The Injustices Done to Tou Ngo". In the play there are various layers of women's oppression. First Tuan Ngo is given to Mother Ts'ai as a daughter in law to pay



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