Chinese Women

Chinese Women China, located in East Asia, is the third largest country by area and the largest country by population in the world. While China has one-fifth of the world’s total population, and it also has one of the earliest civilizations, dating back to some 5000 years ago. China is often distinguished for its technological advances and intelligence, but in the early 20th century, Chinese society was far from perfect. The women in China, lived a slow and difficult life, bound by tradition and obedience. Women had to bind their feet at birth or face adversity throughout their entire lives.

Footbinding was a painful process that allowed women to be thought of as beautiful and a good future wife. However, their roles in society soon changed, with the invading Communism. Women soon received the same treatment and the respect Chinese men had because of Western ideas and influence. Chinese women suffered pain and heartache their entire lives. From the moment a woman was born, she was considered nothing, she was unimportant.1 Sons were all that mattered because the family name would live in them, while a daughter would be married off and take on the duties for their in-laws. A woman earned little respect from her family.

For example, when a son born was born, the umbilical cord was saved in a jar. However, if a daughter was born, her umbilical cord was buried outside because she left and married off when coming to age and there was no need to save the umbilical cord of a guest.2 They were mostly uneducated and played out the role of a servant or slave. They did everything: they washed, knitted, and were required to serve our marital duties.3 In dealing with the challenges that women faced, one primary fact becomes apparent- a woman rarely had a free day without chores or problems. Unborn while inside the womb, a girl baby faced the possibility of being aborted because there was no time, or money, to care for her.4 Each day she lived she was forced to complete so many chores that she became tired out when the day was over. Along with basic necessities such as bathing and eating a women served their families, cooked all the meals, cleaned all by themselves, and then worked the humid fields.5 It was nearly impossible for women to leave the family and make something out of themselves because they had very little education. They were required to leave when the boys were studying or asked to copy some words out of a book, when the tutor was free.6 Although they were given some money for groceries and other supplies, women could not spend cash freely, without a man’s permission.7 In addition, when their husbands brought home a concubine, a mistress or prostitute, there was no scene of jealously, unacceptance, or animosity.

If these feelings were displayed, the women were shamed and this was a way for the male to request for a divorce.8 Death, a time for release and independence, was not such a time for women. There were two worlds. The Shadow World was female, with a negative essence, and all things motionless and deep. The Light World was male, with a positive essence, with all things strong and high. Women still endured agony while a man had nothing but happiness.9 Constrained by tradition and the family, a women complied to the rules of filial piety.

They accepted that their lives and bodies were not their own, but gifts from their parents.10 Women were not loose or casual, but very closed and formal. Thus, women informed their parents where they were going, what they were doing, and needed permission on important life decisions.11 Simply, they were restricted in every way possible. If women were ignorant that was their virtue; they were more obedient to their in-laws.12 In childhood, the father was in control. They never entered the father’s vicinity unless asked and never left it without his consent. Girls spoke when they were spoken to, had to anticipate their fathers’ wishes, and when scolded, they thanked him for his corrections.13 Moreover, love was not a deciding factor, in marriage.

The women were promised to other families by their parents or masters, and could not object.14 The in-laws and husband were in power after a women wed. Distant behavior and respect and love for the in-laws, were a must. The relationship with the in-laws was more important than the one with the husband.15 Motherhood was where the in-laws supervised a child’s upbringing while the mothers only tended her children occasionally. The children did not belong to the mothers but to the families.16 In a society where they had no power or decision, footbinding held women to the old customs. The origins of footbinding are vague and mostly unknown, although there are momentary references in early Chinese works, from the Han dynasty, that small feet were favored over larger feet in women. The court of the Southern Tang dynasty in Nanjing, offered the first documented reference to the practice of footbinding.

In Nanjing, dancing girls were acclaimed for their little feet and beautiful bow shoes.17 Their feet were wrapped in strips of silk cloth and they danced among the petals of the lotus. The beauty in this and the Emperor’s satisfaction began the tradition of footbinding.18 Evidently, footbinding later became the model for feminine beauty in the imperial court until its demise in 20th century China. The rise of footbinding in China was contributed by various reasons. Bound feet were a part of Chinese culture, the custom was done for thousands of years and women were expected to follow tradition.19 They were a woman’s prized possession, part of her dowry, a gift from a wealthy father to be presented to a worthy man.20 Footbinding was believed to assist health, conditioning, and fertility. The practice offered dignity and a sense of class while footbinding also maintained a woman’s good family values, which were inseparable from society’s values.21 The bind in a woman’s feet determined the reputation of both her natural family and the family she married into.22 The appearance of a bound feet, to Chinese men, was aesthetically pleasing, while big natural feet showed signs of poverty and being raised poorly.

Big feet limited a woman’s chances for a “good” marriage.23 Footbinding was where a three year old girl wrapped her feet in binding in order to bend the toes under, break the bones, and force the back of the foot together. This process gave result to tiny three inch feet, shaped like a golden lotus or a moon crescent.24 A basin of warm water and strips of heavy white cotton began the process of footbinding. The feet were then soaked in water where they were next binded with thick wet bandages. When the binding ended, pain emerged from the feet caused them to feel as if the feet shrunk into thousands of small insects. This was not a one-day process, however; footbinding took many years of careful wrapping.25 The toe bones had to be broken slowly, until they were curved gently around the sole of the foot and where the toe could touch the heel.26 Footbinding disabled the normal routine and lives of women.

The feet were so compressed with pressure, that women did n …