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Chinese Women

.. ot walk, but rather they limped with excruciating pain, leaning on walls or on other people for support and balance. The feet became so bad that women could not physically move freely or without another person and consequently they could do anything really meaningful with their lives.27 In wealthy families, servants took care of personal needs and carried the women when the feet were too weak for walking. Beside from the daily torture and soreness, problems like ulceration, paralysis, and gangrene developed. In extreme cases, about ten percent of Chinese girls died in the initial process of footbinding.28 The rise of communism in China challenged traditional beliefs about the role of women.

It was thought that Communism would bring an equal amount of work to all people and equal benefits.29 In 1921, The Chinese Communist Party was formed in Shanghai. One of the leaders, Sun Yat-sen, admitted Communists to Kuomintang membership. Sun’s basic beliefs were the Three Principles of Nationalism, Democracy, and Socialism, were charged with the spirit of anti-imperialism and national unification.30 The old Chinese government was one with massive military opposition. Communism emerged in order to destroy imperialism in China and to reintroduce national unity.31 Chinese officials and government believed that the revolutionary changes in Russia and the beliefs of Marx and Lenin would benefit and occur in China.32 The main function of this new government was to change society. Communist ended the old ways and moved the country into a socialist society.33 With the achievement of Communism in China, the purpose of women in Chinese culture, drastically changed. Women began to have the same type of education as the men did and later went on to universities and schools. In the schools, the women learned and studies science, foreign language, literature, mathematics, and history.34 This education paved the way to careers in medicine, business, banking, and even education.35 More and more of them wanted education to be apart of their lives.

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Women were now expected to take education and make something out of themselves. Bound feet, concubinage, polygamy, and sale of children or slavery were banned. Although Communism has many downsides and problems, it still changed the women into becoming more involved in all aspects of China; its culture, government, society, and business.36 As time went on and as Communism began to spread rapidly, new rules were accepted for divorce. The law granted that divorce was possible if both the man and woman agreed. But, corresponding to the conventional rites of filial piety, if the man was under thirty years of age and the woman was under twenty-one years of age, permission for a divorce was to be granted by both families.

The bride’s family and the husband’s mother and father, the in-laws, had to decision to grant or deny divorce, upon agreement.37 To an extent, there were certain things, a woman did that could force a husband to request a divorce. The husband would sign a bill of divorcement that named one or more the seven recognized grounds for divorce. These reasons were the Zi Chu, the “Seven Outs” for a wife: One if she disobeyed his parents. Two if she could not bear him any sons. Three, if she committed adultery with another man.

Four, if she acted jealous and was unwilling to take in another women, or concubine. Five, if she were repulsively sick. Six, if she gossiped and talked for a great deal. Seven, if the wife committed theft towards her in-laws, or her husband.38 Divorce for love, divorce for marriage to another man or woman, and alimony payment became accepted, more common, and fashionable in China. It was the thing to do, to end prearranged marriages and the downed ways.39 The wife’s in-laws would help pay alimony for each family: one third of their income was reserved for themselves, one third was reserved for their son and their new daughter-in-law, and one-third of the income for the old daughter-in-law.

Adultery, one of the seven outs, began to form in some relationships, where the husband didn’t care about his wife’s other lovers.40 Families no longer consisted of the in-laws, husband, wife, and children but were varied. There were stepfamilies and people no longer lived all together in one large house. Each husband and wife lived with their children, while the in-laws lived alone in their own homes.41 Divorce left a lasting effect on a woman’s life. Some were so disgraced by divorce that they committed suicide or left their families never to return. Their only three options were prostitution, the nunnery, or suicide.42 Abortions, became popular, along with divorce. Although it was life-threatening and dangerous, women did it regardless, out of contempt for the man they married.

Desperate circumstances also caused abortions; such incidences included having an affair, extreme starvation and hunger, and poverty.43 On the other hand, divorce allowed men and women to find true love and happiness with someone they cared for. Divorce could free them from a family they had no emotion for, and allow them to become more independent and carefree.44 The customs of the West were greatly different from traditional China. Western ideas began showing up in Chinese women, when they started breaking ancient traditions and becoming less filial towards their in-laws or elders(yelling and talking back to them).45 Women would begin demanding things or possessions that they admired. They ate only half a bowl of rice when it was improper to not finish the every piece of rice. They would no longer act distant towards their husbands like society wanted, but instead ask the husband to finish their meals or even carry them up and down the stairs.46 Soon afterward, Western influence took control of hairstyle, appearance, and clothing. Waved, bobbed, and short hair flooded the streets of China. Women wore white gauze shirts with tight brassieres clearly visible underneath and knee-length skirts and high-heeled shoes, worn with flesh-colored silk stockings.47 Other types of modern apparel, instead of long dresses, included hats, navy woolen jackets, jeans of various colors, and different types of skirts. Finally, makeup, eyeliner, red lipstick, and other treatments were used on the face regularly.48 Chinese women owned a paradoxical role in society because, although they were restricted in education and society, women also were necessary and vital in making society function correctly. While Chinese society initially held on and believed in the traditional ways, roles, and customs, the government soon realized that this would not work.

Practices such as arranged marriages, concubinage, and footbinding, indicated a flawed character and connected the women to the past. What is important to understand about Chinese culture, is that it is not confined to the past 100 years. It spans over thousands of years, and includes many good things along with the bad, as with any civilization. The culture has grown and understands the mistakes and wrongs of the past. China is gradually transforming itself into a better country.

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