Role of Women in Ancient China

To be honest I didn’t know what to write this blog post about until I got to one of the last paragraphs in chapter 11.  It was the paragraph about how Chinese civilizations have placed women in positions of power more than some other civilizations. Now that piqued my interest but sadly it was just a passing thought to the author.  When I think about women’s role in China I think about how women would have to follow a certain distance behind the man accompanying them. About if a man had sons with several different women, the women would compete with one another trying to advance their own sons. In the early historical record, women were usually only mentioned when they caused problems for the men.  Tales of virtuous women didn’t come until after Confucius. I hope that puts things into perspective. I figured that women’s positions of power wouldn’t happen in the time period that we will be talking about in class. But women do start to play a role in their family systems at these times which I think could be a little more than they did in Ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia.

After Confucius,  writers would often refer to the yin yang theory. Yin represented women. It was receptive, passive and tranquil. That leaves yang to represent men. Yang was hard, dominant, and active. They are of course perfect opposites. The yin yang theory indicates that these difference between men and women were part of a natural order instead of social institutions.  Yes, yin and yang compliment each other but it doesn’t mean it has to be equal. Yang was supposed to naturally be the dominant force, so if yin gained the upper hand it was viewed to unbalance order on a cosmic and social level.

It was in Han times that the family structure started to change with the passing of a few laws.  If the male head of the family died before his sons were not grown, it was the woman’s job to fulfill the role until the sons were old enough.  Also, a man could divorce a woman only if she had family to return to. Now according to modern times these weren’t much but it was a start.  In this time it was also starting to be seen that women could only have significant roles in the family when she was a grandmother.

It wasn’t until the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) that increasing numbers of women were able to read and write. It also seems in this time female poets were quite common.  It’s because of this I must assume that the positions of power for women mentioned in our textbook were rare as much as that disappoints me to say.

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