Women in the History of China

Question 1 – Late Imperial Period

In the ancient Chinese customs, males were preferred to their female counterparts. In the male-dominated society, it was expected of women to be submissive and subordinate to men. Thus, quite a number of women in this community were uneducated. It was also acceptable for the rich men of the society to have several concubines other than their wives (Ebrey 1). Husbands were the head of the family, which was viewed as the basic unit of society. Women were believed to cause problems to men and would be termed as disloyal more often than not.

Confucius ignored the negative attitude towards women and held a believe that they would be loyal to their kinship duties and roles. These roles would be enhanced and administered through rites and virtues applicable to both genders – an example of the virtue that was a filial devoutness. Long after the era of Confucius, writers engaged in gender-based discussions, where men were referred to as yang and women as yin. The differences in traits between yang and yin were attributed to their biological nature. The state of affairs of the universe designated men to lead women. This act of separation between yang and yin was meant to ensure that yang always dominated in. Hence, women would never participate in public affairs as their place was the inner circle of household chores (Dooling 206). Therefore, womenєs roles were restricted to giving birth and performing other domestic duties as opposed to men, whose duty was providing and protecting the family. During that era, there was a total disrespect for women by their male counterparts, who had distinct perceptions and attitudes over the place of a woman in the society.

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The above extract indicates that the Confucian teaching on gender values has considerably impacted women in the lower social class as they are seen to be practicing these teachings to date.

A Daughter of Han: The Autography of a Working Chinese Woman

This book brings into perspective the plight of a Chinese woman in Ancient China. The storyline of the book is based on the life of a lady named Ning Lao Tєai born in 1867. Lao is the last born in a family of three, born and raised in the Penglai city, Shantung province. She is presented as a playful and active child up until her seventh year, when she gets ill for a period of time. She is married off to a fisherman at the tender age of fifteen years, according to the Chinese mode of counting years. However, in the real sense, she is only thirteen years old. Ning is later on blessed with two girls, Mantes, her firstborn, and China, the last born. Lao and her children rarely get enough to eat, since she does not have the means of providing for them and largely depended on her parent until they died. After realizing about her husband's opium addiction, Lao plans on the separation from him. However, she is informed by fortune-tellers of how her marriages are bound to break in the future. Thus, she chooses not to divorce her husband until he sells their last born twice, when the situation forces Lao to resort to street begging in a bid to feed her children. After moving from jobs to jobs, Lao returns to her husband, and they get two more children, a boy and a girl, but the girl dies before her adulthood. Her encounter with the several families she had worked for, earned her experience and skills to be industrious. She helps her daughter raise her child as the custom dictates that parents should also take care of their grandchildren too (Pruitt 153). Therefore, from the book, it is evident that a hard work and determination are the key to Lao's success in her life. She comes out as a role model and a perfect example to women that they can make it in life despite their challenges.

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Ning Tao lived in the Confucian era and, thus, was bound by his codes. Her life in comparison to that of an elite woman is similar in some stances and different in others. For instance, the pre-marriage life of Lao is no different from that of an elite Chinese girl. Despite the social status, girls were married off at the age of fifteen. Lao had spent most of her early years; besides, her mother taught her about the marriage life, which she was being prepared for; this is still the case for the elite woman, although she received a more formal training and education on the same. Ning changed her plight by moving out of the confines of the household to look for a job outside; this gave her freedom just like that of an elite woman, who could hire house help, granting her freedom of movement and power over her workers. In conclusion, Lao's beliefs and behaviors are similar to that of the elite woman. A major difference is noted based on the form of education that the elite women received, which was more formal than that of Lao. There are also socioeconomic disparities between these different societal tier women. The higher social class woman would hire a staff to help in the household chores and, thus, had more freedom and power as compared to Lao (Pruitt 180).

The main factors that contributed to the differences in the behaviors and beliefs between Ning and the elite women are the socioeconomic status. These elite women came from more economically stable families. They never had to struggle much like Lao to feed their families. Lao was driven by her hardships and hunger to beg for food in the streets and later for a job. It is unlikely for a woman in the highest social class to beg for food. Lao's life had also been influenced by the Confucian teachings. Later on, after working for quite some time, she returns home to her husband, and she helps her son in upbringing his family. This was taught by the Confucian as the greatest responsibility of the parent, basically, the mother, to consolidate the family. There is also the element of time. During the ancient time, women were disadvantaged in the community and were regarded as inferior to men. Lao was no exception to this form of unfair treatment. Women from the higher social class were a bit exposed and held with more regard in comparison to those in the lower social class, the likes of Ning (Pruitt 222).

Lao had subscribed to the values of Confucian. She had spent her childhood besides her mother, who installed in her these values. She was confined to the household at her tender age, just like any other Chinese woman as it was the norm. However, the hardships she faced in her marriage life opened a new chapter in her life. She had to find the means to provide for her children when her husband sold their daughter again to fund his opium addiction.

Question 2 – A Daughter of Han: The Autography of a Working Chinese Woman

This book is remarkable in terms of its openness and being outspoken about the state of affairs. The tactful presentation of the occurrences paints a factual picture on the reader's mind. Ning writes about her life an indication that the content of the book is about her real life experiences and not from a secondary source. This book is, thus, more accurate as a reference material to historians as opposed to other secondary sources not written out of the personal life experience of the writer's themselves. However, for a clear understanding of life during the Imperial era, the reader needs to be conversant with the Confucian gender values and how they were applicable in either of the social classes. This would enable him/her to the living standards of women from the elite and the lower socioeconomic class (Pruitt 153). From the book, Ning regards these values as traditions and not just as rules; thus, assuming that women in the lower social class ignore these values for their survival.

This would be a misunderstanding because an in-depth analysis of the occurrences proves otherwise. The events in this book answer the question of how things were and not why. It is evident that Lao had applied the values in her personal life and that of her family, and at the end, despite abandoning her marital home, she reunites with her husband and plays her role as prescribed by the Confucian codes.

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Under Confucian Eyes: Writings on Gender in Chinese History

This book is divided into eighteen texts, each with the translator's name. Each of these texts is summarized into Pre-Modern China gender values. After the editor's introductory remarks, there is the teacher's and student's guide, which clearly outlines, the rationale of the book meant to provide an account of the ancient Chinese woman and her evolution. The guide suggests various approaches in this book as of historical studies of the Chinese woman, namely genre, chronology, discipline and topic (Mann and Cheng 189). The editor also provides the original preface alongside the translated version for the reader's verification. In further studies, suggested links and reference materials are provided as well as the Chinese characters glossary. This book provides an ample account of the history of the Chinese woman, although not the first-hand account. The incorporation of information from other relevant books qualifies this book as a reliable source of material for historians on the Chinese gender history.

The Talented Women of the Zhang Family

The writer of this book, Susan Mann, recounts on the lifetimes of women from a Jiangsu literate family from the mid of the Qing dynasty to its end. The three women under the scope are Tang Yaoqing (1763-1831), Zhang Qieying (1792-after 1863), and Wang Caipin (1826-1893). Zhang Qieying is a well-renowned poet nationally, whereas Tang and Wang were only recognized within the kinship and acquaintances' circles. The writer of this book gathers the information on these women of different prominence in the society to depict an elaborate family image. Mann is only interested in the differences in the roles of each of the three women to depict the changes in the family wealth, each woman's personal fate and the historical perspective in general throughout the nineteenth century (Mann 35).

In her narrative, Mann traces the extended family line of Zhang and only uses the three women as the leading characters. The interaction of these protagonists with other members of the society brings about a clear description of a family in Imperial China. This is a reliable source of history of the Chinese women because of the scope of narration in regards to the many leading characters as well as other minor characters. The book also covers quite a long duration of time, enabling the reader to track the changes in some of the traditions (Mann 69). Mann also uses proper stylistic devices in her writing as inspired by her predecessor Sima Qianєs Shiji. This provides a room for the comparison and contrast between the two writers.

In conclusion, the three books are of paramount significance to the historians interested in the history of Chinese women. It is advisable for them to be used together, because each of the book is unique in its own way and, thus, highly resourceful. The three books give an account of the place of women in Ancient China. From the Daughter of Han, one can learn of how women were disadvantaged in the society and how they underwent through many hardships and difficulties from their birth to their old age as they were always regarded as inferior to men. However, these challenges are the stepping stone to their success as portrayed by Lao. Lao becomes a better woman after having triumphed over her failing marriage and poverty (Pruitt 157).

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From the book Under Confucian Eyes, the readers learn of the virtues and values practiced over the olden days and how they were applicable. These values formed a part of the Chinese tradition and to some extent served as rules. This book explains why the gender disparity existed and, thus, helps understand the plight of women in Imperial China and how the society evolved from these gender values to the modern day Chinese gender values (Mann and Cheng 150).

teaches the reader an in-depth understanding of a family in Ancient China. In her writing, she demonstrates how women evolved in the nineteenth century based on the changes in the family's wealth and fortune and The Talented Women of the Zhang FamilyMannєs book each three women's personal fate. These three books have in common a clear image of a woman's place in Ancient China as inferior to men and their struggle beyond that notion. Through these books, one can learn of the pre-modern Chinese gender values. The three books also provide a chronological account of the evolution of the Chinese women in their struggle to claim their rightful place in society.

Strengths of These Books as Sources of the Historical Information

The Daughter of Hanautography of a working Chinese woman (Ning Lao Tєai) by being an autograph the book provides the first-hand information of historical events as it is written by a participant herself. The reader is confident that the information obtained in this book is accurate as it was given in real time out of personal experiences.

The book Under Confucian Eyes is a collection of an assortment of books giving the history of a Chinese woman, thus making it a reliable source of information as it is detailed. The authors of the book have summarized the book and provided a guide for clarification. They have also placed the original version of the texts with their narration side by side to ease the verification. They have as well provided glossaries of the Chinese characters for the original texts and a list of other links and reference materials to affirm their accuracy (Mann and Cheng 152).

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, Susan Mann has used proper fitting stylistic devices to depict a clear image of the whole society. Some of the writing styles she has applied include conversations, unspoken opinion The Talented Women of the Zhang FamilyIn her book and emotions, alongside imagined scenes from the reader's perspective. The book also uses more than one leading character to provide a large historical background and cover different occurrences in more than one woman's life occurrences (Mann 123).

Generally, these books are secondary sources of historical information; thus, they give an account of events that occurred over two centuries ago. They have enabled the learners to be part of history that they were not by providing a detailed explanation of the past that can be linked to present-day China.

Weaknesses of the Books

By being secondary sources of the historical information, the writers and authors could have changed the original context in their writing. Some information could have been compromised or even omitted in the translation. Thus, readers should be encouraged to use more than one book so as to compare and verify the content of each.


It is evidently clear that all the books have a considerable contribution to gender challenges. This represents the true incursions of male chauvinism that needs the invalidation and condemnation with an immediate effect in the society. It should be understood that genders values and norms should be upheld with dignity in society. This calls for the societies to support the social, physical and psychological roles and avenues for women instead of constricting them. In addition, the change in society should incorporate the norms and values that align to everyone's freedom and personality. Finally, women must attempt to remove the obstacles that hinder them from achieving gender equality in a male-dominated society.

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