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The Cultural and Social Position of Women in China

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  1. Introduction
  2. Women Chinese Culture and History?an Overview
  3. Empress Lu
  4. Empress Wu
  5. Empress Wei
  6. Empress Dowager Tz'u-hsi
  7. Women in Modern China
  8. Conclusion

The Westerner's view of Chinese culture is one that is filled with images of the submissive woman. Chinese society is predicated on a purely patriarchal system in which the needs of men remain the principle concern and focus of Chinese society. While it is indeed evident that this type of society has made it difficult for Chinese women to assert their authority and power, a close examination of women from this culture seems to suggest that Chinese women have been able to asset themselves in more subtle ways. While these methods of assertion are not widely viewed as threatening to the cultural status quo that has been developed in China, it is evident that women have been able to carve out a unique niche for themselves using the basic context of patriarchal society that is essential to Chinese culture. With the realization that women in Chinese culture have had to find more subtle methods for expressing themselves in such a highly patriarchal system, there is a clear impetus to examine how women have developed in the context of Chinese society.

[...] Empress Dowager Tz'u-hsi The history that follows that of Empress Wei suggests that there were few women in China capable of recapturing what Empress Wu and Empress Wei had created. As such, it is not surprising to find that women did not make a substantial impact on the development of history and culture until the nineteenth century. During this time period Empress Dowager came to power. Reviewing how Empress Dowager came into power, Chien-Nung, Ingalls and Teng (1956) note that in 1861 Emperor Hsien-feng died. [...]

[...] While each of these religions utilized a different context for social development, each religious culture that developed in China saw women as a threat to the development of society. As such, deeply rooted methods of social oppression for women were used as a means to both perpetuate religion and ensure the overall development of China as the one true civilization (Michael, 1986). With this in mind, it is not surprising to find that women in ancient Chinese history did not play a central role in the writings and teachings that were produced. [...]

[...] Despite considerable restrictions however, some women were able to make notable strides toward advancing the social and cultural power and authority of women. With this mind, it is helpful to consider how these women have impacted the development of women in modern China. Wolf (1985) in her examination of the development of women in modern China is quick to note that while there are a host of traditional rules and customs that still mitigate the role and action of women in China, women have taken a more proactive role in carving out a clear for themselves. [...]

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