History of women in China redirects here. For ancient and imperial China, seeWomen in ancient and imperial China.
This article is about women in the present day Peoples Republic of China. For women in the Republic of China, seeWomen in Taiwan.
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The lives ofwomen in Chinahave significantly changed throughout reforms in the lateQing Dynasty, theNationalist period, theChinese Civil War, and rise of thePeoples Republic of China, which had announced publicly on the commitment toward gender equality.Efforts the new Communist government made toward gender equality were met with resistance in the historically male-dominatedChinesesociety, and obstacles continue to stand in the way of women seeking to gain greater equality in China.
Pre-modern Chinese society was predominantlypatriarchalandpatrilinealfrom at least the 11th century BCE onwards.The freedoms and opportunities available to women varied depending on the time period and regional situation. The status of women was, like that of men, closely tied to theChinese kinship system.There has long been a son preference in China, leading to high rates offemale infanticide, as well as a strong tradition of restricting thefreedom of movementof women, particularly upper class women, manifested through the practice offoot binding. The legal and social status of women has greatly improved in the 20th century.
Traditionalmarriagein prerevolutionaryChinawas a contract between families rather than between two individuals.The parents of the soon-to-be groom and bride arranged the marriage with an emphasis on the alliance between the two families.Spouse selection was based on family needs and the socioeconomic status of the potential mate, rather than love or attraction.Although the womans role varied slightly depending on the social status of the husband, typically her main duty was to provide a son in order to continue the family name.
Anarranged marriagewas accomplished by a matchmaker who acted as a link between two families.The arrangement of a marriage involved the negotiation of abride price, gifts to be bestowed to the brides family, and occasionally adowryof clothing, furniture, or jewelry from the family of the bride for use in her new home.The exchange of monetary compensation for a womans hand in marriage was also utilized in purchase marriages in which women were seen as property that could be sold and traded at the husbands whim.
Along with many of the older Chinese traditions surrounding marriage, there were also many ritualistic steps that took place. During the time of the Han Dynasty a marriage lacking a dowry or betrothal gift was seen as dishonorable. Only after gifts were exchanged did the real steps continue on, brides were taken to live in the ancestral homes of their husbands. Here, they were expected to live with the entirety of her husbands family but to follow all of their rules and beliefs as well. Many families during this time followed the Confusion teachings regarding honoring their elders, these rituals were passed down from father to son and so forth, official family lists were made up that contained names of all the sons and marital wives. Thus, brides who did not produce a son were written out of family lists and forgotten. Further, when a husband dies the bride is seen as property of her spouses family. Ransoms were set by some bride families to get their daughters back, though never with her children who remained in the property of her husbands family.
John Engel, a professor of Family Resources at theUniversity of Hawaii, argues that in order to redistribute wealth and achieve a classless society, thePeoples Republic of Chinaestablished theMarriage Law of 1950. The law was intended to cause … fundamental changes … aimed at family revolution by destroying all former patterns . .. and building up new relationships on the basis of new law and new ethics.Xiaorong Li, a researcher at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland, asserts that the Marriage Law of 1950 not only banned the most extreme forms of female subordination and oppression, but also gave women the right to make their own marital decisions.The Marriage Law specifically prohibitedconcubinageand marriages when one party was sexually powerless, suffered from a venereal disease,leprosy, or amental disorder.Thirty years after the implementation of the 1950 Marriage Law, China still faces serious issues, particularly in regards to population growth.
In a continuing effort to control marriage and family life, a marriage law was passed in 1980 and enacted in 1981.The Marriage Law banned arranged and forced marriages and shifted focus away from the dominance of men and onto the interests of the children and women.Article 2 of the 1980 Marriage law directly states, the lawful rights and interests of women, children and the aged are protected. Family planning is practiced.Adults, both men and women, gained the right to lawful divorce.
In an effort to fight the tenacity of tradition, Article 3 of the 1980 marriage law continued the ban of concubinage,polygamy, andbigamy.The Marriage Law of 1980, Article 3, forbid mercenary marriages in which abride priceor dowry is paid.Although the law also generally prohibited the exaction of money or gifts in connection with any marriage arrangements, bride price and dowries were still practiced customs.According to Li, the traditional business of selling women in exchange for marriage returned after the law gave women the right to select their husbands.In 1990, 18,692 cases were investigated by Chinese authorities
Bride price payments are still common in rural areas, whereas dowries have not only become smaller but less common.Similarly in urban areas, the dowry custom has nearly disappeared. The bride price custom has transformed into providing gifts for the bride or her family.Article 4 of the marriage law banned the usage of compulsion or the interference of third parties, stating, marriage must be based upon the complete willingness of the two parties,As Engel argues, the law also encouraged sexual equality by making daughters just as valuable as sons, particularly in regards to potential for old age insurance. Article 8 of the 1980 Marriage Law states, after a marriage has been registered, the woman may become a member of the mans family, or the man may become a member of the womans family, according to the agreed wishes of the two parties.
More recently, there has been a surge in Chinese-foreign marriages in mainland China, with data showing these types of marriages are more common in women than in men. In 2010, there were almost 40,000 women registered in Chinese-foreign marriages in mainland China. In comparison, there were less than 12,000 men registered in these types of marriages in the same year.
In traditional China, polygamy was legal and having a concubine (Seeconcubinage) was considered a luxury for aristocratic families.In 1950, polygamy was outlawed and it seemed, for a while, that extramarital affairs were unheard of. TheNew Marriage Lawof 1950 allowed women in China to be able to divorce for the first time in China, which allowed women to leave husbands who had these extramarital affairs.The phenomenon of de factopolygamy, or so-called second wives ( rni in Chinese), has reemerged in recent years.When polygamy was legal, women were more tolerant of their husbands extramarital affairs. Today, women who discover their husband has a second wife are less tolerant and now have the ability to ask for a divorce.
Men tend to travel to mainland China for work and business. Sudden industrialization in China brought two types of people together: young female workers and rich businessmen from cities like Hong Kong. Some rich businessmen start relationships with these women, known as keeping a second wife (bao yinai) in Cantonese.Many migrant women find it difficult to find husbands, so they make themselves more readily available to become the second wives and lovers of rich businessmen.The men are attracted to these economically dependent women; the businessmens first wives tended to stay at home and not work.There are many villages in southern part of China where predominantly these second wives live.The men will come and spend a large amount of time in these villages every year while their first wife and family stay in the city.The relationships can range from just being casual sexual transactions that are paid for by the businessman to being long term relationships that develop into something more. If a relationship does become something more, some of the Chinese women quit their job and become live-in lovers whose main job is to please the working man.
The first wives in these situations have a hard time dealing with their husbands taking part in extramarital affairs, but women deal with it in different ways. Most women dont have much say because they are usually far away from their husbands. Even if the wives do move to China with their husbands, the businessman still find ways to carry on affairs. Some wives go into the situation with the motto one eye open, with the other eye closed meaning they understand their husbands are bound to cheat, but want to make sure they practice safe sex and do not bring home children.What becomes confusing is the relationship with the children and the father who is almost always gone. Many first wives, in order to suppress the childrens questions, downplay the fathers role and make it seem less important. Other women fear for their financial situations. In order to protect their lifes work, some women try to protect their rights but putting the house and other major finances in their names instead of their husbands.
This situation has created many social and legal issues. Unlike previous generations ofarranged marriages, the modern polygamy is more often voluntary.Women in China are facing serious pressures to be married, by family and friends. There is a derogatory term for women who are not married by the time they are in their late twenties,sheng nu. With these pressures to be married, some women who have very few prospects willingly enter into a second marriage. Sometimes, these second wives are promised a good life and home by these men. Oftentimes, these women are poor and uneducated so when they split, they have very little left. Sometimes these women were completely unaware that the man was already married.There are now lawyers who specialize in representing these second wives so they are not taken advantage of if the relationship ends badly. See documentary attached, Chinas Second Wives.This documentary takes a look at the rights of second wives and some of the issues they face.
TheMarriage Law of 1950empowered women to initiate divorce proceedings.According to Elaine Jeffreys, an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Associate Professor in China studies, divorce requests were only granted if they were justified by politically proper reasons. These requests were mediated by party-affiliated organizations, rather than discredited legal systems.Ralph Haughwout Folsom, a professor of Chinese law,international trade, andinternational businesstransactions at theUniversity of San Diego, and, John H. Minan, a trial attorney in the Civil Division of theU.S. Department of Justiceand a law professor at the University of San Diego, argue that the Marriage Law of 1950 allowed for much flexibility in the refusal ofdivorcewhen only one party sought it. During the market-based economic reforms, China re-instituted a formal legal system and implemented provisions for divorce on a more individualized basis.
Jeffreys asserts that the Marriage Law of 1980 provided for divorce on the basis that emotions or mutual affections were broken.As a result of the more liberal grounds for divorce, the divorce rates soaredAs women began divorcing their husbands, tensions increased and much resistance was met from rural males.Although divorce was now legally recognized, thousands of women lost their lives for attempting to divorce their husbands and some committed suicide when the right to divorce was withheld.Divorce, once seen as a rare act during theMao era(19491976), has become more common with rates continuing to increase today.Along with this increase in divorce, it became evident that divorced women were often given an unfair share or housing and property.
The amended Marriage Law of 2001, which according to Jeffreys was designed to protect womens rights, provided a solution to this problem by reverting to a moralistic fault-based system with a renewed focus oncollectivistmechanisms to protect marriage and family.Although all property acquired during a marriage was seen as jointly-held,it was not until the implementation of Article 46 of the 2001 Marriage Law that the concealment ofjoint propertywas punishable.This was enacted to ensure a fair division during a divorce.The article also granted the right for a party to request compensation from a spouse who committed illegal cohabitation,bigamy, and family violence or desertion.
In 2004, theAll-China Womens Federationcompiled survey results to show that thirty percent of the women in China experienceddomestic violencewithin their homes. The Chinese Marriage Law was amended in 2001 to offer mediation services and compensation to those who subjected to domestic violence. Domestic violence was finally criminalized with the 2005 amendment of the Law of Protection of Rights and Interests of Women.
The lack of public awareness of the 2005 amendment has allowed spousal abuse to persist.There was a significant increase in the prevalence of domestic violence in thePeoples Republic of Chinainvolving Chinese women committing violence against Chinese men.In 2003, 10 percent of violence in families involved male victims.
The gender gap in current enrollment widens with age because males are more likely to be enrolled than females at every age group in the Peoples Republic of China.1961 marked the sudden decrease in female enrollment in primary and secondary school. Female primary school enrollment suffered more than that of males during theGreat Chinese Famine(19581961).Although the gender gap for secondary and primary education has narrowed over time, the gender gap at the highest education level remains much larger.
The One Percent Population Survey in 1987 found that in rural areas 48 percent of males aged 45 and above wereilliteratewhile on the other hand, 6 percent of males 1519 years old were illiterate. Although the percentage of illiterate women decreased significantly from 88 percent to 15 percent, it is significantly higher than the percentage of illiterate men for the same age groupings.
In traditional Chinese culture, which was apatriarchal society based on Confucian ideology, women did not possess priority in healthcare.Health carewas tailored to focus on men.Chinese health care has since undergone much reform and has tried to provide men and women with equal health care. During theCultural Revolution(19661976), thePeoples Republic of Chinabegan to focus on the provision of health care for women.
This change was apparent when the women in the Chinese workforce were granted health care. Health care policy required all women workers to receive urinalysis and vaginal examinations yearly.The Peoples Republic of China has enacted various laws to protect the health care rights of women, including the Maternal and Child Care law. This law and numerous others focus on protecting the rights of all women in the Peoples Republic of China.
The phenomenon of themissing women of Asiais visible in China. Theratio of men to womenin China is much higher than would be expected biologically, and gender discrimination has contributed to this imbalance.Amartya Sen, theNobel Prize-winningeconomist, asserted in 1990 that over 100 million women were missing globally, with 50 million women missing from China alone. Sen attributed the deficit in the number of women to sex-selective abortion, femaleinfanticide, and inadequatenutritionfor girls, all of which have been encouraged by theOne-child policy.
For women in China, the most likely cancer to be found is cervical cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests to use routine screening to confirm if this woman gets cervical cancer. However, information on cervical cancer screening is not quite available for women in China.
Among Uyghurs it was thought that God designed women to endure hardship and work, the word for helpless one, ʿjiza, was used to call women who were not married while women who were married were called mazlm among in Xinjiang, however, divorce and remarriage was facile for the womenThe modern Uyghur dialect in Turfan uses the Arabic word for oppressed, maẓlum, to refer to married old woman and pronounce it as mäzim.Woman were normally referred to as oppressed person (mazlum-kishi), 13 or 12 years old was the age of marriage for women in Khotan, Yarkand, and Kashgar.Robert Barkley Shawwrote that* Mazlm, lit. oppressed one, is used in Kshghar, &c., instead of the wordwoman.A womans robe was referred to as mazlm-cha chappan.
Uyghursayings on women:
Firewood serves for winter, a wife serves for her husbands pleasure.(Qişniŋ rahiti oton, ärniŋ rahiti xoton.) (قىشنىڭ ﺭﺍﻫﯩﺘﻰ ئوتون, ئەرنىڭ ﺭﺍﻫﯩﺘﻰ خوتون)
Woman is the slave of the house.(Xotun kişi tt tamniñ quli.) (خوتۇن كىشى تۈت تامنىڭ قۇلى)
Allah is God for a woman, the husband is half God.(Ayalniñ ptn xudasi XUDA, yärim Xudasi är.) (ئايالنىڭ پۈتۈن خۇداسى خۇدا, يەرىم خۇداسى ئەر)
the first wife is a good woman, the second a witch, and the third a prostitute.(birgä täkkän yaxši, ikkigä täkkän baxši, čkä täkkän paxši.) (بىرگە تەككەن ياخشى, ئىككىگە تەككەن باخشى, ئۈچكە تەككەن پاخشى)
A family with many women will be miserable.(Qizi barniñ därdi bar.) (قىزى بارنىڭ دەردى بار)
Let your daughter marry or you will die of regret instead of illness.(Qiziñ Öyde ärsiz uzaq turmiğay, ölärsän puşaymanda sän ağirmay.) (قىزىڭ ئۆيدە ەرسىز ئۇزاق تۇرمىغاي, ئۆلەرسەن پۇشايماندا سەن اغىرماي)
Woman: long hair, short wit.(Xotun xäqniñ çaçi uzun, ä qli qisqa.) (خوتۇن خاقنىڭ چەچى ۇزۇن ئە قلى قىسقا)
A woman without a husband is like a horse without a halter.(Ärsiz xotun, yugänsiz baytal.) (ەرسىز خوتۇن, يۇگەنسىز بايتال)
Men rely on life, a wife relies on her husband.(Är jeni bilän, xişri äri bilän.) (ەر جېنى بىلەن, خىشرى ەرى بىلەن)
Women were used for reproduction, sex, and housework.
Some Vietnamese women fromLao Caiwho married Chinese men stated that among their reasons for doing so was that Vietnamese men beat their wives, engaged in affairs with mistresses, and refused to help their wives with chores while Chinese men actively helped their wives carry out chores and care for them.
In a study comparing Chinese and Vietnamese attitudes towards women, more Vietnamese than Chinese said that the male should dominate the family and a wife had to provide sex to her husband at his will.Violence against women was supported by more Vietnamese than Chinese.Domestic violence was more accepted by Vietnamese women than Chinese women.
Most Koreancomfort womenwho stayed in China married Chinese men and one of them gave the explanation that: Chinese men are different from their Korean counterparts. The latter like to drink and harass women but Chinese men are extremely endearing to their wives.
In 1956, the Chinese government publicly announced its goal to control the exponentially increasing population size. The government planned to use education and publicity as their main modes of increasing awareness.Zhou Enlailaunched the first program for smaller families under the guidance of Madame Li Teh-chuan, theMinister of Healthat the time. During this time, family planning and contraceptive usage were highly publicized and encouraged.
The One-child policy, initiated in 1978 and first applied in 1979, mandated that each married couple may bear only one child, except in the case of special circumstances.These conditions included, the birth of a first child who has developed a non-hereditary disability that will make it difficult to perform productive labour later in life, the fact that both husband and wife are themselves single children, a misdiagnosis of barrenness in the wife combined with a passage of more than five years after the adoption of a child, a remarrying husband and wife who have between them only one child.The law was relaxed in 2015.
A roadside slogan calls motorists to crack down on medically unnecessary antenatal sex identification and sex-selective pregnancy termination practices. (Daye, Hubei, 2008)
Further information:Missing women of ChinaFemale infanticide in China, andList of Chinese administrative divisions by gender ratio
The preference for sons coupled with the one-child-policy have led to a high rate ofsex selective abortionin China. Mainland China has a highly masculine sex ratio. Thesex ratioat birth (between male and female births) inmainland Chinareached 117:100 in the year 2000, substantially more masculine than the natural baseline, which ranges between 103:100 and 107:100. It had risen from 108:100 in 1981at the boundary of the natural baselineto 111:100 in 1990.According to a report by the State Population and Family Planning Commission, there will be 30 million more men than women in 2020, potentially leading to social instability.The correlation between the increase of masculinesex ratiodisparity on birth and the deployment of one child policy would appear to have been caused by the one-child policy.
The policy not only limits the number of births a family can have and it does not only cause gender imbalance but it also put pressures to women. Women are mostly blamed when giving birth to a baby girl as if they chose the gender of their baby. Women were subjected to forced abortions if they appear to be having a baby girlThis situation led to higher female infanticide rates and female deaths in China. The one-child policy stole the freedom the women have in deciding how to live their lives and in making their own decisions.
Other Asian regions also have higher than average ratios, includingTaiwan(110:100), which does not have a family planning policy.Many studies have explored the reason for the gender-based birthrate disparity in China as well as other countries. A study in 1990 attributed the high preponderance of reported male births in mainland China to four main causes: diseases which affect females more severely than males; the result of widespreadunder-reportingof female births;the illegal practice ofsex-selective abortionmade possible by the widespread availability ofultrasound; and finally, acts ofchild abandonmentandinfanticide.
According to reports by the Amnesty International, family planning officials inPuningCity, Guangdong Province launched theIron Fist Campaignin April 2010.This campaign targeted individuals forsterilizationin an attempt to control population growth. 9,559 individuals in Puning City were targeted for sterilization, some against their will.The targeted individuals were asked to go to governmental clinics where they would be sterilized. If they refused the procedure, then they put their families at risk for detainment.
The Iron Fist Campaign lasted for 20 days and targeted 9,559 individuals.Approximately 50 percent consented and 1,377 relatives of targeted couples were detained.Family planning officials defended the Iron Fist Campaign, asserting that the large population of migrant workers in Puning misunderstood theOne-child policyand therefore had not complied with family planning regulations.In an attempt to standardize family planning policies across all of China, the Population and Family Planning Law of 2002 was implemented. According to the Amnesty International, the law protects individual rights and bans the usage of coercion or detainment.
In current-day China, women enjoy legalequal rightstoproperty, but in practice these rights are often difficult to realize. However, Chinese women have historically held little rights to private property, both by societal customs and by law. In imperial China (before 1911 C.E.), family households held property collectively, rather than as individual members of the household. This property customarily belonged to the family ancestral clan, with legal control belonging to the family head, or the eldest male.
Ancestry in imperial China waspatrilineal, or passed through the male. Because women were not a part of this male-based ancestral line, they could never share the family property.Upon the death of the head of household, property was passed to the eldest son. In the absence of an eligible son, a family would often adopt a son to continue the family line and property.
However, as Kathryn Bernhardt, a scholar of Chinese history points out, nearly one in three women during theSong dynasty(960-1279 C.E.) would either have no brothers or no sons, leaving them with some agency over family property. In these cases, unmarried daughters would receive their fathers property in the absence of direct male descendants, or an unmarried widow would choose the family heir.A new law enacted during theMing dynasty(1368-1644 C.E.) required that in the absence of a direct male descendant, a mans property was to go to his nephews. With this change in law, womens access to private property was restricted. At that point, only if none of a mans sons and none of his brothers sons were alive to inherit property would a daughter receive the inheritance.
In most cases, the most control over family property that a widow would receive was maintenance, or the agency to control the property while an heir came of age.In some cases after some reforms in theQing Dynasty(1644-1912), some women could retain maintenance over undivided property even after their sons came of age.Law during the Republican era interpreted this to mean that widows held complete power over sons in control of family property.
TheKuomintang, which assumed power over China in 1911, publicly advocated for gender equality, though not very many changes in property rights went into effect until the enactment of theRepublican Civil Codein 1930, which changed the basic definitions of property and family inheritance.The Code specified that family property legally belonged to the father, with no connection to the ancestral clan.
Inheritance of this property was based on direct lineage, regardless of gender, so that sons and daughters would receive an equal share of family property upon the death of their parents. Furthermore, a mans will or appointment of a different heir could not fully bypass the legally mandated inheritance structures, preventing families from holding onto gender-discriminatory customs.Despite the laws equitable wording on property, some scholars, such as Deborah Davis and Kathryn Bernhardt, point out that the legal definitions regarding property may not have entirely changed the practices of the general public.
ThePeoples Republic of China, which assumed control in 1949 and remains in power today, also promised gender equality. The PRCs approach was different from the Kuomintang. With regards to land, all land was owned by the central Chinese government and allocated for people to use, so technically no one, male or female, owned land. In 1978, the Chinese government set up a household farming system that split agricultural land into small plots for villages to allocate to citizens.
Land was distributed to households with legal responsibility in the family head, or the eldest male. So, a womans access to land was contingent on her being part of a household. Land leases were technically supposed to transfer with marriage to a womans marital family, but the perfect allocation of land leases was not always reached, meaning women could potentially lose land upon marriage. Such village allocations have since ceased, so the leases to the land are now passed through families.
For property other than land, new Chinese laws allow for distinction between personal and communal property. Married couples can simultaneously own some things individually while sharing others with their spouse and family. With regards to divorce, Chinese law generally demands a 50/50 split of property. TheMarriage Law of 1980defined different types of divorce that would split the conjugal property differently, such as instances of adultery or domestic violence.
Since most divorce disputes are settled at a local level, the law allows for courts to review specific situations and make decisions in the best interest of the child. Typically, such a decision would simultaneously favor the mother, especially in disputes over a house where the child would live. In some divorce disputes ownership and use over property would be distinguished, giving a mother and child use of the family house without awarding the mother full ownership of the house.[