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Social status is the relative position that individuals hold, with attendant duties, rights, and lifestyle, in a given social hierarchy based upon prestige or honor. However, social status can be assigned to an individual based on family relationships, age, birth, sex or race. Consecutively, it can be achieved through special attributes such as marital status, level of education, accomplishments, occupation, among other factors. Therefore, women`s status is the rank that women hold in the society, depending on the societal and cultural norms. Nevertheless, all over the world, the status of women vary in different ways due to the different societies that exist all over the world. However, in some societies, the status of women has evolved and continues to improve from their original positions, while in others it has remained unchanged or even declined from the original position. This research paper pays high attention to an analysis of how the social status of Chinese women has changed over time.
The ancient Chinese culture was characterized by male chauvinism, whereby, Chinese men held high values compared to their female counterparts. Chinese women were considered inferior and subordinate to men in both family and societal lives. Confucianism (the cornerstone of the Chinese culture), placed rules on women, which were the contributing factors to the prolonged abasement, degradation and oppression of these women. Women were mandated to observe three obedience rules and four virtues in their entire life. For example, they were supposed to be obedient to their father, their husband (after getting married), and to their older sons especially after the demise of their husbands. During this era, one of the criteria of determining the value of a woman was her level of obedience (Changying 2-3). The other four virtues that these women were mandated to have includes diligent needlework, modest manner, proper speech and morality.
Consecutively, Chinese women were also denied the freedom of enjoying their marriage life by this Chinese culture. For example, they had no freedom of either selecting their marriage partners or denying the partners that the matchmakers dictated to be their husbands. Moreover, once they got married, they were not allowed to divorce or remarry after the death of their husbands. In contrast, men were culturally allowed to divorce their wives, could marry more than one wife especially when working at a longer distance from their home (Changying 2-3).
However, the promotion of education for Chinese women is among the factors that have facilitated the changing of the social status of Chinese women. During the 19th century, women were taught the basic education of being good mothers and wives, which is worthless in terms of enabling them to participate in social productions. In contrast, most parents concentrated on educating boy child in order to enable them to secure official positions and to succeed in their career paths. However, despite these women being restricted in acquiring basic education like their male counterparts, they strived to raise their social status through proving their talents in poetry. Their participation in poetry enabled most of them to win positions throughout the Chinese societies (Xiaoyi 90-91). Moreover, their participation in poetry became the foundation of their social status. For example, some nobles whose daughters proved to be talented in poetry started sending them to private schools, especially abroad ones so that they could advance their talents ((Changying 4). Consecutively, after these ladies managed to gain educational ideas and knowledge, they became the pioneers of changing their societal norms and beliefs concerning the girl child education.
In the 20th century, Chinese transition from agricultural societies to industrial societies was eminent. This transition was also marked by the increase of feminist groups, which aimed at ensuring equality between men and women. The concept of gender equality high flourished in the western countries, and women begun to fight for their rights in life, including education, employment and political activities. Similarly, the Chinese women commenced to fight for their rights especially the right for education. However, their efforts did not go into waste since, during the early years of the 20th century, the ideas of constructing women schools was setting off in the Chinese lands. For example, the late Qing government issued numerous charters with the attempt of enhancing the social status of women in 1907 (Changying 4-5).
In addition, the establishment of public government in 1917 led to the creation of more opportunities for the rise of more schools for women (Xiaoyi 90-91). Sun Yat-sen, who was by then the provisional president of this public government, supported equality among all genders through advocating women`s education in china. Moreover, his endorsement led almost every Chinese province to start setting up various schools for women. This led to the enhancement of general and vocational education of women, which in the long run resulted to the betterment of gender equality, both at breadth and depth. Consecutively, the growth of the new cultural movement in 1915, also contributed to the extension of gender equality to greater extents (Changying 4-5).
Moreover, the establishment of people`s republic of china in 1949 also made social status of women o walk out of the traditional norms, making china enter into a new historical stage. During this era, the Chinese government enacted numerous laws with the ultimate aim of protecting the interest of women. These regulations allowed women to have equal rights in social family aspects, education, politics, economy, cultural, and social aspects of life. Before the enactment of these laws and regulations, the illiteracy level of women was much high due to the traditional beliefs of Chinese society. For example, most studies reveal that between 1931 and 1945, only 7.8 million of Chinese women who were receiving primary education, while those who were receiving higher education were approximately 0.46 % in the entire Chinese society (Changying 7-8). The study also depicts that the illiteracy level of Chinese women during this period was above 90%. However, after the formation of People`s Republic of China, the education of women developed rapidly, making the illiteracy levels decreased by more than 30% at the end of 1985.
Consecutively, from 1986, the Chinese government implemented a 9- year compulsory education of girls with the aim of ensuring that every Chinese girl could at least acquire basic educational skills in her life ((Xiaoyi 90-91). Studies reveal that by the end of the 20th century, 47.64% of Chinese girls were acquiring their primary school education, 46.78% were at junior middle school, 41.2% were at high middle schools, while 39.3% were at higher education. This rapid and intensive introduction of new educational systems for women played the invaluable role of enhancing the cultural and social status of women in china, and encouraged them to have high self-esteem, self-improvement and self-reliance (Changying 7-8).
In the 21st century, the Chinese government had attached high attention to the education of women, with the argument that their education not only enhances their development, but also enhanced the quality of the future generation and the development of its entire nation and societies. This notion made the Chinese government to made further strides in women`s education. For example, in 2001, it enacted an outline of the development of Chinese women (2001-2010), with the aim of further improve literacy levels of Chinese women. This has increased the proportions of female students pursuing higher education in the last decade. This education contributed to late marriages among most Chinese women. Studies reveal that educated women were starting their marriage life late in life, compared to the uneducated ones (Ji, & W.-J 7-9).
The increase of women`s education has enabled most of them to attain academic credentials that have facilitated them to secure various employment opportunities in china, and in the long run improved their social status. For example, most women are competing with their male counterparts in various sectors such as doctor, tourist guide, teaching, and accounting among others (Isabelle 11-12). Additionally, out of these professions, these women earn an income that is equal to that of men. Additionally, the enhancement of girl child education, the improved socio-economic status of women has resulted to late marriage among most women in the contemporary Chinese society.
The empowerment of Chinese women is also contributed by the communist`s party economic reforms of china. China had embraced an export-oriented method of production that led to intensive industrialization of china in 1978 (Isabelle8-9). Moreover, this method of production was characterized by the construction of numerous factories for preparing goods to be exported. Apparently, these factories required more labor more than the available workforce from men, and this created a chance for Chinese women to absorb by the factories. Though these women were required to work for long hours, they managed to earn income for themselves (Fung 3-4). In addition, the ability of Chinese women to earn wages from these factories enabled them to depend on themselves, and to some extent live by themselves especially those who were not married. Additionally, this employment opportunity enabled Chinese women to break the traditional cultural beliefs such as bearing children and depending on their husbands. Furthermore, this employment opportunity also enabled to raise the socio-economic status of Chinese women, and making them more important to the society, than what during the feudal society.
Moreover, the employment opportunity enabled working women to gain education through the experience that they acquired from their work. Additionally, this knowledge made most women to migrate from their communal areas to the urban cities in search of better employment opportunities. This migration enabled most ladies who meet different men in the workplaces or the cities, which they could choose as their marriage partners (Fung 3).
Consecutively, the empowerment of women was also contributed by the enactment of one child policy by the Chinese government in 1978. Though the Chinese government aimed at reducing the high rate of population growth, this policy greatly contributed to the improvement of the social status of women. Before the implementation of this policy, the average Chinese family had 5.8 children per couple, and this was contributed by the traditional cultures and beliefs (Fung 1). However, after the implementation of this policy, every couple was required to have one child regardless of his or her sexuality. This made families that happened to give birth to a girl child to take good care of her, thus attaching more value to female children than before. Moreover, when these ladies are employed by factories that prepared goods for export, they became the breadwinners of their old parents at back at home, based on the levels of income that they were receiving. Women serving as a source of income for their parents and sometimes in their families made them acquire skills of managing and controlling money. This situation enabled women to gain power of delegating how family income was going to be spent, and that is why even today most women make numerous decisions in the family (Fung 4). Consecutively, one child policy reduced the burden of taking care of children among most women, enabling them to have ample time of working in these factories.
In addition, the empowerment of Chinese women was also enhanced by modernization, desire for sex and social status of some men. However, the economic reforms and market development led to the emergence of de facto polygamy among some Chinese men such as politicians and businessmen (Wang 11-13). These men acquire one or more mistresses and treat them as luxuries and sources of comforts (but cannot marry them) especially when they are away from their families. Nevertheless, these mistresses are a symbol of the improved value of women in the modern Chinese society. For example, these concubines are acquired based on the amount of money that these men agree to contribute in return. The more money they contribute to them, the better they would be treated in terms of sex and satisfaction of basic needs. However, in case a married woman happens to know these behaviors of her husband, she has the right to divorce him, contrary to what it was during the feudal society. However, some of these rich Chinese men criticize the decision of the Chinese government for implementing the one-child policy since they still value boys as their heir of their assets ( Xiaolei 4-6).
Though this behavior has made most young Chinese girls to concentrate of their physical beauty so that they can attract most rich men, they manage to acquire huge and immediate amounts of income, which they use to sustain themselves and their parents. Nevertheless, most of them are aware that their beauty is temporary, making them save some of the resources and use them to start businesses after quitting (Wang 11-13).
It is, therefore, evident that social status of Chinese women has tremendously changed in the recent decades. However, this has been contributed by industrialization, the enhancement of girl-child education, and the implementation of one-child policy by the Chinese government in 1978. Currently, most Chinese women have the right of attaining education and participating in socioeconomic activities like their male counterparts. Moreover, modern Chinese women have the freedom of making marriage decisions such as marriage partners and whether to marry or not, and making family decisions such as the means of spending family income. However, the Chinese government need to ensure gender equality is maintained even in most Chinese rural areas where some societies sill value men more than women.
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