Women than a simple championing of women’s rights per

Women who had been living
in China faced many challenges in terms of creating new identities for themselves
throughout several periods. Through the end of Qing dynasty, the 1911 revolution,
and the New Culture Movement, some women had an expectation of improvement of sexual
disparities. Several aspects of sexual disparities were equal political rights,
educational opportunities, clothing, and the emergence of female writers. However,
the 1911 revolution in China did not satisfy women’s expectations because
nothing much had changed and as a result, Women ended up showing their actions
to achieve rights. This essay will be going to present and compare some aspects
and events of sexual differences that women experienced during the period that
we have learned so far and how they got over with those issues.

One of the first major
event that happened to women was during 1910s New Culture Movement (May Fourth
Movement). In the past, when it was the republican transition period, women’s
suffrage organizations appealed for the equal rights but most of the male
commentators treated them with derision. Compared to this period, it was an
opportunity for the women to achieve freedom since many intellectuals started
to doubt the traditional Confucian beliefs. According to Bailey, it is stated
that “Radical intellectuals (for the most part male) thus called for the
overthrow of patriarchal authority and the emancipation of women – a stance
that symbolized concerns other than a simple championing of women’s rights per se.” (Bailey, 2012, p. 50). This
means that many intellectuals have denunciated China’s cultural traditions and
the oppressed status of women got emphasized as one of the main features. How
women were treated could be changed due to the movement of those male
intellectuals. The journal called New
Youth, which was started to be published in 1915, edited by Chen Duxiu (1880-1942)
was one of the intellectual of such movement. Chen Duxiu, the first secretary
general of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 was one of the person who
denounced the traditional Confucian beliefs. He did not specifically state
about the sexual differences at that time but he criticized the Confucian family
system and women’s positions later in the New
Youth (xin qingnian), which was
his aim to extinguish the autonomy of wives. Chen also condemned the obsolete
and tabooed way of Confucian thoughts, which were widow remarriage and free
social interaction between sexes because Chen thought that the low status of
women, especially in the family, should be abolished. Chen did not only
criticize the traditional Confucian beliefs but also expressed not only by
words but also with an action, joining to the intellectual campaign with other
male intellectuals and writers such as Li Dazhao (1888-1927), Hu Shi
(1891-1962) and Lu Xun (1881-1936), which were also the contributors of the New Youth. According to Bailey, these
four writers advocated “free-choice marriage ad equal education rights as well
as lambasting traditional attitudes concerning female chastity (not
unprecedented, it should be noted, since these issues had already been raised
in the early years of the twentieth century).” (Bailey, 2012, p. 59)

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Fourth Movement surely took a leap forward for the women in terms of
educational aspect. The new republican school system promulgated in September
1912, which expanded the educational opportunities for young women and girls. However,
it was permitted only for the lower primary school level, and higher normal
school was not to be opened yet. The female students who entered public school
increased rapidly compared to the male students. The statistics that the Bailey
presented was that, “the total number of female students in Chinese-run schools
increased from just over 141,000 in 1912-1913 (constituting nearly 5 per cent
of the school population) to nearly 42,000 in 1922-3 (comprising just over 6.9
per cent of the school population) (Bailey, 2012, p. 56). This increasing
amount of numbers of female students show that female students were achieving
more educational opportunities than before.

As the matter of fact, expanding
the educational opportunities for women had an aim. The aim for the women was
to teach citizen morality, which was respect and love for their parents,
boldness, initiative, sincerity, honesty, diligence, frugality, and
cleanliness. Two months later in November 1912, additional regulations added
that, “with respect to male and female students, attention must be paid to
their particular natures and their futures, so that an appropriate education
can be carried out.” (Bailey, 2012, p. 51) In addition in 1920, nine women were
able to gain an access to higher education, which was the China’s most
prestigious institution of learning, Beijing University. The numbers of women
who were able to access higher education such as university or higher
specialist schools were 850, which was total enrollment of 2.5 per cent. Then
in 1928, the number had increased to 8.5 per cent. Chinese female students of
more than 200 enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States and
these people majored banking, chemistry, journalism and political science which
were perceived as one of the masculine fields.

new republican government’s guidelines had also a strict gender differences especially
in clothes. Therefore, many women have experienced hard times in terms of
clothing because they were not able to choose their favorite ones. Sartorial
bifurcation based on gender differentiation was not occurring in the early
twentieth century in China but it first emerged in Europe from the fifteenth
century. As a comparison, China and England had a different perception toward
the female clothing. For instance, there was a difference in colors, cut, and
width of collars and sleeves, but elite men and women in Europe wore long gowns
and robes in the fifteenth century. Interesting fact about Chinese clothing is
that after difference between male and female got evident than before in the
twentieth century, some reformer criticized the male who had been wearing the
robes. Chen Qiu and Kang Youwei both reformers denounced that the clothing of
men was obsolete and effeminate. That is the reason Chinese and European male
people perceived their dress was quite different. Chinese male dress was
perceived as significantly feminine and in contrast, western male dress was
perceived as masculine. Modernity and progress were the aspects that the
western male dress had, and there were surely some complete differences of how
they perceived between Chinese and Western clothing.

In August 1912, the
regulation prescribed only one mode of formal wear that has close-cut
high-collared silk jacket worn over a long-pleated skirt to women. This was to
maintain the image of Han Chinese elite style as it had evolved during the last
years of the Qing dynasty. However, at this time the new trend was already
forming within the male fashion and they had free access to four distinctive European
models of suit and one Chinese-style option called changpao instead of one of the mode for female. Some of them
included European suits style, which was considered as masculine formal wear
that showed a touch of progressiveness and it gained popularity among the
Chinese men. As stated above, women’s choice for the clothing was only one of
the mode, which was to provide continuity and stability even it was the time of
dramatic political change. However, some younger women attempted to wear
high-heeled shoes and silk stockings, which were new western style clothing. It
is stated that “the skirt was shortened to just below knee, exposing newly
stockinged calves and feet clad in leather shoes rather than embroidered cloth
shoes, and worn under a fitted jacket with a simple round neck and three-quarter
sleeves and the hem finishing above the hips.” (Bailey, 2012, p. 52) Even
though they were supposed to wear one of the mode of the clothing, they
protested and they adopted many western styles to show Chinese women’s
identities. In addition to clothing, women also adopted a new hair style such
as short cut bob, indicating that women were expanding their rights with their
own intention. These women who tried to adopt new clothing and hair styles were
disturbed and criticized by the Beijing newspaper because women were seen as a
flashy imitation of male’s clothing. Although women were criticized publicly,
they kept adopting new styles of clothing and those women even started to wear the
changpao, which was a long scholar
robe in the early 1920s. In results, the changpao was sanctioned by the fashion
world and contributed as the female image of the sexualization.

Some other aspect that
occurred during the period of May Fourth Movement was that the emerge of the
female writer. In the past, women’s literature was not famous and had not been published
at all, and serious literature was considered as only for men. Thus, emerge of
the female writer and publishing their own work as an individual were
significant improvement. Lu Yin (1898-1934), Shi Pingmei (1902-1928), and Chen
Xuezhao (1906-1991) were some example of significant female writers who
published many novellas and short stories but the first female writer who
appeared in public was Chen Hengzhe. According to Bailey, it is stated that “The
first short story to be written in the vernacular (as opposed to the classical
language), and conventionally thought to be Lu Xun’s ‘Diary of a Madman’ in
1918, was actually written by a woman, Chen Hengzhe (known in the West as
Sophia Chen, 1890-1976).” (Bailey, 2012, p. 64) Chen Hengzhe was the first
female professor and writer who was able to enter Vassar College in New York in
1915, and continued to study at University of Chicago publishing short story
about a daily life interaction of Chinese and American students at the women’s
college in the United States. As stated above, Lu Xuns’s ‘Diary of a Mandarin,’
which was not actually written by him but written by Chen Hengzhe, created
another issue that “How did Lu Xun thought about being impersonated by the
different gender?” Interesting answer about this was that according to Ping
Zhu, the author of “The Anamorphic Feminine: History, Memory, and Woman in Lu
Xun’s Writings,” it is stated that “Lu Xun was very sensitive to the issue of
gender. In his essay “On Photography and the Like” (Lun zhaoxiang zhilei),
written in 1924, Lu Xun talked about female impersonation in disgust. The
confusion of gender was unacceptable in the writer’s eyes, since it marked
decline of the Chinese national culture from the masculine and robust ideal
following the Western model.” (Zhu, 2015) Therefore, since Chen Hengzhe impersonated
as Lu Xun and published ‘Diary of Mandarin,’ Lu Xun had a disgust toward her.

Through the aspect of equal
political rights, educational opportunities, clothing, and emergence of female
writers, we could see that many females protested to alter their lifestyles.
Younger female’s expectation of improvement of educational and clothing aspects
toward sexual disparities were gradually extinguished by demonstrating with
their action. The emergence of the female writer ended up being able to state
and spread their beliefs toward the public. Even male intellectuals had
condemned the tradition Confucian beliefs to emancipate the women and the occasion
got better than before.

As a conclusion, women
have surely faced many challenges in terms of creating new identities for
themselves through the end of Qing dynasty, the 1911 revolution, and the New
Culture Movement. Many examples that were presented in this essay were just a
partial aspect of sexual disparities. There were surely more gender issues that
occurred in China but even this essay covered limited issues, it was able to
convey the some of the difficulties that women had faced.