Women who had been livingin China faced many challenges in terms of creating new identities for themselvesthroughout several periods. Through the end of Qing dynasty, the 1911 revolution,and the New Culture Movement, some women had an expectation of improvement of sexualdisparities. 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 becausenothing much had changed and as a result, Women ended up showing their actionsto achieve rights.
This essay will be going to present and compare some aspectsand events of sexual differences that women experienced during the period thatwe have learned so far and how they got over with those issues.One of the first majorevent that happened to women was during 1910s New Culture Movement (May FourthMovement). In the past, when it was the republican transition period, women’ssuffrage organizations appealed for the equal rights but most of the malecommentators treated them with derision.
Compared to this period, it was anopportunity for the women to achieve freedom since many intellectuals startedto doubt the traditional Confucian beliefs. According to Bailey, it is statedthat “Radical intellectuals (for the most part male) thus called for theoverthrow of patriarchal authority and the emancipation of women – a stancethat symbolized concerns other than a simple championing of women’s rights per se.” (Bailey, 2012, p. 50).
Thismeans that many intellectuals have denunciated China’s cultural traditions andthe oppressed status of women got emphasized as one of the main features. Howwomen were treated could be changed due to the movement of those maleintellectuals. The journal called NewYouth, 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 secretarygeneral of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 was one of the person whodenounced the traditional Confucian beliefs. He did not specifically stateabout the sexual differences at that time but he criticized the Confucian familysystem and women’s positions later in the NewYouth (xin qingnian), which washis aim to extinguish the autonomy of wives. Chen also condemned the obsoleteand tabooed way of Confucian thoughts, which were widow remarriage and freesocial interaction between sexes because Chen thought that the low status ofwomen, especially in the family, should be abolished. Chen did not onlycriticize the traditional Confucian beliefs but also expressed not only bywords but also with an action, joining to the intellectual campaign with othermale 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, thesefour writers advocated “free-choice marriage ad equal education rights as wellas lambasting traditional attitudes concerning female chastity (notunprecedented, it should be noted, since these issues had already been raisedin the early years of the twentieth century).” (Bailey, 2012, p. 59) MayFourth Movement surely took a leap forward for the women in terms ofeducational aspect. The new republican school system promulgated in September1912, which expanded the educational opportunities for young women and girls.
However,it was permitted only for the lower primary school level, and higher normalschool was not to be opened yet. The female students who entered public schoolincreased rapidly compared to the male students. The statistics that the Baileypresented was that, “the total number of female students in Chinese-run schoolsincreased from just over 141,000 in 1912-1913 (constituting nearly 5 per centof the school population) to nearly 42,000 in 1922-3 (comprising just over 6.9per cent of the school population) (Bailey, 2012, p. 56). This increasingamount of numbers of female students show that female students were achievingmore educational opportunities than before. As the matter of fact, expandingthe educational opportunities for women had an aim.
The aim for the women wasto teach citizen morality, which was respect and love for their parents,boldness, initiative, sincerity, honesty, diligence, frugality, andcleanliness. Two months later in November 1912, additional regulations addedthat, “with respect to male and female students, attention must be paid totheir particular natures and their futures, so that an appropriate educationcan be carried out.” (Bailey, 2012, p. 51) In addition in 1920, nine women wereable to gain an access to higher education, which was the China’s mostprestigious institution of learning, Beijing University. The numbers of womenwho were able to access higher education such as university or higherspecialist schools were 850, which was total enrollment of 2.5 per cent. Thenin 1928, the number had increased to 8.
5 per cent. Chinese female students ofmore than 200 enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States andthese people majored banking, chemistry, journalism and political science whichwere perceived as one of the masculine fields. Thenew republican government’s guidelines had also a strict gender differences especiallyin clothes. Therefore, many women have experienced hard times in terms ofclothing because they were not able to choose their favorite ones. Sartorialbifurcation based on gender differentiation was not occurring in the earlytwentieth century in China but it first emerged in Europe from the fifteenthcentury. As a comparison, China and England had a different perception towardthe female clothing. For instance, there was a difference in colors, cut, andwidth of collars and sleeves, but elite men and women in Europe wore long gownsand robes in the fifteenth century. Interesting fact about Chinese clothing isthat after difference between male and female got evident than before in thetwentieth century, some reformer criticized the male who had been wearing therobes.
Chen Qiu and Kang Youwei both reformers denounced that the clothing ofmen was obsolete and effeminate. That is the reason Chinese and European malepeople perceived their dress was quite different. Chinese male dress wasperceived as significantly feminine and in contrast, western male dress wasperceived as masculine.
Modernity and progress were the aspects that thewestern male dress had, and there were surely some complete differences of howthey perceived between Chinese and Western clothing.In August 1912, theregulation prescribed only one mode of formal wear that has close-cuthigh-collared silk jacket worn over a long-pleated skirt to women. This was tomaintain the image of Han Chinese elite style as it had evolved during the lastyears of the Qing dynasty. However, at this time the new trend was alreadyforming within the male fashion and they had free access to four distinctive Europeanmodels of suit and one Chinese-style option called changpao instead of one of the mode for female. Some of themincluded European suits style, which was considered as masculine formal wearthat showed a touch of progressiveness and it gained popularity among theChinese men. As stated above, women’s choice for the clothing was only one ofthe mode, which was to provide continuity and stability even it was the time ofdramatic political change. However, some younger women attempted to wearhigh-heeled shoes and silk stockings, which were new western style clothing.
Itis stated that “the skirt was shortened to just below knee, exposing newlystockinged calves and feet clad in leather shoes rather than embroidered clothshoes, and worn under a fitted jacket with a simple round neck and three-quartersleeves and the hem finishing above the hips.” (Bailey, 2012, p. 52) Eventhough they were supposed to wear one of the mode of the clothing, theyprotested and they adopted many western styles to show Chinese women’sidentities. In addition to clothing, women also adopted a new hair style suchas short cut bob, indicating that women were expanding their rights with theirown intention. These women who tried to adopt new clothing and hair styles weredisturbed and criticized by the Beijing newspaper because women were seen as aflashy imitation of male’s clothing. Although women were criticized publicly,they kept adopting new styles of clothing and those women even started to wear thechangpao, which was a long scholarrobe in the early 1920s. In results, the changpao was sanctioned by the fashionworld and contributed as the female image of the sexualization.Some other aspect thatoccurred during the period of May Fourth Movement was that the emerge of thefemale writer.
In the past, women’s literature was not famous and had not been publishedat all, and serious literature was considered as only for men. Thus, emerge ofthe female writer and publishing their own work as an individual weresignificant improvement. Lu Yin (1898-1934), Shi Pingmei (1902-1928), and ChenXuezhao (1906-1991) were some example of significant female writers whopublished many novellas and short stories but the first female writer whoappeared in public was Chen Hengzhe. According to Bailey, it is stated that “Thefirst short story to be written in the vernacular (as opposed to the classicallanguage), and conventionally thought to be Lu Xun’s ‘Diary of a Madman’ in1918, was actually written by a woman, Chen Hengzhe (known in the West asSophia Chen, 1890-1976).” (Bailey, 2012, p. 64) Chen Hengzhe was the firstfemale professor and writer who was able to enter Vassar College in New York in1915, and continued to study at University of Chicago publishing short storyabout a daily life interaction of Chinese and American students at the women’scollege 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, createdanother issue that “How did Lu Xun thought about being impersonated by thedifferent gender?” Interesting answer about this was that according to PingZhu, the author of “The Anamorphic Feminine: History, Memory, and Woman in LuXun’s Writings,” it is stated that “Lu Xun was very sensitive to the issue ofgender. In his essay “On Photography and the Like” (Lun zhaoxiang zhilei),written in 1924, Lu Xun talked about female impersonation in disgust.
Theconfusion of gender was unacceptable in the writer’s eyes, since it markeddecline of the Chinese national culture from the masculine and robust idealfollowing the Western model.” (Zhu, 2015) Therefore, since Chen Hengzhe impersonatedas Lu Xun and published ‘Diary of Mandarin,’ Lu Xun had a disgust toward her.Through the aspect of equalpolitical rights, educational opportunities, clothing, and emergence of femalewriters, we could see that many females protested to alter their lifestyles.Younger female’s expectation of improvement of educational and clothing aspectstoward sexual disparities were gradually extinguished by demonstrating withtheir action. The emergence of the female writer ended up being able to stateand spread their beliefs toward the public.
Even male intellectuals hadcondemned the tradition Confucian beliefs to emancipate the women and the occasiongot better than before.As a conclusion, womenhave surely faced many challenges in terms of creating new identities forthemselves through the end of Qing dynasty, the 1911 revolution, and the NewCulture Movement. Many examples that were presented in this essay were just apartial aspect of sexual disparities. There were surely more gender issues thatoccurred in China but even this essay covered limited issues, it was able toconvey the some of the difficulties that women had faced.