Sample Paper on Women’s roles in modernizing China in the 1920s

Sample Paper on Women’s roles in modernizing China in the 1920s


Women’s roles in modernizing China in the 1920s played a critical part in reforming the country. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, domestic uprisings and imperialism were experienced in the country. China also faced a repeated defeat at the hands of Western powers and Japan. Various endeavors to transform the country and attain political revolution, however, were not hampered. Consequently, academics and scholars hoped China to attain a new start. Their levels of hope, however, declined as they gained knowledge of the fact that China was a nation held up in tradition. For example, the 1911 revolution ended the dynastic system proving that it would be challenging to bring changes in the country’s political structure. Thus, there was no break from customs and tradition in the form of Cultural Revolution hindering China from experiencing modern level of development. Intellectuals acknowledged formation of a national citizenry was critical in attaining modernity. As a result, Chinese people had to be politicized and gathered to support the nation’s efforts to attain modernity and survive in the world. Thus, energies had to be harnessed for the sake of China. Women were recognized as essential resources in the process. Females were the keepers of tradition and home. Ultimately, the women were the basis and foundation of China’s command, authority and energy. Those who answered the call of the nation, however, were caught between expectations of traditional society and their individual desires. They strived for a more independent modern existence (Craig 178). This report will, therefore, explore the responsibilities and prospects of women in China at the intersection of modernity and nationalism. Consequently, it will analyze the historical development of female chastity in the Chinese culture in attempts to build a model of evolution of the complex-female chastity.

Nations and societies considered women as a gauge of modernity and tradition. In the 20th century, China strived to find national accord as it strived to fight western imperialism. Consequently, the role of Chinese women was politicized. This led women to be viewed as the glue of a Chinese traditional society preventing the nation from advancing towards modernity and political strength. Intellectuals, especially men, also paid much consideration towards problems they believed were being caused by women. They thought they could identify measures that can transform traditional Chinese women to modern citizens capable of contributing towards the cause of nationalism. Consequently, the women commenced looking for new ways of defining their roles. For example, they began to participate in new prospects for education. They would also express their views in literature which played a major role in assisting the traditional Chinese women to practice sexual emancipation. More so, the females began to have a say in the selection of their spouses. These new practices and roles, however, experienced challenges in trying to break away from traditional structures and gender roles prompting young women in their aspiration to attain a modern identity for encountering structural and cultural impediments. Thus, the role of Chinese women has been culturally, visually, and historically foreign. This is due to the struggle between modernity and tradition (Craig 142).

China experienced a political insurgency in 1911 caused by domestic and foreign challenges to its political and social order. The uprising led to the resignation of the Qing emperor and establishment of the China Republic. It also accomplished overthrowing the dynastic rule by emperor’s system. It, however, failed to fix the political, social and economic predicaments the Republic of China was facing. Intellectuals identified the country’s culture as the problem holding it back from attaining strength and modernity. They acknowledged the cultural traditions were a shackle hindering China from progressing socially, economically, and politically. As a resulted, it was asserted that political and social changes had to be attained to engender a new culture. This led to the New Culture Movement which was advocating for modernization of the Republic of China. It was encouraging the country to move away from political models and traditional culture hindering it from building a new social and political culture embracing the energy of science and democracy. Consequently, women were identified as critical resources in attaining cultural change. Thus, China’s people were needed for cultural transformation. Women, however, had to play the crucial role of achieving the much-needed transformation as they were regarded as the keepers of tradition. Their identities and roles within family, however, had to change to revolutionize China. More so, they had to cease being keepers of hearth perpetuating the family system ensuring the country was not tied to tradition any longer. In China, women were kept away from the labor force. Thus, female industry was an untapped source of production for the up-and-coming modern China and its economy. As a result, the traditional practice of keeping women in a home and out of employment outside the home had to be amended. Consequently, a new woman had to be created. She had to be a citizen able to contribute towards the growth and development of the Republic of China (Craig 167).

The tension between traditional Confucian values of family and modern ones determined the way how conflicts between the ideals manipulated Chinese proposals of female citizenship. Women had been occupying a critical position in the formation of a new China and citizenry. Motherhood, however, was accentuated for the sake of the country. Women were therefore also regarded as mothers of citizens who could be politicized and rallied while upholding the Chinese family system for the cause of the nation. This affirms materialization of citizenship and the responsibility of social Darwinism and concerns about national extinction in China. The citizens emerged as a collective as both men and women needed to be forged into citizens to protect the country in an international arena while linking citizens and the nation. Consequently, women were enabled to access new arenas which developed their consciousness (Craig 15).

There have been failed attempts at partial reforms prompting China to revitalize its social, political, and economic agendas. The May Fourth Movement also known as the New Culture marked the peak of the revitalization. The May Fourth Movement leaders sought to establish an entirely new culture different from the existing tradition. Conversely, conservatives attempted to revive and preserve the traditional Chinese culture. The conflicts led to the emergence of special aspects targeting female chastity and filial piety. This led conservatives to believe that the two special aspects were the key of the old order in reviving and endorsing the Chinese culture. Reformers, on the other hand, acknowledged the importance of the two special aspects as they believed female chastity and filial piety were symbols of uncivilized and inhuman traditional Chinese society that ought to be destroyed before the new cultural elements were introduced in the nation. The inseparable relationship to the feminine liberation movement has ensured female chastity is an essential issue. The severe attack on the traditional idea of female chastity also continued in diverse major campaigns conducted by Chinese Communists such as those carried out by the Marriage Law Campaigns in 1950 and 1953. Thus, female chastity has been a major element of traditional Chinese culture and its destruction and revival have been sought across the modern Republic of China (Craig 76).

Virtuous women known as Lich Nu in Chinese ought to have the following qualities. Foremost, they have to gain familiarity with motherhood. Consequently, they should be honest and intellectually gifted. More so, the women should show kindness and wisdom while upholding chastity and submissiveness by practicing righteousness. Lastly, their communication and writing skills should be impeccable. Chaste women have been increasing in number among various dynasties. The historical dynasties include E. Han, Sui, T’ang, Tsin, Sung, Ming, and Yuan. Historically, as the number of chaste women grew, the code of female chastity also became more detailed, demanding, and rigid. The emphasis on women acknowledging they ought to guard their chastity before and after marriage was stressed according to dynasty specifications during the post-marital period.

The post-marital chastity concerns two specific matters, namely divorce and remarriage. Some rules deny women the right to initiate a divorce. The rules also do not provide females with the freedom of permitting remarriage even after the husband passes on. The rules were formulated in the Han dynasty. They claim husbands are women’s heavens. Thus, women should acknowledge they cannot escape from heaven. As a result, they should neither ask for a divorce nor remarry.

Men’s right to divorce their wives, however, was legalized. Diverse situations allow men to oust or divorce their spouses. The grounds allowing husbands to divorce their wives are known as ch’i ch’u or the seven ousts. There are also three conditions under which divorce should not be permitted (Craig 76). According to the seven ousts rule, wives can be divorced if they commit one of the following seven sins. Foremost, they may be divorced if they fail to serve well or disobey their parents-in-law. They may also be divorced if they fail to sire a son. Lasciviousness, jealousy, loquacity, larceny, and malignant disease also lay grounds for a man to divorce his wife. Males are however prohibited from seeking a divorce if their wives participate in the three-year mourning of either of the husbands’ parents. Consequently, a man should not ask for a divorce if his family was poor before the marriage but has gained wealth after. Lastly, if a wife has no home to return to after divorce, a husband is denied the right to ask for one. The decree against remarriage of women after their husbands pass on was formulated in the Han dynasty. The dynasty’s ‘Book of Rites’ states that once a woman is married, the status never changes for the rest of her life. Thus, after their husbands depart from their existing lives, the wives should not remarry. Men, however are permitted to remarry twice. Regulations on divorce and remarriage can, therefore, be summarized as follows. Foremost, under no circumstance should a woman ask for a divorce from her spouse. In case a husband passes on before the wife, she should remain as a widow without considering remarrying until her death. Conversely, a man can divorce his spouse and marry another woman. A male can also marry another female in case the first wife passes on. The regulations have been observed for centuries by generations with increasing seriousness and strictness towards preservation of chastity in women (Craig 77).

Neo-Confucianists however, stated divorce and remarriage are taboo as they disgrace women. For example, Cheng I who was one of the founders of Neo-Confucianism stated that the act of dying of hunger is the smallest matter. He, however, emphasized that the act of losing chastity is the biggest matter. Thus, he was attempting to moralize the importance of female chastity. He was also trying to encourage women to remain chaste by staying unmarried either after divorce or after their husbands pass on. Cheng’s statement on chastity among women has been described as impracticable on layman’s point of view. It is however also considered as an unchangeable principle from an educated man’s point of view. Ultimately, guarding women’s chastity was described as a sacred obligation women had to observe to avoid facing starvation and death as forms of punishment (Craig 77).

The emperor also promoted chastity among women. Emperor T’ai Tsu decreed that in case women lose their husbands before thirty and remain unmarried until fifty, an insignia would be conferred upon them and their families. More so, they would be excused from public service. The decree encouraged women to be chaste coupled with both imperial and economic honor and reward. Chastity among females, therefore, was encouraged and legislated by inspectors and commissioners who would provide annual reports on chastity to the emperor. Major cases were honored through the building of a temple. Conversely, minor cases were honored by building monuments on the streets. Ultimately, chaste women even from remote areas and low socioeconomic class felt encouraged to guard their chastity (Craig 76).

Pressure to safeguard chastity among women led the code of female chastity to be more rigid. More so, values of supernatural sanctions gained more popularity. Conversely, political sanctions for female chastity became more effective due to suicides and violent deaths being described as the common prices for chastity. A majority of chaste women ended their lines. Foremost, the rigid code and extreme means of achieving female chastity formed the common image of dominant traditional values held by several Chinese in modern times. Contemporary moralists describe chaste women as people who do not marry or run off with their lovers after the passing on of their husbands. They also asserted that wives became chaster if their husbands passed on and their families are considered poorer compared to their late husbands. There were cases of women killing themselves after their fiancé or husband passes on. Consequently, some females managed to commit suicide after being confronted by a ravisher. Conversely, some widows opted to meet their death while resisting associating with their ravishers. Women who met their deaths in the cruelest manner were considered to be chaster hence, winning greater glory. These descriptions have been applied to sum up the general conception of female chastity in line with the Chinese culture existing among modern Chinese (Craig 78).

In conclusion, women chastity among the Chinese was a long process of change. However, it ought to continue to be regarded as a major element of traditional culture sought in modern China. The process of encouraging women to be chaste also helped in building a model of the cultural, social, political, and economic evolution. Thus, female chastity should be identified as a long process attaining evolutionary development contributing towards the revision of static image of the Chinese history held by either Westerners or/and Chinese.


Work Cited

Craig, Albert. The Heritage of Chinese Civilization. Prentice Hall, 2010.