Exploring China

March 8th is World Women’s Day. In Germany, women receive a little gift such as candy or roses, while in China, all women get half a day off.

The role of women in Chinese society is undergoing great changes. Until 1950, men in China were allowed to marry other women in addition to their wife, who were called concubines, but women could only be assigned to one particular man. I can still remember the bound feet of my grandmother. In her childhood, girls around the age of four had their feet broken and bandaged. The result of this torture was called “Lotus Feet”. From then on, the mobility of these women was severely limited, they could only move about prancing – a sign of the social status of the husband. Women had received little status in the feudal past, both in the family and in society. Only Mao broke up with this practice. The state founder of the People’s Republic of China said that “women hold up half of the sky”. After that, women were not allowed to be forced into marriages and they were allowed to divorce. The painful crippling of feet into “golden lotus flowers” was finally banned. Women who worked in the fields were entitled to a wage.

But in a very hierarchical society, where men dominated for a very long time, women still face hard struggles. Women today must play both the traditional and the modern roles of looking after the household, the children and their parents, and at the same time being successful in their careers. In addition, women should always remain young and beautiful in order to protect themselves from the competition. For in a typical Confucian-influenced society, sexual loyalty in marriage had always been prescribed for women, but not for men. Although equality between men and women has been established as a fundamental right in the Constitution, in practice it looks rather different.

Not infrequently we experience the modern Chinese women as well educated, self-confident and successful. The economic boom offers women many opportunities at work. Today in China almost half of all employees are female. In one-third of state-owned enterprises, they have even made executive jobs. Although Chinese women are often still seen as the weaker in their traditional role, they are increasingly fighting in their modern role as the bearer of half the sky.

Author: Hailan Liu