Evolution of China’s Gender Relations in Jung Chang’s Wild Swans

Topics: Gender role, Communism, People's Republic of China Pages: 6 (2057 words) Published: October 18, 2008
From Servants of Men to Soldiers of the State:
Evolution of China’s Gender Relations in Jung Chang’s Wild Swans

Christina Ku (Student ID: 050788207)
Yunxiang Gao
HST 555: Section II: History of Modern China I (1644-1949)
Wednesday, November 14, 2007.

As China faced new international pressures and the change to a communist society, gender relations transformed women from servants of men to full independent workers, who finally became soldiers of the communist state. In Jung Chang’s novel, Wild Swans, the three women – grandmother Yu-Fang, mother Bao-Qin and daughter Jung Chang – exemplify the expected gender roles of each generation. I will argue that Confucian society presented few economic opportunities for women to support themselves and thus positioned women to become the exploited tools of men. However, with the encroachment of foreign powers and the weakening of the Chinese state, the next generation was forced to challenge the Confucian principles that created a patriarchal model of society. In the interest of saving China, the New Culture Movement aimed to adopt foreign practices that encouraged women to migrate into the public sphere as independent and self-sufficient workers. In addition, I will argue that communist party policy further moved to transform both women and men into workers of the public sphere, though at the expense of both genders losing their domestic roles as a companion and parent. Finally, under the cult of Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution, both genders became militarized and used as tools of the state to fight so-called political enemies and threats to the state.

During the late Qing dynasty, China’s patriarchal society assigned each gender a specific function which positioned women as servants for men, and structured marriage as a transaction to achieve social progress. Based on tradition, occupations were largely determined by sex: men dominated the public sphere while women controlled the domestic sphere . Confined to the domestic sphere, women followed the Confucian virtue of serving the male authorities in their lives, first serving their father then serving their husband. Taught to be obedient daughters and wives, women were determined useful solely by attracting their assigned husband. Consequently, daughters were sent into arranged marriages in order to contribute and improve their family’s social standing within the community . As a result, Yu-Fang’s father forces his daughter to become a concubine to General Xue in order to elevate his social position . With a grand wedding procession, Yu-Fang proves her worth and feels as if she “had gained prestige and esteem. There had been nothing like this in Yixian in living memory. ” However, though the wedding ceremony elevates her family’s social standing, Yu-Fang gains little personal power or value in her new role as a concubine. Through her wedding, Yu-Fang awards her father greater prestige with a promotion and concubines and gives temporary sexual services to General Xue. In exchange, Yu-Fang must stay loyal to an absent husband who leaves for six years without notice while living isolated in a strange home, bribing her servants to buy their trust. While the male authority figures benefit from her marriage, Yu-Fang gains nothing yet cannot complain. Under a Confucian model, women lived only as objects to benefit men in a patriarchal society. As a result, marriage and the transaction of women became another means for men to promote their own ambitions.

However, with the encroachment of foreign spheres of influence and the weakening of the Chinese government, young individuals searched for ways to modernize China, challenging traditional patriarchal society and its established gender relations. Under the New Culture Movement, intellectuals argued that traditional Confucian models wasted China’s energy and talent in pleasing the patriarchal family head . Instead of working to improve China’s economic...

Bibliography: Chang, Jung. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. Toronto: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
Evans, Harriet. “Past, Perfect or Imperfect: Changing Images of the Ideal Wife.” In Chinese Femininities, Chinese Masculinities: A Reader, edited by Susan Brownell and Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, 335- 360. California: University of California Press, 2002.
Glosser, Susan. “‘The Truths I Have Learned’: Nationalism, Family Reform, and Male Identity in China’s New Cultural Movement, 1915-1923.” In Chinese Femininities, Chinese Masculinities: A Reader, edited by Susan Brownell and Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, 120-145. California: University of California Press, 2002.
Honig, Emily. “Maoist Mappings of Gender: Reassessing the Red Guards,” In Chinese Femininities, Chinese Masculinities: A Reader, edited by Susan Brownell and Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, 255- 268. California: University of California Press, 2002.
Jankowiak, William. “Proper Men & Proper Women: Parental Affection in the Chinese Family.” In Chinese Femininities, Chinese Masculinities: A Reader, edited by Susan Brownell and Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, 361-380. California: University of California Press, 2002.
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