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Rural Women's Life in Late Imperial China

Essay by review  •  February 28, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,022 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,074 Views

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I chose to read and write about this book out of curiosity, how did Woman Wang die? How can this "novel" be a historical work? I opened the book expecting to see the whole life of Woman Wang, and I was wrong. As Spence has commented "Ð'... she has been to me like one of those stones that one sees shimmering through the water at low tide and picks up from the waves almost with regret, knowing that in a few moments the colors suffusing the stone will fade and disappear as the stone dries in the sun. But in this case the colors and veins did not fade; rather they grew sharper as they lay in my hand, and now and again I knew it was the stone itself that was passing on warmth to the living flesh that held it." (J. D. Spence, "Death of woman Wang") How can a small stone that has been lost in the ashes of time trigger such an outburst of emotion? Has the life of Woman Wang been so special? No, she was too normal, too unnoticeable and too much like an ant that was meant to be forgotten, and just because her life was normal, it seized a sensitive mind. Woman Wang's tragedy did not come from being murdered by her husband, but from being in a time and place that women were meant to suffer. Women's situation at this time can be characterized from three perspectives: women's social status, traditional expectations and evaluations of women, how women view themselves.

First of all, Women had very low social status in China at this time. When talking about "social status", we are referring to the power influence and value of this status. By "women's social status" particularly, we are talking about the relative status between men and women, including three aspects: first, how much power or authority women have in a certain range (family, community for example). As an agricultural society China was at this time, women due to their physical weakness compared with men, were highly marginalized in family decision makings and social activities. From the words like "Men dominate outside, women dominate inside", we see how the women were not expected to participate or having a say in anything except for housekeeping. Second, how many rights do women have to do what they want. From historical materials we know that women did not have the chance to go to school nor seat the National Examination, some places in China even forbade women from eating around the same table with men. That gave us a clue about how little freedom women had in choosing what they want to do. Third, how important the society believe women are to men, again, quite obviously, we see even the law system had bias over women in issues like man could divorce woman for no specific reason and without consent of the women, and contracting a concubine/secondary wife as he wanted. Thus we can see women at this time, even born into a high class family, still had quite low social status economically and culturally.

Traditional expectations and evaluations of women were another cause of women's tragic lives at this period. In late imperial China, monogamy was not adopted, instead polygamy made up the majority families, as long as one could afford them. Women were somehow considered merchandises at this time, different from prostitute, when they were bought by men, they did not just sell their body but together with their souls, to do whatever men required from them. Women were



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