Gender and Women’s Rights Still An Issue In China

Homosexuality and women’s rights, sexually and professionally, in China are still lagging behind most other countries, lectured a guest speaker at Mercy College this month.

Dr.Ming –Bao Yue, chair and associate professor of East Asian languages at the University of Hawaii in Manoa visited Mercy College to discuss gender and sexuality in the Chinese culture.

World Health Organization (WHO) describes “gender” as those characteristics of women and men which are socially constructed, while “sex” refers to those which are biologically determined people born male or female, but learn to be girls and boys who grow into men and women.

As with any culture, the Chinese culture has their ways that were set generations ago, and while some of these ways have faded, some are still prevalent in their society. Ming-Bao Yue shared some interesting sayings that the Chinese culture holds dear and teaches their children to live by:

“Common people and women are hard to deal with, if you are near them, they will not respect you, if you keep your distance, they will resent it, Ignorance is a woman’s virtue, women don’t need education, to be uneducated is virtuous.”

Chinese people grow up with it, she says. “These are popular sayings that are ingrained in our brains.”

Ming –Bao Yue also explained major issues like homosexuality and women’s rights in China are still lagging very behind compared to freedoms in America. While some countries have succeeded in implementing women’s rights and freedoms, and allow gay marriages in some states, there are many countries in Asia where homosexuality and women’s emancipation is still an ongoing battle.

Up until 10 years ago, homosexuality was classified as a disease, she said.  If someone was gay, he or she was put into an institution. However, this practice was abandoned by the government recently. Although homosexuality is more acceptable now in Chinese culture, lesbians are less visible.

“Gay men are more apparent; however, in other nations like Taiwan, lesbians are visible and more acceptable because it is a capitalist nation. While China is more open now, it is still communist, but in Taiwan it is definitely more vibrant.”

Woman emancipation is still a struggle in China, although the women’s conference in 1995, which took place in China, was a big step in the right direction.

“College women don’t get jobs in the free market. Women’s rights are worse now because a lot of Chinese men have mistresses, and they need to make a lot of money to keep these mistresses.”

The practice of keeping mistresses goes back to the last century, which was a profound time for China, filled with profound challenges as women actually looked for mistresses for their husbands.

She added that “Since the 20th century, some things have changed and some remain the same (in terms of women’s rights in China). It is easy to get an education, and in theory, there should be a lot of jobs, but companies do not want to pay for maternity leave or insurance.”

Still prevalent in China is child brides as gifts. In the 20th a century, a poor farmer’s family would give its daughter to a rich, land-owning family with a son. The girl would work for the boy’s family, even working as the boy’s nanny sometimes. The girl and young boy would develop a special bond, and an emotional relationship would develop, even going as far as referring to each other as brother and sister. But when the boy turned 15, he would then marry the girl.

Ming –Bao Yue recommended the following books for further understanding on gender and sex in the Chinese culture. “Writing women In Modern China” by Amy Dooling and Kristina Torgeson; “The Diary of Miss Sophia” by Ding Ling; “Red is Not The Only Color” by Patricia Siber and “Competing Claims on Women’s Virtue in Late Imperial China” by Fangqui Du and Susan Mann.