« Struggle for Gender Equality »
( 1404 Words )
For centuries, women of China had lived in a male dominated society which was dictated by the rigid Confucian ideology. In such society, women have found their educations denied, their rights unequal, their opportunities limited. “The Golden Cangue” by Eileen Zhang, “When I Was in Hsia Village” and “In the Hospital” by Ding Ling are stories which document the lives of different women and their struggles against the systematic gender discriminations and the institutionalized oppressions and constraints forcefully put upon all women. Through revolution and war, China in the twentieth century had undergone major political and social changes. The social order once firmly maintained by Confucian ideology has weakened, however it was far away from a totally collapsed. These three stories mirrored the transition in women’s struggles against the Confucian social construct, from adhering to passive conformity to taking active stances, but more importantly, the stories also exposed the frailties and helplessness of women in their fights for gender justice, freedom and independence.

Women, according to Confucian ideals should be selfless. Individualism, creativity and learning are neither encouraged nor desirable for women. From the day she is born, she is to follow her father. From the day she marries, she is to follow her husband. When she gets old, she is to follow her son. In other words, an ideal woman is one who completely forgets her self and to obey all the men in her life at every single stages of life. Society and everyone around her, including her own mother have repeatedly and constantly impose such ideals upon her since birth. By the time she became a teenage, if she is not brainwashed, she is used to her inferior position in society and accept these ideals. Thus, the gender relationship between men and women is often precisely summarized in this phrase “he ordered and she obeyed” (288).

This superior to inferior relationship is best illustrated in a meeting between Lu Ping and the hospital superintendent in the story “In the Hospital” by Ding Ling. The story took place in a communist setting of anti-feudalism and anti-Confucianism. Feudalistic attributes of society and Confucian ideals should have all been condemned if not complete eradicated by the early 1940s. Yet the male communist superintendent, “welcomed Lu Ping as if he felt female comrades need no respect or politeness” (282). This is a vivid indication that gender discrimination toward women from the Confucian era remain unchanged in the communist doctrine which ironically is all about equality for all, including women. Later, in the same story, Lu Ping has made numerous suggestions to the administration of the hospital for a better and safer environment for patients. None of her suggestions were well received. This is due partly to inaction and indifference of the communist bureaucracy, yet the exercise of sexism by the administration is another important factor that denies all Lu Ping’s requests for change. In the eyes of the all male administrators, women’s advices are simply not worth considering because the only role that women should play is to support not advice, to follow not challenge. Soon after Lu Ping made these request and actively discuss about these issues, she was accused by everyone, including female comrades, “of wanting to run things, of being a zealot, and of loving to be the center of attention” (286). With this unequal gender relationship being unchallenged for so long, Lu Ping or any woman in China would find it difficult if not impossible to make a change.

Not only this unjust relationship between men and women in China infiltrates the work place, it has also governs many aspects of family lives, especially and extensively for marriage. Marriage is supposed to a fruition of love and romance, but Marriage in old China is merely a tool of financial gain or political connection. The women are seldom consulted if consulted at all for their marriage. They do not choose who they will marry, instead their parents choose for them. Their wills ignored, their happiness disregarded, it seems like the whole and only purpose of life for women is to marry up to a rich family. In this sense, women are objectified and degraded to an instrument to improve the social status and wealth of her father’s family. In this sense, Marriage is a “golden cangue” that enslaves a woman, her body and soul. Qi Qiao, a character in the story “Golden Cangue” by Eileen Zhang is an excellent example of a woman who suffers a lifetime of discontent, loneliness, anger, and sorrow from this kind of dysfunctional marriage. Qi Qiao has no choice but to marry the disabled, severely ill second master of the privileged Chiang family. Qi Qiao tries to make believe that the marriage is going to work out just fine. However, she fails to realized what awaits her is the constant power struggle within this family, is the destruction of herself, is the estrangement of all the love ones around her.

Whether one has a choice or not; whether one chooses to conform or disobey, sometimes women all face the ultimate fate of misfortune under the same Confucian sky. Chen Chen in Ding Ling’s story “When I was in Hsia Village” is the girl who challenges her father’s decision for her marriage to a young rich proprietor. She runs off. Unfortunately, she was caught and repeatedly abused by Japanese soldiers. When she came back, she was misunderstood by the people of the Village, even by her own family. “They dislike and despised Chen Chen … This was especially true of the women, who, all because of Chen Chen, finally developed some self respect and perceived themselves as saintly pure. They were proud about never having been raped” (275). These ignorant women are poisoned by the blind following of Confucianism. They are unable to think. They are incapable of distinguishing black from white. When did a rapist become a victim? When did a raped woman become her own culprit? Sadly, Chen Chen chooses to buy this nonsense. She refused to marry the man who still truly loves her. She blamed herself and said “I am unclean, and with such a black mark I don’t expect any good fortune to come my way” (278). If I were a woman to pick the life between Qi Qiao and Chen Chen, I would choose the latter. I choose fight instead of conformity. I choose revolt over obedience. That way, I won’t feel sorry for myself. That way, I don’t have to hurt the people around me with the very same chain and “cangue” that are hurting me.

From the conforming Qi Qiao to the uncertain Chen Chen, to the active Lu Ping, in their struggle to women independence, they have all met with hardship, obstacle and resistance. They are fragile and helpless. They can not trust men, yet they can hardly rely on women. Men have always been the proponent for gender inequality. Sadly, mirroring the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, most of the resistance presented in the story surprisingly but often came from women themselves. When Qi Qiao needed the help of men, they were always after her money. When Chen Chen and Lu Ping needed the support of her female villagers and comrades, they look down upon Chen Chen and they accuse Lu Ping “of wanting to run things” (286). They are betrayed and alienated in their struggle for the causes of all women.

The social changes brought about by revolution and unrest, war and upheaval did eliminate many of the undesirable Confucian characteristics of society, however, the progress for gender equality is slow. Social, economical and political independence for women is a long process. It is likely not going to happen overnight. And our women authors understand that. At the end of Eileen Zhang’s “Golden Cangue”, the author warns if the destructive cycle continues, even “the moon of thirty years ago has gone down long since, and the people of thirty years ago are dead, but the story of thirty years ago is not yet ended-can have no ending”. Yet, the envision of a “bright future” for Chen Chen, and a “new life” for Lu Ping in Ding Ling’s stories reveal the author’s confidence and best hope for the positive change and different women will make even with “trials ahead” in a future China. After all, “A [woman] matures amidst hardship” (291).