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SparkNotes: An Ideal Husband: Themes

The notion that women “have their place” in textile production persists today. Women are the major workforce in the South China mills and in globalized textile factories and clothing sweatshops world-wide. And the question of whether this sexual division of work marginalizes women, or offers them expanded opportunities, is still being debated.

SparkNotes: An Ideal Husband: Plot Overview

In China, the concept of gender difference appears visually in the male/female aspects of the yin/yang Taoist symbol. The dark swirl within the symbol’s circle is the passive, yielding, feminine yin; the light swirl the active, aggressive, male yang. Neither principle is considered subordinate to the other; each complements the other and is capable of expressing both female and male characteristics. Within Taoism, then, women were able to seek spiritual fulfillment beyond their family duties. Some joined convents, others gathered with men to discuss philosophy and religion, a few became Taoist adepts.

Marriage and beyond

In Japan, the influence of Shintoism lessened the initial impact of NeoConfucian on women’s lives. Within Shintoism women held power as mikos, a type of shaman with divination abilities. Before the 8th century, half of Japan’s reigning female sovereigns, such as the popular semi-legendary empress Jingu, were believed to have shaman-like powers. Japan’s sun goddess Amaterasu, to whom every emperor has had to claim direct descendancy, was also worshiped as a symbol of female mystical power. Her Great Shrine at Ise, cared for by high priestesses, still plays an important role in the lives of the Japanese today.


Essay on the gender difference in history: women in China and Japan.

In the Song dynasty (960-1279 C.E), a reinterpretation of Confucian teaching called NeoConfucianism stratified the position of women even more. Augmented by ideas of wife fidelity and husband worship brought by the Mongols, NeoConfucian beliefs led to the egregious practices of footbinding, insistence on widow chastity, and the selling of unwanted daughters. Although footbinding illustrates the perceived need to limit female mobility, the practice did not appear until the Song Dynasty and was not universally followed. Women of most ethnic minorities, including Hakka and Manchu women, did not practice it, nor did some peasants who had to work in the fields, nor did women in Japan.

Nina Riggs's Widower On Coping With His Grief - A Cup of …

Women’s independence was increasing limited during the long centuries of shogunate rule. Although in the early feudal period samurai women took a considerable role in household management and defense, by the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868), women’s rights within the samurai family were practically nonexistent. The oft quoted Three Obediences dictated their lives: “When she is young, she obeys her father; when she is married, she obeys her husband; when she is widowed, she obeys her son.” The 1762 treatise called Greater Learning for Women illustrates this NeoConfucian ideal of proper female behavior.

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Buddhism as practiced in Japan and China also granted women some areas of empowerment. Women went on pilgrimages to Buddhist temples, retreated to nunneries, sometimes gave public lectures, and led temple groups. Chinese Buddhism was at its height during the reign of Wu Zetian who promoted the religion and even justified her rule by claiming she was a reincarnation of a previous female Buddhist saint. During Wu’s reign, and throughout the early to mid Tang period, women enjoyed relatively high status and freedom. Lovely Tang era paintings and statues depict women on horseback, and as administrators, dancers and musicians. Stories and poems, like those from the pen of the infamous female poet Yu Xuanji, also attest to the almost modern openness of the period.

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In the modern era, women have been honored for their militant participation during civil wars and the struggles against invaders. In the Taiping Rebellion mainly Hakka women with unbound feet fought both as soldiers and generals against the Manchu government. Women took up arms again in the Boxer Rebellion when young women organized themselves into militant “Red Lantern” groups. During the Cultural Revolution, the militancy of young female Red Guards attest to their willingness to become revolutionary heroes when struggling for what they perceived to be a just cause. Individual revolutionary female icons who have been held up as powerful figures for women to emulate include China’s Chiu Chin (Qiu Jin), who in 1907 was executed by the Manchu government, and Soong-li Ching (Soong Ching-ling), wife of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and champion of social justice and women’s liberation, and Deng Yingchao, an advocate of women’s rights and wife of Zhou Enlai. The societal admiration of female heroines such as these has helped justify the actions of the women who managed successfully to define new roles for themselves alongside men.