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In addition, the ceremony also contained firecrackers which were symbolic of purification and joy. The food that was served at a marriage ceremony was also symbolic. For example, fruit and longevity noodles were symbolic of harmony, happiness, and prosperity.
Indeed the marriage arrangement was detailed and extravagant (for the wealthy) during the Qing dynasty. Now that we understand the marital arrangement let us focus on the role of the ideal wife during Qing's Dynasty.
The role of the ideal wife (Qing Dynasty)
Once the transfer was complete, the wife was totally immersed in pleasing her husband and his family. All kinship ties to the wife's family were broken and when she visited her family, she was considered a guest not a relative. Smith (1994) asserts that this was a cause of distress for many new wives because they were usually amongst strangers and the mother in law had a great deal of influence. The author explains that the son was bound to obey the wishes of his mother. For this reason, it was commonplace for a mother in-law to ask her son to divorce.
Smith (1994) also explains that there were seven grounds for which a husband could seek a divorce including adultery, no offspring, stealing, disobedience to husbands parent, incurable disease, being to talkative and jealousy (Smith 1994). There were also three grounds for which a husband could not divorce his wife and they were if her husband was poor when they were married and became wealthy, if she had no family to go back to, if she had grieved as a daughter for her husband's dead parents (Smith 1994). However, Smith (1994 does assert that "at least a degree the interests of the wife were protected by her biological parents and former kinsmen, since marriage was a family affair. Nonetheless, we know that many women found married life intolerable and either ran away or committed suicide. Others, under rather special circumstances, made a conscious choice never to marry (Smith 1994)."
Another aspect of being the ideal Chinese wife was the acceptance of concubines. This was a cause of disagreement for many women because the concubines were chosen by the husband instead a third party (Smith 1994). The concubines were usually selected for their beauty or talent and not their family connections (Smith 1994). The purpose of a concubine is said to be to have more children (Smith 1994). However, for the very wealthy it became an extravagant symbol (Smith 1994). In addition, "Despite their social inferiority to the principal wife, they were often the primary object of the husband's sexual attention and thus a potential source of jealousy (Smith 1994)."
Another practice that was routine for women, and made them more appealing to potential husbands during the Qing Dynasty was the practice of footbinding. This practice was derivative of the Tang Song-Period and spread throughout the country during the Yuan Dynasty. Initially it was done amongst women from elite social classes (Smith 1994). However, during Qing Dynasty it became a prevalent practice throughout all of China (Smith 1994). Footbinding has constantly been associated with eroticism in Chinese culture.
Footbound women were appealing to men because they believed that it had an impact upon how women performed sexually (Smith 1994). Schrecker (1991) asserts that this practice had lasting effects on the things that women/wives could achieve in Chinese Society. The author explains
Girls had their feet bound when they were young, and the limbs remained undersized and deformed throughout their lives. The custom was considered attractive and erotic, but it was painful and cruel. It also had repercussions far beyond sexual matters, for it was both a symbol of the subordination of women and a powerful factor that contributed to their continuing loss of independence and to blocking their possibilities for equality. Foot binding began in the Song among the elite and by the Ming had spread in varying degrees to the whole population, baleful testimony to the general integration of society (Schrecker (1991).
Indeed this practice ensured that once a woman was married she would have to depend totally and completely on her husband. In addition, she was in constant pain. The footbinding served the purpose of keeping women subservient to men at every level of society including marriage. The author explains, "The spatial organization that embodied the inner/outer and male/female distinctions was reinforced by footbinding a restructuring of the woman's body itself. Footbinding has been construed as the most graphic symbol of the restriction and victimization that women suffered in the male-centered Chinese family system (Smith 1994)."
The research is evidence that during the Qing Dynasty in China the ideal wife was expected to be subservient to her husband. Arranged marriages were the norm and wives were at the total mercy of their husband's family. The purpose of the ideal wife was to provide her husband with sons and accept the women that became concubines. During this period in Chinese history women had very little rights and even less freedom. The practice of footbinding further degraded a women's position in society and caused lifelong irreversible pain. Women were not encouraged to be educated and were dependent on their husbands for financial support.
Wives during the Chinese Revolution (after the fall of Qing)
The fall of the Qing Dynasty brought with it some changes for women in Chinese society. One significant change was the effort to educate women. According to a book entitled "The Chinese Revolution" during this time of transition many schools for girls were created. In fact, the Empress Dowager ordered a large Lama convent to be made into girls school (Brown, 1912). In addition, she sent the Imperial High Commissioners to study American institutions in 1906 and directed them to pay close attention to the institutions that were designed for the education of women (Brown, 1912). Oddly enough, "An order of the Imperial Board of Education decreed that only girls whose feet were not bound should be admitted to the schools under government supervision (Brown, 1912)."
The institution of marriage was profoundly effected by the Chinese revolution. The education of Chinese women brought with it Western philosophies concerning marriage. According to Parson and Yang (1959), Western influence brought the demise of the traditional Chinese family. Young Women no longer wanted to engage in arranged marriages (Parson and Yang 1959). This brought great conflict to the Chinese family between the old and younger generations. The Chinese revolution brought about marital freedoms that the older generation had a difficult time accepting (Parson and Yang 1959).
Earlier in this discussion, we focused on the traditional Chinese marriage and the rituals involved. We also discussed the control that the parents have over the wife (Parson and Yang 1959). According to Parson and Yang (1959), the concept of marital freedom was problematic for the older generation because they would no longer be able to exercise such control over the wife. The authors explain,
Marriage born of romantic love has all the opposite effects of an arranged marriage. The husband-wife relationship is the core, overshadowing the role of the parents, and the intimacy and affection in such a marriage would seriously threaten the dominance of parental affection, loyalty, and authority, if not replace it altogether. If the daughter-in-law should come into the family of her own volition and through affection for her husband, it would be difficult for her to subordinate her role to the will of the parents-in-law (Parson and Yang 1959)."
The older generation saw marital freedom as a way for the younger generation to abandon the traditional notions of family. However, for young people women in particular, marital freedom gave them the ability to experience romance and develop a relationship with the man (Parson and Yang 1959). The authors contend, "for the woman, since arranged marriage required her to enter abruptly into intimate relations with a man with whom she had had no previous contact, the secret desire for marriage through love had a strong appeal (Parson and Yang 1959)."
The authors explain that although the revolution of 1911 was primarily a political event it brought with it a summons to new order. This became most evident amongst educated young people. The idea if marital freedom was a dangerous one as people vehemently opposed this new way of thinking. The authors assert that in 1912 a female teacher from a Shanghai elementary school openly made friends with a male colleague, fell in love with him, and the two secretly decided to be married. When the affair became known to others there was gossip accusing the two of promiscuity. The woman was especially attacked as one of immoral character. Under the crushing attack of public opinion and stern warnings from parents of both parties, the man weakened and told the woman he could not marry her. She now found society turned against her, and after leaving the man a heart-rending letter, she committed suicide. In…[continue]
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