Ethnographic Study of Chinese Women Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

They treasure what they have been lost since becoming destitute and homeless. On the opposite, American removes coming forward mostly. They yearn native land is actually for the memories about childhood which has gone forever. At the same time, the future is waiting for them in a broad space faraway." (Bai, 2007)


The work of Price and Briley (1999) entitled: "Culture, Education and Cognition: A Review and Discussion of Chinese vs. American Cognitive Styles" relates a study in which proposed is that..."that differences in the education practices prevalent in China and America are an important source of cognitive differentiation, and suggest that future research could benefit from greater exploration of 'experienced educational style'." Price and Briley relate that based upon the literature in the area of developmental psychology Price and Briley's study presents: " integrated model of cognitive development that appreciates both the influence of the individual's maturation process and the influence of society, as manifested particularly within the educational system. An important implication of the model is that school systems provide a natural arena for studying cross-cultural differences in cognition." (1999)


The work of Jensia (2008) entitled: "The Role of Women in Chinese Culture" relates that in order to understand the culture that affects Chinese women and their roles it is "helpful to consider the overall development of Chinese culture and history. Although numerous scholars have attempted to explore Chinese culture and development, it is evident that the mystery surrounding this culture remains a pervasive part of modern understanding of China." The work of Wei (1947) relates "Through many centuries and up until recent times, the Chinese have developed their own civilization in almost complete isolation from the rest of the world except for the most casual contacts, and that only when their civilization had practically taken its definite shape." Around 200 B.C. China was acknowledged as a "...unified country with one culture. Michael (1986) notes of China: "Having established their social order, the Chinese came to regard their system as the most civilized form of human communal existence. In the interplay between theirs and neighboring cultures, Chinese order came to influence and dominate the adjacent countries of Central, East, and Southeast Asia..." (Jensia, 2008)

The work of Knapp (1992) notes the view of women as problematic in relation to the larger view of society and religion as stated is "Because women represented a threat to the stability of the monastic communities and the discipline practiced therein, chastity was emphasized" and Knapp further emphasizes that with the spread of Confucianism the attitude toward women grew even more restrictive in nature and women were viewed as mere "sexual commodities" for men. (Jensia, 2008) the system of patriarchy which developed during China's Imperial age made it all but impossible for women to gain any actual control over their lives or over their bodies. It is written in an ancient Chinese text as follows:

If a husband does not control his wife, then the rules of conduct manifesting his authority are abandoned and broken. If a wife does not serve her husband, then the proper relationship (between men and women) and the natural order of things are neglected and destroyed. As a matter of fact the purpose of these two (the controlling of women by men, and the serving of men by women) is the same." (Jensia, 2008)

This ensured that the patriarchal system would be perpetuated through the control of women and it was viewed that this was the sole method of preserving the Chinese society. Traditionally, women in China did not receive even the most basic of educations however Knapp reports that "Some liberal scholarly families encouraged their daughters to develop their intellects, but most women lived in the seclusion of domestic duties, incarcerated behind walls and curtains." (1992) the view of girls was that they were a burden to the family resulting in the practice of infanticide. Men were traditionally allowed to travel about in China while women were kept in the home and lived a "barriered existence, both physically and symbolically." (Knapp, 1992)

The history of modern China reveals that the culture had historically developed in a manner and within a context that "was quite restrictive to women." (Jensia, 2008) the work of Wolf (1985) examined the development of women in modern China and relates that while there are "...a host of traditional rules and customs that still mitigate the role and action of women in China, women have taken a more proactive role in carving out a clear "space" for themselves." As well, the 'Three Obedience' governing women's behavior is still very much in effect and includes the following three:

1) as an unmarried girl a woman must obey her father and her brothers;

2) as a married woman she must obey her husband; and 3) as a widow she must obey her adult sons" (Wolf, 1985)


Jensia (2008) notes: "Women of the past and the present have been able to control their lives and their families by asserting a quite pressure that allows the dominant male to remain in place. Through this process women are able to carve out niches for themselves that provide them with a sense of security. Further women are able to make critical decisions by manipulating the behaviors and actions of their husbands and sons. Thus, while women are not formally in control, it is evident that they wield considerable power over their husbands and sons. This power translates into the ability to garner control and stability in a culture that does little to protect the needs and rights of the female." (Jensia, 2008)

The work of Karin Aguilar-San Juan published in the Foreword of the work entitled: "Dragon Ladies: Asian-American Feminists Breathe Fire" relates that "The first wave of Asian women's organized formed out of the Asian-American movement of the 1960s, which in turn was inspired by the Civil Rights movement and the anti-Viet Nam War movement." Shah (1997) notes that Leftists Asian women " Yellow Power and other Asian-American groups often found themselves left out of the decision-making processes and their ideas and concerns regulated to 'women's auxiliary' groups that were marginal to the larger projects at hand." However, this has changed because "with fewer and fewer class interests to divide them (Asian-American women) are shaping a new movement, one that goes beyond just agitating for [their] little piece of the ever-shrinking pie. They are putting poor immigrant and refugee Asian women at the forefront of their organizing, thinking globally, and they are making the connections among the politics of labor, health, environment culture, nationalism, racism and patriarchy." (Shah, 1997)


Differences in the experience of American and Chinese women have been noted in this study to include the strictness of the Chinese culture and the restrictions historically and traditionally placed upon Chinese women as compared to American women. These restrictions are noted even in Chinese-American families in that the majority of Chinese families disallow their female children to have a boyfriend and often make the choice of spouse for these female children. Chinese girls are not allowed to wear makeup and are expected to follow the 'Three Obediences' as noted in this study.

Other differences noted in this ethnographic study of the Chinese and American cultures in relation to the role of females has also noted that in the Chinese culture the roles of women and in fact of all members of the culture is one that is very defined and hierarchal in nature. Furthermore, the Chinese culture is one that is highly patriarchal. In the Chinese culture, the husband is expected to possess control over his wife because without this control the proper relationship that should exist between men and women in view of the Chinese culture is broken and the result is destruction of what is considered to be the natural order. Clearly, it is noted in the work of Shah (1997) the Chinese-American woman has collectively made headway in making their own mark in the Chinese-American culture however, it is related that there is still much progress to be made by the women in this culture that is highly restrictive and in which the male very much maintains control of the female members of his household.


Price, Lydia J. And Briley, Donnel a. (1999) Culture, Education and Cognition: A Review and Discussion of Chinese vs. American Cognitive Styles. Jun 1999. Institutional Repository - the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Library. Online available at

Of all the Difference Between Chinese and American Culture, Which One Do You Think is the Most" (2007) Bai. 21 Aug 2007. Online available at

Zheng, Yin-xiao, and Cui, Ruo-nan (2008) Luckhohn and Strodbeck's Value Model in Chinese and American Culture. Sino-U.S. English Teaching. Vol. 5, No. 4 April 2008. Online available at


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