Gender Roles in the Chinese Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Americans judged the Chinese according to the own ideals and customs. This distorted the American view of China was that it was much like the United States in many ways (Jesperson, 1996, p. 8). When China came under communist control, Americans made the error of thinking that the Chinese were just like them in many ways.

Regardless of how one feels about the westernization of China and Chinese culture, its presence cannot be denied. As the Chinese government is forced to loosen its policies regarding the media and censorship, it cannot help the influx of new ideals. The Chinese people are being exposed to western ideas and must decide for themselves whether to accept or reject them. This study will measure the trend in exposure to westernized ideals in the Chinese media and the effects that is having on the attitudes expressed by Chinese college students.

Changing Images of Chinese Women

Chang (1999) examined cross cultural gender role attitudes by comparing the attitudes of college students in Florida and in Hong Kong. This study found that Chinese were less egalitarian in work and work attitudes. However, in domestic gender attitudes Chinese women were more egalitarian than Americans. When one considers Chang's work in the context of public policy in China, one could surmise that laws that forbid women from performing certain tasks could have an effect on their work attitudes. The findings of this study are surprising regarding egalitarian domestic roles. The key question that was not answered by Chang is whether this is a traditional attitude, or whether it represents changes in attitude that are the result of westernization in recent years.

Images of women in the media became an important topic when a number of public figures publicly challenged traditional feminine stereotypes in the media (Zhengying 2006). Traditional roles for women in the media portrayed them as subservient to the men, expending great effort to please them. On a Chinese program called "Super Girl, " is modeled after American Idol, women compete for a chance to be a popstar. Like American Idol, the Chinese public chose a nontraditional image of a female, with a boyish haircut and look. This reflects the ideal that although the media continues to portray girls with a traditional look, the public sees more than the surface.

Our literature review revealed that very little has been written on traditional Chinese women's roles. This is a reflection of several concepts. The first is that little changes in gender roles for hundreds of years. The second is that for political reasons, it could have been dangerous openly to challenge traditional ways of thought. Now, with the world watching, the Chinese government has been inclined to loosen restrictions on free speech and freedom of expression. This research fills a gap in the current body of literature that reflects an acceptance of new gender roles that break tradition. These new roles reflect the influence of western ideals. This research will help to define these emerging paradigms about gender and gender roles in Chinese culture.


This study will use a combination of content analysis and focus group interview to explore emerging attitudes towards "westernized" images of women in the Chinese mass media. It used content analysis to develop a set of 20 role models and images of women from several forms of mass media, including plays and stage. The media was chosen from popular media, such as newspapers, popular magazines, television, and other media forms. Women in politics were also used as examples of women to be discussed by the focus group.

The sample population for this study consisted of a group of 12 college students from a Beijing college. The students were asked to read news articles, watch video, and view clips of opera and film before participating in a focus group. The data was derived by a content analysis of interviews conducted after the students viewed the films. This focus group consisted of 6 men and 6 women. They viewed the media as a group and then were interviewed regarding their perceptions individually. Their composite responses were compiled and used to answer the research questions. The sample population was chosen on a first come/first served basis until the number of required males and females were obtained. The sample was random and the researcher had no control over the participants, other than that the group consisted of the required number of male and female participants. Study participants ranged between the ages of 18 and 25. They were all natural born Chinese. None were immigrants.

A list of traits associated with traditional Chinese women was assembled using information from the literature review. Twenty pieces of media containing women were analyzed. The media consisted of media printed in Chinese. A set of traits was developed that represented "westernized" ideals of women were used as well. The media forms were divided into "traditional" and "westernized" images of women. The study participants were not told which images were in which category. They were shown the media in a randomized order, rather than one group following the other. After they viewed all 20 images, the participants were interviewed regarding their impressions of the women in the media.

Results and Discussion

The reactions of the focus group demonstrated several interesting characteristics. Men were more attracted to images that portrayed women in traditional roles. However, women were mixed in their perceptions of women in the media. Four Five out of six expressed approval of images that represented westernized images of women. Women did not prefer westernized images over traditional images. They were more accepting of westernized images, but they did not necessarily prefer them. Women felt that both traditional and westernized women were beautiful. Men tended to prefer those with a more traditional look and personality.

These results suggest that there are gender differences in the acceptance of westernized women in the media. It supports the hypothesis that traditional gender roles are changing to include a wider acceptance of non-traditional roles. It also supports the hypothesis that new gender roles are a reflection of greater acceptance of these roles in Chinese society. However, these conclusions must be limited to women, as men still tend to admire only women that reflect traditional Chinese values.

In light of the acceptance shown in regards to a boyish "Super Girl" chosen as a winner of the competition, it would be interesting to know whether this audience was largely women or if men were included equally in the mix. The results of the competition did not consider these statistics. However, an experiment that used data from "Super Girl" divided according to gender would be an excellent addition to the findings of this research study.

Westernized images of women were found largely in popular magazines targeted towards young Chinese women. The new media tended to have fewer images of westernized women. They tended to portray women in the traditional roles and using a traditional value system. Several television shows were found that were direct outtakes of popular American programs. The popularity of these programs speaks about their acceptance in the Chinese mindset. Several women figures were found in Chinese politics as well. This role was forbidden not too far in China's distant past.

Westernized images of women were more independent. They were not dependent on the male for support. They are still less outspoken than idealized American women. Their fashion and style reflects more westernized tastes as well. More Chinese women are accepting of the woman in the professional setting. The emerging image of the Chinese woman is independent, but not rebellious to tradition. They still respect traditional mannerisms, but are less willing to accept the constraints of traditional Chinese society.

This research indicates that a new image of the Chinese women is emerging in the media. Women more readily accept this new form of traditional Chinese gender roles. Men are less malleable in their ideals and are more likely to resist the emerging image of the Chinese women. As China moves towards greater integration with the global economy, westernized images will become more prevalent. No one knows how the Chinese government will react, but it appears that Chinese women are ready for a change, even if the men are not quite ready to go along.


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Ling, L. 1999. Sex Machine: Global Hypermasculinity and Images of the Asian Woman in Modernity. East Asia Cultures Critique. 7 (2), 277-306.

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