Modern Chinese Women’s perception towards Confucianism Culture and Practice. Reflection on Gender Roles in Chinese History

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2021

11 Pages



In many societies, women’s primary roles revolved around motherhood and managing a household. While women in many different places and at different times had this in common, there were significant differences in how women performed these roles depending on kinship relations. Confucianism Culture and practices sort attitudes toward women, common in the society. This paper examines the modern Chinese Women’s perception of Confucianism Culture and Practice in reflecting the gender roles in China History. This study uses a qualitative approach where the design methods used was to combine the library research by reviewing various literature and documentations through collecting data-related research results. The results show that, though Confucianism culture and practices had great impacts from antiquity till today, modern Chinese women’s started to perceive this culture and practice as outdated and oppressive in all life spheres of social, economic, political, and managerial leves, However other women still enjoying the roles assigned by Confucius teaching and practices, women feel honored and appreciated when they preserve and practice the Confucius culture

Keywords: Perception, Culture, Confucianism, Gender, Practice.


Confucianism is the way of life propagated by Confucius in the 6th-5th century BCE and followed by the Chinese people for more than two millennia (Zhang, 2014). Also can be referred to as a system of ethics, social, educational, and political philosophy initiated by Confucius and developed by his followers to build a harmonious society, in which people know how to behave according to reason and morals in a peaceful and prosperous country (Fay, 2018; Rainey, 2010). Again, is a philosophy that focuses on the conduct and practices of people in daily life (Chan et al., 2011; Nielsen, 2018; Rainey, 2010; Swain, 2017; X. YAO, 2000a). It is a complex set of ethical and moral rules that dictate how a person relates to others. It plays a key role in forming the norms of social morality which influence the culture in person, gender roles familial, and social relationships (Grosse, 2015).

The Confucianism culture and practice in China has a long history. From antiquity to modern China, generation to generation different views about Confucianism and practices have emerged on Chinese women. For more than 2,000 years (Hennig, 2014; Waley, 2012) gender roles are the most observable view in China history. Confucian culture, Clan-family structure, and Communist ideology have resulted in the long-standing underprivileged role of women, which still prevails in current China. (Hao et al., 2021) Women were defined as subordinate to their families and male family members. The main value of women was associated with procreation and taking care of family members. (Hao et al., 2021) however, their position as a family career was also doubted and disrespected when the women give birth to female children this view was confirmed by the work of Pellouchoud who revealed that Confucian culture prioritizes the reproduction of sons, to maintain ancestor worship and social order. (Pellouchoud, 2018) in the Book of Rites, a foundation of Confucian teaching outline the etiquette suitable to preserve social order. The area titled “The Pattern of the Family,” in the Book of Rites, states that “the purpose of marriage was once to produce heirs for the lineage and proceed the ancestral cult” (Pellouchoud, 2018; Zhejia Tang, 2018) Moreover, women were not prioritized on accessing education. Girls were not allowed to go to school. women were exempted from accessing education. (Lee, 1995) also on the aspect of leadership, Confucius culture did not recognize the women's capacity in managerial positions, women were excluded from formal management roles, (Meng & Baker, 2018).

In 1898 marked a period of dramatic social and cultural change that encompassed significant developments in reform and the beginnings of public education for girls and young women from the time the first Chinese school for girls was opened in 1898 to the early 1920s (Bailey, 2006) It is believed that education in China began over three thousand years ago. However, it took a long time for women to be incorporated into the education system in China. (Lee, 1995) Since 1949, the Chinese Communist Party has challenged traditional beliefs and achieves gender equality both legally and socially. For example, The basic law was first established in 1949 stated that: The People’s Republic of China shall abolish the feudal system which holds women in bondage. Women shall enjoy equal rights with men in political, economic, cultural, educational, and social life. Freedom of marriage for men and women shall be put into effect (Article 6). Beijing conference of 1995 also marked as an effort to empower women in all life spheres socially, economically, and politically, another effort is the remarkable speech of President Xi Jinping in 2015 who took the stage to address the assembly at the Global Leaders Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. In his speech, he identified four propositions to advance gender equality, among which included the active protection of women’s rights, the cultivation of a favorable global environment for gender parity, and the elimination of “outdated mentalities and customs.(Tan,2021).

Regardless of all efforts taken Yet Globally, China continued to receive many criticisms on gender-based discrimination and inequality, which have been generally contributed to the shortcomings of the state. For example, International metrics of gender equality revealed that in the 2019 World Economic Forum study China was ranked in the 105th position among 153 nations, a significant fall from its 57th position rank among 139 nations in 2008. (Hausmann, Tyson, & Zahidi, 2008) to the 106th in 2020 (Schwab, 2020) The Third Survey Report on the Status of Chinese Women in 2010 also cemented on the lower treatment of Chinese women than men in economic gain, education, health, and social involvement (Hao et al., 2021)

Several studies have been carried out to address gender issues as rooted in Confucius culture and practices (Fan & Yu, 2011; Lam et al., 2002; Lee, 1995; Meng & Baker, 2018; Pellouchoud, 2018; Zhejia Tang, 2018; Yang, 2012) just to mention few the study on Women’s Biological Threat to Confucian Social Order: An Examination of Gender Constructs through an Analysis of PreModern Chinese Literature(Pellouchoud, 2018) another study is A return to innocence: Guimi tourism and women empowerment(Hao et al., 2021) Examining the Impact of Confucian Values on Leadership Preferences(Schenck & Waddey, 2017) Gender gap in entrepreneurial growth ambitions role of culturally contingent perceptions of the institutional environment in China(Wang et al., 2019)

Despite the several studies carried out to voice women minorities matters, yet little has been documented in the literature to understand the modern Chinese women perception toward Confucius culture and practices reflecting on gender role in china history since the Chinese culture is well-grounded with Confucius culture and practices and shapes the modern Chinese people, therefore, it is wise to research on the women perception towards Confucius culture and practices if these practices are friendly to modern women or otherwise. Hence this study is purposely aimed at examining the Modern Chinese Women’s perception towards Confucianism Culture and Practice: Reflection on gender roles in China History.


1. How do modern Chinese women view and feel about Confucius culture in today’s life practices?
2. How do Chinese women position themselves in today's society?


2.1. Theoretical Review

This study is guided by Feminist theory which is a major branch of sociology that shifts its assumptions, analytic lens, and topical focus away from the male viewpoint and experience toward that of women. The reason behind the selection of this theory relies on the belief that the nature of the study is related to feminist theory which aimed at finding the perceptions of minority women from the feminist lens with the same perspective that women as an underprivileged group receive different treatment compared to their male counterparts. Therefore this feminist theory sheds the light on social challenges, trends, and issues that are otherwise forgotten or not mentioned by the historically dominant male. The key area that this study will concentrate on under feminist lens includes gender roles, power, and oppression.

2.2 Women’s life in China History

Women in most cultures, particularly in China have suffered as the result of their cultural practices. The most systematic, institutionalized, and deep-rooted sexist ideologies and practices in China originated from the philosophy of “filial piety” of Confucius (551-479 B.C.). Women did not enjoy the status, either social or political, afforded to men. Women were subordinate to first their fathers, then their husbands, and finally, in the case of being left a widow, their sons in a system known as the “three followings” or sancong (Dunqin, 2019; Rainey, 2010). Often physically ill-treated, socially segregated, and forced to compete for their husband's affections with concubines, a woman's place unenviable one The best woman in traditional society was the one who concentrated all her efforts on her family tasks. From earliest times all women have been taught that they do not issue themselves with outdoor affairs, specifically public matters. Participation in these matters "was abhorred as the root of all evil and the reason of the downfall of the dynasties(Attané, 2012; C. Li, 2020; Y. Li, 2000; Rhim, 1982; Wei, 2021) The three elements of “filial piety” stipulated that women must obey men, residents have to obey their ruler and the younger ought to obey the elderly. For thousands of years, the rules of these three obediences helped keep the patriarchal social order in China. (Y. Li, 2000; Wei, 2021) The Han Confucian master, Dong Zhong shu (179–104 b.c.e.), emphasized that between the two principles that govern the universe, the yang, and yin, yang is superior and yin is inferior. He stated that “The husband is yang even if he is from a poor family, and his spouse is yin even if she is from a noble family” (Chunqiu fanlu, Bk. 11, section 43). Therefore, between the husband and wife, the husband is superior and the wife inferior. degrading mindset towards women grew to be intense at some stage in the duration of Song-Ming neo Confucianism. (Grosse, 2015; C. Li, 2020; Y. Li, 2000; Wei, 2021; W. YAO, n.d.; X. YAO, 2000a, 2000b)

Marriages in ancient China were usually arranged by both sets of parents. Not love but economic and social considerations were in everybody's minds. There were even professional matchmakers to find suitable pairings who also considered astrology in guiding their selections. Neither did some parents wait until their children were of age as many marriages had been arranged when the couple was still young children or even babies (Chan et al., 2011; Dunqin, 2019; X. YAO, 2000a, 2000b). The typical marrying age was the early twenties for men and late teens for women, although child brides were not unknown despite the practice being forbidden by law. If marriage had been arranged but the groom died close to the ceremony, the wedding might go ahead anyway and the bride joined her new family as a widow (Lam et al., 2002; Tan, 2017; Zongli Tang, 2014; Wah, 2010).

Confucius probably took for granted these sorts of attitudes toward women, common in his society. He greatly esteemed ancestral rites and related family virtues such as filial piety. He hoped that through the practice of ritual everyone, male and female, high and low, old and young, would learn to fulfill the duties of their roles. Women’s roles were primarily kinship roles: daughter, sister, wife, daughter-in-law, mother, and mother-in-law (Chan et al., 2011; Chi-Chao, 2018; Dunqin, 2019; J. Li, 2019; Sebastien, 2007; X. YAO, 2000a, 2000b). In all these roles, it was incumbent on women to accord with the wishes and needs of closely-related men: their fathers when young, their husbands when married, their sons when widowed. Confucius’s follower Mencius declared that the worst of unfilial acts was a failure to have descendants. In later centuries this emphasis on the necessity of sons led many to be disappointed at the birth of a daughter

Marriage and children were expected normal course for all adults, and only those men who could not afford a wife did not marry. During the Han Dynasty, for example, unmarried women brought a special tax on their family, and women with babies were given a three-year exemption from tax and their husbands a one-year exemption (Chi-Chao, 2018; Swain, 2017; Waley, 2012). Regarding the sex of children, sons were much more desired than daughters. As the old proverb went: “A boy is born facing in; a girl is born facing out”, meaning that eventually a girl would ultimately leave the family and pay homage to the ancestors of another family Having a son, then, greatly helped the wife to become accepted in her adopted family (Blaise, 2014; Fan & Yu, 2011; SIRIN SUNG, 2014) Confucianism saw that this sexual differentiation was necessary for social harmony(C. Li, 2020)


This study uses a qualitative approach to examine the modern Chinese Women’s perception of Confucianism Culture and Practice: Refection on gender roles in China History, The design methods used are secondary data especially library research by reviewing various research articles and documentation through collecting data-related research results. The instruments of research were literature reviews where articles were thoroughly reviewed. Again, in analyzing the data, the researcher collected data in different research articles, selected the data thematically based on the study topic, The key findings were qualitatively presented and discussed in a ration form.


The first research question: How do modern Chinese women view and feel about Confucius culture in today’s life practices?

From the reviewed literature it is revealed that modern Chinese women view Confucius culture as oppressive culture in all life spheres of social, economic, political, and decision making, women in ancient times were powerless and inferior compared with modern one other view includes insecurity of women in the society, disrespect, status different where women were born to feel inferior before men. However other women still enjoying the roles assigned by Confucius teaching and practices, women feel honored and appreciated when they preserve and practice the Confucius culture.


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Modern Chinese Women’s perception towards Confucianism Culture and Practice. Reflection on Gender Roles in Chinese History
Southwest University
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Perception, Culture, Confucianism, Gender, Practice
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Peter Lameck Mduwile (Author)Amina A. Juma (Author), 2021, Modern Chinese Women’s perception towards Confucianism Culture and Practice. Reflection on Gender Roles in Chinese History, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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