«"A Daughter of Han": A Social Phenomenon in the Chinese History» - Free Essay Paper
The essay presents a brief overview of the book A Daughter of Han: The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Woman. It provides valuable information to historians and students of history and gives the opportunity to understand the historical importance of the book, which reveals the life of the Chinese society in the time of late Qing rule and the Republic of China.
A Daughter of Han is a famous book in the world and, in particular, in the Chinese literature. It is a biography written by an American writer Ida Pruitt in the middle of the previous century. The book is dedicated to a description of the life of an ordinary Chinese woman in the period of the 19th century, just before Japan attacked China in World War II. Ning Lao T’ai Tai is the main character of the book. It narrates about a difficult life of a young woman from her childhood and youth, which she passed in a small village called P’englai, situated on the Yellow Sea, to her very old years. She got married, lost her child and begged for money, because she had nothing to eat and to feed her children with. Ning even had to sell her daughter, because she had no money to raise her. She had a career of a housemaid and worked for different Chinese and foreign families. Later, she passed her elder years in Beijing with the family of her daughter, which, maybe, is one of the brightest moments in her life. There she met Ida Pruitt, who wrote this biography.
This period is very interesting from the historical point of view. The book describes the end of the Qing Dynasty. The life story of Ning tells about the culture and the traditions at that time and a traditional view of women’s role in the Chinese society. Since the time of Confucius, a woman was put in a certain framework, without the rights and freedoms that belonged to their husbands and sons. In China, according to old traditions, the girl after the marriage passed to the family of her husband. The Chinese women of the 19th century, of all classes and grades, rarely received a proper education. Chinese women’s clothing of the 19th century was monochrome. The lower classes used to wear cotton, while the upper classes - silk. Thus, there was a strong gradation, which controlled even the dressing of women. Chinese women from wealthy families communicated with the outside world only through their husbands or servants.
At one time, Confucius taught that women and men should walk on different sides of the street. In old China, women usually had no names. When a girl grew up, she got married, and only afterwards she received her husband’s name. But the family o her husband, of course, did not call her by name. A woman was called, depending on the family relationship: wife, mother, daughter, and so on. In old China, there were no laws on birth control and on a number of children in the family. It was difficult to feed them. And if a poor family has a boy, then they usually gave or sold him in the apprentice, the situation was more difficult with girls. Of course, girls were not able to learn a profession. If a girl was lucky, she could just been sold or given to the rich house as a maid. There was a chance that later on, if a girl will grow beautiful, somebody from a family will take her as a wife. But even as someone’s lawful wife, a woman remained completely powerless. She was perceived just as a labor force and often young teenagers were given for older girls, and forced to lead a family life, to which they were not ready mentally or morally. Noble families and girls from wealthy descent practiced so-called “bandaging legs” in the age of five. In fact, a girl than had broken feet, they had the form of hooves and could not grow. For such a barbaric custom, there were several reasons. First, small feet, so-called “golden lotuses,” considered to be very sexy, as just legs and face were the main advantages of women. Secondly, after bandaging, a woman could move independently with great difficulty and fell into complete dependence on others. Besides, the Chinese women had no right to sit at the same table with men, and when men go out to the events, his women and children had no right to be present with him. A new toy, which was bought, first was given to a boy. Girls were allowed to play it, only after boys bored to play with it. In the 19th century, in China, opium smoking was widespread. Husbands used to give opium pipes to their wives, and in many ways, this led to the fact that women became accustomed to smoking. Ning Lao Tai Tai’s father used also to smoke opium. He sold all the furniture, clothes, and goods from their house to get more opium. As a result, the daughter of Ning Lao Tai Tai and Ning Lao Tai Tai’s mother were forced to work as maids, beggars, and street saleswomen. The daughter of Ning Lao Tai Tai also married a man with the opium addiction. This tragic moment can underline the traditional situation in China, where women had not a lot of choices.
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With the fall of the Empire, and later - with the coming to power of Communists, situation, of course, has changed. No one bandage legs anymore, and women have more rights. If we talk about names, now women have not only the name but also the surname. When a modern Chinese woman marries, she usually leaves her name and does not take her husband’s name. However, patriarchal manners of people are very strong. Women, especially in the villages, are still treated as a second-class. However, Ida Pruitt stops her narration with the Communistic regime in China, because she was forced to leave the country. Traditional attitudes affected the lives of today’s Chinese women’s behavior. If we analyze the situation of contemporary Chinese women, it is evident that a lot is the cause of the behavior of women in traditional China. The past explains the phenomena of modern life of Chinese women. The process of large-scale changes in socially important aspects of life took place after the modernization period in China in the second half of the 20th century. At the same time, there was no common understanding of the role of women and its mental perception. In the traditional China, its economic, political, cultural and social values are associated with the existing structure of thousands of years of family-clan system and religious. In medieval China, patterns and norms of behavior of each person were gradually formed and were canonized, taking into consideration the occupied place for them in society. Despite all this, the value of women in men’s eyes for some reason does not increase. Thus, there can be no question of gallantry towards women. The only exceptions are the very wealthy and influential woman or wife’s immediate superiors. However, it is not even in our understanding of chivalry, but simply to follow the Chinese notion of hierarchy. Ning Lao Tai Tai with the coming of the Communists to power did not change her views at all. She remained loyal to her cultural traditions. Maybe, because it was too hard for an old woman to change her views and traditions since the old China existed too long.
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A Daughter of Han... The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Woman is a very interesting book. It brings a lot of different emotions. It is a pity that Ida Pruitt did not finish her book logically. It would be very interesting to see not only the facts narrated, but to read the opinion of a person that had a possibility to communicate with Ning Lao Tai Tai personally. There are a lot of historical sources that describe the life in China at the end of the 19th century and, especially, the role of Chinese women in the society in that period. These books are precious for us, because they bring a lot of interesting information for historians. It was a time of great significant changes in the Chinese culture and traditions. It is clear today, from the current situation in China, that traditions are very hard to fight with. A woman presented in the book is a phenomenon of a Chinese history. The character of Ning Lao Tai Tai identifies a huge category of women in a Chinese society and represent an entire epoch in China.
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