Chinese Wives

The treatment of women in China has long been a subject of debate. The strict traditional views have restricted the rights and privileges of Chinese women form many years. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on the role of the ideal wife as it relates to the late Qing Dynasty and the Revolutionary period. The paper will investigate how the idea of the ideal wife changed during these periods. Let us begin our discussion with a historic overview of the role of woman and marriage during much of the Qing Dynasty.

Historic Overview

Indeed, under the Qing dynasty marriage was expected of all young men and women. The point at which marriage was seen as necessary was during the teenage years also referred to as young adulthood. Although young adults throughout China married, the period known as young adulthood was something designated for the elite. According to Smith (1994), this time seemed ideal for marriage because it was the stage at which the demands of education and parental involvement began to decrease.

During this time Chinese males are given a great deal of sexual freedom and allowed to sleep with prostitutes (Smith 1994). On the other hand, Chinese females are expected to remain virgins and there social lives are restricted. The author explains that in late imperial times, males were capped and females were forced to bind their hair (Smith 1994).

Marriage usually took place between the ages of 16 and 18 for women and 18 to 21 for men (Smith 1994). Once the ceremonies marking marriage were performed, adulthood began in spite of age. Smith (1994) asserts that everyone in China was expected to marry regardless of social status; this included slaves. Smith (1994) asserts that the Qing legal code stipulated that slave owners were subject to criminal punishment if they neglected to find husbands for their female slaves. The purpose of marriage was to continue the male line of descent. In the words of the Record of Ritual: "The rites of marriage unite two [different] surnames in love, in order to maintain services in the ancestral temple and to ensure the continuation of the family line." Marriage was thus an alliance between two different families, not a matter of individual choice and mutual affection (Smith 1994)."

The author also explains that under the law those marrying could not have the same surname even of they were not related (Smith 1994). In addition, marriages were usually arranged by elders and parents. The elders and parents might take into consideration the feelings of the couple, but whatever they decided was binding and legal. According to Smith (1994) these individuals were know as matchmakers. The matchmakers were responsible for taking "into account not only the relative social positions of the two families involved but also certain important economic and personal factors such as family wealth and individual character. Ideally, the match was expected to benefit both parties, which generally meant that the families had to be of approximately equal status and means or that one family might contribute greater status while the other contributed greater wealth. Some Qing officials, such as Chen Hongmou, deplored "viewing women as commodities" (shi wei qihuo), but financial considerations almost always loomed large in marriage calculations (Smith 1994)."

Indeed the matchmaker position was taken very seriously. Once the matchmakers investigated the families, the matchmaker would propose a match to the groom's family (Smith 1994). In addition the matchmaker served as a negotiator for the types of betrothal gifts or betrothal money the groom's family would give to the bride's family if the couple decided to get married (Smith 1994). On the other hand, the bride's family had to decide on the proper dowry to send with the bride at the time of transfer for exhibition at the groom's home (Smith 1994). Smith (1994) also asserts that marriage was considered to be a contract during the Qing Dynasty. The contracts could be made orally or written, but there was always a great emphasis placed on marriages which solidified there social importance (Smith 1994).

Another feature of marriage during the Qing Dynasty was the types of marriage that existed (Smith 1994). These types of marriage included major marriages and minor marriages. A major marriage takes place when an adult brides is taken from her home and placed into the home of her new husband (Smith 1994). A minor marriage was different in that the female was raised in the home of her future husband from childhood as a daughter in law and later married. Minor marriages were most common for poor people in China (Smith 1994). There was also a reversal of the minor marriage known as the matrilocal marriage. This form of marriage was rare and usually took place when a family had many sons and the family of the female had no sons (Smith 1994). The author asserts that "The distribution of major, minor, and matrilocal marriages throughout China hinged on several factors: family status, wealth, social organization (especially lineage ties), and geography. Major marriages dominated the social landscape of North China, but in many southern areas the alternative forms predominated (Smith 1994)."

There was also a type of marriage referred to as marrying the spirit. This type of marriage took place in cases where the groom to be died before the marriage took place. According to Parsons and Yang (1959), "When a woman was betrothed to a man and the man died before the marriage, "marrying the spirit" in full wedding ceremony was sometimes arranged with the consent of the parents of both families, and the bride went through all the ceremonies next to a wooden tablet with the dead man's name and dates of birth and death written on it (Parsons and Yang 1959)."

One final marital arrangement during the Qing dynasty is the concept of the concubine (Smith 1994).

Like many cultures throughout the world Chinese culture at this time believed that is was within the statutes of marriage for a men to not only have a wife but also concubines (Smith 1994). In ancient times, this practice was used to ensure that many sons were produced (Smith 1994). Usually the concubines were purchased by wealthy families from poor families. The author explains upon entering her new family, a concubine usually had to participate in ceremonies designed to show her subservience to the wife. Qing law prohibited the degradation of a principal wife to the position of concubine or the elevation of a concubine to the position of principal wife. As further testimony to her inferiority, a concubine was required to observe the same degree of mourning for her master's wife as she was for his parents, his sons (by the principal wife or other concubines), and her own sons. Her sons were expected to treat the principal wife as their own mother, and by custom they were entitled to equal rights of inheritance along with the sons of the wife. Paternity was what mattered in Chinese marriages, and in divorce, the husband almost always received custody of the children (Smith 1994).

Additionally, there was also a great deal of social pressure placed widows not to remarry based on Confucianism. This inability to remarry created a huge number of men looking for wives. / it is believed that for this reason nearly 10% of / men were never married (Smith 1994).

The actual marital ceremony was composed of the six rites ritual. These six rituals include;

Nacai- or the selection of the match by the matchmaker (Smith 1994).

Wenming-formal exchange of astrological information about the couple (Smith 1994).

Naji-test of the match between the couple by means if divination; usually performed by fortunetellers (Smith 1994).

Nazbeng (or the betrothal) Acceptance of betrothal gifts sealed the match (Smith 1994).

Ginji- was concerned with choosing the correct time to exchange the bride (Smith 1994).

Ginying- also reffered to as "welcoming the bride" According the Smith (1994) "On the day preceding this ceremony, the groom was supposed to be "capped" and given an adult name and the bride's hair was put up in ritual fashion. Meanwhile, the groom's family had arranged to send the brightly decorated wedding chair to the wife's home, and the wife's family had her trousseau sent to his. On the day of the transfer, the bride paid solemn obeisance to her parents and ancestors, received a brief lecture on her wifely duties, and entered the gaudy red sedan chair that would take her on a noisy, ostentatious, and circuitous journey to her husband's home (Smith 1994)."

According to Smith (1994) during the Qing Dynasty some of these rituals were meshed together. However, there were still some basic staples of this ritual that remained in tact during the dynasty.

In addition, other symbols were utilized during the ceremony. For instance, all the symbols that were incorporated into the ceremony were positive or protective. A marital ceremony utilized the color red to symbolize good fortune and happiness. The color…