Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin depicts life during the Qing Dynasty. Of its 40 main characters (and 400 extras), one can get a glimpse of life during dynastic China, including cuisine, religion, music, and the status of its citizens.
It was a time when women had their feet broken into little squares so they remained subordinate to the men of society, a time when the rich men of China had numerous wives. During that time, if a woman lost her husband, she could not get remarried. Has much changed for women in China over the years?
Obviously, yes, there have been many changes. In fact, when the Communist Party took over control in 1949, women were given equal rights with men. Nonetheless, China remains a male dominated society. The woman is expected to take care of the family while the man brings home the money. Females have societal pressure to get married and have a child (preferably a boy) by the time they are thirty and not much later. Therefore, they often rush to get married and often marry somebody they don’t actually love.
It’s true, women don’t bind their feet anymore, and men do not have numerous wives. However, women still don’t have the status of their male counterparts. At the same time, the rich men of China often have a mistress. Sometimes these well-off men even have children with their mistresses; hence, they need to support two families, often without their wives ever finding out. If a women gets a divorce, it is often hard for them to find another husband as divorce is stigmatized. This, of course, goes for men and women.
As in all societies around the world, rights for women in China has a long way to go, but it is getting better.
As long as the pendulum doesn’t swing too far (i.e. feminism in the West), then a more equitable society will find its way to this great country.