The Deep Root of Misogyny in the History of China


It seems, to a lot of people in the west, that Chinese women is a unraveled mystery. She can be as brave as a woman warrior like Mulan, and as contentious, strong-minded, and even ferocious. These masculine features may add to her exotic charm and help to build up her image as “dragon lady” or “tiger mom. Yet they are actually the by-product of a dark, cruel, and piteous culture of misogyny that has dominated China for a very, very long time.

Nevertheless, it must be stated that there is no difference in humanity at birth between people living in different regions. Most people’s mindsets are shaped, little by little, under the influence of environment and society within which they grow up, especially in the earliest years. It takes no more than a few years for small kids to fully adapt to the innate prejudices of adults in their community, through which the wheel of culture rolls steadily.

This also holds true for the history of China as well as other parts of the world. It had its good old days, when the world was flourishing and population were small, and tribes were familiar enough with each other to sustain a peaceful coalition. A shamanic natural philosophy has therefore risen among the people which focuses on exploration of spirits among any form of life and non-life matters, and attempts to transfer and combine one’s own spirit with them. Traces of this philosophy could be found in later developed ideologies such as Confucianism and Taoism, and had cultivated in the minds of Chinese intellectuals an appreciation of natural beauty and search for transcendentalism in the seemingly trivial natural surroundings of daily life.

Such beliefs were initially asexual as the Great Spirit can transform from any form of life to another, or even stay formless in the space. Also, women used to be the leader and guide in the development of language, religion, and industry in the primordial time of civilization, and the images of women, as well as their specific features and capacities, were worshiped as goddesses endowed with great power and wisdom. However, as agricultural revolution swept through ancient world, overturning the old hunter-gather society, women began to recede from public space as they fell victim to massive male violence and rape following the excessive conflicts and warfare caused by overcrowded population density in agricultural tribes. Such trend had been carried on long enough until a formal system of male dominance was established in every aspect of social life: from ideology to social customs, Chinese women were limited to a subordinate position compared with men; the features of the female sex were also considered to be in every way lower and worse than that of the male sex. In the new nature philosophy with Yin and Yang included, Yang, the symbolization of male features, is linked with everything magnificent, upright, broad, righteous, illuminating, outstanding, while Yin, the corresponding symbolization female features, is associated to unpleasant properties like evasiveness, treachery, subservience, subordination, and even ghostliness.

Ideological construction over the position of female sex in abstract goes hand in hand with the formation of social conscience on how to treat women. In as old as Zhou dynasty, archaeological findings revealed that women in Zhou dynasty were having a diet with much lower nutrition than that of men, indicating existence of a stably formalized set of social rules that put women to inferiority at most parts of civil life, as food providence indicates social status at the most fundamental level. There is also a chapter of ancient classical literature “Shi-Jing” written also at the time epoch of Zhou dynasty telling parents how to treat baby girls and baby boys differently: “If a baby boy is born, wrap him in silk clothes, put him on bed, and let him play jade; if a baby girl is born, wrap her in blanket , put her on floor, and let her play brick.”

It was not a long time till these ill-treatment towards women went to an extreme form of female infanticide. As mentioned in “The World’s New Sayings” book, which was published at around 500 ad: “It has become traditional custom here that when people has gotten a baby boy, they celebrate with each other; when people has gotten a girl, they kill her”. In another part of the book, a drastically tragic scene is depicted : “ A wealthy man had many concubines, when they were giving birth to a baby, he would order a guard to stay outside the room and wait, after the baby was born, the guard would go inside to check the baby’s sex and, if it was a girl, he would take the baby from her mom and kill it instantly, while the desperate wailing of the mother could be heard from a very long distance away.”

The prevalence of female infanticide had aggravated to such a degree that government started to publish pamphlets for propagation against female infanticide, and there were several officers who earned their reputation through successfully stopping female infanticide in their local governance. There was a man who, after having killed many daughters, got a baby girl again, therefore planned to first burn this new-born daughter and then bond her body with a shard of stone to throw into a nearby lake in order to keep “the female spirit” from coming back to his house again, finally gave up such abhorrent plan after read an anti-infanticide pamphlet his friend gave him.

However, the overall situation was still going worse, the actual rate of female infanticide must have risen to such a significance proportion that in as early as late Tang dynasty the population distribution of men v.s. women began to be skewed at a ratio of around 3:2, even to 2:1 at certain area. Such highly skewed sex ratio brought further dire consequence: a massive population of young men without any hope of getting married or even ever in touch of any women except their mothers, who found no hope of having any kind of family life in their adulthood so that they finally came to form an ideology in their coalition which fully rejected family value while promoted violence, revenge, killing, and destruction. At this time this “god of doom”, the horrible, anti-humane culture of homeless wandering men, was finally released to the land to bring further turmoil, warfare and periodical desolation.when the country suffered from famine caused by natural disaster and those lower-class men would amass to carry out the destiny they believed in: to kill everything and destroy everything before committing suicide.

It sounds like a pretty bizarre, unbelievable thing to say that such a huge country with unimaginably long history of civilization would in latter ages fell to the hands of a enormous population of psychopaths and massive killers, but that’s what happened in the history of China. And what about the fate of Chinese women? They became the object of pillaging and raping, the traumatic experience of which led to extreme emotional and psychological aversion towards sexuality and initiation of the practice of foot-binding, which could be seen as a way of avoiding being abducted through hurting oneself to become incapable of long distance walk. The absolute necessity of such extreme practice at times of turmoil can be revealed in the following story:

“It was at the time of famine when a businessman was on a long trip to his home, when he was in the state of Chang, he came across a real “human flesh market”. It’s a place where people sell their family members or anyone in their control as “stocks” to be slaughtered and eaten, and, not coincidentally, all these “stocks” were women. This businessman went into a small hotel then he heard voices in the kitchen. He came inside the kitchen just in time to see a naked woman, tied to the ground, was under the knife of butcher to be slaughtered. The woman looked so excruciatingly terrorized and sad that the businessman was deeply moved by her, so he decided to save her and paid the butcher the amount of money he asked to buy her. Yet when he was untying the woman his hand incidentally touched her breast, and the woman said seriously: “Sir, I am so deeply indebted to your benevolence that I am willing to spend the remaining of my life doing the meanest labor for you, like an ox or a horse would do to its master; yet if you want me to do anything out of boundary, that’s impossible! I was sold by my mother-in-law to this place to be slaughtered since I refused to remarry and I don’t regret it, now if you want to do anything to break my vow of chastity, I’d rather been slaughtered!” Then she refused to be untied and looked to the butcher, the butcher killed her, at once.

This ghastly unforgettable story showed to us the appalling situation women faced in these extreme times; threatened by the most extravagant form of male violence, she could only choose to be either food or sex slave of men. As, according to the creeds of these men, women as a sex were as alien to them as a hostile tribe, which consequently could be annihilated totally, except the fact that new population would not come into being without women. So, at the end of day there were some women who survived and brood children, but what kind of women were they?

We could get some idea from one of the classics of Chinese literature, the “Shui Hu Zhuan”. In this book of male-dominated narrative, there are only three women who were not food or sex slaves, nor were they killed by men because of adultery. They were as merciless, as sturdy, and violent as men so finally they were accepted to be ones of the gang, the “How-Han”s (good men). So, all living Chinese people today are probably descendants of these ferocious women, that were actually men without penis. In this way you might now be able to see why misogyny in Chinese history is the strongest type of its kind, as it actually kills everything feminine in a well socialized Chinese women.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade