Women in China were constitutionally emancipated when the communist government took over, in fact the equality of women under law took place as early as (or earlier than) it did in most of the West. However as anyone who’s had to spend the time listening to someone bang on about “4,000 years of culture” will know, a change in law is not a change in mindset.
Under cultural norms (until relatively recently – and it’s still a dominant norm outside of Tier 1 cities) it was expected that people would get married young – but not too young, in fact China’s legal marriage age is 21 (though the age of sexual consent is 14).
He would then go out to work, and ideally she’d be bare foot and pregnant within the week. Children have always been the main focus of Chinese society which might explain why there are so many Chinese people.
Many outsiders have observed this and jumped to the conclusion that as he appears to be the boss in public, Chinese women are submissive fragile souls. This has led to many a Westerner leaping on a plane to secure himself a Chinese honey, who he thinks is going to STFU and does as she’s told. They always find themselves unpleasantly surprised (and I’ll be honest I’m cheering on Chinese womanhood every time that happens).
That’s because traditionally women do let the man run things outside of the house, because they run the home with an iron fist. Most Chinese guys since the dawn of time have been expected to hand over their wages on pay day to their wives, and it’s her that makes all the financial decisions. That includes how much money she gives him back to go drinking with his friends.
This is probably the most sensible arrangement, as in my experience (this includes me) most men shouldn’t be trusted with a cash card until they’re in their late 40’s. We find it hard to stick to a budget when there’s beer behind the bar, or cool stuff to buy in electronics stores.
But the times they are a changing, and today – Chinese women are coming into their own. They’re well-educated, hard-working and career minded. That means a shift in the power play of even the most traditional relationships – because in their thinking what’s yours is hers, but what’s hers is hers too. That’s right these ladies still expect the pay packet from hubby at the end of the month, but there’s not much flow in the other direction.
Children are still high on the list of priorities but couples are waiting longer and longer (at least in more prosperous areas) before having them. In fact China may not need the one child policy if it can get everyone to move into the cities – because like everywhere else a rise in income = a fall in the birthrate.
It’s small changes like these that are beginning to lead to vociferous complaints from the Chinese man of being emasculated. Tomorrow we’re going to look at a subject that might make you think that this isn’t a bad idea – domestic violence in China.