Chinese women: stereotypes—change for the good?

Chinese women have been portrayed in a similar manner throughout most of recent history.

Close your eyes for a few moments… what comes to mind when you think about women from Asia? Well, amongst other words, I am sure you probably thought about words such as: demure, feminine, passive, submissive, subservient… right?

You may be surprised but, slowly…, little by little, things are changing: Chinese women are now becoming more liberated and better educated than ever before.

Traditional roles of Chinese females in society

Throughout history, Chinese women have been a contradiction.

Their generally soft, demure exteriors belie great inner strength, tolerance and perseverance.typical Chinese woman

Yet, in a rigid societal structure, Chinese females have typically been seen as second best; witness the almost overbearing desire of most families wishing for a first-born son (especially in an era of only one child per couple being allowed), and the birth of daughter was often greeted with dismay and disappointment.

Chinese girls were brought up to be subservient, passive; their pre-ordained roles to be a good mother, a good housekeeper and lover for their man—and many times married not with a man of their choosing. Arranged marriages were (and sometimes even now still are) the norm and the bride-to-be was expected to go along with the path chosen for her. Males were in the ascendancy and the typical Chinese woman might even have to forgo her birth right inheritance, despite being first born; or, even worse, accept that her husband would have a minor wife (or two) or, for the richer man, several concubines.

For those Chinese women lucky enough to escape an arranged marriage, the next obstacle always was (and still is) to be able to get along with and please her mother-in-law—a major task, and most non-Asian females would have difficulty in appreciating just how hard this can be. Here is some interesting information about Asian women: 

Typical attitudes of Chinese women to dating, marriage and careers

In Chinese culture, a successful marriage is believed to be of major importance both to the families involved and to society as well. According to Confucian thought, it is considered as being important for the cultivation of virtue.

Naturally then, from an early age, Chinese females are taught that piety and filial duties are paramount and that their actions, both in the dating and marital stages, should always reflect well on the family; there is no question of bringing shame or disrepute to their family names.

Until relative recently, most Chinese women, even if they were not forced into an arranged marriage would be content to be guided by the family when looking for a suitable husband. Certain types of men were a “no-no” (including foreign men!) and the stereotypical husband needed to be from a good family, with a good job (a professional such as doctor, lawyer accountant highly preferred), able to support his new wife throughout their marriage and, most of all, able to get along with the mother-in-law and the rest of the husband’s family.

As a result of such societal pressure and, partly owing to the scarcity of such pious, upstanding professional men, Chinese women were encouraged to marry (and breed) relatively early, certainly before the ages 25-26.

Clearly this was at the expense of their education and career choices and generations of Chinese women (of course with some significant exceptions) were denied the right to develop themselves into the astute, career driven business women many of them, over the last 20 years or so, have proved to be.

Many more Chinese females are studying for degrees; choosing to stay single longer

Accompanying the advances and changes in technology and communications over the last 25-30 years or so and, more recently, the ready availability of visas to travel outside of China etc, the trickle of Mainland Chinese women and single Taiwanese women studying overseas has become a torrent. The opening up on-line, for example, of greater awareness of careers and how socially liberated many other countries are towards the education of women, has meant Chinese women have begun taken full advantage. Generally academically gifted and studious, most modern Chinese females have an innate desire to do well for both themselves and their families

Successful Chinese woman

Even within the country, many Chinese women have become reluctant to get involved in serious relationships too young and delayed getting married early, preferring to get a Masters degree, or even a PhD, before finding a man and settling down to family life.

Sadly, this has provoked a backlash from some quarters, and the origin of some such criticism has been particular surprising—namely from some local and regional entities, including the All-China Women’s Federation which was, originally, set up in 1949 to look after the interests of Chinese women. Over the last six or seven years and through a series of commentaries and articles, the very organisation which is supposed to be supporting Chinese females has been decrying their efforts for a better life, better education and better career prospects—mainly by a series of articles by referring to any female over the age of 27 as “leftover women”; woman who don’t prefer not to find a husband whilst they are still studying or are in the early stages of building a career.

In short, it’s the Chinese woman’s fault for refusing to get married before 27, and once she is married, it’s the woman’s fault if her husband has an affair because she is too concerned with her career and own life.

For such leftover women, a case of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t if ever I’ve heard one.

Stereotypical views of Chinese girls are slowly changing

Of course, emigration by Chinese people has existed for centuries but, in countries such as the US or UK where many Chinese women are already second or third generation immigrants, they seamlessly blend into society; marrying men from their new countries and raising families.successful Chinese woman

However, many Chinese women overseas are still largely invisible when it comes to being involved in politics, or holding senior positions in major companies or in popular culture such as in the cinema or on TV. Those that do appear are, unfortunately, still type cast as either hard-nosed business woman taking no prisoners, the “dragon mother” or a demure, timid wallflower.

Known to generally do well academically and professionally in careers such as medicine, law or accountancy, the new internet generation of Chinese women is becoming more and more visible and is beginning to noticeably break down the barriers to career progression. The idea of the “passive” Chinese woman is a well-known, but increasingly misguided view—particularly given the female population’s achievements in education.

Chinese women are in high demand from overseas men as wives and spouses

More and more foreigners are coming into contact with Chinese women who still live in China and there is growing recognition of the value of dating a Chinese woman and maybe even taking a Chinese wife; their previously recognised qualities of loyalty, strength and relative passiveness are being added to by many of such women now having an excellent education with a Bachelors or Master’s Degree and, probably, a successful career.

Chinese woman and western manMany Chinese women know absolutely what they want and, with more liberal attitudes to dating and marrying foreigners, more and more mixed race marriages are apparent, both within Asia and between and second or third generation Chinese women in the US, Australia or so on.

So noticeable that the expression “Yellow Fever” has been coined to describe the desires of Caucasian or foreign men who prefer to date and are looking to marry Asian women. Quite simply modern, foreign men can’t seem to get enough of Chinese or other Asian women, and you only have to look around any major Chinese city such as Hong Kong,  Beijing or Shanghai where it seems there is an abundance of mixed race relationships between smart, well educated Chinese women and western males.

Definitely not a new phenomenon, but one that will surely continue to grow as liberated Chinese women reach out to greater heights!