Sample Essay on Comparing the role of women in China and Japan

Comparing the role of women in China and Japan
Women have a very critical role in contributing to the development and successful progress of a society and hence their role should not just be restricted in the domestic domain. Different societies understand the role of women different and hence their approach in handling women may vary across their respective societal spectrums. The purpose for this paper is to compare the role of women in China and Japan so as to investigate the position that they occupy in each society. The paper looks into the position that women occupy in the traditional society including the roles that traditions dictate for them. It also looks into how the Confucian ideology has influenced most people’s minds in restricting women in the domestic realm. Findings of this investigation indicates that traditional scholars that particularly included women were responsible in stressing women’s basic role serving in the domestic realm, which emanated from their tendency to support the Confucian ideology. Further findings indicate that the role of women in both societies changed with revolution among other societal advancements. Conclusive evidence shows that women in today’s Chinese and Japanese societies assume roles that are closely related to those assumed by their male partners.

Women constitute an inherent portion of any given society and cannot be ignored or even be neglected because of their perceived limited power as well as authority. As argued by Ko (2009), women make up the basic unit of a society as they make a family, which translates into a home and ultimately into a society. As such, a society would never come into existence without the critical contribution that women make towards its conception. For instance, it is evident that development in a society cannot be achieved without education. However, a woman constitutes the most basic and best form of initial education to a child. A healthy and stable society cannot emerge and prosper automatically without taking a significant toll on women’s contribution towards its successful existence (Bae, 2010). Women are for example responsible in teaching children how to behave, speak, as well as coexist with varying categories of people, which in turn contributes significantly towards the behavioral and educational aspects of a successful society respectively. Positive behavior and good education primarily comprises of the most basic fundamentals of a strong society and women are the key contributors to these basic fundamentals (Sharon, 2009). Not all women in all societies play the basic role of looking after their families. This is because most women in certain societies have careers that allow them to work in professional fields and improve their lives. However, in other societies, women are forced into certain roles that tend to restrict them into domestic chores as well as degrade their status while elevating that of their men. This indicates that the roles of women can vary between societies thereby determining the position they occupy in the society (Louie, 2012). This paper compares the role of women in China and Japan to determine the position that women in both societies occupy.
The role of women in China and Japan
China and Japan are two popular countries in East Asia that are best known for their attractive landscapes and unique cultures. The two nations are situated within the same geographical region where they are merely demarcated by the East-China Sea. They share an array of social aspects, which results from the significant influence that China has had on Japan’s language, cultural, philosophical, architectural and religious aspects on one hand and the impact that Japan had on Chinese revolutionary aspects (Louie, 2012). For instance, Japan’s language, creative, religious as well as moral civilizations were developed from the Chinese culture. Similarly, Japan’s significant influence on China is witnessed from the positive and negative impacts that it had on the various Chinese revolutionary generations. However, the two nations portray significant societal differences that mainly resulted from the impact that the western countries instilled on Japan particularly during civilization when it was pressurized to engage in open trade with the west (Bae, 2010).
In terms of women’s role in China and Japan, women, throughout history, have significantly been oppressed but surprisingly accepted their subordinate role following the widespread impact that the Confucian ideology had in East Asia in general and China and Japan in particular. As argued by Ko (2009) a woman’s role both in China and Japan, particularly between the 4th and 12th centuries was to subordinately be submissive to her husband among other male members of the society. This was supposed to go hand in hand with accomplishing wifely duties that mainly entailed taking care of the household chores. On this note, women in both countries were not allowed to assume any political position (Louie, 2012). This was however in exception to few queens and societal leaders that served as regents with significant power within their respective domains. Aside from this exception, many women in both countries admitted as well as supported societal domination, as was the norm in the social spectrum thereby perpetuating the Confucian perspective of an ideal and harmonious society. As explained by Sharon (2009), a prominent woman, Ban Zhao, was particularly supportive of the role of the Confucian perspective pertaining to the role of women in Japan and China. She admitted to the fact that women should receive educational skills that should only be limited to the traits that a woman ought to possess in order to impress her husband. She argued that men and women are distinct as men have better and greater societal roles to take care of unlike women whose major role and critical skill is humility. According to Zhao’s definition of humility, a girl ought to show respect for others, give them the first priority, never to praise herself or deny her mistakes as well as tolerate insults and mistreatment (Ko, 2009). Humility thus described an ideal woman that ought to respect and submit to others, particularly the male society members, as a slave would submit to his/her master. In this case, a woman would be portrayed as the slave while the man would be portrayed as the master. This description of the subordinate role of a woman was widely embraced both in China and Japan as most women easily assumed their minor roles in managing households without complaint. Despite her oppressive definition of an ideal woman in the Chinese and Japanese society, Ban Zhao played a critical political role in that she gave significant advices in devising government policies (Bae, 2010).
In contrast to what Ban Zhao perceived to be the main role of a woman in East Asia particularly in China and Japan, another prominent female figure, Empress Wu was antithesis of the role of a woman as a humble creature that ought to be submissive as well as presenting herself as a slave to her husband. According to Wu, a woman’s role should not entail being a humble creature that would often be manipulated by her husband among other male members of the society through deceit. Instead, a woman’s role should entail being an egoistic creature that rules the world to the point of becoming megalomaniacs (Louie, 2012). As a way of supporting her perceived role of a woman in the society, Wu established her own empire as well as declared herself the Maitreya Buddha that would bring a new age free of disease, agony and calamity. In response to the newly purported roles of women, as proposed by Wu, most women particularly in Japan started assuming influential roles that allowed them to generate a significant level of success although wives were still submissive to their husbands in almost every life’s aspect. As such, women started gaining significant expertise in art and literature to the extent where they could reign in courts upon gaining patronage and prestige (Bae, 2010). Sei Shonagon, who saw most Japanese women drifting away from the subordinate role purported by the Confucian ideology, instilled further influence. She particularly condemned complete male dominance where married women would be isolated in their homes taking care of households while their men make merry with mistresses of higher social ranking. Instead, women were supposed to assume an independent role where they could defend their position instead of bearing mistreatment and abandonment thereby feeling ashamed as well as humiliated. As such, the Japanese women continued to drift away from the Confucian influences that supported complete male dominance (Ko, 2009). The women’s role was, however, not completely independent as they were still answerable to Buddhist influences that made certain demands including total isolation for female parties in a king’s court. However, the role of women as guided by the Confucian ideology largely remained unchanged in China as any significant progress in Chinese society only allowed limited improvement in a woman’s status as dictated by ritual traditions. As such, the Confucian ideology continued to play an important role in ritualizing a woman in her subordinate and oppressive role (Louie, 2012). As a result, the customs stressed the unchanging path that women should take in cementing the Chinese ritual traditions, thereby foreshadowing the aspect of male dominance that would prevail in this country for centuries to come (Bae, 2010).
The role of women both in China and Japan changed significantly particularly during the second half of the 20th century. The dawn of Communist Revolution ushered in the destruction of the native familial ties that restricted women in slave-like roles in managing household chores. As such, the women were elevated at a higher position than what the Confucian ideology had dictated. State authorities also launched propaganda through posters and community meetings to erase the Confucian perception on the role of women from people’s minds. The marriage laws that subjected women into harsh treatments such as arranged marriages, predetermined dowries and forced polygamous unions were lifted. This granted women the right to choose their marriage partners as well as file for divorce at their own free will (Ko, 2009). As the Communist Party continued to concentrate its power, Chinese women were given more rights and greater responsibilities to run the country. However, this contradicted their domestic responsibilities as they were equally expected to bear many children in support of the demands put forth by the revolution. During this time, the Red Guards among other urban youths that mainly included both male and female were often sent to the countryside in service of revolutionary activities. During these operations, feminism was concealed under unisex clothes as both male and female young people offered equal services to the Communist government. Women were expected to be “tough” as their male counterparts and would often be blamed if the suffered any form of abuse including sexual harassment and violence (Bae, 2010). The population explosion that was witnessed in China at the verge of the 20th century however violated the various women rights purported by the communist party. With the explosion ushering in the one-child policy, girls immediately became the main victims of this policy as most of their births would go unreported while others would be aborted. This problem was especially intensified by the effect of technological advancement, such as the invention of ultrasound, as well as the familial preference of a male rather than female child (Ko, 2009).
Just as was the case in China, the second half of the 20th century saw the Japanese government redefining the role of women by giving preference to individual rights as opposed to family obligations. Women, just like their male counterparts, were given the rights to choose their preferred marriage partners as well as occupations. The women were also allowed to file divorce, claim custody of their children as well as own properties under their names. Unlike the Chinese women, Japanese women were given the rights to vote, given greater freedom, status, and equality with men in the wider Japanese society (Louie, 2012). Significant reforms that took place mainly after the World War II saw widespread educational opportunities opening up for women. The education opportunities enhanced equal employment and equal pay between men and women. As such, only few limitations restricted women to participate in the social domain remained in Japan. However, the fact that male employees have already dominated a huge array of Japan’s occupational fields see many women remaining jobless irrespective of the fact that they have received quality education (Bae, 2010).
Although women in modern China have had increasing rights to own properties, they experience greater limitation to own private properties, which is contrary to the rights instilled on Japanese women. This limitation is especially derived from societal customs that have throughout history restricted women to having a hand in communal rather than individual properties. The communal properties available at the women’s disposal are mainly patrilineal in that they are usually passed down through the male members of the society. Apart from land, married couples are usually allowed to own other properties jointly while owning others individually (Ko, 2009). As pertains to work, although most Chinese women have continued to make significant contribution to the national economic development, equality in the workforce has not yet be achieved. Chinese women that have secured employment both in private and public sectors constitutes to about 39%. The main reason behind this variation between genders is that China has for a long time experienced aspects of feudal backwardness and most people in the employment sector are still influenced by various old-fashioned concepts (Louie, 2012). Instead of offering equitable employment opportunities both for men and women, most people adopt unhealthy tendencies that are likely to prejudice against women. While genuine employment opportunities are always available for men, most female job seekers are often exposed to anti-social experiences that violate women’s rights, including abduction, kidnapping and prostitution (Bae, 2010). The percentage of Chinese women that have managed to secure genuine employment is however higher than that of women working in other developed nations, which show that Chinese women have a greater responsibility to contribute to family income and national economic development. However, a significant number of female employees that have managed to secure genuine employment have forced their way into these job positions (Sharon, 2009). This is because most employers have largely been influenced by the traditional perception about the role of a woman, which leaves them thinking that there is no place for a woman in the professional field. In spite of this perception, some women have forced their way into higher positions like CEOs and top state officials while others have simply recoiled and assumed the minor positions as predetermined by traditions (Ko, 2009). In protest to these new developments, current affairs pertaining to rapid advancement among women have attracted great attention and significant scrutiny pertaining to the role of women. On the same note, many women are beginning to scrutinize their role in the wider Chinese society as well as the economic and political domains (Bae, 2010).
Unlike the highly contested equality between men and women in China, Women in Japan enjoy a greater degree of equality in employment with their male partners. While education is the basic requirement for women to access employment on an equal footing with men, most women are enjoy equitable benefits in the employment field. It is increasingly becoming acceptable for women to gain a career of their choice and earn an income that is equivalent to that earned by men (Louie, 2012). As such, most women hold both the full-time and part-time jobs that allow them to make significant contributions towards family stability and national economic stability. Most married couples particularly support dual income generated both by male and female family partners because it reliefs a significant amount of stress from men (Ko, 2009). Both Japanese men and women feel more comfortable promoting dual income to enhance greater family stability within the family as opposed to the economic contributions made by the husband alone. As such, the society supports a woman’s capability to work in the professional field in a career of her choice to be able to significantly contribute to family and national economic advancement. Despite this uncontested freedom, some women still prefer to have gender-defined tasks that include housewives and nurses so as to avoid getting into trouble with family members (Bae, 2010). Similarly, most men tend to opt for masculine jobs that include police officers and soldiers. Provisions within the employment field further tend to place certain distinctions between male and female chores. This is because most employers tend to place mandatory overtime provisions for male employees while filing more part-time opportunities for female employees. These provisions are mainly intended to give the female employees more time to be with their children while the men are overworked to compensate for lost organizational productivity (Sharon, 2009). However, most married couples prefer to share household chores, including what was primarily considered as feminine chores so as to create a favorable environment where both partners can significantly contribute towards family income. Most Japanese women, irrespective of whether they are career women or housewives, are primarily the key managers in their homes where they oversee activities that include family expenses and child upbringing among other activities. There is however a significant number of Japanese women that opt to turn down the readily available opportunity to venture into career and look after their family (Bae, 2010). These particularly include women that perceive family to be the most critical component of their lives and hence opt to assume central responsibility in managing their households while leaving their men to work outside homes. A significant number of such women perceive their husbands as “children” that cannot be entrusted to delicate matters such as raising children and managing households (Ko, 2009).
The role of women in any given society is critical as it constitutes to the basis upon which any good and stable society can be founded. Women play an important role in equipping children with basic skills that predetermine the development aspect of the wider society. As such, it is obvious that there is no single society that develops without the important women’s contribution towards its conception and advancement. Similarly, women both in China and Japan are believed to have played critical roles in contributing to the conception and development of their respective societies so they could achieve their modern state. Traditional demarcations of roles between men and women are however believed to have undermined as well as overlooked this important role thereby restricting women into the domestic realm. Women both in China and Japan were traditionally given oppressive roles that were predetermined by the Confucian ideology, which required women to be humble and act like slaves to their husbands. They were supposed to take care of children, teaching them the basic roles that complied with their respective genders. Their oppressive position was particularly stressed by female scholars such as Zhao, who greatly supported the Confucian ideology. Their roles however changed during the second half of the 20th century where laws demanding their oppressive commitment towards their husbands were lifted. This new development was perpetuated by female scholars, such as WU, who did not support the Confucian ideology but believed that women deserved more freedom to work outside home rather than serving male societal members like slaves. This was followed by protest and movements intended to enhance more women’s rights. New laws intending to empower women in both countries were instilled. China was however held back by backward traditions that saw most society members failing to support the new role of women, which was primarily intended to be equivalent to that of men. Although more women managed to secure employment outside home, they particularly forced their way in to such positions. Unlike China, Japan managed to embrace the new woman’s role as dictated by more contemporary development, which has seen most women in the modern Japanese society assuming roles that are similar and equivalent to those assumed by men. As such, men have remained supportive on their women’s new roles by sharing household chores so they can create a favorable environment where both can contribute to familial and societal economic development. Women have however remained the core managers to their homes where they determine the various activities needed to keep their homes running.
I derived a lot of important information on the distinction of roles between gender in Japan from this article: Bae, J. (2010). Gender Role Division in Japan and Korea: The Relationship between Realities and Attitudes, (Journal of Political Science and Sociology, 13(2):71-85).
I gathered most important information on the influences of the Confucian ideology in determining the roles of women both in China and Japan from this book: Ko, D. (2009). Women and Confucian Cultures in Pre-Modern China, Korea and Japan, (London: University of California Press).
I obtained information on the revolution of gender roles for both men and women in Asaian countries, particularly in China and Japan from this book: Louie, K. (2012)..Asian Masculinities: The Meaning and Practice of Manhood in China and Japan, (Westport, CT: Routledge).
A lot of information pertaining to the traditional as well as modern roles of women and detailed distinction of these roles from those of men in China came from this article: Sharon, W. (2009). Translating Feminisms in China: A Special Issue of Gender and History, (The China Journal, 61(2):90-134).

Bae, J. (2010). Gender Role Division in Japan and Korea: The Relationship between Realities and Attitudes, Journal of Political Science and Sociology, 13(2):71-85.
Ko, D. (2009). Women and Confucian Cultures in Pre-Modern China, Korea and Japan, London: University of California Press.
Louie, K. (2012)..Asian Masculinities: The Meaning and Practice of Manhood in China and Japan, Westport, CT: Routledge.
Sharon, W. (2009). Translating Feminisms in China: A Special Issue of Gender and History, The China Journal, 61(2):90-134.