Feminism Flourished in China almost Fourteen Hundred Years Ago

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia says Feminism is a social movement that seeks equal rights for women.

The dates Britannica throws out for the age of feminist are the Enlightenment, a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in the United States that called for full legal equality with men.

Merriam-Webster’s definition for feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes and organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.

For centuries Western women were treated as chattel, the property of men. History 120 says, “Most Americans treated married women according to the concept of coverture, a concept inherited from English common law. Under the doctrine of coverture, a woman was legally considered the chattel of her husband, his possession. Any property she might hold before her marriage became her husband’s on her wedding day, and she had no legal right to appear in court, to sign contracts or to do business.”

Female Emperor Wu Zetian (625 to 705 AD) was a very early feminist who ruled the Tang Dynasty as an emperor and was China’s only woman emperor.

Women in World History says the Tang Dynasty was a time of relative freedom for women. Women would not bind their feet for a few more centuries or live submissive lives. It was a time in which a number of exceptional women contributed in the areas of China’s culture and politics.

Wu Zetian demanded the right of an emperor and kept male concubines. She also challenged Confucian beliefs against rule by women and started a campaign to elevate the position of women.

After watching the video and reading the entry in Britannica and the definition in Merriam-Webster, it’s obvious that feminism was alive and well in China more than a thousand years ago during the Tang Dynasty.

In fact, in the United States, It wasn’t until August 18, 1920, that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted American women the right to vote, a right known as woman suffrage. At the time the U.S. was founded, its female citizens did not share all of the same rights as men, including the right to vote.

After Wu Zetian, women lost the freedom she had given them, but it was returned in 1952 when Mao said women hold up half the sky meaning that women were equal to men.

Before Mao’s victory in 1949, Chinese women were considered of less value than animals. Not only were they actual slaves in their husband’s house, but they were bought and sold like merchandise. The poor and hired peasant women were traded with the land any time a landlord sold his property. Faced with failing crops, families were often forced to sell female infants and girls as concubines, child brides and servants to wealthy families in order for the rest of the family to survive the winter.

Another of Mao’s slogans said, “Any job a man can do, a woman can do.”

This marked the entrance of Chinese women into jobs that had formerly been forbidden to them – everything from crane operators to heart surgeons. The policies adopted by the people ensured equal pay for equal work. No longer do Chinese women do the same jobs as men and get paid half the wages for it.

However, in the U.S. the alleged land of the free with more people in prison than any other country on the planet, the Equal Rights Amendment still hasn’t passed.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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4 Responses to Feminism Flourished in China almost Fourteen Hundred Years Ago

  1. Debbie says:

    Yes, and she got a very bad press and was misrepresented in history, but I’ve read she was actually very forward thinking and made a lot of social changes. Would love to know more about her.

    • It seems that the world of men always demonized powerful women. I’ve read that during the decades she ruled China, the borders expanded to offer more protection for the heartland, and the economy stayed healthy. After she died, the Tang Dynasty, ruled by men, went downhill due to corruption and eventually collapsed.

      • Debbie says:

        Yes, that’s what I read too, but you wouldnt know it by the mainstream account of her, which demonised her. Theres a novel in there somewhere Lloyd!

      • Good idea. Maybe that will be the next historical fiction I write after I finish the five-book Becoming Merlin series. I finished the rough draft for #2 earlier this week so only three to go.

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