Gender politics in modern china writing and feminism

Overview Feminism may broadly be defined as a movement seeking the reorganization of the world upon the basis of sex equality, rejecting all forms of differentiation among or discrimination against individuals upon grounds of sex. It urges a worldview that rejects male-created ideologies. At another level, it is also a mode of analysis and politics, committed to freeing all women of gender-based oppressions. Literally, then, anyone who supports such an ideology can be a feminist, regardless of gender.

Gender politics in modern china writing and feminism

References and Further Reading 1. Although affirming this interpretation would provide a space for comparative studies with Western traditions, some thinkers believe that doing so distorts traditional Chinese thought.

Zhang Xianglong is a prominent representative of those who think that Chinese philosophy and culture have long been influenced by concepts of gender.

For him, Chinese thinking is fundamentally gendered as it takes the interaction between male and female as the basic model for philosophical investigations. He further argues that it is one of the core aspects of mainstream thought in China. Zhang demonstrates that yin and yang strongly connote ideas of female and male, and identifies such gendered thought in works as early as the Zhouyi, or Yijing Book of Changesa traditional Chinese divinatory text of uncertain antiquity consisting of hexagrams and their interpretations, as well as throughout the later traditions of Confucianism, Daoism, and Chinese Buddhism.

Such a claim is dubious, as the dualistic dynamic of yin and yang, while positing both aspects as essential to existence and in this way ontologically equal, has been generally presented as inherently hierarchical.

gender politics in modern china writing and feminism

For Chen, yin and yang primarily involve social relationships, political forms, and weighing advantages and disadvantages. He holds that gender characteristics are too abstract to be practically relevant in this context, and do not apply directly to social forms Chen There are numerous Chinese texts where yin and yang are broadly associated with gender.

Thereby, yin and yang can be called male and female, and male and female can be called yin and yang.

However, it is important to also recognize that gender itself is not as malleable as yin and yang, despite this connection. While gender remains fixed, their coupling with yin and yang is not. This close and complex relationship means yin and yang themselves require examination if their role in Chinese gender theory is to be properly understood.

The original meaning of yin and yang had little to do with gender differences.


Some of the earliest uses of yin and yang are found in the Shangshu Book of Documents. Here, the word yang is employed six times, and five times it denotes the southern side of mountains, which receives the most sunlight.

The term yin appears three times in the text, and refers to the shadier northern side of mountains. These examples are characteristic of how yin and yang function throughout Chinese intellectual history; they do not refer to particular objects, but act as correlative categorizations.

In most instances yin and yang are used to indicate a specific relationship within a determined context. The way sunshine falls on a mountain is the context, and the difference between the northern and southern sides, where the latter receives more light and warmth, determines their association, which is understood as yin and yang.

The terms are thereby an expression of the function of the sun on a particular place, but they do not speak to the actual substance of the objects the sun or mountain themselves. The specific traits of the objects can only be designated yin and yang in their functional correlation to one another.

Within this matrix, yin things share commonalities when viewed in relation to yang things. In this way, the early association of yin and yang with gender can be seen as speaking to the relationship between genders, and not to their essential or substantial natures.

Yin and yang traits were thus seen as able to accurately describe broad differences between males and females as they interact with one another. Fixing the link between these categorizations, having men be yang in relation to women, who are yin, only works in a highly abstract or broad sense.

For example, the Book of Changes states that the emperor is supposed to have six male ministers at the south palace a yang position and six wives or concubines at the north palace a yin position. Like the southern and northern sides of a mountain, men and women are yang and yin in the way they serve the emperor.

Social positions are linked to gender and understood through yin and yang. The sun starts in the east and the moon starts in the west. This is the distinction of yin and yang, the positions of husband and wife. The entire pattern can be overturned, as well, such as in the relationship between an empress and her male ministers, where the woman is yang and the men are considered yin.

Feminism: Overview |

However, such a situation was often considered something that should be approached with caution, as it violated natural patterns. For example, Wang Bi C. Dong, whose version of Confucianism won imperial backing during the Han dynasty, was also responsible for promoting the official establishment of a formal cosmology based on yin and yang, which became quite influential in the Chinese tradition.

While he allows for men to be understood as yin and women as yang in certain contexts, overall he sought to limit the scope of such reversals. For Dong, males are dominant, powerful, and moral, and therefore yang. Women, on the other hand, are precisely the opposite—subservient, weak, selfish, and jealous—and best described as yin.

Against this biased intellectual background, oppressive practices were supported and initiated. For instance, the widespread acceptance of concubinage and female foot binding in Chinese social history expressed the inequality between genders.

Most Chinese thinkers were very attentive to the advantageousness of the complementary nature of male and female characteristics. In fact, in many texts considered Confucian that are predominant for two millennia of Chinese thought, the political system and gender roles are integrated Yang This integration is based on understanding yin and yang as fundamentally affixed to gender and thereby permeating all aspects of social life.

Overall, while the complementary understanding of yin and yang did not bring about gender equality in traditional Chinese society, it remains a key factor for comprehending Chinese conceptions of gender.More often than not, feminist literature addresses relevant political issues, current attitudes toward women in society, or attempts to break down gender-specific misconceptions.

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