In Confucianism we find the idea of equality between men, but that equality is based on a social hierarchy organized by five basic relations: 1) sovereign to subjects, 2) father to son, 3) husband to wife, 4) older brother to younger brother and 5) friend to friend. This hierarchy establishes relations of dependency between men, including the duty to offer respect from those in a lesser position [to those in a higher position], as well as the duty to show piety from those who have a position of  power [to those who doesn’t] . The relation between the husband and wife shows the position of the woman as one subjugated to the husband within the marriage. 

The position of women in Chinese culture can be traced from prehistoric times onwards. Archaeological evidence shows engravings from scapulimancy rituals, we know that women were used as coinage during the Shang dynasty. Confucius’ thought is constantly dwelling in the past, searching for answers to his moral questions in the deeds of distant noble men. For this reason maybe ancestral traditions, motivate some of his ideal social organization supporting Confucius’ sexism. Confucius himself barely mentions women explicitly in his text. It is undeniable that women’s position in Confucianism is inferior in relation to men. 

It is often said that Confucianism is sexist. The most famous (or infamous) saying of Confucius about women is “Shaoren and girls are difficult to handle. If you get familiar with them they cease to be humble. If you keep them away, they get resentful.” (Analects 17:25) This sure sounds insulting to women. Over time Confucian teachings were expanded upon. A well-known sexist Confucianism commandments is “Since the age of seven, men and women should not share a room or food” and “When young, a woman should obey the father, when married, the husband, when old, the son” are creations of later generation of Confucian scholars who developed a greater sexist tendency since the Tang dynasty era (618-907 C.E.).

It was during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.) that Confucianism was adopted as the government’s state doctrine, with his thoughts becoming part of official education. In later dynasties, Neoconfucian interpretations further reinforced male authority and patrilineal customs. According to the Confucian structure of society, women at every level were to occupy a position lower than men. Most Confucians accepted the subservience of women to men as natural and proper. Asian women always have been fighting for a way out of the Confucian shadows.

Neo-Confucian Inspired Sayings

“A woman’s duty is not to control or take charge.”

“Woman’s greatest duty is to produce a son.”

“A woman ruler is like a hen crowing.”

“A husband can marry twice, but his wife must never remarry.”

“We should not be too familiar with the lower orders or with women.”

“The woman with no talent is the one who has merit.”

“Disorder is not sent down by Heaven, it is produced by women.”

“Those who cannot be taught, cannot be instructed. These are women and eunuchs.”

“There are three unfilial acts: the greatest of these is the failure to produce sons.”

“Women are to be led and to follow others.”

“Women’s nature is passive.”

“A woman should look on her husband as if he were Heaven itself, and ever weary of thinking how she may yield to him.”

By Damien Marie AtHope

References  123