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Feminism in China as Advocated by Shen Congwen

In contemporary China literature, different authors have constructed feminism in a different perspective to enhance the study of feminism in China. Shen Congwen is considered one of the most influential and most important Chinese writers of the 20th century, especially within his subtly advocating for feminism by using dominating male characters to portray strength in their female counterparts paradoxically. Shen Congwen’s “The Husband” contextualizes feminism through poverty that forces many to fall, victims, as women try to make ends meet. Thus, the story focuses on signifying an essential departure from stereotyping representations of female in traditional Chinese literature and female self-development by their male counterparts. There is a strong articulation of selfhood development that is identified as a basic concept of helping female to make ends meet within the Chinese society to recognize their value, personal strengths, limitations, and uniqueness within the context of feminism (Congwen, 2006, 670). For instance, within the story, the husband is not mistreated by any means as the madam invites him to opera show and a teahouse to feast. Based on the story, “The Husband” presents women who, despite the hardship and poverty they are determined to, make ends meet and gladly provide for their husbands.

However, the story presents the 1920s as a dark age within prostitution being referred as the business for the poor wives and substance abuse had taken roots in China. Within the story, the description of drunken soldiers and robbers, who are presumably men, were in the larger context representation of the rotten manhood and irresponsibility during this period (Congwen, 2006, 673). The story articulates the change in reality within the socioeconomic domain of China during that time. The role of women due to prevailing conditions in the society changed by forcing them to do prostitution in the aim of providing for the husbands (families) that were contrary to the Chinese traditions and customs. These enhanced the theme of feminism in the Chinese society, as the value of women within the social and family life started being acknowledged within the social, economic domain. Hence, Congwen articulates critical aspects of the role shift of women in contemporary China and the new reality of men in the country. Due to factors, such as poverty, women started getting involved in economic activities during the dark age in China to provide for their society and family. Through such involvement, selfhood, value, and uniqueness of women and their capabilities within the community and family were established, which led to the process of feminism in China in the 1920s (Congwen, 2006, 676).

Husbands in the story are presented as dependent on their wives economically, thus changing the roles of providing for the family. The women are involved in prostitution as an economic activity to enhance the socioeconomic status of their husbands. Despite the nature of business they are involved in, it is critical that the men are not mistreated as these women could take them to opera and the teashop, thus facilitating the strength of women in society (Congwen, 2006, 678). In spite of the poverty and hardship that these women faced doing prostitution, they ensured that their husbands (family) are provided for. Traditional influences of China on women had a strict absence of economic independence. Thus, they were often oppressed with by their counterparts in the society. The presentation of this story on the role of women in contemporary China had taken a critical role, thus facilitating the notion of feminism in the Chinese society.

Congwen’s “Staff Advisers” presents humane soldiers, occupying the eastern neighboring of Sichuan. Congwen articulates the absolute mastery of contrasting greed of the main character with an unseen world of a man’s pregnant wife and child (Congwen, 2004, n.p.). The woman’s heroine sexuality is illustrated as a biological and natural process that determines her role within the society and family life with her kid. Hence, the man in the story is presented as somehow irresponsible, following their actions after occupying the eastern Sichuan. The initiation experience of the wife into womanhood revolves around a woman’s relationship with outside world with new possibilities in the contemporary China. Thus, the experience results in a permanent psychological and physical changes that present feminism as a natural process that is a new reality in the Chinese society. The peripheral presentation of Sichuan community within the context of its culture and geographical location in China’s secluded hinterlands is neither oppressive conventional nor decayed by western culture (Congwen, 2004, n.p.). The rationale of such seclusion is purely represented by the Chinese women and children within the traditional context and the changing perspective of women in the Chinese customs.

Within the Sichuan community, there is a critical absence of the traditional ideologies and influences, especially Confucianism within the societal and family context. In illustrating such shift of how society viewed a woman, Shen Congwen articulates the notion of marriage and love within the traditional perspective and the contemporary world, where the man’s wife and child are with a free way of choosing on their preference and liking. As a result, women in courtship could make a personal and independent decision even in marriage to better their social and family life. Hence, articulating the changing customs, the unseen life of the man’s wife experience had the power to make independent decisions in marriage and courtship, which was contrary to the to the Chinese customs (Congwen, 2004, n.p.). In the Sichuan community, a widow was expected to observe chastity, and if she choices to re-marry, she would do so, despite the fact that it was not acceptable in the traditional Chinese ideologies and primitive influences among women in the Chinese community.

Shen Congwen articulates that wife has been brought up by nature, but she comes out distinct, thus creating the somewhat paradoxical outcome of a woman and child within the contemporary world. The soldiers drink as well as the company commander, who observed the outline of the wife of the man and looked off from him. Thus, based on this scenario, it represented the state of men within the society and the changing role of women in it.

Speaking of “The Border Town,” Cuicui is motherless, since birth signifies that the girl had no mother figure to look up to as her grandfather raises her, yet she is subjected to initiation culture. The girl is further isolated with a minimal or brief encounter with her peers and other girls, hence she is secluded from the large community. Paradoxically, Cuicui grows into womanhood, especially her sexual maturity, with her eventual separation from peers and innocent state she manages to integrate effectively in renshi (human affairs). Based on this context, Shen Congwen uses the strength of Cuicui’s grandfather (a man) in bringing the theme of feminism out clearly. Through the values that instilled by the grandfather, Cuicui’s initiation into womanhood simplifies the notion of the value of a woman, her uniqueness, and ability to make her independent choices in courtship and marriages.

Over the years, Chinese women had been denied socioeconomic and political opportunities to empower them to develop a meaningful self-image as men in the society. Such discrimination against women had taken roots in China as it was being supported by the customs, hindering the women to effectively enhancing their economic status (Xiao, 99). The notion that women could be independent and stand by themselves did not seem practical within this period, but it was just a perceived theory that was presented within the Chinese literature. Women emancipation became more realistic in the 20th century during the time, in which traditional and old ideologies started being questioned. There was a rising need for more practical socioeconomic, and political institution were put in place. The emerging of advocacy western individualism, women’s personality, and rights caused hottest debates among writers such as Shen Congwen to push for a new era of equality.

Despite the rich literature of women oppression and discrimination and the effort of different authors in articulating feminism in China, women are victimized, with male dominance still being imposed on women in the modern day. Shen Congwen’s stories provide a critical articulation of feminism through the use of the dominating male characters to paradoxically portray strength in the female counterparts (Xiao, 99). The stories provide the role of men that has been taken over by the women, thus articulating the nature of feminism in the Chinese society. As a result, male dominance in China has been used as a conveyor belt to establish a critical theme of women victimization and the emerging of feminism in China.

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