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Women and China: How Female Societal Roles Reflect Upon Chinese Theatre

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Adeline Joshua

on 5 April 2011

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Transcript of Women and China: How Female Societal Roles Reflect Upon Chinese Theatre

ghjkl Women and China: How Female Societal Roles Reflect Upon Chinese Theatre It is interesting how many Chinese plays possess female protagonists, but have men performing those roles. This sparked a number of questions that I hope to answer in this Prezi, like: How were women viewed under Confuscian thought? How did this affect their position in society? What impact did female societal roles have on traditional Chinese theatre? What is the significance of having a male actor play a woman? Confucion Thought Confucius was born around 552 B.C.E in the state of Lu (now the Shangtung Province)
He began as a teacher but later in life he moved on to consulting rulers throughout China "Ziyou asked what filial piety is. The Master said, "The filial piety of now-a-days means providing nourishment for one's parents. But dogs and horses likewise are able to do something along that line for their own kind. Without reverence, what is there to distinguish the one support given from the other?"" -Kung Fu-tzu Confucius Confucius on Women: Women were so disregarded that there is hardly any mention of them in his works By founding Confucianism, Confucius did not start anything new; rather he restored ancient beliefs and practices that were forgotten Confucius' love for the past was the reason why reverence for elders was one of his main principles He also believed that knowledge of the afterlife goes beyond human comprehension, therefore people should focus on trying to live a virtuous life, which is done by:
Respecting others (i.e. parents elders, foreigners)
Learning from one's mistakes "If a man withdraws his mind from the love of beauty, and applies it as sincerely to the love of the virtuous; if, in serving his parents, he can exert his utmost strength; if, in serving his prince, he can devote his life; if in his intercourse with his friends, his words are sincere – although men say that he has not learned, I will certainly say that he has." -Kung Fu-tzu Confucius “Women and people of low birth are very hard to deal with. If you are friendly with them, they get out of hand, and if you keep your distance, they resent it.” -Kung Fu-tzu Confucius Having a modest virtuous family is the cornerstone to creating a strong society, and to create this virtuous family one must follow the strict guidelines of filial piety. Unfortunately, women were placed at the bottom of the family hierarchy. The Yin-Yang symbol in China represents the flow of positive and negative energy throughout the universe. The dark half, Yin represents darkness, cold, negativity, death etc. The lighter half, Yang represents heaven, warmth, positivity etc.

Throughout history, it was believed that women represented Yin, while men represented Yang; this belief reflects the Confucian views on women The Ideal Chinese woman was silent and obedient to her male superiors. Women had to follow the "Three Bonds of Obedience" which states that women must obey one's father when young, one's husband when married, and one's grown sons when widowed Literacy among women was shunned and the rate of female suicides was much larger than men's, especially within the age range for early marriages Chinese foot binding :( Like waxing one's legs or wearing uncomfortable heals, many Chinese women saw foot binding as fashion that signified wealth and beauty Regardless of how Chinese women felt about foot binding, many were still forced to do it because men would refuse to marry them otherwise. Men actually found much pleasure in foot binding:
They characterized women with bound feet as either very modest or lascivious
They believed that the foot binding also enhanced the female figure as well as female sexual performance A Chinese girl would begin binding her feet around five to 7 years of age while the bones were still "soft"
She would fold her toes under her foot and break the bones to force the back of the foot together
Afterwards, she would bind the feet with as much as ten feet of bandages Characteristics of Female Characters "They [Women] were, moreover, expected to remain true to their husbands, modest, chaste, and loyal in both life and the drama." -Paul Kuritz Aside from its entertainment value, Chinese Theatre was also used to teach audiences how to live a virtuous life.
The lives of female characters closely resembled the lives of real women (or vice versa) because that was the righteous way to live In "The Soul of Ch'ie-nü Leaves Her Body," a young couple promised to wed is torn apart when the husband-to-be has to travel to a distant province to take his civil service exam. Dying of sadness, the soul of the wife-to-be leaves her body to join her lover. While the soul stays with her lover, her body gets weaker from loneliness until her soul returns with her lover and they are finally able to marry. It was love at first sight for the young couple, however they were not permitted to marry right away since the husband-to-be was not assigned a job. Since a "proper" woman's place was within the home, it is the parents' duty to find a suitable husband who could provide for their daughter "Mrs. Chang:...For three generations now we have never married a daughter of the family to anyone who has not held an official position...Pass the examination, have yourself appointed to some official position, then come back and marry Ch'ie-nü. Isn't that the best thing to do?" -Chêng Teh-hui, Six Yuan Plays, 93 Despite her longing to be with her lover, it is her soul that leaves and not her body. She knows that running off to be with him is a violation of her ancestors’ customs. As much as they love each other, when her soul tries to convince her lover to elope, he reprimands her. "Wang Wên-chü: There's an ancient proverb which says 'marry and you're a wife; elope and you're a concubine'. Why not wait I've attained an official position and return? Let our two families be united then. Won't all then be perfect in the eyes of the world? Now you have come alone and in secret. This is against all custom and a breach of your duty." -Chêng Teh-hui, Six Yuan Plays, 99 In "Injustice Done to Tou Ngo," Tou Ngo's mother-in-law promises the Chang men that she and Tou Ngo would marry them since the Changs saved the mother-in-law from being murdered. Despite the circumstances, Tou Ngo refuses to marry Donkey Chang because she is still mourning the death of her husband. In an attempt to force her, Donkey Chang poisons her mother-in-law's soup, but his father who dies mistakenly eats the soup. Donkey Chang threatens to tell the courts that Tou Ngo killed his father if she does not marry him, and she still refuses. In the end, Tou Ngo is executed for a crime she did not commit and it is her estranged father who gives her justice. "Injustice Done to Tou Ngo" is a perfect example of the importance filial piety. Tou Ngo's mother-in-law tells her that they have to marry the Chang men, but her obligation to mourn her first husband is what keeps her from marrying Donkey Chang, not the fact that she hardly knows him Donkey Chang takes Tou Ngo to court for allegedly murdering his father. The courts listen to Chang's argument and Tou Ngo's, but despite Tou Ngo's argument being stronger, the judge still chooses to believe Chan. Instead of letting her mother-in-law take a beating in court, Tou Ngo pleads guilty even though she is innocent because she would rather die than see her mothe-in-law hurt or dead. "Tou Ngo: Think how from the first your husband provided for you, planned for you, bought lands and estates to feed you and clothe you, expecting that when alone, with none to depend on, you and your son should have enough for our old age. Father-in-law, you have laboured in vain!" -Kuan Han-ch'ing, Six Yuan Plays, 126 "Prefect Evilbrute: Human beings are low and cunning worms. Unless you beat them, they never confess. Come, take a thick rod and beat her*." -Kuan Han-ch'ing, Six Yuan Plays, 137 *Yet (in accordance to gender hierarchy) they do not beat Chang... "Tou Ngo: ...Mother if I do not die, how am I to save you?" -Kuan Han-ch'ing, Six Yuan Plays, 138 Men Playing Women "We see a youth who has studied the idocyncracies of the female sex in their character and behavior; he has learnt to know them, and reproduces them as artist; he plays not himself, but a third, and, in truth, a foreign nature. We come to understand the female sex so much better because someone has observed and meditated on theirways, and not the process itself, but the result of the process, is presented to us." -Gothe, Male Dan: the Paradox of Sex, Acting, and Perception of Female Impersonation in Traditional Chinese Theatre The art of "Dan" (men playing female roles) in Chinese Theatre goes beyond sexual connotations. Their goal is to not act like women but rather, to take an idealized form of femininity. For this reason, when women were finally allowed to play female roles, they had to perform them the way male actors would Female actresses tended to rely on their physical attributes, and their acting was too realistic to be considered acting. One of the most famous Chinese opera performers, Mae Lanfang, had entertained foreigners and the Chinese people with innovative "Dan" technique. He was born in 1884 in Beijing to long line of opera actors, and began performing at eight years old. "If an actress were to appear on the stage she could not express ideal feminine beauty, for she would rely only on the exploitation of her physical characteristics, and therefore not express the synthetic ideal. The idea woman can be expressed only by an actor." -Ernst, Male Dan: the Paradox of Sex, Acting, and Perception of Female Impersonation in Traditional Chinese Theatre His ability to capture the essence of femininity was the reason for his international acclaim. During performances, his delicate gestures were skillfully thought out and executed. Thus China's rigid hierarchy limited women's opportunities and freedoms, and this is reflected in traditional Chinese Theatre. Despite the inequalities, femininity was so revered within theatrical circles that it was considered an art form.
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