The book A Daughter if Han is an autobiography depicting the life and hardship that most of the Chinese women of late 19th and an early 20th century passed through to survive and maintain their families. The book is about a Chinese lady, Ning Lao Tai Tai, who undergoes through a lot of misery and suffering because she was married off to an older person at the early age. The book depicts various issues in Chinese society and gender system in the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. In this paper, we will discuss the issues about the Chinese society and how gender issues have been depicted in the book between the 19th and 20th century.
The book A Daughter of Han is an inspiring and educating story that describes the subjection of Chinese women to suffering in 19th and early 20th century. Women are subjected to early marriages, and this prevents them from continuing with their lives. The book depicts the gender inequality issues through the life of the central character in the story, Ning Lao Tai Tai and her other two sisters, Yintze, and Mantze. Ning is married off at the early of thirteen to an older man of twenty-eight-year-old. The book depicts how the Chinese women were subjected to suffering at the very young age and they were left to suffer until their death. When a woman is married off at the age of thirteen, and she is exposed to suffering immediately; she is forced to go through the pain until she dies. For example, Ning stepped in marriage and began tasting the pain at the age of thirteen when she was married to an opium addict who never cared for the family, and she is exposed to this suffering for years until she dies in the mid-1930s while caring and providing for the family (Ida, 1967: 142).
The book also depicts how Chinese women of 19th and early 20th century were expected to be submissive and follow what they were told. Ning together with her elder sister, Yintze are also exposed to suffering by being married off at the early age. we are told how Ning was married to a man twice her age and she never complained because it was a duty for her to be a woman and she was expected to obey. Chinese women in the 19th and early 20th century were subjects to men and culture/tradition, and they were not supposed to complain no matter the hardship they were exposed to. Ning is married to an opium addict who leaves the rest of the family responsibilities to Ning. The book depicts how the fate of Chinese women in 19th and early 20th century was not controlled by the women but rather the men. Ning together with her two sisters are married in their early teens, and their parents do not care to whom they are married to; so long as they are married. Although, the fate of being married at the early age can be explained by the nature of the society at the time; that women were married off at the early age because of the short life expectancy. During the 19th and early 20th century, Asian continent was attacked by some plagues ranging from war to untreatable disease that remarkably reduced the life expectancy (Brandt, 1997). This led to women getting married in their early teens so as to enhance their reproduction because at the early age they could reproduce when they were still young. However, this does not justify the fact that Chinese women were supposed to be married at the early age and as early as thirteen like Ning. A thirteen-year-old girl is still young and knows nothing of marriage leave alone the life issues. Therefore, marrying them at this age was subjection to extreme suffering. Again, Chinese women were exposed to double suffering; for example, it is during this period of 19th and early 20th century that Japanese imposed their rule on China and this further exposed the women to suffering. Women were subjects to the Japanese rule and again their husbands. Therefore, they were exposed to double suffering.
Another gender issue expressed in the book is lack to access to education by the Chinese women in the 19th and early 20th century. Girls were not expected to get educated but instead they were supposed to get married in their early teens. A child in her teens is expected to be going to school, and it is ironical in the Chinese culture that women in 19th and early 20th century were subjected to early marriages, and they were not allowed to access education as their male counterparts. Lack of knowledge further contributed to the Chinese womens suffering in their various homes. Ning explains women knew nothing but only to comb their hair and bind their feet at home waiting for their husbands (Ida, 1967:55). This is to show that women had no qualification for any job. During the 19th and early 20th century most of the countries were undergoing a technical change; therefore, people were employed in industries to work (Brandt, 1997:287). However, one could not find just the employment without proper qualifications that were only found through education. Therefore, denying the women a chance to get educated was like denying them employment also. The book depicts how Ning had to undergo a lot of suffering in an attempt to provide for her family. Additionally, Ning is uneducated, and the only work she can find around is casual work, and she also undergoes various challenges while working. She has worked in different places and in each place she is treated differently; however, she is not treated fairly in any of the places. Amongst the people she has worked for include; the chief judges and military officials. Ning also explains the unpleasant experience that other women also go through. In her experience while working for the army and civil officials, she explains that the women in such households also had almost the same experience that she had; the men leave their wives for children and no money to support the house or buy food.
The book also depicts the poor parenthood that Chinese women received in their childhood. The story describes the lack of proper parenthood; for example, Ning and her two sisters are married off in their early teens, and this shows how their parents never cared for their children. They were only nurtured until they reach they reach their early teens and were sent away to be married. Lack of proper parenthood is also seen in the marriage of Ning. Nings husband is an opium addict and Ning works hard every day to provide for the family and at the same time helps her husband to get rehabilitation. Ning also explains an experience of a story she had that also enhances the argument that most of the children especially girls in the 19th and early 20th century lacked proper parenthood care and guide; for example, she explains about an experience where she used to work when she encounter a situation of women getting discriminated. In her story, Ning tells the story about the young beggar man who got married to a young girl from a wealthy family just because the parent of the girl wanted her to be married no matter to who it might be (Ida, 1967). The story depicts how women are not given equal opportunities as men; once they reach a certain age, for example, thirteen or fourteen they were sent away to their husbands.
The story also reveals a woman as hopeful, hardworking and determined. Despite the challenges that Ning and other women pass through while in their various homes, they are not discouraged with life. Even if they are left with the great responsibility of taking care of the families, women still ensure that their families continue to survive. Women play a significant role in providing for the family; for example, Ning is married to a man who cannot do anything to provide for the family and she does not complain. She takes the responsibility as her own, and she decides to look for work in different places so as to provide something for her family. In her experience where she worked, she explains about women whose husbands were either general in the military, civil officials and even chiefs of judges and the experience they went through; they were left with children and with no money or food to take care of the children, and yet they still continued to survive; however, they were highly discriminated (Bravernman, 1998). This shows the hard work and hopefulness of the Chinese women. Women are also depicted as caring as compared to the men. Ning cares for her daughter, and she does not want her to go through the same experience that she went through as a young girl; she helps her daughter take care of her children and also acts as the pillar of support to her daughter and her children.
To sum it up, the story A Daughter of Han is an inspiring story that depicts the challenges that Chinese women underwent in the 19th and early 20th century. The story is motivating; through Nings story, we can portray the inequalities and discrimination that Chinese women experienced through during the period of 19th century. For example, early forced marriages and denial of education all contributed to the suffering that Chinese women went through.
Braverman, Harry. Labor and monopoly capital: The degradation of work in the twentieth century. NYU Press, 1998.Brandt, Loren. "Reflections on China's late 19th and early 20th-century economy." The China Quarterly 150 (1997): 282-308.
Ida Pruitt. A daughter of Han: the autobiography of a Chinese working woman. Vol. 5925. Stanford University Press, 1967.
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