The second half of the 20th century is one of the periods in history that saw a lot of changes or rather reforms in the way women are perceived in the society across the globe. Notably, most women in the society were treated as a weaker gender and as a result, they were denied their rights as women and treated with contempt by their men counterparts. The proliferation of discrimination and lack of gender equity in the approach to issues in the society resulted in a call for women across the globe to arise and fight for what was deemed as their rights, not only as women but also as human beings in the society. This saw tremendous reforms in such areas as the workplace, with more women joining the workforce at a fair wage-pay. Research indicates that the wave of feminism and a fight for civil rights by women began in the United States and Europe, sweeping all the way to Asia and later on in Africa. Among the nations that experienced this wave of euphoria among women as they sought for their civil rights was China.
In reference to Chun (2008, p.14), China has had an epic and long-fought revolution for national and social liberation in which changing women's place in the society was high on the agenda. In consistent with this, women in China, just like women in other areas across the globe fought for liberation from the notion that they were unequal to their male counterparts and therefore, deserved to be treated unfairly. It is important to note that most women were victimized and oppressed by the traditional Chinese society under the socialist regime. Therefore, the feminist wave of the mid 20th century offered an opportunity for these women to rise above their oppressors and fight for their civil rights.
However, it has been realized over time that women's civil rights in China has featured less on the agendas of women. In fact, the civil rights for women is considered less important as compared to their economic and social issues such as freedom from hunger, disease or poverty, political stability, economic development and national security. There are many issues or rather factors that have contributed to women ignoring their fight for women's rights, anti-discrimination, feminism and sexuality rights. However, before focusing on these factors, it is important to mention the women's fight for their civil rights and liberties in China.
Women's Civil Rights and Liberties
The Chinese society is renowned for its numerous cultural practices that date back to many centuries ago. Whereas some of these cultural practices are still exhibited in the Chinese society, and have acted as a way of showcasing the Chinese culture to the rest of the world, there are other cultures that were brutal in nature and oppressed certain groups of people in the society. Following this point, the largest group of people in the society that has really suffered over a long period of time as a result of cultural practices is women. To begin with, the brutality of the Chinese culture is exhibited in the fact that most of their practices were meant to immobilize women and elevate the position of man in the society (Pun 2008). This would guarantee that men were always in power, and continue to rule over women, since they received little resistance from them.
One of the cultural practices that immobilized women in the Chinese society is foot-binding, whereby the feet of a woman was bound when she was still young to ensure that they would not grow beyond a certain limit. It was argued that women with tiny feet were more beautiful and could easily get husbands. However, as it has been realized, this was a tactic that was used by men to ensure that women remained at home and as a result, could be economically empowered since they did not work. In addition, these women were supposed to serve men sexually, entertain them and meet other desires without question. According to Pun (2008, p.228), culturally condoned practices of violent nature that were kept alive in different societies acted as the factors responsible for the violence against women. In short, women had no freedom in the Chinese society as they were bound by acts that were propagated by cultural practices.
The turn of the 20th century was an eye opener to most women across the globe, including Chinese women. The struggle for freedom and liberty has been on top of their agenda since mid 20th century. The quest for freedom and liberty in China was influenced by the Western culture and movement that sought to liberate women and help them to attain gender equity in the society (Zhou 2003). With this in mind, it can be argued that the Chinese women faced oppression of different forms such as gender violence, discrimination, and by the fact that they were assumed to be men's property, they lived according to the terms and conditions that had been set by men in the society. Their quest for true freedom was only heightened in the 1950s onwards. Yet, this proved to be a difficult task to attain since the male dominated society was unwilling to erase the achievements that had been attained by the women-oppressive regimes and social cultures.
However, irrespective of the fact that the American and European fight for women's rights, feminism and discrimination played a key role in awakening the women in China in regard to their civil rights and liberties, these issues are not considered as important in the Chinese society as fighting for freedom from hunger, poverty or disease, political stability, economic development and national security. Notably, the fight for women's civil rights and liberties were considered a Western phenomenon. As a result, the notion of civil rights and liberties did not sink into the minds of the Chinese people, who were proponents of socialism and communism as compared to Western economies that are saturated with capitalist principles.
Economic and Social Issues
There has been a total shift in the way women perceive themselves in the Chinese society. In this respect, there are a few factors that have contributed to this perception. To begin with, it is important to understand that the approach that was used to propagate the fight for women's civil rights and liberties in China was westernized. In line with this, the Chinese people were unwilling to accept the westernization, especially because it supported capitalism rather than socialism and communism. More so, the Chinese society was operating on different timelines in regard to the perception that men had towards women. According to Welland (2006, p.941), during the Beijing women conference in 1995, mainstream U.S. press reportage of the conference framed the Chinese state as hostile to capitalist democracy and its definition of human rights, insinuating that, as a sign of their belated modernization, Chinese and other non-Western cultures had not yet fully freed their women to enjoy such rights. However, to the Chinese leaders, women in China were more liberalized more than women in other parts of the world.
The focus on feminism and generally the fight for women's rights and liberties in the Chinese society also proved to be a dangerous affair as the government and the male population in general did not in any way support these ideas. Instead, men, with their quest to remain in a position of power worked on ways of getting the upper hand in the society rather than allowing women too to access these privileges. It is important to note that the leadership of China was threatened by international condemnation of their discrimination against women in the Chinese society (Welland 2006). As a result of this, the government focused more on the activities of feminists who were fighting for women's rights and liberties in this country. However, this sudden official spotlight on the political ramifications of their activities caused Chinese feminists to temporarily lie low at the very moment they had hoped to connect with international networks, i.e. during the Beijing women's conference (p.942). In other words, it was difficult to address feminism issues in the Chinese context (p.945).
From this point of view, whereas there were advances in the fight for women's rights and liberties in the Chinese society, there was need for a new approach towards ensuring that women were accorded their rights and freedom. One of the greatest challenges that women faced in the Chinese society lied in the fact that most of them were unschooled or in other words, they had no formal education. In reference to Liu (2009, p.93), the prejudice toward female intelligence was so strong that women themselves accepted it. In other words, women ignored the importance of education in their lives since this had been the trends in the Chinese society to a point that it was acceptable for women to be illiterate. Notably, some of the European missionaries who worked in China complained that less than 10% of all women they had met during their expedition were literate. Arthur H. Smith complained at the Shanghai Missionary Conference of 1890 that 'among the thousands of women we have met, not more than ten had learned to read' (p.93). Therefore, the need to pursue other channels of recognition as women in the Chinese society by women is evident.
First, it is important for one to understand that the women population in the Chinese society is extremely low as compared to the men population. This is partly because of the one-child policy that was meant to contain the explosive Chinese population, which resulted in most parents killing the female children and preserving their male one. Ray (2009, p.1263) observes that sex ratios for higher order births in China (conditioning on earlier births being female) are significantly skewed towards males, a clear warning sign of sex selection through abortion or infanticide. Consequently, there is need for women to focus on how they could be able to secure the place of the girl-child in the society by protecting her from such cruelty. In other words, whereas the male gender had dominated the Chinese society, this was further worsened by government policies that required parents to have only one child; a policy that did not favor the female gender. This could easily threaten the national security of China in future due to a large population of old people and less of population of younger people due to limited births. Note that deteriorating women security could easily result in instability of national security (Hudson et al. 2008/09).
The task of empowering the Chinese women economically has also become an important issue in the recent times. Notably, since most Chinese women were housewives, they had neglected the important part that education played in their lives (Chan 2002). As a result, most of them were unable to be employed in formal sectors where they could exercise out their inner talents. With this in mind, women in the recent times have focused on way of overcoming these challenges. Remarkably, the freedom of women in the Chinese society depend heavily on how much they were able to live independent lives without necessarily relying on man as a sole provider of her needs.
Therefore, before talking about discrimination at the work place, or propagating the principle of feminism in the Chinese society, it was found out that the Chinese women needed to develop a strong economic and social background that could support them to become independent of men. For instance, irrespective of the massive technological development in China, research shows that most women in this society were less likely to use the available technology such as the internet as compared to men (Li and Kirkup 2007). The involvement of Chinese women in political stability demands determination since the societies in which men significantly outnumber women-called 'high sex ratio' societies-tend to relegate women even more to the traditional role of homemaker. This has been found to limit in numerous ways women's political and financial resources, and minimize the number of women holding any positions of power or involved in any lobbying efforts (Bumgarner 2007, p.1301).
In summation, the fight for civil rights and liberties of women in China cannot in any way be compared to their economic and social issues such as freedom from hunger, economic development and national security. To begin with, it is important to understand that whereas the issues such as feminism from the western world have greatly influenced the desire by Chinese women to overcome societal oppression and stigma, it has received a lot of resistance especially from the traditional Chinese cultures that perceive it as notion by capitalist countries. However, the underlying risks that Chinese women face cannot allow them to sit back. Instead, they have to pursue alternative means of attaining their freedom from hunger and setting of economic and social structures that would promote their well-being in the Chinese society.