Confucianism has informed the policies and ideas that have governed Asian societies for centuries. The philosophy emerged at a time of conflict and was fundamental in establishing social order. This paper will show that Confucianism launched the development of a patriarchal society that subjugated women and relegated them to society’s fringes. The proof to support this claim includes the fact that the doctrine taught subservience to men, created a gendered social order, and created a community framework that limited women’s roles in the household.
The ideology promoted masculinity by stressing that women served as vessels for the delivery of children and the fulfillment of male sexual desires. In addition, its proponents argued that women were incapable of rational thought and were subsequently unsuitable for leadership. Even though Confucianism may not have directly advocated for women’s persecution, their absence in its core principles facilitated the prevalence of male privilege.
Confucianism refers to a guide to life put together by Confucius, who was born in poverty and worked hard to achieve success. He grew up during the Chou Dynasty’s rule at a time when war ravaged the land. His teachings were used to unify the warring states that were struggling to eliminate feudal societal rules. The ideological vacuum led to confusion and distress as people fought over leadership and control.
The Analects appealed to the masses because they provided structure and organization by proposing that individuals who understood their place in society would lead normal lives. Confucius believed he was merely transmitting old ideas to create a new social order. His doctrines were presented in the form of a conversation between a master and a disciple, which pointed to the fact that education was a never-ending process.
Confucius’ hometown in eastern China practiced Chou royal traditions and was often attacked by the Chi clan. The incessant conflict forced him to leave his hometown and wander in several regional courts gathering disciples (Puncher et al. 691). The Analects are a reflection of his thoughts and ideas as he traversed the nation. The precepts were probably written down centuries after his death. They consist of twenty books that have been studied and interpreted in relation to life in China (Puncher et al. 692). The principles were incorporated into governance and they informed the rules that defined the country’s imperial state.
The work is a collection of sayings and long anecdotes that sometimes come across as innocuous. Rather than present a treatise on Confucian thought, the writings present responses to a variety of situations. Therefore, the statements are seldom regarded as final but rather an expression of evidence supporting deeper wisdom. His credo reflected the relationships between individuals, and its ability to persuade rests on the wisdom of a man. The phrases depict the words of an individual that was shrewd and had the capacity to expound on vital societal issues.
The disciples of Confucian thought played a critical role in facilitating the transmission of his ideas in the centuries after his death. The longing to integrate the principles into society stemmed from the belief that regulations were necessary to prevent selfishness. The teachings emphasized the importance of ethical virtues and personal growth through the pursuit of spiritual and scholarly knowledge. Confucius avoided supernatural aspects of human existence in an attempt to reaffirm his interest in human affairs and to eliminate heaven’s impact on societal wellbeing. The aversion to religious concepts did not demonstrate a lack of faith.
It demonstrated his desire to call attention to the importance of natural and spontaneous social roles (Puncher et al. 294). Confucius’ followers believed that the establishment of social rituals would eliminate individualism. The lessons were adopted by several philosophers who impacted cultural and social developments in East Asia. Their interpretations guided how communities viewed women’s roles and duties in the region.
One of the most important lessons the maxim is filial piety, which refers to the need to take care of family members while maintaining close relationships. Besides, Confucius believed that collective communities where individuals improved themselves for society’s benefit were essential for harmony. He underscored the value of leadership and its impact on the people and their ability to thrive. However, despite his insistence on a progressive society, he often vilified women by deeming them incapable of leadership. His ideas contributed to women’s oppression by creating a patriarchal society that denied them equal participation in important societal activities.
The Feminist Perspective
Even though Confucianism may not have intentionally subjugated women, it indirectly contributed to their oppression. The Analects excluded women, and subsequent scholars made no attempt to rectify the discrepancy. In essence, they developed a gender complex that regarded the discussion of women’s issues as a waste of time. Confucius’ philosophy highlights the importance of good traits in human beings. However, the principles are not universally applicable, seeing as most of them excluded women. The ideas were crafted at a time when the social structure limited women’s participation in important spheres of life.
This practice continued long after Qui’s death as Dynasties upheld the suppression of women. They based many of their rules on Confucian rhetoric and beliefs. For instance, women were not allowed to remarry because it was morally unacceptable. In addition, subservience to men was institutionalized, meaning that female ideas and thoughts seldom got appreciated or implemented. The ideologies were passed through time, and subsequent interpretations did little to improve women’s position in society.
Confucian thought influenced Chinese culture for many years because his principles were adapted and reinterpreted over the centuries. China’s society was largely patriarchal, where men were seen as the heads of families tasked with completing rituals and sacrifices made to ancestral spirits. It is vital to note that the Analects embraced the prevalent communal structure and highlighted how filial piety was critical to the restoration of stability in the empire. As a result, men wielded more authority compared to women in political and social relationships. This imbalance contributed to women’s subjugation, seeing as the philosophy’s principles stressed the importance of accepting one’s place in the social order.
Besides, the teachings point out that children must serve their fathers while women’s relevance is linked to their ability to produce a male heir. A distinct separation of genders was highlighted by Confucius, who assigned each a specific set of roles and responsibilities. His philosophy emphasized the fact that women were unworthy of high office and should be assigned menial duties and responsibilities.
The Confucian teachings on women were often derogatory and demeaning in nature. For instance, book seventeen notes how females lose their humility in close relationships and are filled with resentment when one avoids relating closely with them (Puncher et al. 697). It is worth noting that the text invariably equates women to small-minded men insinuating that they are petty and incapable of engaging in serious conversations. In addition, the Analects advise men to avoid close relationships with women seeing as they are intellectually flawed. The doctrines effectively defined women as second class citizens by institutionalizing their dependence on men.
The impact of Confucian thought reverberated throughout history, leading to the prohibition of women from taking imperial examinations in China and Vietnam, meaning that education became a crucial aspect of male privilege (Manh Vu and Yamada 2). It also fortified the gendered division of labor, with men tasked with responsibilities outside the home while women were expected to carry out house chores.
Women were denied the opportunity to engage in schooling for many centuries in China. Girls were taught how to be good wives and mothers by emphasizing family traditions and social ethics. They only started accessing public education towards the end of the Qing Dynasty (Tan 265). However, women from aristocratic and imperial families were taught at home by private tutors. These doctrines significantly impacted women’s ability to gain knowledge.
A different school of thought posits that the oppression of women is a Western practice that contradicts Chinese culture. The argument proposes that women in China have always maintained complete authority over the household.
Despite the fact that this is true, women have been denied the opportunity to participate in public affairs and governance. Domestic power pales in comparison to holding public office or advocating for changes in policy. It should be noted that the proponents of the absence of female repression further state that Confucianism benefitted women in numerous ways. For instance, the insistence that every individual must gain knowledge facilitated the education of women. Besides, advocating for social propriety allowed women to prioritize personal growth and adjust to contemporary values. Even though Confucius did not intend to be sexist, the interpretation of his work to fit various contexts led to the inevitable oppression of women.
The Effects of Female Subjugation
The oppression of women facilitated the acquisition of concubines in many Asian nations. Men took women into their households to serve as sexual instruments. The females assigned these duties could not formally marry their masters and were considered inferior to the wives in the homes they served. It was often the case that husbands sought concubines in situations where women were unable to sire male offspring. Son preference has largely been influenced by the adherence to Confucian principles and teachings.
Many families believe that female babies offer little value and are an expense they are unwilling to incur. They were expected to help the master’s wife complete a variety of house chores. The practice highlights the importance attached to giving birth to a boy. Concubinage exemplifies the exclusion of women from society because they were expected to produce children and engage in menial household tasks.
The Confucian principles governing marriage contributed to the practice of ghost marriages. The practice was designed to ensure that individuals remained fulfilled in the afterlife. The parents of a deceased son were tasked with finding a bride that would meet his needs in the afterlife. Some individuals who lost daughters also engaged in the practice hoping that it would allow their daughter to gain social standing. The institutionalized subjugation of women contributed to a high rate of female infanticide among couples.
This meant that there were many men that died unmarried. The high demand for ghost brides meant that some outlaws killed women and sold their bodies to families that wanted to secure their son’s happiness in the afterlife. Many people still believe that looking for ghost brides is relevant because Confucius highlighted the value of loyalty to family. The practice shows the impact of patriarchy in Asian societies that place men’s needs first even after death.
Confucian teachings posited that women were morally inferior beings that must listen to and respect male figures in society. The denial of education for women was a social norm that was inextricably linked to the expectation that wives must obey their husbands without question. These female duties were outlined in a set of ethical codes referred to as the forms of obedience and virtues (Tan 4).
The three requirements for compliance included obeying one’s father before marriage, subservience to a husband once married, and submission to one’s sons after the demise of a husband. The rules also required the cultivation of personality traits like discipline, clear speech, diligence, and modesty. Confucian Analects reinforced the belief that women were essentially immoral beings and were not worthy of nobility.
Challenging Confucian Thought
The effects of Confucian thought are reflected in contemporary Asian societies. For instance, it is the expectation in some nations that women must have children and disengage from the pursuit of their careers once they get married. In addition, they must depend on their male counterparts for social support and financial aid. The vivid discrimination against women in the Analects promoted women’s isolation from politics, education, and various other aspects of life. In essence, the doctrines birthed a patriarchal society in which women served at the mercy of husbands and fathers who denied them the right to own property or continue the family legacy. In effect, women were seen as a financial burden, and a female baby’s birth was considered shameful.
Female scholars in China challenged Confucian teachings about women’s place in society. For instance, they highlighted the importance of showing moral leadership to husbands in marriage. They sought to reverse the socially mandated hierarchical relationship between men and women by presenting wives as ethical captains capable of guiding their husbands towards perfection. Therefore, they insisted that women were capable of influencing their husbands’ behavior by being role models. Correcting mistakes and focusing on personal growth was believed to be vital in facilitating the development of vital skills that could be applied in politics and other authoritative positions.
Confucian teachings help establish political and social stability in a war-torn Chinese empire. The Analects influenced governance, the search for knowledge, communal norms, and women’s place in society for centuries. The doctrines that inform ethical ideals and the essence of moral character continue to affect people’s lives in East Asia. The Analects redefined society as an interconnected web of relationships that highlight how the adherence to specific positions allows society to function seamlessly. Confucius heralded the separation of the sexes by stating that men are capable of handling demanding roles in public office while women are best suited for house chores. The result was a communal structure that did not value women leading to female infanticide, the acquisition of concubines, and the practice of ghost marriages.
Manh Vu, Tien, and Hiroyuki Yamada. “The Legacy of Confucianism in Gender Inequality in Vietnam.” Munich Personal RePEs Archive, no. 101487, 2020. Web.
Puncher, Martin et al. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 4th ed.W. W. Norton, 2013.
Tan, Charlene. “Challenging Gendered Social Norms: Educational Insights from Confucian Classics.” Asian Philosophy, vol. 29, no. 3, 2019, pp. 264–76. Web.