Language and gender

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Language and gender a Chinese perspective
Lee, Su-Chen
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40 leaves : ; 28 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Language and languages -- Sex differences ( lcsh )
Sexism in language -- China ( lcsh )
Chinese language -- Sex differences ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaf 40).
General Note:
Department of English
Statement of Responsibility:
by Su-Chen Lee.

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Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
53362253 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L54 2002m L43 ( lcc )

Full Text
Su-Chen Lee
B.A., National Chung-Hsing University, 1979
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts

This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Su Chen Lee
has been approved

Lee, Su Chen (M.A., English)
Language and Gender: A Chinese Perspective
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Ian Ying
My thesis is initiated by the issue concerning whether humans use language or
language uses humans. By triangulation I examine the interdependence between
language and its sociocultural environments, language and human thought, and
language and gender. That is, there is a perplexingly entangled relationship between
language, gender, and socioculture. A considerably large number of the self-evident
gender-biased characteristics appearing in many aspects of the Chinese language
motivate me to examine the impact of patriarchy on the Chinese society, which is
actually reflected in the Chinese language. Specifically, the patriarchal practices
facilitate the tendency of womens subordination to men by confining women to the
domestic sphere and imposing the chastity-centered norms on women. To
conoborate my questioning, I examine the influences of patriarchy on the Chinese
family, on the status and the roles of Chinese women, and on the womens
education through language. Simultaneously, my thesis shows human creativity and
human ignorance when I analyze and interpret the interactions between language
and human thought, language and its social environments, and language and gender,
because the dilemma in turn come to light. Humans will encounter this dilemma

when they are forcedly immersed in the male-oriented beliefs and assumptions. I
am more concerned with how humans detect the social ideology deep-embedded in
the language used to express their views and judgements on men and women than
with what impacts the socioculture has on the human language.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.

Ian Ying

1. Introduction................................................................1
2. The Chinese Language...................................................... 6
2.1 Chinese Characters.........................................................6
2.2 Chinese Phrases and Idioms................................................8
2.3 Chinese Given Names......................................................10
2.4 Address Terms............................................................11
3. What Makes the Gender Difference in the Language..........................14
3.1 A Brief History of the Status and the Roles of Chinese Men and Women.....15
3.2 How the Gender-Biased Practices Manipulate Human Thought.................19
3.3 The Constitution of the Chinese Family...................................27
3.4 Patriarchal Marriage.....................................................31
3.5 Complementarity Masks Hierarchy..........................................34
4. Conclusion.................................................................36

1. Introduction
Language enables us to interpret and organize the world we experience through our
senses, and in that way it provides structure and meaning to what would otherwise be
a jumble of impressions. The natural consequence, however, is that a language
largely limits the thinking of its speakers to ideas they can express in that language.
Miller and Swift (1976) restate this power of language to shape perception described
by the anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir in 1928:
Language is a guide to social reality....[It] powerfully conditions
all our thinking about social problems and processes. Human beings
do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of
social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the
mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of
expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that
one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that
language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems
of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the
real world is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the
language habits of the group.. ..We see and hear and otherwise
experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our
community predispose certain choices of interpretation (p.138).
Robin Lakoff (1975) also proposed her view that language uses us as much as we use
language. As much as our choice of forms of expression is guided by the thoughts we
want to express, to the same extent the way we feel about the things in the real world
governs the way we express ourselves about these things. She says that her book
Language and Womans Place is an attempt to provide diagnostic evidence from
language use for one type of inequity that has been claimed to exist in our society:

that between the roles of men and women.(P-4). Indeed, she shows us that women
encounter linguistic discrimination in two ways: in the way they are taught to use
language, and in the way general language use treats them. Both tend to relegate
women to certain subservient functions: that of sex object, or servant. In particular, I
am impressed with Lakoff s (1975) description of a womans dilemma:
So a girl is damned if she does, damned if she doesnt. If she refuses
to talk like a lady, she is ridiculed and subjected to criticism as
unfeminine; if she does leam, she is ridiculed as unable to think
clearly, unable to take part in a serious discussion: in some sense, as
less than fully human. These two choices which a woman has- to be
less than a woman or less than a personare highly painful.(p.6)
I agree that the use of womens language, which requires a woman to talk like a
lady, will submerge a womans personal identity because it denies her the means of
expressing herself strongly and treats her as an object-sexual or otherwise- but never
a serious person with individual views. Moreover, the ultimate effect of womens
language is that women are systematically excluded from the groups of power, on
the grounds that they are too weak to hold it as demonstrated by their linguistic
behavior along with other aspects of their behavior. Lakoff (1975) says that
ironically, women have learned their lessons so well that they later suffer such
discrimination because they are forcefully made to believe that they deserve such
treatment due to insufficiencies in their own intelligence and education. In the
conclusion of Part I of the book Language and Woman's Place, LakofT s (1975)
remarks motivate me to wonder about how the real-world imbalances and inequities

work and why they are generated:
Linguistic imbalances are worthy of study because they bring into
sharper focus real-world imbalances and inequities. They are clues that
some external situation needs changing, rather than items that one
should seek to change directly. A competent doctor tries to eliminate
the germs that cause measles, rather than trying to bleach the red out
with peroxide.(p.43)
Of course, the last line is insightful and encouraging. I admit I strongly feel the
linguistic imbalances of the Chinese language when I first read the study on Chinese
and gender, conducted by Yu-hui Szu in 1984, a professor at the Normal University
of Taiwan. The study provides some evidence of gender differences in Chinese and
an important introduction to the status and the roles of Chinese men and women in
different dynasties, which does contribute to my association of the socioculture with
language and gender. Hall and Bucholtz (1995) says:
Of critical importance to all gender research is the idea that gender
ideologies are closely linked to the management of social asymmetries.
As Marie Withers Osmond and Barrie Thome (1993:593) concisely put
it, Gender relations are basically power relations. Notions of
patriarchy, male authority, male domination, and gender hierarchy have
gained considerable intellectual vitality within feminist argumentation.
The import of gender pervades all levels of analysis, from historical and
ethnographic studies of gender ideologies, structures, and customs to
interactional studies of gendered activities and actions. From a
poststructuralist perspective, we need both macro- and microanalyses
to illuminate continuity and change in the rights, expectations, and
obligations vis-a-via the conduct, knowledge, understandings, and
feelings that constitute the lived experience of being female or male in
The above citation is intended to justify the approaches I employ in data collection,
analysis, and interpretation, all of which are aiming at my research question: why and

how gender-oriented language tends to imply womans subordination to man. For
instance, I refer to the book Family and Kinship in Chinese Society edited by
Freedman (1970) for better understanding of patriarchal structure and its impact on
Chinese women and men in economy and position, which also provides valuable
examples to support my argument that patriarchy contributes to womens weakness in
economic ability, one of the keys to the question that the status of women is inferior
to that of men. Moreover, Brownell and Wasserstroms (2002) Chinese Femininities/
Chinese Masculinities corroborates my supposition that patriarchy permeates
womens education for maintaining the male authority and solidifying the male status.
Similarly, the book also supplies some discourses between men and women, which I
use as materials for analysis to support my argument that language sometimes
manipulates human thought even though humans are good at creativity if they are
fully saturated with the biased beliefs. Of course, this book gives me more than I
expect because at the same time it helps me better understand the nature of Chinese
marriage, a means of continuing male lineage despite the emphasis of a wife above a
concubine by the rites of betrothal. That is, the privileged dignity and authority of a
wife is a sweet illusion when she is unable to produce an heir.
Another important text is Woman, Culture, and Society edited by Rosaldo and
Lamphere in 1974, which gives me a new lens through which I view the roles of
Chinese women as a mother or a wife in a different way and helps me find the answer
to the question: why the value of women is lower than that of men, a key to my

research question. I admit that in Woman, Culture, and Society (1974) Ortners
remarks have a great influence on my views of the role of a mother:
I argued that the universal devaluation of women could be explained by
postulating that women are seen as closer to nature than men, men being
seen as more unequivocally occupying the high ground of culture...
Womans physiology, more involved more of the time with species
of life; womans association with the structurally subordinate
domestic context, charged with the crucial function of transforming
animal-like infants into cultured beings; womans psyche,
appropriately molded to mothering functions by her own socialization
and tending toward greater personalism and less mediated modes of
relating- all these factors make woman appear to be rooted more
directly and deeply in nature (p.83~84).
In addition, my intuition as a woman and a native speaker of Chinese as well as my
knowledge of the nature of the Chinese language facilitate my analysis and
interpretation when I look at the issue of language and gender. At last, I want to point
out that my research is intended to answer the question: why and how gender-based
language tends to imply womans subordination to man.

2. The Chinese Language
It is easy to find a considerably large number of gender-based characteristics in many
aspects of the Chinese language such as characters, phrases and idioms, given names,
and address terms, all of which are closely tied to the Chinese environments where
people live and think with the Chinese language. Specifically, the gender-based
characteristics leave a lot of clues deserving further exploration because they
explicitly show the sign of gender bias.
2.1 Chinese Characters
The number of Chinese characters with the female radical is much larger than that of
Chinese characters with the male radical. The phenomenon shows that China was a
woman-centered matriarchy in the primitive period when Chinese characters were
created. Among the characters with the female radical we can find some of great
significance such as -#i (hsing) and jty (hao). For instance, this character
it (hsing ) refers to a family name, consisting of two parts (referringto a
female) and (referring to birth). It shows that the continuity of a family is
dependent on women. The other character H- Thao) refers to good, consisting
of two parts $ (referring to a female) and (referring to a son or a child).
It shows that Chinese people value the faculty of womens fertility. In addition,
family names like ^ (chiang), (yao), address terms for relatives like
(i), (sao), and ^(chih), and terms concerning marriage like

^ (chu), and (mei) are all with the
tffrThun), *gj(chia),
female radicals. It shows that Chinese women must be central to Chinese family and
marriage. We can infer that women had considerable status in the family and the
society at that time. However, we also find a lot of characters with derogatory and
contemptible meanings such as if (chien) referring to wicked, (chi)
referring to a prostitute, ^ (lan) referring to avarice, (tu) referring to
jealousy, and ^ (chien) referring to adultery. What causes these
contradictory phenomena?
Based on the study conducted by Yu-hui Szu in 1984, a professor at the Normal
University of Taiwan, these characters with negative meanings were created after the
patriarchy came into being. These two types of characters justly reflect two different
social systems-matriarchy and patriarchy. In addition, the roles of males and females
are also reflected in Chinese characters. For instance, the character (nan)
referring to the males consists of the upper part of a Chinese character gj (tien)
indicating the farm and the lower part of another Chinese character (li)
indicating labor. Thus this character nan reflects not only the social form of
farming but also the male role responsible for the labor-consuming work like farmers
who work on the farm. In contrast, the character 3$^ (fu) referring to the females
consists of the left part of a Chinese character ^ (nu) indicating the female
gender and the right part of another Chinese character ^ (chou) indicating the
broom. Thus this character fu also reflects the female role responsible for the

domestic affairs like housekeepers who take care of the housework. Another
important character 5C (fu) referring to father is derived from this character
^ (fu) referring to an ax, a tool of starting a business in the ancient Chinese
society. Thus the duty of a father role is reflected in the Chinese character- working
hard to support his family. Similarly, this character (mu) referring to a
mother also implies the duty of a woman as a mother because this character
pictures a woman with her breast. That is, the duty of a mother is feeding and
nurturing a child.
From these given examples we can find that the roles of Chinese males and females
are clearly defined by Chinese characters.
2.2 Chinese Phrases and Idioms
This part is about Chinese phrases and idioms, which reflect gender difference and
simultaneously imply the dominance of males and subordination of females. For
instance, this idiom f| '^J!$,(fu chang fii sui) referring to the man sings, the
wife follows seemingly describes domestic harmony but at the same time implies the
different status of males and females in the family. We should wonder why it is the
man, not the wife who sings and why it is the wife, not the man who follows? This
idiom reveals the domination of males and the subordination of females in the family.
Moreover, we can find the similar implication in this phrase, i (huang hou)
referring to queen, which implies females are inferior to males by this character
^^(hou) indicating after. Thus this phrase huang hou(queen) is derived

(huang ti chih hou) referring to after the king.
In addition, many Chinese proverbs and documents in the Chinese classics also show
the similar attempt to direct Chinese thought toward the belief of women being
inferior to men. For instance, (fix che, hou jen yeh) cited from
the Book of Rites, one of the Thirteen Classics, means that women are after men.
Another two gender-differentiated phrases are ^ (nung chang) and ^
(nung wa) derived from the Book of Odes, the former indicating a son bom and the
latter indicating a daughter bom. This character (chang) means a jade
ornament used in state ceremonies and the character ^ (wa) means a tile; it is
clear that a jade is much more precious than a tile. That is, these two phrases imply
that the status of males is superior to that of females in the Chinese society.
Furthermore, these three idioms $ X. ^ f % (nu ta pu chung liu),
(nu ta tang chi a) and in* (hsien chI liang mu) exactly imply the
determined role and destiny when females grow up, especially the first one written in
a hopeless tone. The first idiom means a grown daughter cannot be kept unmarried
for long, the second means a girl getting married upon reaching womanhood, and the
last one means a dutiful wife and loving mother.
The above examples are given to show that the concept of males being superior to
females is deeply embedded in the Chinese language. Furthermore, some idioms
publicly and overtly demonstrate the supremacy of males and inferiority of females.
For instance, this idiom j^(nan tsun nu pei) manifestly shows the belief of

males being superior to females, which uses the character jjl (tsun) indicating
honor to modify this character nan (male) and the character (pei)
indicating debasement to modify this character nu (female). I believe that the
occurrence of this idiom implies the status of women degraded to the greatest degree.
2.3 Chinese Given Names
This part is about how Chinese names are given to boys and girls at their birth, which
also shows the sociocultural influence on gender difference and simultaneously
implies the gender discrimination. In general, Chinese boys names are labelled as
tough, strong, unyielding, preeminent and glorious because most Chinese take it for
granted that males should be successful in business or politics. Thus we can often
find such Chinese characters in boys names as (ying means outstanding),
(chieh means remarkable), (fei means fly), (teng
means rise), IcJ'j (kang means tough), (chiang means strong) and
the like. In contrast, Chinese girls names are labelled as refined, gracefully quiet,
chaste, dignified and beautiful because most Chinese people attribute these qualities
to the typical women who are defined to be wife and mother. Thus we can find
such characters in girls names as jtfiij (hsien means refined), (ching
means silent), ^^(shu means virtuous), (hui means wise),
(chun means pure), and the like. That is, Chinese girls names reflect not only
Chinese parents expectations of their daughters but also the social norms for the
traditional women who are defined to be a wife and mother. In other words, since

their childhood girls are made to believe and regard to be a dutiful wife and loving
mother as their highest calling when they grow up.
Another way to give girls names is much worse than the above. It reveals not only
gender discrimination but also the fact that the value of women is lower than that of
men. For instance, Chinese parents tend to give such names as Jf* (chao ti)
and (jo nan) to their daughters they wish to be sons at their birth. The
former means a wish of the next bom to be a son and the latter means a wish of the
daughter being a son. This way of naming girls shows the social attitudes that women
are not so welcome and valued as men. Can you imagine how a girl or woman who
has been called ^ (chao ti) or (jo nan) through her life views
herself or a female? I infer that she must believe women are inferior to men because
she has been made to think so since her childhood. It suggests that the socioculture
directs human thought by some gender-differentiated language which can direct an
individual to value himself according to the gender, not according to the self.
2.4 Address Terms
This part is about how a woman refers to herself and her husband, which also reveals
that women themselves are deeply embedded in the concept of women being inferior
to men. For instance, in old times unmarried women often use ^ ^(nu chia) to
refer to themselves and married women use ^ (chieh) or (chien
chieh) to refer to themselves. These self-references can be regarded as degrading
self to the greatest degree, even to the point of debasement and contemptibleness.

In Chinese, 3^ (nu) means a slave or a servant, (chien) means being
derogatory, and (chieh) means a concubine. It is clear that women use
these derogatory self-references to degrade themselves, implying that women are
inferior to men. In contrast, women respectfully address their husbands as
(lao yeh), which means a venerable sir. It is also clear that women use an
honorable term to refer to their husbands, implying that men are superior to women.
On the contrary, men often use ^ (chien nei) and f j (cho ching) to
refer to their wives, the former indicating my base wife and the latter indicating my
stupid wife. It is clear that men use these terms to degrade women, implying that
they believe the value of women is inferior to that of men. However, men use wo
(I) more often than women, implying that men are self-opinionated, subjective, and
The above examples are given to show that Chinese males and females are bathed in
the deep-rooted concept that males are superior to females. This phenomenon implies
again that language is used as a means to direct human thought. Can you imagine
how a woman, who has called herself jj^ (chien chieh) and been addressed
(chien nei ) by her husband, views herself or other females? I believe that
this kind of woman never thinks it is possible for her to be superior to her husband or
any other males. She denies not only the value of herself but also that of other
The above examples simply suggest that language tend to be controlled by a

dominant group. And men are more likely than women to occupy positions of power,
authority, and prestige in society. Most individuals tend to define themselves by
taking the attitude of the generalized standard prescribed by others, which always
stresses that women are inferior to men and men are superior to women.

3. What Makes the Gender Difference in the Language
Peter Trudgill (1974) offers three reasons for the gender difference in language: 1) the
invasion and intermarriage of different tribes, 2) the limitation of taboo, and 3) the
different attitudes and requirements of societies toward men and women.
Trudgill believes that a language is a social phenomenon and that there are different
norms and rules of behavior for men and women who play different roles in every
society. For instance, most societies ask women to obey or subordinate to men and
attribute gentleness, delicateness, modesty, and politeness to women. Thus women
are expected and required to correspond to these qualities in their behavior and
speech. If they violate against these norms, they may be ridiculed or given some
strict sanction. Under such circumstances, people tend to produce some identification
of gender difference and even women themselves consciously or unconsciously go in
this given and fixed direction. For instance, women prefer the privileged standard
speech while men favor the nonstandard and vulgar speech because the standard
speech can show that women are educated and the nonstandard speech can show that
men are manly, vigorous, and unrestrained. As for the use of new terms against
tradition, women are more conservative in using the slang than men while they are
more advanced in using the new terms used in the upper or educated class showing
the level of education. Moreover, it is often found that women favor correct and
standard pronunciation, make precise discrimination in naming colors, use indirect or

even uncertain speech, and have abundant vocabulary for cooking, sewing, and baby-
nursing, which fully correspond to the roles of women defined by their society despite
the past tendency that many people regard them as womens nature. That is, Trudgill
asserts that the socioculture has a great influence on the gender differentiation in the
language. Thus the understanding of the socioculture where a language is occurring
can contribute to a better understanding of the gender differentiation in a language.
3.1 A Brief History of the Status and the Roles of
Chinese Men and Women
Generally, in the traditional status, the value of males is above that of females and the
treatment of males is superior to that of females; in the role division, males work
outside and females work inside. Women have been low in status until the recent
decades. That males are superior to females has been an unshakeable and adamant
belief despite some historic occurrences of females in power (e.g. Empress Dowager
Tzu Hsi is the most famous case) because these females are in power by mothers
rights, not by womens rights. A Chinese woman might not have had the lowest
status if she had completely and strictly followed the three obediences (to her father
before marriage, to her husband during married life, and to her sons in widowhood)
and four virtues of women (fidelity, physical charm, propriety in speech and
efficiency in needlework). Fortunately, with the support of principles of filial piety,
some women enjoyed mothers rights. However, Chinese women have basically been
in subordinate status without any individual and autonomic personalities.

Family has been the center in the Chinese society so that women to some degree are
of importance despite their low status. Women have been the major force to maintain
the harmony and continuation of a family. No male occupation can compensate for
the unique ability of the female to conceive, bear, and nurse the young of the species.
Thus women of loyalty, diligence, thrift, and docility are expected and required by the
traditional family. Recognizing that women are so important to a family, Chinese
males have tried to keep women faithfully attached to the family and model women
as the ideal image Chinese males desire by depriving women of their rights and
imposing more limitations on them. Referring to the study on Chinese and gender
(Szu,1984), I summarize a brief but relevant presentation about the change in the
status and the roles of Chinese women in different dynasties of the Chinese history.
Szu (1984) writes that before the Shang Dynasty (1800-1400B.C.), China was a
matriarchy, in which men engaged in hunting and made extensive travel while
women were the center of a family. Besides, women were not bound by marriage and
men, enjoying their full autonomy. Thus at that time, the family names were taken
from womens names. Moreover, women had the right to choose their husbands.
But, at the beginning of the agricultural society, China gradually developed into a
patriarchy. When agriculture and the raising of poultry and livestock became
booming, men began to settle down from hunting and engaged in farming. The fact
that males are physically stronger than women contributed to the change that males
became the source of production and controllers of economy. The status of males

gradually ascended and surpassed that of females. The status of women descended
sharply in the Chou Dynasty when the Confucianism originated and the rule of the
eldest son of ones legal wife holding a position by inheritance was put into practice,
which caused these phenomena like the value of males is above that of females and
mothers social position is elevated by the success of her sons.
Szu (1984) writes that in the Han Dynasty, the Confucianism prevailed, which
contributed to the increase in the restraint of the system of social rules. Thus, Tung
Chung-shu, a famous scholar in the West Han Dynasty, advocated the concept that
the value of males is above that of females; another scholar Pan Ku wrote a book
Po-hu t ung, advocating the three bonds in human relations-prince and minister,
father and son, husband and wife. In consequence, the value of husband above wife
became a certainty in human ethics and the specific criteria for womens behavior in
the traditional society. It was then that two instruction books for educated women
were published. One was titled Lieh nu chuan (The Biography of Virtuous Women),
written by Liu Hsiang; the other was titled Nu chieh (Admonishment for Women),
written by Pan Chao. The former established the chastity concept of virtuous
women never marry the second man and the latter gave the specific criteria to three
obediences and four virtues of women. In consequence, such concepts permeated
womens minds as accepting adversity philosophically, men being bom with strength,
and weakness being of womens nature. In the Han Dynasty, the most unequal
treatment of women was a Chinese law, according to which a man may divorce his

wife if she is guilty of any of the following: failure to produce a male heir, adultery,
disrespect to husbands parents, quarrelsomeness, stealing, jealousy and vicious
Szu (1984) writes that in the South and North Dynasties, another social convention
against women was that the emphasis of equal standing of families of a married
couple accelerated the practice of money paid at a betrothal and a brides trousseau.
Thus it led to the result that most parents didnt want daughters who need dowry but
will not bear the family name after marriage. It implies that the status of women
descended again. In the Tang Dynasty, another instruction book titled Nu Lun-yu
(Analects for Women), written by Sung Jo-hua, influenced women a lot because it
prescribed more specific and strict rules for women to observe in their daily lives.
This book even emphasized chastity and obedience more than Pan Chaos Nu
chieh. This book facilitates the phenomenon that women became more restrained and
cautious; they even reduced to go out and be seen in public. It also implied that
women confined themselves to a narrower field, reducing their exposure to the
outside and at the same time limiting their thinking. In the Sung Dynasty a school of
learning Li Hsueh again reinforced the concepts that masculine is strong but
feminine is weak and the value of males is above that of females. During these
dynasties Sung, Yuan, Ming, Ching, three major factors leading to the status of
women further descending are: foot-binding, the concept of incapacity being a virtue
of women, and the reinforcement of chastity of women.

Szu (1984) writes that in the Sung Dynasty, education for women was no more
encouraged and very few who had the chance to study were still limited to such books
as The Confucian Analects, The Canon of Filial Piety, The Biography of Virtuous
Women, Admonishment for Women, and The Confucian Analects for Women, all of
which focused on the doctrines for women to observe and tried to confine women to
the domestic sphere.
Lee Hou Chu, the last monarch of the Southern Tang Dynasty noted for his literary
genius, was said to initiate the practice of foot-binding, the most unfair and inhumane
treatment of women. There were two purposes for foot-binding: one was for
aestheticism to please males and the other was to confine women to their houses.
Chu Yuan-chang ruled the Ming Dynasty and made laws to honor the behavior of
chastity of women by offering awards. Thus many women regarded remaining in
widowhood and dying for husband as the highest criteria of their values. So the status
of women had been degraded to the greatest extent until at the end of the Ching
Dynasty when the reformers argued against foot-binding and advocated for the
education of women.
The above introduction simply shows how the male-governed society molds the
traditional women by the social norms in different times.
3.2 How the Gender-Biased Practices Manipulate
Human Thought
It is hard to detect when and where and how language shapes people and actions

because in the tremendous cosmos all individuals are limited in their lives and
defined in their visions, especially when they are impermeably encompassed with
some power-governed practices developing in a continuous, cross-century, and state-
sponsored manner. For instance, female chastity cult, one of the keys to the question
why and how Chinese women adhere to the female virtues defined by the male
norms, is actually typical of such continuously power-controlled practices because it
originated from the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), spread during the Ming (1368-1644)
and then had its heyday in the Ching dynasty (1644-1911).
Female chastity cult is believed to have been popular in many gender-oriented
countries because historians frequently refer to it when they describe notions of
womanhood and social conditions of women. As mentioned above, it is easy to find
any evidence for the connection between language and the contexts in which it
occurs. For instance, Chinese idioms such as nizhk (lieh nu pu shih erh
fu) and (tsung i erh chung), both referring to being faithful to
one husband all a womans life, reveal the same trend in the Chinese society. Even
right now 1 am still impressed with the strong feelings I had when I read these real but
sad definitions:
In its narrowest meaning, the term chastity cult refers to the state
system of awarding honorific plaques and money for the
construction of ceremonial arches and shrines for widows who
refused remarriage or committed suicide upon the deaths of their
husbands, and for women who committed suicide to prevent a
violation of their chastity. Construed more broadly, the notion of the
chastity cult in the late Ming and early Ching encompasses a

society-wide movement to extol chaste women as cultural heroes
and promote the norms of feminine behavior they symbolized by
building shrines to them, publishing their biographies, and recording
their names in the thousands in local gazetteers.(Brownell and
Wasserstrom, 2002, p.47)
How miserable and sad it is when the states accelerate female subordination by
promoting the norms of feminine behavior prescribed by the dominant power. Here
my major concerns with the chastity cult are both how the male-governed power
manipulates the wide and large-scale movement and what impacts it has on people in
their thought and language, which exactly reflect the interrelation between language
and its sociocultural contexts and human mind.
According to Brownell and Wasserstrom (2002), the Yuan dynasty for the first time
codified the chastity cult by overtly issuing regulations specifying the age, social
status, and length of widowhood required for official recognition of faithful widows,
which provide the framework for the states approach to chastity honors. Moral
reformers further viewed widow chastity as an indispensable marker of respectable
status and advanced it by asserting the purification of marriage rituals as a means to
define proper distinction between women of different classes in the marriage market.
Power even extended to the law for justifying what was being practiced in the
Chinese society. For instance, this passage clearly describes the fact:
Ching law recognized women as embodiments of virtue and fiilfillers
of the social roles of wife, mother, mother-in-law, daughter, and
daughter-in-law: it protected female chastity as an aspect of husbandly
sexual prerogative and upheld patriarchal family hierarchy by
differentially punishing assaults against inferiors and superiors.

(Brownell & Wasserstrom, 2002, p.49)
All the above statements simply try to characterize the dragnet the states spread by
power to immerse people in the norms of female behavior.
My other major concern is the impact the gender-biased practices have on human
mind, which I will interpret from the cognitive perspective to show the correlation
between language and thought. Language reflects not only what people say but also
how people think because language appeals to both words and logic. Therefore, we
can infer how people think from what they say. That is, language is like a dress of
human thought. But, at the same time, we can say language is a good means to detect
what is wrong with human thought, because language exactly reflects how people see
their world. To support my argument, I borrowed some discourse from Brownell and
Wasserstrom (2002).
In 1776, a man told his friend that he suspected some woman was a little improper,
because he noticed she likes to make herself up and is always giggling and joking
with people, so how could she be a proper woman? From the discourse, we clearly
see what presupposition leads to such a suspicion. It is the fact that she likes to
make herself up and is always giggling and joking with people that underlies the
belief of she is improper. It implies that at that time a proper woman was not
supposed to make herself up or giggle or joke with people. But we know very well
that it is not true at all. It is merely a stereotype of women prescribed by the male-
dominated power, because from the above introduction to the chastity cult, we know

the Yuan, Ming, and Ching dynasties have perpetuated the notions of female virtue
in many practices. In other words, the norms of female behavior are almost made
like laws. Probably the lawlike norms of female behavior have consciously or
unconsciously been shaped into some universals in the human mind. That is, the
notions of female virtue have falsely been transformed into common sense governing
how people see and judge everything associated with women.
Like the discourse made by the man, who was subject to his false and deep-rooted
belief that a proper woman should not care for her personal appearance or have
sociable demeanor, language is apparently abused due to humans consciously
dominant manipulation of the human mind in the gender-biased practices by the
power-intervened means, such as codifying the female chastity by issuing specific
regulations to extol chaste women and to encourage the chastity cult. That is, the
presupposition the man made in his discourse is falsely built on the biased practices
reinforced by the male-controlled power in his world. Thus, any female behavior
deviating from this falsely-established criteria is often considered to be improper. We
know it makes no sense at all but it is not easy for humans to see the world of women
beyond the old and familiar lens, which has long been tempered by a variety of legal
but inhuman practices. In comparison with the legitimately systemized belief,
individuals are often weak in detecting and resisting against the falsely-shaped
assumptions. It is more difficult to know the truth especially when the environments

where humans are immersed since their birth clearly show what is right or wrong, and
what is proper or improper in the falsely-justified practices.
Like the socioculture involving many entangled social and male ideologies, the notion
of female subordination is simultaneously evolved with the long-term and gender-
biased practices manipulated by the dominant party. It is acknowledged that humans
are creative, but it is also true that humans are social, emotional, and rational, which
exactly account for the complexity of the interrelation between humans and their
environments. It is only human wisdom, not human intellect that can help humans go
beyond the distorted world where they inhabit and see what they dont see, know
what they have falsely presumed they know, understand what they have falsely
believed they understand. Language is a human creation but humans are often lost in
what they create; for instance, the above-mentioned man, like most people, was lost
in his biased language built on his false presupposition shaped by his environments
where the virtue of women including not only sexual chastity but also modesty,
obedience to family superiors and propriety in manners, speech, and dress was
defined by the male-oriented criteria.
I give this instance to prove not only human mistaken assumption but also the
entangled interaction between language and its environments where it is occurring.
That is, the unique characteristic of language- appealing to human cognition and
inference abilities- makes it hard to tell if language uses humans or humans use
language, particularly when humans use language in their sociocultural environments.

Specifically, humans use language when they correctly presuppose their statements,
but language uses humans when they falsely presuppose what they say. Moreover,
the environments where humans live are closely related to how humans presuppose
their discourses. In other words, it is more likely that language uses humans when
the environments where humans inhabit falsely shape the human mind.
Ironically, it is often found that the environments are falsely shaped by human biased
practices especially when some predominant party controls the environments. History
clearly shows most of the time human environments are governed by men because
they are always in charge of power, which is initially accompanied with the important
tasks such as fighting for survival with other tribes or with the nature. That is, men
have the advantage of physical or biological features to access to power in the initial
development of human history. Therefore, it is very common that social norms are
polarized by the male power and the entire environments tend to be male-oriented.
The world is a plainly male world.
Another discourse, made by a mother-in-law to prove the uprightness of her daughter-
in-law, assumed that a womans sexual propriety was assessed by examining not her
personal style but her performance as a daughter-in-law. The woman claimed that her
daughter-in-law has always listened to my admonishment and instruction, obeyed
me, and been well-behaved. She has never done anything improper (Brownell &
Wasserstrom, 2002, p.54). This line of defense was also echoed in the testimony of
her daughter-in-law. From this discourse stressing filiality as a daughter-in-law, we

can find that these women presuppose that chaste women are filial and obedient. It is
very apparent that such a presupposition is fully built on the chastity-centered norms
of female virtue prescribed by the male-dominant party. That is, these women are
aware of a normative standard of female virtue and use it as a tool to defend
themselves despite the fact that such a presupposition is insufficient in terms of law.
It is understandable that why these women presuppose their statements in this manner
because it may be the only measure to prove a womans chastity in their world where
all associated with women is defined by the criteria made by men.
Similarly, this instance demonstrates both the interaction between language and the
socioculture and the interrelation between language and the ways humans think. It is
indeed hard to identify the fine line between the ways humans use language and the
ways humans think. For instance, some complex and multi-layered contexts of
language are revealed when we take a closer look at this instance above. From the
perspective of the presupposition itself made by these women, language is falsely
guiding humans to believe that chaste women are filial and obedient because the
presupposition is based on the chastity-centered norms of female virtue. That is,
language uses humans if they believe the truth of this presupposition. From the
perspective of using the false presupposition as a means against the male-prescribed
norms of female virtue, these women are using human inference to justify their
statements because the false presupposition will lead to a false but useful result. That
is, the purpose of using such a false presupposition is fulfilled when the listeners

follow their inference without examining the validity of the presupposition. Maybe
we can say that these women are very aware of what assumptions people have when
they view and judge the female behavior. Or we can say that the chastity cult is
internalized into human life so that humans are subject to their gender-biased
assumptions. Specifically, most people tend to believe what these women say
because most people believe the presupposition that chaste women are filial and
obedient, which fully meets the male-defined norms of female virtue.
All the above interpretations are intended to show the complex and entangled nature
of language when it is used by humans in their sociocultural contexts. Indeed,
humans are creative in manipulating language to meet their purposes, but at the same
time a great crisis humans are facing is how they can detect the false assumptions
shaped by human prejudiced practices when they use language. It is so true that
language is laughing at human wisdom, not human intellect or intelligence when
humans are constantly employing the falsely male-defined assumptions in their
language. It is also true that language always tends to be gender-biased when humans
insist on viewing women with the old and inhumane lens, which has long been
tempered by a diverse variety of gender-biased practices.
3.3 The Constitution of the Chinese Family
It has long been acknowledged that the Chinese patriarchy has a great influence on
the destiny of Chinese women, which is actually the key to the question that why
power is always not accessible to Chinese women. To get a full picture of the Chinese

patriarchy, it is indispensable to further understand the Chinese families, where the
spirit of patriarchy is fully embodied.
In the traditional time, the property-holding unit known in Chinese as the chia(^)
(family) was actually a kin group. The fang(^ ) and chia(^) are the smallest
units defined within the Chinese kinship system. Though the term fang may be
used in reference to patrilineal groupings of diverse size and genealogical depth
below the lineage level, it is also used to designate the conjugal unit consisting of
husband, wife, and children. As for the chia, it has been defined as the economic
family, i.e., a unit consisting members related to each other by blood, marriage, or
adoption and having a common budget and common property (Maurice Freedman,
1970, p.22).
According to Freedmans research, there are three components of the Chinese chia:
the chia estate, the chia group, and the chia economy. The chia estate is
that body of holdings to which the process of fen-chia %J) is
applicable. The chia group is made up of those persons who have rights
of one sort or another to the chia estate at the time of fen-chia. Division,
of course, is on the basis of male members of the chia group; but the
process may also be conceptualized as division on the basis of the fang
or fang segments (surviving members of a fang) found in each of the
generational levels comprising the chia group. The chia economy refers
to the exploitation of the chia estate (and the benefits derived therefrom)
as well as to other income-producing activities linked to its exploitation
through remittances and a common budgetary arrangement.(1970, p.27)
The above description shows the extension and the complexity of the Chinese chia,
which exactly accounts for the features of the Chinese family. Like a cooperative
social system, the chia is maintained by a large group of people related to each other

by blood or marriage. But, at the same time what binds the chia together is often
what makes it divided from the joint family to the stem family. To make the
context clear, I exemplify what Freedman describes on the division.
This is a sketch of the maximal developmental cycle of the Chinese family: A new
chia consists of a man, his wife, and some unmarried children. They derive their
income from land they own or rent, all living together in one household. If there are
secondary sources of income, these are combined with that derived from working the
land. For instance, any of these children establishes a shop with others. His share of
the shop actually belongs to his chia as a whole. As the family has not been
officially divided, the capital and money income of the store, as well as family lands
and their produce, are still common property. To avoid confusion, we assume that the
estate remains sufficient to provide for the rearing and livelihood of the younger
generation. Over the time, these children enter their adulthood; the daughters marry
out and the elder of the sons obtains a wife. Shortly thereafter, the second son also
marries if there are two of these unmarried children. The sons wives are absorbed
into the economy and contribute labor in the performance of domestic and productive
tasks, and they also have children of their own. The group is now complex,
consisting of two fang (family) in the second generation. That is, the family
becomes joint and then, with the death of the parents, fraternal-joint. Finally, each
fang demands complete control over its share of the estate, and the chia divides.
In comparison with the reality of the Chinese family, the above instance intended to

illustrate the division seems oversimplified, but in a sense it does serve our purpose
to define the term feng-chia. In reality, the traditional Chinese family might
continue to exist as a unit in the face of the physical and economic disengagement of
its members, which results from the dispersion forced on many Chinese, especially
the poor with more than one son, by the inability of their land to support many
people. That is, the movement of Chinese abroad may be seen as an extension of a
very common pattern. It is apparent that the transformation of the Chinese chia
involves so many factors that it is not easy to identify the specific one without any
given context. But at least, we are sure that it is closely related to promoting chia
survival and advancement. Moreover, my major concern here is who is the pivot
when the chia has to make some change For subsistence or advancement, who I
believe is absolutely invested with full authority. To show many possibilities for
various kinds of development of the chia, Freedman (1970) cites Ming-Tses
description of the chia headed by his paternal grandfather:
At that time my grandfather was far from rich...When the number
of children was found to be on the increase, it was decided that the
boys should leam trades, and go to town to add to the common weal.
My father was the one to begin. He had six brothers and sisters
younger than himself, and chose the trade of carpenter. His apprentice
fees were paid for three years, and his wants provided for until he was
able to maintain himself. He was soon, however, able to save
something to bring home to the fortnightly meetings. Three other sons
followed his example, and my father increased the size of his field
with their savings, pushing back the boundaries, and as soon as he
could give employment to one of them, he recalled him. Only one, the
youngest, remained at Fou-Cheou, and became one of the first
merchants in the town, (p.32)

From the description, we find all the male members of the chia are very central to the
economic activity of the group. For instance, Ming-Tses grandfather is the decision
maker, who is the chia-chang or head of the chia, managing significant matters such
as how to subsist or promote the family. The sons, especially the eldest, are charged
with the important tasks -learning trades and developing the business for the benefits
of the chia by chia resources. For instance, while they were apprentices, the boys
remained dependents. Next, came a period of self-support, followed by a re-inclusion
into the economy, first through remittances sent home and then through participation
once more in the exploitation of the estate. From the entire process, we see the male
members are fully encouraged and supported by their family to establish the
economic ability and independence. Moreover, the chia estate is ultimately shared
only by the male members.
3.4 Patriarchal Marriage
From the introduction to the constitution of the Chinese family, it is evidenced that
the status of women is much lower than that of men due to some unfair cultural
conventions. For instance, daughters are excluded from a group of people who have
rights of one sort or another to the chia estate at the time of feng-chia (division), only
because it is presupposed that as adults, the daughters will marry out and transfer into
the household of another family. That is, the roles of women have been defined since
their birth, and they have been treated in this maimer when they are in the childhood.
Another prejudiced convention is that the daughter cant continue her fathers lineage

only because it is prescribed that children have to follow their fathers family names
when they are bom. These gender-biased and unfair conventions facilitate degrading
the status of women in the family despite emphasizing the importance of marriage to
the women and the roles of women as wives and mothers. I find these biased and
long-standing conventions derived from the male-oriented marriage.
In Chinese the gender-biased implication of marriage has explicitly been revealed.
For instance, the Chinese character ^ (ch V) refers to the act of a man
marrying a wife into his household; the other character ^^(chia) refers to the
act of a woman marrying out of her home. I wonder why two gender-differentiated
characters are generated to mean the same thing marriage. My understanding of the
constitution of the Chinese family contributes to the answer to my question. It is
obvious that Chinese marriage is built on the notion that marriage is a formal and
legitimate means of continuing male lineage. That is, Chinese marriage does not
emphasize conjugal love so much as the responsibility of continuity of the patriarchal
descent. As a result, after marriage the role of a woman as a mother is much more
stressed than the role as a wife. Moreover, the status of a mother is narrowly defined
by the criteria of patriarchy, which further reduce women to a lower position because
they justify the behavior of men that can have concubines. These Chinese idioms
exactly account for the biased criteria: Pu hsiao yu san,
wu hou wei ta) and k t. (mu i tzu wei kuei). The former means that
having no male heir is the gravest of the three cardinal offenses against filial piety

and the latter means that a mothers social position is elevated by the success of her
sons. It is apparent that to some extent the status of a mother is lower than that of the
sons because a man can overtly have concubines when his wife is not able to produce
a son. That is, to have a male heir a man can aggressively ignore the validity of
marriage signified by the rites of betrothal, which actually make a distinction between
a wife and a concubine. It clearly indicates that a woman cant control her destiny
even though she is a legitimate wife, because Chinese marriage is fully dependent on
the patriarchal criteria. Imagine how sad and miserable it is for women to be viewed
and treated superficially by promoting and extolling their roles defined by male
It is not correct to assume that the role of a woman as a wife is less required than that
of a woman as a mother though I said earlier that the role of a woman as a mother is
more emphasized than her role as a wife. It is still the patriarchal authority that
facilitates the male norms placed on a woman when she is a wife. In the old times,
the fact of a bride transferring into the household of her husbands family seemed to
clearly indicate the existence of male norms of female virtues, because the bride was
automatically attributed to multiple roles such as a wife, a daughter-in-law and a
sister-in-law after marriage. That is, in Chinese marriage the patriarchal system
explicitly justifies the male norms of female virtues under the pretext of the chastity-
centered virtue as a female reputation. In reality, a females virtues are effective
aspects of a males pride, identity, reputation, and authority. As a result, filiality,

obedience, and chastity become three major feminine virtues prescribed by the male
norms, of which a wife is required to be possessed. Specifically, the patriarchal
authority manipulates masculinity and forces men to view women as subordinate to
them. Confining women to the male norms degrades womens status.
3.5 Complementarity Masks Hierarchy
From the above discussion, we know that most of the time Chinese women are
excluded from schooling. Only women in the upper-class have access to some
instruction books intended to prepare women for marriage. That is, it is apparent that
there is connection between the definition of Chinese marriage and these instruction
books. As I analyzed above, patriarchal notion is far-reaching in the traditional
Chinese society, not only extending over the family system, but also permeating
classical texts. For instance, the Li chi stresses wifely deference and submission,
remarking frequently on the importance of obedience, duty, and service despite
the fact that the Li chi elaborates on the wifes central role in her marital family by
the strategy of emphasizing the complementary and separate responsibilities of man
and woman in the conjugal relationship. Similarly, the Po-hu t 'ung tries to
emphasize the privileged role of wives by distinguishing principal wives from
concubines. That is, the Han texts try to sanction both wifely obedience and
subservience and also stress the dignity and authority of the wife in her new
husbands family. Furthermore, Brownell and Wasserstrom (2002) describe such an

The complementary responsibilities of husband and wife were also
summarized in a concluding passage of the Hun i (The Meaning of
Marriage) chapter, which explains how, in ancient times, the Son of Heaven
took charge of instructions pertaining to the public and external government
of the kingdom, while his wife instructed the palace women in the domestic
and private rule which should prevail throughout the kingdom. Thus, the
regulation and harmony of families was the responsibility of women, just as
the regulation and harmony of government was that of men.(p.98)
In reality, the language of classical texts mask hierarchy in this way, stressing not
subordination but complementary spheres. That is, the end justifies the means. This
section simply tries to show how classical texts perpetuate the patriarchal notion in
womens education. It is unavoidable that women, no matter how intelligent they are,
tend to view and judge themselves depending on the criteria men set for them.

4. Conclusion
I examined the relation between Chinese and gender from the perspective of the
language socioculture because I firmly believe that Chinese has been closely related
to its social and cultural aspects. Thus, my research not only focuses on the gender
difference in Chinese but also suggests how the Chinese language directs male and
female thought toward the belief that males are superior to women in a male-
governed society. I suggest that Chinese reflects a deep bias on the part of the culture
against women who are confined to the stereotyped roles as wife and mother and
regarded as inferior to men.
During many periods of history women were not allowed to own property and
thereby were denied the dignity and independence that come with ownership. Often
they themselves formed a part of the patrimony of a man, either father, brother, or
husband. In other words, women have historically been denied the opportunity to
construct their own separate identity, their own sense of selfhood and purpose apart
from the definitions imposed on them by men. Similarly, Chinese women have no
sense of themselves as individuals because they are confined by the stereotyped roles
as wife and mother. Marriage and the family dominate their lives. It seems that they
never live their own lives according to their self-chosen purposes.
Moreover, a womans long-term subordination causes her to lose her own sense of
primacy and to abandon her claims for transcendence. We cant deny the fact that the

vicious circle is complete when the group that is defined as inferior and relegated to
the inferior position in fact becomes inferior because the opportunities open to
them are so limited. Moreover, womens situation had always been male-defined
because women lack the necessary control over the relevant social objects, including
the norms and rules governing the conduct of the sexes; women are not in a position
to define their own situation, so they are forced to accept the definition imposed upon
them by men.
The facts of female biology, womans domestic role, and the so-called female
personality combine to encourage cultural definitions of the female that tend to be
degrading. This ideology involves arbitrary, and unnecessary, connections between
womens bodily functions and nature, which are in turn negatively rather than
positively evaluated.
All the examples and interpretations in each section of this thesis are intended to
show that the traditional Chinese language tends to define man and woman in its
own way explicitly and implicitly reflecting the gender-differentiated patterns
inscribed by the socioculture into the Chinese minds. With the increasing knowledge
of the interaction between the Chinese language and gender, we can more clearly
perceive the strong interdependence of the socioculture and language. Admittedly,
over time, a salutary facilitator contributing to different types of reforms but not
accounting for whether they are right or wrong in a variety of areasmay cause all
the above-discussed characteristics of Chinese to become vestiges to some extent.

Like the destiny of languages, either extant or extinct, the development of any
specific language is closely related to many diverse influences. The socioculture is
one of the specific and strong forces that impacts language development. As the
seamless relation between the socioculture, humans and language reveals, language is
heavily intertwined with its environment. It is hard to clearly distinguish any one
culture element because humans create language, language develops in the
environments where humans live, and at the same time language in many ways tends
to direct humans to understand the environments where they live. In comparison with
the long history of any language development, the life of each individual seems long
enough to leam and use the language, but not to make any change in the language.
This may explain why language seems much stronger than humans in their reciprocal
influences. Admittedly, individuals have been influenced by the language they use
since they were bom because language is always used as the first means of
comprehending the world in which one lives. For instance, each newborn baby is
usually talked to by its parents in the language they know. This suggests that humans
are always influenced by the language rather than the language being influenced by
humans. More specifically, human thought is primarily governed by the language
humans use.
I do not intend to advocate the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which indeed initiated my
interest in the issue concerning whether language uses humans or humans use
language, led me to take a closer look at the relationship between language and

gender, and finally illuminated my understanding of the interdependence of the
socioculture and the language. Instead, by further reflection on the relationship
between language and human thought, I found a limitation of the Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis: the assumption that humans cant think about something for which they
dont have a word. This hypothesis suggests that humans couldnt invent anything if
they dont have a word for it. No one would deny that humans can think and invent
even though they cant find proper words immediately for things they are thinking
about. For instance, one may say beyond description when one is at a loss for
words. This example does imply that humans can both think and invent because this
phrase not only proves human creativity but also shows that human thought is always
greater than human words.

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