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The Patriarchy in China: An Investigation of Public and Private Spheres

The Patriarchy in China: An Investigation of Public and Private Spheres
Lee S.
Ewha Authors
Issue Date
Journal Title
Asian Journal of Women's Studies
1225-9276JCR Link
Asian Journal of Women's Studies vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 9 - 49
Document Type
This study is a historical and conceptual investigation into how the division of public and private spheres is significant in the development of Chinese patriarchy. The distinctive characteristics of the concepts, public and private, in Confucian traditions arc found in the ideal of jiaguo tonggou and the rule of nei/wai (inside/outside). The political ideal of jiaguo tonggou literally means that the family and the state have the same structure. Furthermore, the principle of nei/wai (inside/outside) is a rule that rigorously classified people's everyday activities, roles, and living space according to sex. This inside-outside dichotomy appears to be analogous to the public-private opposition in Western feminist thought. With this dichotomy, the lives of women and men were separated within their families and women were consistently excluded from the public sphere in ancient China. After the Communist revolution, however, China has made remarkable strides. The revolutionary shift, however, had its own limitations insofar as the new democratic patriarchal system that emerged was a mixture of socialist ideas and a deep-rooted traditional patriarchy that it was unable to rid itself of. There is evidence that in the recent social discourse of "women return home," emerging after the reform eras of the 1980s, the state has sought to sought to restructure society according to the principles of a socialist market economy and send women back to the domestic sphere. Perhaps the question of the separation between public and private spheres in itself is less important than the questions of whether women are active agents of reform, whether they are empowered enough in the process, and whether they are free to make choices about their activities. However, the current controversy over "women return home" in China is still evolving, and these questions need to be explored further in the future.
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