History of Gender Bias in Chinese Families

Son preference has existed among most Chinese parents for centuries. Across thousands of years of Chinese history, Confucianism has served as an officially supported patriarchal belief that has deemed women inferior to men and has limited the role of women to their households. Women were understood to belong to their families before marriage and thus were required to be obedient to their fathers or elder brothers; after marriage, a woman belonged to the family of her husband and was expected to be obedient to her husband and later to her sons.

This belief, together with China’s workforce being completely dominated by males, convinced parents that investing in daughters was a waste of money (Tsui and Rich 2002). As a result, parents usually placed higher value on the nutritional intake or education of sons than on that of daughters. In addition, the traditions of co-residence with sons and son-dominated old-age care also prompted parents to invest in sons as long-term insurance (Hannum et al. 2009). The gender bias has led to inferior intra-household status for daughters and, consequently, to the biased allocation of household resources.

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The huge gender gaps in the literacy rate and educational achievement are examples of the consequences of such gender bias. In Ancient China woman were sought as a piece of property and even as a liability until they were old enough to marry. Their role in the family was restricted to the household, a household that they would have no say in what goes on or any pull on decision making. Women also had no say in who they married and once they were married they were to leave their family and change their identity to fit those of their in-laws.

As a daughter-law her priority and purpose in life were to concentrate on the fulfillment of all the rules of filial piety, putting others first, herself last (Kuhn 2009). The in-laws controlled everything from how she spoke to what she wore on a daily basis. She wasn’t a wife, she was a servant. Education for women at this point and time was also sparse, especially after they were married. The in-laws were not interested in a girl with educational value. Things like birthing and caring for the children, preparing food and beverages, and sewing ranked higher in the minds of in-laws than literacy. (Kuhn 2009)

As you can see women had little value or self worth in Ancient China and this view of women as being the lesser sex has directly affected the role of women today in China. This leads me to talk about China’s one child policy. China’s one child policy was established by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1979 to limit communist China’s population growth. Although designated a “temporary measure,” it continues a quarter-century after its establishment. The policy limits couples to one child. Fines, pressures to abort a pregnancy, and even forced sterilization accompanied second or subsequent pregnancies (Rosenberg 2012).

What does this have to do with gender favoritism? Good question. This policy that has limited a family to one child has also brought about something called sex-selective abortion, and who do you think has the upper hand? Boy of course. With the ultra-sounds being so available now, once the sex of the baby is known if it is a girl you can most likely assume that baby will be aborted. It goes to show you that even in today’s Chinese society boys are deemed more valuable than girls. This is mostly a problem in rural areas where boys are favored to work but it is still a problem.

On top of sex-selection abortion being morally wrong it has thrown the gender gap way off. In 2000, for every 100 girls that were born, 120 boys were born, and in some poorer regions, there are twice as many boys as girls. This is going to lead to problems for the MALES in the future. In China, even more so than in the United States, marriage is essential to being accepted as a member of society. Now, we’re seeing the first generation from the one-child policy come of marriageable age and facing a shortage of brides and a surplus of grooms (PBS 2007).

This is causing men to marry much younger or outside of their culture. The other problem is there are wives that end up “servicing” a number of different men for money that goes to their sole husband. These women must be thrilled huh? My opinion on this is very clear being a woman myself. This whole idea of women being the lesser sex seems so old school to me. It absolutely blows my mind that a country that is so advanced in things like technology and growth still succumbs to standards like this. I feel like this one-child policy was also a huge step backwards for women’s right in China.

But is it surprising that it is the girls that are being aborted or thrown out when you look at China’s history of how they treated and thought of women? I don’t think so, this is what these people know to be right and that’s where the problem begins. I believe all women of China need to be educated not only to stop this abortion epidemic but to add some self worth for themselves. They are not in Ancient China anymore it is about time the whole country wakes up and realizes that.


“China From the Inside. ” PBS. PBS, 03 Jan. 2007. Web. 09 Oct. 2012. <http://www. pbs. org/kqed/chinainside/women/population. html> Rosenberg, Matt. “China’s One Child Policy. ” About. com Geography. N. p. , Aug. 2010. Web. 09 Oct. 2012. <http://geography. about. com/od/populationgeography/a/onechild. htm>. Tsui, M. , & Rich, L. (2002). The only child and educational opportunity for girls in urban China. Gender & Society, 16(1), 74–92 Hannum, E. , Kong, P. , & Zhang, Y. (2009). Family sources of educational gender inequality in rural China: a critical assessment. International Journal of Educational Development, 29(5), 474–486 Kuhn, Dieter. The Age of Confucian Rule: The Song Transformation of China. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2009. Print.

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