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China, Japan And Korea: Women's Social Status In Ancient Times

Info: 2456 words (10 pages) Essay
Published: 3rd May 2017 in History

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In The ancient times, that is the time which end of feudal rule, in China is the end of the Qing Dynasty, Korea is the end of the rule of the Choson Dynasty and Japan is before the Meiji period.

China, Korea and Japan are all located in East Asia; in the historical and cultural context these three countries were influential with each other and there are so much in common. Firstly I look at women in the three countries, their position in ancient history and performance, and on this basis, explore their similarities and differences.

(1) China

Firstly, from ancient china we see how Chinese women have been treated and their status. ..Throughout the world, almost all ethnic groups have valued women as mankind ancestor. As well as in ancient China, the”Fuyi and NuWa” myths. In reference of “Shuo Wen jie zi” goes “媼Œå¤ä¹‹ç¥žè-之女¼ŒåŒ-萬物者也”. which means “NuWa, the ancient of the holy women, who were the creator of all things “[1]

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ancient dictionaries of this explanation we can see NuWa is a reproduction of mankind and a great mother for all things, According to historical records, ancient Nuwa was enshrined as a human ancestor , in the legend, Fuyi and NuWa were people with a first phase of snake body, as an important figure in Chinese history, she “made people” “Mended Sky” “Created an environment that mankind can survive and development” , “create the system of marriage ceremony”, and the continuation of human life, Nuwa was honored as the goddess and that was enough to see how noble the female god was in ancient mythology.

From the status of female Gods of myths, it shows the women’s status in early Chinese people’s mind, and also women’s status in real life…

Let’s look at the marriage system during matriarchal society, In Matrilineal clan, they carry out group marriage system, the husband is subordinate to his wife, the husband live in wife’s family for some time then leave. The Children lives with the mother; therefore the children only can recognize their mother but cannot recognize their father.

However, by the development of social productive forces, men in the production and the role of lives, as well as constantly improving labour productivity, thus there were Property differences, and private ownership, so father became the main producers and had gradually replaced the mother’s central position in the family. The status of men has increased, so that the monogamous became the mainstream form of marriage.

Women began to live in the men’s family, and property rights began to shift to the male. Through the Increase of the social status of men, they became increasingly responsible for management of the clan affairs. At this point, male status has been changed from a subsidiary of the initiative, the nobility of women disappeared.

During the feudal society, the Confucian system, Propriety and ethical thinking became the mainstream of society. in the Han Dynasty, Emperor Wu carried out a policy of “罢黜百家¼Œç‹¬å°Šå„’术”which means proscribing all non-Confucian schools of thought and espousing Confucianism as the orthodox state ideology. Women’s social status was dropped to the lowest point; the emperors in feudal era occupied a large number of women, and play around them because of polygamy. According to historical records, the Qin emperor had up to 5,000 Wives.â‘  In the harem of women, in addition to the Queen and the emperor’s favored concubine have a certain power, Women who are forced to go in to palace, although they had beautiful dresses and nice food, but they were imprisoned in the palace, no freedom and even some of them have never seen emperor in their life.

Even more tragic are those who chosen to be palace maid from ordinary families, they cannot get married, they waste their youth and even their life. Those who bask in the favour of the emperor are all sent to nunnery after he dies, to become nuns for the rest of their life. In the feudal society, the “three obedience and the four virtues” â‘¡, became a standard yardstick in measuring women’s words and deeds, just like chains, closely surrounded females lives. Before Tang dynasty, the bound of feudal ethical code for women was relatively loose, for example women can remarry and that wasn’t considered as a scandal. After Song and Ming dynasty, as the feudal society gradually declines, feudal ritual put more and more bondage on women, and started to stress the need of no remarriage. Asked the widow would rather starve to death, and do not remarry! [2]

However, in Ancient history, there were also many female politicians, military strategists, historians, writers, as well as some multi-talented women. the female politicians of feudal era , Like Queen Ma of the Eastern Han Emperor Ming , Empress Dowager Feng of civilization during the Northern Wei, Emperor Taizong’s empress, Zhang Sun, Wu zetian¼Œthe only female who ascended the throne and became the emperor in China , and so on… [3] They have made a significant contribution to Chinese ancient civilization.

(2) Japan

While China had Fu Xi and NuWa myth, Japan also has izanagi and izanami myths. Japanese mythology says Izanami gave birth to the islands of Japan and a host of gods, and finally gave birth to Amaterasu Omikami. Amaterasu Omikami, She is the core god of Japanese myths and legends, and regarded as the ancestor of the Japanese royal family, as well as the main Shinto gods. She was admired by many Japanese people, in Ancient time of Japan people would say: “I would like to thank Amaterasu” before meals. This is enough to see how high status of women during that time. In “Japanese cultural patterns and social change” said, “women were in place of superior position in primitive society.”[4]

The 5th century, after the Japanese court unification Japan, there were many female emperor, from the year (507-531) to the end of the 8th century Nara period, there were a total of 24 generations of the Emperor, of which there are 8 generations 6 female emperor, they ruled in a total of 90 years. [5] At that time they did not meet any problem because of their gender, and the Queens’ performance bought them good reputations. It seemed the numbers of female king in Japanese history were far more than China. In “Japanese cultural patterns and social change” said, “women were in place of superior position in primitive society.”[6]

In the 7th century the “Taika Reform”â‘£, which Chinese Confucian and Buddhism culture began to strongly influence to Japan, it became a serious nightmare for Japanese women. Japan brought over “the three obediences and the four virtues”â‘¡and “the seven evils for expulsion.”⑤ From China “Japanese cultural patterns and social change” also said: “Japanese society began to put emphasis on female chastity, and advocated ‘A woman does not marry to two husbands,” [7], but the husband could have many wives; If ones husband dies, wife should also to follow to die to show their loyalty. In the words, Men become harsher on women’s chastity.

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Japanese women have gradually lost its social position of dominant, and gradually became mere appendix to the man. From late 8th century in Nara period, women gradually became excluded from the central government; the range of political for women rapidly began to narrow down. Like Chinese women, Japanese women lose their personality from the outside world we can also be manifested in their name. In ancient China, women use father’s surname plus the name of the husband, they don’t have they own name. In Japan, self-consciousness is even vaguer. Even the female officer that working in the palace, they name also often taken from her father or husband.

To the Kamakura era, Kamakura Buddhism says female have “female original sin” â‘¥ were unclean, and stupid. They spread all this concept through the prayers, One of the most obvious change was woman must use honorific to man.

In the Edo period, a large number of Chinese women’s lesson books had began to be brought to Japan, Such like “Women Classic of Filial Duty”, “Female Analects of Confucius”, and “Female commandment” and so on…These ideas are planted while the women are young, so that they grow in a fixed mode of thinking. As in the “female commandment” said: “…women do not need to have specific skills, do not have to be pretty, do not have…” [8] This is explained by the fact that women in all aspects of life are subject to very strict binding. We can see along with the historical changes in the status of Japanese women, gradually transformed from being admired into men’s objects, they have been seriously affected by sexist and oppression that made them suffering a lot.

(3) Korean

In class, Doctor Song talked about “Dangun myth”, the story was about one of god’s son called to come down to ruled the earth, then he met a bear and a tiger, they prayed of the wish of becoming human, god’s son gave them 20 garlic and a mugwort to eat and they cannot see daylight within a hundred days, if they did, they will become human beings. As a result, only the bear had the patient to wait. After just 21 days; it became a beautiful woman, posterities called her as “bear women”. She was very happy about this, but she can’t find a person to marry, so she went to the sandalwood tree and prayed, saying she wanted to have a child. God’s son felt very pity to her and married her. Later, The Bear woman was pregnant, and had a son named Tangun. Bear woman, the female ancestor of Korean myth, showed the Korean women’s hard-working, perseverance and flexibility and more other traditional female virtues, When the bear women asked someone to marry her and have baby. I think that is probably the reflection of matriarchal clan custom. During the Palaeolithic, Korean women were regarded as the Gods of the earth and widely admired by people. In the Three Kingdoms of Korea, women and men have the same abilities and capabilities.

In the period of Koryo dynasty, the imperial examination system was dominant in the family to maintain the privileged status and good family background as the most important task. So patriarchal system was further strengthened. However women still had access to education, while in the marriage, it still sticking to monogamy, but the fact of concubinage was quite popular in the royal nobility. At the same time, there are no strict restrictions on widows’ remarriage. The heir right of family properties, land, and slaves belonged to men, but if there were no male heirs then female heirs can inherit.

Look at the history in the Choson dynasty; the Confucian thought became the mainstream thinking, in the early of Choson Dynasty, “Gyeongguk daejeon” ⑦ made patriarchal into a legal system. Women were completely excluded from public affairs, in no position of inherited in the lineage and grandchildren (from daughter side) are no longer seen as the same clan. female couldn’t become heads of household¼Œand not allow to join in worship, and had no right to inherit. Chastity is more important than life. Women are not allowed to go out, they had to be careful about what they say, they could not communicate with other males and they were not allow to join any social activities. Generally women who go to temples or upper-class woman who go to banquet, worship… they will get 100 stick hit as punishment. If upper-class woman need to go out of door they have to use a special transportation, I don’t know how to call in English. But before they go out they have to wrap silk over head, or cover their face [9] from above we can see. In the Choson dynasty Korean women’s status has been dropped to the bottom, under the domination of the Confucian thought Korean women had no independent personality and were only the men’s accessory. You can see a woman in ancient times there is no such thing as human rights ~! They even had no right to choose their own life. But in ancient history, there were three Queens in Korea’s Silla period; they also have made a significant contribution to Korea’s ancient civilization.


From what I have researched above, we can see three countries’ development of ancient social status of women was basically through a similar decline curve: from the primitive society, women were admired by man, but gradually changed in the feudal society, and then women were struggling to survive as Confucianism has been highly appreciated by the Ruling class of the three countries.

In order to maintain the high status of men, the rulers did a variety of education to stifle women’s personality, ideas, and women’s… They use a variety of constraints to constrain women, so that they consciously become the men’s propriety, and had no human rights.

In ancient Japan, the reasons of low women status in the addition of Confucianism, the other reason was because Kamakura Buddhism. Kamakura Buddhism says women are “unclean” and had “female original sin” these concepts slowly filtered into people’s minds. So, we cannot ignore Kamakura Buddhism’s impact on the status of Japanese women.

In the feudal period of China, Japan, and Korea, low social status of women, all has the following core concepts: male superiority, “three obedients the four virtues” â‘¡, and “the seven evils for expulsion”⑤ Which means seven legitimate reasons for throwing man’s wife out of the house,” “Innocence is the virtue for women”, “Women’s view of chastity” and so on. The value of them to survival is to benefit to men. Yes, even in now days things have improved for females but that is clear to me that more is needed to be done to improve equal rights between women and men so that conditions are better at work and at home. I hope that females can have the same rights as men in the future and that the battle will end between the two genders.


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