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Women’s Education and its Implications in Pre-modern China Essay

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Updated: Dec 10th, 2019


In the past, the Chinese people did not see any importance of educating their women. Girls were not allowed to go to school. Although China has a rich history education, women were exempted from accessing this education. It is believed that education in China began over three thousand years ago. However, it took a long time for women to be incorporated in the education system in China.

The Confucian ideology has governed the Chinese people for a long time and it still plays a major role in the present day China. The ideology advocates for a male dominated society and women are subjected to harsh treatment.

Additionally, this ideology encourages resistance to any change that would promote fair treatment of women in the Chinese society. Therefore, educating women in the Chinese culture has been met with a lot of resistance because of this historical ideology.

The Confucian ideology has played a major role in barring women from accessing education and also confining women to an oppressed status in the society. Women’s education is very vital in the emancipation of women from these oppressive ideologies and culture.

Education also plays an important role in social and political emancipation. It is very vital for women to have an equal chance in accessing education. There is need for women to be empowered through being given an opportunity to be educated. This paper shall examine women’s education and its implication in pre-modern China.

Women’s Education in Pre-modern China

It is not until 20th century that the Chinese society started recognizing the importance of educating their women. This happened after the feudal dynasty was abolished. In its place, the first national government was established. After some time, the People’s Republic of China was established.

Although the Chinese society currently allows women to be educated, the number of women accessing education is still lower compared to that of men. Therefore, women continue to lag behind in this country. This is despite the fact that China is ranked as the world’s most populated country.

It has taken fifty years of campaign by people advocating for women education for females in China to be allowed to attend school. Additionally, women who are in positions of power have been very aggressive in advocating for women to be given an equal chance in the area of education. Despite these combined efforts, there exists an imbalance in the educational opportunities offered to men and women.

The Chinese women have gone through a prolonged period of discrimination. They are only credited for being good mothers and wives because these are the only roles that they were expected to assume. According to Zhang (20), the Confucian ideology deterred women from accessing education since it advocated for a male dominated society.

The Chinese believed that women were un-teachable. They further believed that a woman of integrity is one who does not have any intelligence, particularly the intelligence that is acquired through formal education. As a result of such beliefs, the Chinese women were barred from attending schools. Instead, they were taught informal education that was very rigid.

The main topics taught in the informal education were how to be a good wife and mother, and also the behavior that they were supposed to exhibit as women. From the time one was born, the girl child was discriminated and regarded as inferior to the boy child. This treatment continued until adulthood.

Parents were not happy to give birth to children who were girls and they considered it a loss. Rearing them was considered a big burden. The subordinate role that women played in the Chinese culture was shown through some brutal practices such as foot binding that they were supposed to go through.

In 1904, the Chinese government established a new school system. The system was supposed to integrate a more assorted curriculum. This curriculum would combine the Chinese and the western education. Consequently, more modern schools were established and people started going to overseas countries such as Japan for higher education.

It was around this time that the debate on including women in mainstream education began. Consequently, public schools for girls were established. Initially, there were only a few Chinese girls’ schools which were built by missionaries. The missionary schools admitted only daughters of Chinese converts, and also the less fortunate in the society.

Initially, the missionary schools offered limited number of subjects such as the Chinese language, Christian texts, Confucian texts, needlework, and embroidery. Gradually, the schools introduced other subjects such as the English language.

The establishment of the first public Chinese girls’ school marked the beginning of provision of education to the girl child in China. Although the Chinese culture barred women from attending schools, there were a few women who had formal education.

The first major change in the roles that women played in the Chinese culture took place when they were allowed to access formal education. This took place during the republic years. The change affected women living in major cities and they became among the first women to receive formal education in China.

It was a big relief for many women as they were happy to have an opportunity to study alongside their male counterparts in formal schooling. It was also a major stepping stone and a huge step towards emancipation from oppressive culture.

After communism was introduced, the wide gap that existed between Chinese men and women became narrow. This narrowing of the existing gap gave the Chinese women equal opportunities with men in their quest for formal education. Consequently, women were able to get jobs in many places in the society.

As more women continued accessing education, they became empowered to hold even high profile offices in the society. More women also ventured into the political arena and were able to have influence in various fields in the society. Under the Mao rule, women were able to experience a lot of political power and influence in the society.

Implications of Women’s Education in Pre-modern China

The introduction of education for the Chinese women came with major changes with regard to the roles that they were expected to play in the society. Women experienced a lot of influence from things such as music from other countries, and movies. This influence led to the Chinese women dropping some of the existing culture and adopting foreign cultures.

This is happening in many spheres of life including the area of fashion, and the freedom to choose the person that one should get married to. Most of the Chinese women also gained the freedom to choose whether or not to get married, something that was not allowed in the Chinese culture. Therefore, acquisition of education led to the abolishment of some of the oppressive cultural practices.

Since the Chinese women were allowed to be part of the formal education in China, a lot of changes have been experienced in the Chinese society. There are women who have been able to venture into various aspects of life. They include areas such as acting, singing, science, and also politics among other fields.

However, most of the women who enjoy these opportunities were women living in urban centers. There was still a wide gap that exists between the women living the urban areas and those in the rural areas, in terms of the education opportunities available. The women living in the rural areas were still bound by the oppressive traditions that did not give them freedom to access formal education.

Although there were organizations that were working with the Chinese rural women trying to empower them through provision of education, there were a lot of hindrances from the existing traditions that made it hard for women to be liberated.

In the 1900’s, more Chinese women began to migrate to other countries to study. Others also traveled to look for employment opportunities, because they had already acquired some level of education, which would enable them get a job abroad. Because of such trends, the Chinese women were able to get some level of independence. This is something that the women did not enjoy prior to the introduction of formal education.

They were totally dependent on their male counterparts and they were never granted any form of independence. The Chinese women began fending for themselves through the jobs they got after receiving formal education.

They were no longer dependent on men for their upkeep and other needs. The aggressiveness of the Chinese women in search of opportunities abroad has contributed a lot in the development of Chinatowns globally.

A study done by the social scientists show that there is a link between education and the fertility rate among women. Women who are educated tend to have fewer children compared to women who have never gone to school. Therefore, educating women has been one of the ways that has been used to improve the quality of life among the Chinese people.

Education, therefore, plays a major role in reduction of the population growth in China. This is an advantage to this country because it is one of the countries that have a large population. Allowing women to access education has contributed to social and economic development in the society. Through education, women have been able to make better use of the available resources and also discover their potential.

At the individual level, education leads to acquisition of a high socio-economic status. Additionally, education has led to the acquisition of new values. These values play a major role in modification of relationships with the people in the society and also with the surrounding.

Therefore, educating women has resulted to a lot of social change in the Chinese society. This is because learning institutions are useful instruments, which contribute to social change.


The Chinese women were subjected to harsh treatment under the male dominated society. This was particularly so because the society was governed by the Confucian ideology, which advocated for a patriarchal society.

After the introduction of formal education for women, there were significant changes in the way women were treated in the society. They became more empowered and were able to break from some of the cultural practices that had bound them.

Works Cited

Zhang, Mingqi. The Four Books for Women: Ancient Chinese texts for the education of women, Shanghai: Guji Chubanshe, 1982. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Women’s Education and its Implications in Pre-modern China'. 10 December.

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