What was womens roles and their place in society during the Tang Period in China and how is this portrayed in the book The Emperors Pearl – Essay Example
Gender roles and identity continues to change in various time frames, specifically which becomes dependent on the definitions and roles in society and culture. When looking at specific time frames, there is a relationship that is created to gender roles and the identity which is carried. In “The Emperor’s Pearl,” by Robert Gulik, there is an understanding of gender identity and how this marginalizes women in society. The role of women is one which ranges from subordination to men to worship of women because of the religious associations. The dichotomy of gender roles then becomes a part of the Tang Dynasty and the way in which women were looked at during the time frame. The concepts which are portrayed in the book show how women in society were looked at through the patriarchal format of culture, specifically with their roles in society. However, this was followed with the Confucius thoughts that began to alter the beliefs and thoughts of gender to create the dichotomy of the book.
The role of women and gender roles was one which was regarded through the traditions and expectations in the book. The traditions are required to be observed, specifically which is noted with men who take care of business and meet together while women remain in the background, as maids or absent from the book. Characters such as Kou show this with their approaches to tradition and the placement of women. “A pleased smile crossed Kou’s handsome, vivacious face. He said: ‘I take part in the races mainly to see to it that the old traditions are faithfully observed” (Gulik, 14). This approach is one that creates a sense of identity and placement within society. For women, this tradition is one which causes women to be suppressed in the role of men. This was common for the Tang Dynasty, specifically which unified the past dynasties into the new offices and expectations of society. The expectations for women were to hold to a specific social class and high culture, which created the main divisions in gender and the expectations of women in society (Ebrey, 121).
The traditions which followed are furthered with the understanding that there is a sense of beauty that is carried by women. This is a part of the dichotomy of the Tang Dynasty, first because of the feminist ideology of women having a subordinate position to men. However, there is also a sense of strength that the women carry with beauty and which is noted with the sports and activities that the women are a part of. When looking at the roles of women in the Tang Dynasty, it becomes linked to sports and activities, such as wrestling, that is created through the dynasty. For instance, when Kau is talking about the women wrestlers, there is a combination with the strength of the women with the feminine ideal. The woman who describes the wrestlers shows the strength of those that were invited to royalty; however, she also states that the women are “modest” (Gulik, 91) with the clothing which was worn. The dichotomy comes with the wrestlers being thrown out for being indecent, specifically by the standards of beauty from the women. This dichotomy shows both sides of feminism that was in the court at the time and how this was approached by others in society.
The role of women and gender roles was furthered with the changes which occurred outside of the main tradition of the time. This created the main dichotomy that mixed into the ideologies of the time. The role of women and gender roles changed specifically because of the traditions which were juxtaposed with the Empress that formed the Tang Dynasty. This gave women a specialized role in the culture, specifically which was based on social status. This was combined with the Buddhist and Confucious roles, which continued with the traditions of gender roles and the responsibility which both had to caring for others in society. This alternative set of gender roles led to the Tang Period holding women in high regard while keeping social status within a patriarchal system (Ebrey, 130).
The regard which was shown to women in the Tang Dynasty is noted with the attitudes of men toward individual’s which held a higher social status. The character of Kou shows this by pointing out the role of women who held an education and which were able to provide insight into specific situations. For instance, when speaking about the woman who was killed, he shows an affinity to the place which she held in society and with the personal relationship which they had. He states, “She was a remarkable woman, sir. She had an uncanny talent for judging antiques and, especially, precious stones. She always assisted me in my antiquarian studies, she was such a charming companion” (Gulik, 44). This quote shows that the role of women wasn’t only based on the suppression which came from a patriarchal society. Instead, women which held a higher status in society and which were educated through the Tang Dynasty had a special placement and role with men in society. The gender role then held a dichotomy with those who were in society, specifically by having a high status in specific situations while carrying a different status with a lower social status.
The social status of women that changed according to situation was also noted with the role of women in terms of Confucianism and philosophies which were in society. Despite the patriarchal society, the Confucius thought system held a different viewpoint about women and their role in society. The idea of women as a part of the divine was a part of the philosophies, specifically which protected and helped women in different roles. The philosophy was based on the yin and yang that balanced a person and their role in society. This followed with not being afraid, as the balance between the two became important to those who were moving into a specific status in society. This belief disregarded different roles in gender status and led both to having unique features based on the yin and yang, or opposites, within society (Ivanhoe, Norden, 238). In the viewpoint of Kau, this continues with women having a specific relationship to the Buddhist philosophies and beliefs in society. When approaching the haunted house, gender role becomes a consideration, not for suppression, but instead for the ability for women to have a specific philosophy to ghosts. “Moreover, being a woman, she had no need to be afraid, really. The White Goddess stands for the mysterious, creative force of fertile nature, she is considered the guardian of womanhood. Therefore, only young men were sacrificed to her, never women or girls” (Gulik, 48). This statement is one that shows the philosophy of the Tang Dynasty and the regard for women in specific gender roles that overcame the suppression of the patriarchal society through the Buddhist philosophies.
The concept of gender role in the Tang Dynasty is one which was defined by the cultural and social affiliations as well as the changing traditions and philosophies which were in society. The influences that were a part of society were consistent with the changing politics and the emergence of the past dynasties with the present situation. This was combined with the patriarchal society that grew into the region and which developed a different approach to the role of women during the time. When looking at “The Emperor’s Pearl,” it is noted that there is a tradition in the Tang Dynasty that shows reverence to women as well as a change into the patriarchal society that created a sense of suppression of women in society. The dichotomy which is created in this book shows how the gender roles began to change into a different set of norms within the culture and in terms of philosophies that were followed in society.
Ebrey, Patricia. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge University Press: UK, 2010.
Gulik, Robert. The Emperor’s Pearl. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2008.
Ivanhoe, PJ, William Norden. Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy. Hackett Publishing: New York, 2005.