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How to be a women warrior under Chinese Culture?

Erin's picture

As one unique representative of Asian cultures, Chinese culture has more traditions than many other countries. Among all these traditions, women remain in a disadvantageous for over 2000 years. The history doesn’t include the appropriate proportion of women until recent century. It’s impossible to understand Maxing Hong Kinston’s The Women Warrior without a broader background of Chinese culture as well as the environment where Chinese American live. Author made her way through to find a voice for herself under the Chinese culture castle.

Girls are told to be quite and silence is considered as a means of self-protection. The term “ghost” is used extensively throughout the article. Such a term was generally used by Chinese people to call foreigners. The phrasing ghost and ghost country clearly impose negative indications considering the unpleasant history every time when westerners showed up in the Chinese territory. The hostility and resistance towards these foreigners, whose appearance and cultures are distinctive in general, never disappeared. Such fear in addition of uncertainties in a new country made silence a default choice for a large group of Chinese Americans from the beginning.

Besides the emotional natural rejection to western culture, “A ready tongue is an evil” was emphasized to author by her mother. It means that “Disasters emanates from careless mouth”. Such a term should ring a bell in a lot of people’s mind. My mom did tell me the exactly same thing, maybe just not to that extend. The constant consciousness of Chinese people to be extremely cautious about their words applies to women as well. I was disappointed that such a wise phrase lost its elegance and became kind of ridiculous when translated into English. However, I can’t deny the fact that in Chinese culture, women tend to be the listeners and that’s sometimes all was expected from them. I think author is that kind person who would speak up more than rest of Chinese people. Her traditional mother is definitely aware of her unique characteristic and “big mouth”, thus reminds her to “cut her tongue”

Throughout the article, authors mentioned many traditional values. What are those traditional values that make Chinese people, including women, stay silent even when have to survive in the “ghost country”? “There were secrets never to be said in front of the ghosts, immigration secrets whose telling could send us back to China.”(213), “Don’t tell. Never tell”(214), “ Don’t report crimes; tell them we have no crime and no poverty” (215)” Chinese  do not have to address children directly” (223) “ We like to say the opposite” ( 237) and etc. You can call this set of rules traditional values or cultural shackles. The tendency to remain silence was carried over to American. Even though most people faced all kinds of problems when they came, silence still took over. Indeed, “to live with problems until you can’t stand them” seem to become a default strategy for many Chinese people today. Unable to voice their opinion and waiting and hoping for others who might be brave enough, or can’t stand the problems anymore, to speak up and address the problems, many other Chinese stayed silent both in China today and some Chinese here in America. I guess I don’t have the authority to speak for everyone and everyone is a unique individual. Such a generalization cannot be very convincing when we talk many more individual cases. As part of that community, author carefully observed behaviors of each individual around her. From some point, she realized there must be some problems with that system. Furthermore, all the rules are forced on women several times strictly. Author mentioned gender specifically in the issue of marriage.

In author’s great-grandfather’s eyes, girls are not as valuable as boys. He referred to girls as “maggots”. Even though, male-domination value was generally popular back in days, some regions have more rules than others. Girls were treated differently. People thought girls can’t carry on family name and would get married and left. After marriage, girls would belong to her husband. “Marry a rooster, follow a rooster. Marry dog, follow a dog. Married to a crudgel, married to a pestle. Be faithful to it. Follow in” was a seemly stupid but an accurate and concise summary of Chinese’s opinions towards marriage. Marriage was and is still considered the most decision in women lives. Usually, girls were not allowed any speaking rights in such negotiation. Yes, it was a negotiation between two families. Things do get better nowadays. Still, women are expected to follow their husband after marriage.

 The issue of marriage eventually triggered author to be a warrior at the end. Because she realized that no matter what kinds of rules were set for very long times, the game is different in another continent.

Such awareness was built upon a hierarchy and more silence partially. The part she bullied the other Chinese girl because she couldn’t stand the fact that the girl just refused to talk no matter how viciously she threatened her. Also, the very moment she finally busted out all she wanted to say her parents. “I can do ghost things even better than ghost can. Not everybody thinks I’m nothing. I am not going to be a slave or a wife.” Even since that time, author decided to break the silence and say what she thinks and against things she doesn’t agree with.

She tried to obey her parent’s demand but found the problems in that set of rules and clearly realized the cultural barriers between the two. At the end, I think she decided to step away from the traditional values and tried to learn the codes of ghosts.

The constant struggles of author find her position between two cultures are finally reconciled but there is still a long way to go to be a true woman warrior.



Anne Dalke's picture

"traditional values or cultural shackles"?

I'm so glad that you took this opportunity to write more extensively about Woman Warrior; I see this paper as breaking your silence when we discussed the book in class, and extending the original analysis you attempted thereafter.

I see you, in part, filling in some gaps by drawing on your own cultural heritage; in part, trying to understand the immigrant experience--how cultural values of one place get "translated" in another; and in part, linking y/our analysis to others we have made ("I think she…tried to learn the codes of ghost").

Certainly one of the interesting things that your analysis highlights is the problem of translation--how (for example) "a wise phrase" in Chinese can lose "its elegance and became kind of ridiculous when translated into English." Another interesting dimension here is your equation of "traditional values" with "cultural shackles." Do you know the essay Culture as Disability? I find it an acute description of the ways in which every culture is a structure of abilities and concomitant disabilities: it seems to speak directly to your conception of the "shackling" of cultural values.

Your observation at the end that Kingston "decided to step away from the traditional values and finally reconciled" makes this whole process seem more conclusive than it ever is (as you also say, "there is still a long way to go to be a true woman warrior").I think narratives of immigration, such as Kingston's and yours, add a very useful dimension of complexity to the larger discussion we've been having this past week--about getting access to cultural codes, about learning to "play" and "push back," even when you don't have them.