Power Distance in China between Males and Females

My husband and I just watched “Hope Springs” at the movie theater last night, it was rated as PG-13. I thought it should have been rated a bit more critically. I certainly wouldn’t want my former Chinese students to see it. They probably wouldn’t have understood the subtle humor in it.  However, it had great actors with Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep but the content was rather graphic.  The “power distance” created in this 31 year marriage was something to witness.

This next essay written by a young Chinese man shows his passion for all things Japanese.  He amazed me with his acumen, his attention to detail and he is only 15 years old!!!  I think he is fascinated with Japan because that is a topic left out of the Chinese history books.  So close to the war crimes of WWII and even earlier, China does not want to know much about Japan.  Yet, this student points out over and over again how much Japan has borrowed and used things from China.  Strange “power distance” going on between these two countries.

“In some TV programs, movies and dramas, Chinese females are always regarded as weak and obedient people who hardly have power to even disobey males or decide own fate. Chinese women have little power when they are communicating with males. This opinion is easy to be accepted since it’s believed that ‘Males have more power than females’ according to “Experiencing Intercultural Communication: A Introduction,” Fourth Edition by Martin, Nakayama in 2011(P.53). However, this is actually wrong thinking not only regarding recent China but also to ancient China. In fact, it’s very common for Chinese females to get many kinds of power as males. Females’ rights are always protected by laws or moral habit. For these reasons, when females communicate with males, there is little power distance between them in China. Because culture in East Asia is similar to each other such as China and Korea and Japan, I will also put forward some examples in Korea or Japan to prove my thesis.

It’s common for females to get as much power as males. In recent China, according to “Culture Shock! : A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette China” by Angie Eagan & Rebecca Weiner in 2011(P.69), ‘There is a lovely Chinese expression that says that women hold up half the sky’. This metaphor is quite good for it describes the truth correctly. Among people who I know, females usually are not only important money contributers to families but also money managers in families because many husbands must hand over their money to their wives. It’s not a social habit just appearing in recent years. In ancient China, wives had a nickname as ‘General Manager’(In Chinese it’s written as ‘掌柜’) which means wives are the economic manager of the whole family and the deep reason is that in ancient China silk or cotton textile made by females was always an important part of family income.

For these reasons, in traditional Chinese stories, we can often see a wife saying, ‘Think of how you will live without me!’ to her husband and even now we can also see such a communication situation. In such cases, most husbands will choose to be silent. The little economic power distance between males and females also leads to little power distance between males and females in communication situations.

Females’ rights are always protected by laws or habits. In recent years, it’s undoubted that there will be well-done law in East Asia countries which protects females’ rights. However, it’s hard to imagine that females’ rights are also protected well in ancient East Asia. As a matter of fact, in Ming Dynasty(1368-1644), according to the law, if a husband married two wives, he would be “exiled to places where is over 500 kilometers to his hometown” (In Chinese it’written as “流一千里”).

Females’ rights is also be of importance in Japan. According to Wuxuezuyuan (In Japanese it’s written as “無学祖元”)’s Buddhism education to females and views about females’ rebirths by Saku Wanatabe in 2011, “On the contrary of denying females’ rebirth in old times, Wuxuezuyuan admitted posibilities of females’ rebirth.” It means in Japanese monks’ points of view, females are equal to males. And according to one Japanese laws in Kamakura, (In Japanese it’s written as “鎌倉”) period (1189-1333) which named Joei Shikimoku (In Japanese it’s written as “貞永式目”), “When a wife divorces with her husband, if she make crimes, she shall not get her husband’s property. However, if she has no mistakes, her husband shall not regret to give her some of his property.” This law admits that husband’s property is not equal with wife’s property.  In addition, another law in this code was that “The right of inheritance of females is equal with males. Moreover, if one daughter doesn’t make serious crimes, parent cannot disinherit her. This law admits that rights of inheritance of daughters is equal with sons. These are both laws protecting females’ rights in property.

Females’ rights are also protected by moral habits. For example, widows and young girls are always regarded as people who need protection most especially widows, and people violating their rights usually will be punished promptly. It’s the same in Japan. For example, in an ancient Japanese historical book named Heika>(In Japanese it’s written as “平家物語”),there is a female samurai named Tomoe(In Japanese it’s written as “巴”). According to The Tales of Heika, “Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand men.”(In Japanese it’s written as “巴は色白く髪長く、容顔まことに優れたり。強弓精兵、一人当千の兵者なり”). It’s not something imaginary. As a matter of fact, in ancient Japan, females usually received martial arts training because they were supposed to protect family with their husbands or brothers.

When females communicate with males, there is little power distance between them in China. For example, my father has told me some stories about his grandmother. When she talked with her husband, brothers, children or grandchildren, she was very serious and no on dared disobey her. It’s because she was the actual manager of a large family and she had her own property so she could influence the economics in the large family . In recent China, however, there are few large families now. However, females are still important managers in Chinese families. When my mother communicates with my father, she is at an equal situation to my father. And when my mother talks with other less powerful male family numbers such as her brother, he can only do nodding and saying yes. It’s the same situation among my classmates in China, a girl usually can control her boyfriend in communication well rather than always obey her boyfriend.

In conclusion, it’s very common for Chinese females to get many kinds of power as males and females’ rights are always protected by laws or moral habits. More importantly, it’s sure that there is little power distance between males and females in China. China is a lawful country not only in past but also in recent times. However, it doesn’t mean that China is a highly-hierachical society. Females communicate with males without any power distance is very common in China and East Asia.”

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