Saturday, February 11, 2012

THE NEW WOMAN OF CHINA.A Delightful Change.

The new woman movement is passing like a wave over the Far East, says Mr F. A. Mackenzie in a very interesting article in the "Daily Mail."

The life of the Chinese woman, under old conditions, was not a happy one. She was born unwanted. A son was a blessing, a daughter an encumbrance. Foot-binding inflicted incredible tortures on her. From her earliest years the Chines© woman is taught that hers must be a life of service. After marriage she exchanges the rule of her mother for th© domination of her mother-in-law, and in China the mother-in-law is ever depicted as a tyrant. The real state of affairs was brought home to me the first time I saw a Chinese wedding feast. These people love spectacular display, and never lose a chance of it. A marriage procession is always a great occasion. At this procession there were many musicians marching in front. Then followed banner-bearers and men carrying symbolical devices. The bride herself eat in a coach of state, in crimson, gold-spangled-. garments. Til ere was a gilt and jewelled crown on her head, with its hangings dropping over her face. But when I looked at the face of the little woman who was the centre of the procession, cowering in her seat, I forgot the gay trappings. Beneath the white-plastered cheeks, vermilion lips, and blackened eyelashes, one saw shrinking and fearful eye 6 and wavering cheeks that brought to mind memories of the roe deer when, breath- Less, it has Tun its last lap and sinks to the ground, palpitating, quivering, and; terrorised; awaiting the oncoming hounds. Little wonder. She was going to a husband she had never seen, and a mother-in-law who could, if sha pleased, make her life an inferno. THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH. That is the old condition of things, which still prevails ..over nearly all Now let me give a picture of the new. One afternoon when I was passing through one of the great cities of the north, a large envelope was left at my rooms. The envelope was prettily ornamented with gold dragons, and on.' opening it I found a visiting-card and an invitation in Chinese to dinner, eh famille, with the chief mandarin of the district. The letter was from the mandarin and hie wife, and told me that a high American offic. V would be present with his wife, and also another mandarin from/Pekin, and his wife. I opened my ©yes with amazement. Among Chinese gentry you never in former years mentioned or saw the -wife. Had I spoken to a high mandarin five yeai-s ago about his better half, or about one of the many, he would have regarded it as the height of insult. That evening when my rickshaw coolie wheeled me to the house I found yet another surprise. The home was two stories high, the only two-storied building in the oity. By building in I thie fashion the mandarin had proclaimed his defiance of the evil spirits of the air, who are supposed to be disturbed by a house of extra height. Had he attempted such a building ten years ago his bricks would have been torn down and his family would have been fortui nate to escape with their lives. My host was cf the usual type of high phinese officials; cultured, courteous, and showing by his every act that he desired me to be at my ease among novel .surroundings. But my attention was given mainly to my hostess, who stood ready to receive me, another Manchu lady by her ide. No mother-in-law crushed her, and she was her husband's only wife. Her dress was the typical attire of tho Manchus, the conquerors of China, who have since been almost absorbed in c the native stock. Her robe was ,of silk, beautifully embroidered. Her hair was done up high, on a large frame stretching eight or nine inches above her head. Her feet were unbound, and she could walk freely. Her face was frank and open, and would .have attracted attention in any London drawing-room. When dinner was served the ladies all sat together at one end of the table and the men at the other. At first the Chinese ladies were a little shy. Then it transpired that they knew a 1 Ite w words of English, and w© at once plunged into the inexhaustible language question. When tho first shyness had worn off, the talk was as free and as genial as in a gathering of friends at home. What did we talk about? My host had a hundred subjects of conversation, from the price of motor-cars to the newest educational schemes. He was keen on modern changes, and showed a minute knowledge or English affairs which left me surprised. The ladies took an interest in everything. CHINESE COURTESY REMAINS. It was to be- a European dinner that night, especially in my honour. At -the beginning, as in duty bound, the host expressed his regrets for the poverty of the meal. "lam sorry that I have nothing fit for you to eat," he said, My table is poor, as you see, and my fare is simple. But I tTust tKat the mental feast from your conversation will atone for the lack of good things." I glanced' at the table, and saw it weighed down with all manner of dainties. All the world knows the merits of the Chinese cook, and this evening, the Chinese cook surpassed himself. First came a succession of English dishes savouries, soup, fish, sausages, asparagus, fowl, and joint. Wise from former experience I ate very little of each, for the number of courses in a Chinese dinner is so great that it would be impossible otherwise to take them all. To leave a dish untasted is serious impoliteness. Then the European cutlery wais cleared away. "We thought you would like to taste some Chinese dishes," said my host. So silver-mounted chop-sticks came out, and the Chinese dishes arrived. The rarest Chinese delicacies, birds' nest soup and the like, could not be served as they take three days to prepare, and the cook only had four hours' notice of my coming. The Chinese chicken *was delicious, and the Chinese way of serving fish, fried crisply in small pieces and soaked, in soy (a kind of Worcester sauce), would be hard to beat. Bamboo shoots I found a sometwhat what tasteless delicacj. But the crowning

dish of all was sea slugs. A little thrill went through the guests as this royal dainty was brought on the table. My host heaped my plate, and politeness required me to eat. But I am not yet educated up to slugs.

Such is the menage of the Chinaman with the new-style wife. The barriers have been taken down from the hom»>. In place of a group of animated dollfi, kept in the background, he has a bright companion who shares his whole life. I do not claim that there are many such households yet, but their number is rapidly increasing, and the whole tendency to-day is towards their rapid growth. The schools for girls that are being started in many parts tell of the new era. Once the Chinese women open their minds, the men will not- be able to revert to medievalism, even if they would. Star , Issue 8820, 5 January 1907, Page 3

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