Forgetting the transformations of society in China, the language of the country embodies the gender stereotypes that the new generation seeks to overcome. It is quite possible that all languages contain a dose of sexism. In this, Mandarin and other languages come together.
However, unlike in Western languages, gender bias in Mandarin is sometimes revealed in writing, without any sign of it in the spoken language. To understand the subtlety, it is not enough to speak Chinese. You have to know how to read, know the ideograms – something much more complicated.
I explain quickly. Most ideograms contain radicals which, in turn, usually give clues to the meaning of the ideogram. The radical for “woman” is found, for example, in the ideograms for “sister”, “aunt” and “she”.
Less obvious, however, is that the ideogram of “good” or “good” contains this same radical woman.
In this case, the radical follows the ideogram of “the child”. The result is that the character of “good” or “good” is formed precisely by a woman and a child together. In turn, the “security” ideogram contains a woman under a roof. At home, certainly.
Ironically, the phrase for gender equality brings the combination of ideograms for men and women – in this sequence. Reverse the order, and a Chinese person will immediately see an error.
The language reveals a strong cultural trait, but it clearly does not reflect the situation of women in China today. There is an obvious tension between modern life and, on the other hand, gender stereotypes and traditional values embedded, for example, in language.
To refer to International Women’s Day, he used an ideogram combining a woman and a broom. More and more the Chinese are using a different expression so that the allusion to the festive date rejects the broom.
In a highly competitive society, getting married and having children is seen by many women as a burden, an imposition of the past incompatible with the ambitions of the present.
With population pressure increasing rapidly, the government lowered the legal age for marriage, relaxed the one-child policy, and amended legislation to contain so-called impulsive divorces.
None of this produced the desired effects. In 2020, the number of births fell for the fourth year in a row. The divorce rate, which has increased since 2003, broke a record last year when there was yet another drop in the number of marriages.
As a result of decades of family planning policies, urban women in their 20s and 40s are mostly unmarried girls. One of them tells me that being an only child was very lucky. If he had had a male brother, he probably would have been in the background.
Women like her, in an environment of fierce competition, received all the dedication of their parents, eager to provide the new generation with opportunities they did not have. Today, many consider themselves successful.
Living in a time of wide possibilities, these women think twice – or more times – before tying their future to a husband and, in China, to a husband’s family, with very different expectations from theirs.
Social pressure and government interests are pushing women in one direction, but more and more women want to go in the opposite direction. For them, good does not necessarily imply the combination of a wife and a child.
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