How did women contribute to ancient Chinese history?  

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In ancient China, men were largely regarded as the heads of families. Confucian thought, with its emphasis on filial piety and deference, emphasized the roles of women as deferential to their fathers and later their husbands. During the Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE), Confucianism became part of the way China was administered, and women's roles in the family became even more entrenched. Men generally served as the heads of families, though a widowed woman could become head until her sons were old enough to serve as head. The literature of the time stressed that women's virtues should include submissiveness, industry, and loyalty. When women married, they left their families and went to live with their husbands and their families. In addition, ancestor worship took place through men, so women were prized for giving birth to boys rather than girls. However, women also held important roles as midwives, Buddhist nuns, weavers, innkeepers, and other roles.

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), it can be argued that women's status declined. The society placed importance on widow chastity, meaning that widows could not remarry and had to remain part of their dead husbands' families. In addition, the practice of foot binding became common. Mothers would bind the feet of their young daughters to prevent them from being very mobile and to require them to have servants to wait on them. This practice continued into the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the last dynasty in China.