How were the family lives of women and children changed during the Qing dynasty?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Qing Dynasty was the last Dynastic ruler of China before the rise of the Republic of China. The Qing Dynasty began expanding from Manchuria in 1644 and continued to expand its power for almost three hundred years, until internal wars and rebellion weakened their hold on Chinese lands and culture.

During the Qing Dynasty, women continued the cultural practice of submission and subservience to their husbands or to the men of the house. The greater military strength of the Qing allowed for greater peace and prosperity, in which women played a major role; they were allowed to act as merchants in local shops, and they also constructed many of the goods that contributed to the rise of international trade. However, during this time, a greater focus on chastity led to new rules and social structures. Women were forbidden, for a time, to bind their feet or those of their daughters, but this restriction didn't last long, and foot-binding continued as a practice until the 1900s. The focus on chastity, with enforcement led by government officials who formed a "chastity cult," caused many women to commit ritual suicide to prove their innocence; this behavior caused a recursion as the "chastity martyrs" were idolized and so the cycle continued. Education for women was also restricted, with only the wealthiest women allowed to study or take up creative practices such as poetry.

Children remained an important part of family life. Sons were still thought of as more important than daughters -- and the practice of killing a daughter after birth was still unofficially condoned by the government; sons were more important militarily, as well as occasionally being adopted by royal families to continue bloodlines that had not produced male heirs. Daughters, however, were more often treated as status symbols; the binding of feet continued and daughters were sometimes traded in land or power deals.

As always, life was different for families living in the agricultural areas than in urban or elite areas. Farmers had no time for social structure and all members of the family worked a set job to survive day-to-day. Daughters in farming families were lucky; they could not have their feet bound because of the strain of work, so women in the agricultural areas were healthier and lived longer. Meanwhile, sons were often conscripted into the Qing armies, and families relied on their fertility to keep their farms operating. However, the Qing Dynasty recognized the importance of agricultural families to the economy, and protected them from the local abuses of powerful or wealthy nobles.

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