The Theme of Feminism in Chinese Culture as Illustrated in the “No Name Woman”

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Introduction

The No Name Woman is a short story authored by Maxine Hong Kingston. The author’s mother warns her from disclosing to anybody about her aunt’s incident (Szmańko 190). The author’s mother does the narration of how different Chinese cultures were in the past days. The author listens and later on changes her mother’s narration regarding their family. In the short story, the author posits that her mother’s tales were “talk stories” that had a cultural basis and were mainly oral with didactic intent. The author stresses that whenever her mother planned to warn them about life, she usually used short stories to pass the message (Wang 548). Women were seen as tools for sex and procreation, and it was only the boy child that was celebrated during birth since he was deemed of great value in the community. In the short story No Name Woman, the traditional Chinese culture significantly valued men over women.

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The story about her aunt is a warning tale that discourages young women from engaging in premarital sex. Humiliation, ostracism, and death are consequences associated with premarital sex and are meant to deter young women from being misled (Wang 551). In the novel, the author illustrates the discrepancies between American and Chinese cultural practices. The story shows that people embrace cultural values depending on their taste. The whole story is a narration about the author’s aunt and forms the basis of her beliefs and ideas. In the story, Kingston digs a little deeper into the motives of her aunt, aiming to link the narration to her personal experience. As a woman, Kingston strives to research and assess her Chinese culture intensively and discover her identity. Orchid, the author’s mother, warns the author that since she had started menstruation, what had happened to her late aunt could happen to her. Her mother further implores her that she should not humiliate them since the whole village is watching. During this epoch, society’s morals were defended, and it was a concerted effort to help censor the habits of teenagers.

Women in society were expected to uphold the highest levels of morality. The author’s family had migrated from China to America (Wang 549). The deceased aunt, on the other hand, had hampered the social reputation of the Chinese people. Her mother used stories to counsel and teach good morals in them. The author records that her mother used the “talk-story” of her aunt to pass the message on relevant codes of behavior and values to be upheld. However, the author finds it difficult to comprehend how the story of her aunt, who had committed suicide, would assist her in character improvement. Kingston asks other Chinese Americans to tell her how they discerned Chinese culture from what was pertinent to childhood, insanity, poverty, or a scenario whereby her mother was fond of telling stories since their tender age. Kingston does not discern what is fictional from what is honest in her mother’s stories.

As a female Chinese woman in America, Kingston is expected to uphold the morals taught by her mother. The biggest challenge is how Kingston will apply the moral lessons learned from her mother’s stories narrated. The author is expected to integrate lessons from talk stories into her life as she matures from childhood to womanhood. She is also concerned about the relevance of these stories about Chinese life to the first-generation Chinese Americans whose parents were born in China. The author also holds that these talk stories are complex since they are based on Chinese culture. Following the intricacy of applying the story about the No Name Woman, the author is compelled to re-write it from her American perspective. Using her peculiar talk story, she attempts to guess the underlying reasons that made her aunt exhibit certain behaviors. Though at the time of re-writing her mother’s story, the author might not have been conscious of the talk-story style. She vividly illustrates her reconciliation between her Chinese past life with her current American life.

Kingston serves as a continuity of Chinese culture passed to her by her mother as she lived in America. In her talk story, the author records what she heard from her mother (Wang 547). There is an establishment of Kingston’s continuity between her and her mother, representing first-generation Chinese Americans and Chinese culture, respectively. Kingston acknowledges the influence of cultural influence of her mother as she notes the similarities between her and her mother. The author records that she is a dragon and her mother a dragon and attests that they were born during the dragon epoch. Kingston also acknowledges that both she and her mother are first daughters.

The male-controlled traditional Chinese culture about women is depicted in the No Name Woman short story. The author re-writes the No Name Woman based on her understanding of Chinese traditions. The author portrays that the Chinese culture was set so that women were required to be submissive, whereby they were required to do as commanded without questioning (Wang 549). Her aunt, who got into sexual intercourse with the stranger, is a concern that makes the author believe that her aunt was moral. She wonders how come a stranger could have been allowed in the village. She holds that the man was not a stranger, and since women during the time were compelled to agree to men’s demands, her aunt must have been forced to accept his sexual advances. The author notes that women in the old Chinese society did not enjoy the freedom of choice since they were to obey everything they were ordered to do. Since the community demeaned the female gender, her aunt was vilified and accused of moral decadence. On the other hand, the man was forgiven and termed as a stranger.

In the old Chinese culture, women had no voice but to adhere to the instructions given to them by males. The author records that women were not given the privilege of choice as she cites a scene where the man forced her aunt to secretly have sexual intercourse with him and keep it a secret between themselves (Wang 549). Kingston holds that the very man who raped her aunt also organized villagers to attack her aunt’s family (Szmańko 193). The author demystifies how oppressive male chauvinists oppressed a submissive woman in the old Chinese community. In ancient Chinese society, it is evident that women were not given much reverence but taken as sexual objects. Men were allowed to force women into sexual intercourse, even against their wishes. The attack organized by the man who raped the author’s aunt confirms how hypocritical society was towards women’s submission. Even after the women were submissive, they were mistreated by the very people that took advantage of them.

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Kingston unearths how women suffered discrimination in the old Chinese community. During this epoch, the boy child was highly venerated since he was deemed to pass the family name from one generation to the other, which was believed to significantly enhance the stability and longevity of each family (Wang 546). The author records that only the boy child and not the girl child was celebrated in the traditional Chinese setup during birth. Kingston holds that the illegitimate child of her aunt must have been a girl since boys brought about more hope. During this era, the girl child was mainly given away by parents during marriage with the sole motive of being a tool meant for procreation. Eventually, the responsibilities and privileges granted to women were very limited in traditional Chinese society. Unfortunately, women were forced to adhere to the punitive patriarchal dogmas that restricted them from engaging in certain activities. Since the author’s aunt gave birth to a girl child following an adulterous action, that could have amounted to her being murdered.

Women during the traditional Chinese era faced severe punishment. Pregnancy, a confirmation of adulterous actions, was a socially unacceptable behavior that was punitive and could cost a suspect’s life. The author’s aunt is banished and forced by her family members to seek refuge in the fields surrounding the homestead, where she is recorded to fall on the ground, though her family does not place any human value on her. Society deems her aunt a nonliving creature since the spirits were displeased with her rotten character. During this epoch, it is evident that even superstition was meant to favor men at the expense of women. After adultery, the born female child conflicts with the societal beliefs where women were expected to be pregnant only for their husbands and were to sire the valuable boy child.

On the other hand, the author notes that her aunts’ adulterous actions and the birth of the baby girl were ill-timed. Had the author’s aunt committed adultery and given birth to her daughter when many boys were born, and there was plenty of food, things could have been the same. Kingston posits that the food problem and scarcity of boy childbirth escalated the animosity directed towards her aunt by society (Szmańko 192). From this incident, it is evident that society is hypocritical when dealing with women since punishments were based on prevailing societal events. It seems that her aunt was unlucky simply because she committed adultery during a time when the community was grappling with famine.

The family entity was accountable for the behaviors of its women, and in the case of a woman’s implication in moral decadence, the whole family could be punished. The family was enshrined by molding Kingston’s aunt to exhibit good morals throughout her life, without which the traditional Chinese culture enforced such a family to be punished (Wang 547, 551). The family is deemed guilty of not thwarting adultery committed by the “No Name Woman,” resulting in the family members being punished in her presence. The No Name Woman’s inequities resulted in her being punished with the whole family since that was the norm of their era. During this epoch, all families were aware that they would be punished for not instilling good morals in their daughters if their daughters misbehaved.

During the traditional Chinese era, beatification practices in women were handed over from one generation to the other. During this era, Chinese women valued beauty but were not allowed to invest a lot in their physical appearance (Szmańko 192). Kingston records that she had a hairstyle that resembled that of her mother and late aunt. The author illustrates that her aunt liked to comb her hair towards the rear from her forehead and later on could loop thread hence ripping her hair skillfully. The author also records that her mother emulated her late aunt’s hairstyle while making her children’s hair. During this era, it is worth noting that women had beatification styles transferred from one generation to another since parents taught their girls how to do their hair.

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Conclusion

In traditional Chinese society, only the male gender was authoritative compared to the female gender. Families were punished in case their daughters misbehaved. Women were taken as sex and procreation objects, and this made them susceptible to exploitation. Women were subjected to all forms of brutality when caught doing anything that was not acceptable in society. Immorality among women was highly punishable by even death. Surprisingly, the author’s aunt is accused of having sexual intercourse with a married man who was a stranger, but nobody is bothered about the man. There is an eminent continuity of Chinese culture from mothers to their daughters.

Women were expected to be submissive; otherwise, they were severely punished. Kingston holds that her aunt was coerced by the stranger to have sex with him. The birth of a boy child was celebrated since it was unanimously believed that they were the only ones who could successfully pass the family name from one generation to the other. Daughters were only meant for marriage and giving birth. Were it not that her aunt had intercourse with the stranger and conceived when society was facing a food shortage problem, she could have been spared. During this era, women embraced beautification and handed over these skills from one generation to the other.

Works Cited

Szmańko, Klara. “The trope of no name woman in American fiction and ethnography featuring Asian women.” BRNO Studies in English, vol. 30, 2004, pp. 189-204.

Wang, Quan. “A Warrior or Not? A Comparative Study of the Scarlet Letter and “No Name Woman”.” Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, vol. 3, no. 4, 2011, pp. 545-554.

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