Women of ancient Rome vs. Women of Han Chinaby Rit Nosotro
Compare the lives of women in Rome with those in Han China.
The role of women in China was more respectable than the role of women in Rome.
In comparing these two systems it appears that women in 6th century China were better off than the abandoned women in Rome, who were controlled only loosely by their grandfathers, and then usually only in finances. Confucianism, even without the “freedoms” that Roman women deemed necessary, was better for women than the ancient world of Rome, where adultery and deception were common and even expected.
[For another comparative essay, see: Women in Ancient Greece and Egypt]
The following generalizations about women are made in the context of the enormous empires of Rome and Han China over the span of nearly 300 years. The reader should note the wide variation as subcultures existed within both of these empires and shifts in gender roles did occur over the course of three centuries. Yet, traditional roles remained the norm long enough to make these generalizations. Dramatic and rapid gender role change has only occured during the last century in both Europe and China. Gender roles have remained remarkably stable up until women gained the right to vote in Europe, and communism forced women into a gender nuetral workforce.
Women in ancient Rome were not allowed to hold office, supervise their own
finances, or go out of the house alone. However, theoretical law and everyday
practice were so far apart that it is fair to surmise that Roman women were
remarkably freer1 than those of Han China. The Chinese women were
told to submit in everything they did and were allowed little to no education,
political power, or positions of authority.
In Rome, there were specific laws concerning women and what they could and could not do. According to the law under Justinian, a Byzantine emporer who lived more than 200 years after the fall of the Han dynasty, women belonged uniquely to their fathers and/ or grandfathers unless either married “with manus”, which transferred control to their husbands, or they were emancipated. A marriage “with manus” was rare because of the fact that blood relatives were usually kinder to the women than their husbands would have been. The only exception to the paternal control was an illegitimate child, which belonged to the mother and had no share in the father’s estate.
Roman women also had the right to refuse a potential husband if his character was unfit, and divorce was relatively easy to get. For a wife to divorce her husband, she had to convict him of one or more of several crimes, either he had committed treason, tried to kill her, tried to force her into adultery, he falsely accused her of adultery, or he himself committed adultery.
When a wife divorced her husband for adultery, she acquired possesion of the dowry, and also the prenuptial donation. If there were children she must preserve the donation for their use, and any other property the husband possessed went to his children, or if there were none, the government. Divorce by common consent was illegal unless each side took a vow of chastity.1
Chinese women, on the other hand, were governed by Confucianism. When she was born, the Chinese girl was placed underneath her cradle as a symbol of lowliness and weakness. Women were regarded as vastly inferior to men and were treated accordingly. A female baby was also given a piece of pottery to play with, symbolizing the expectation placed on her to be industrious and to serve her family and her husband. And lastly, her birth was announced before the ancestors, symbolizing the fact that it was the woman’s job to continue worship in the home.
Women were, as a rule, not allowed to learn to read, write, conduct business, or anything else that was considered a man’s job. When they were young, they obeyed their parents implicitly, and after they were married, they were expected to do the same to theire husbands and parents-in-law. They had almost no say in anything except for the raising of their children.
Yin, the basic element of Taoism, and Yang, the basic element of Confucianism, told women that they were to be compliant at all times, gentle, obedient and meek. The most honorable women were those who always did just as their husbands told them to. They were also expected to work with a cheerful heart and to guard their purity, words, thoughts and deeds to preserve the family honor.2
In comparing these two systems it appears that the Confucianists of the 6th century were much closer to Biblical standards than the abandoned women in Rome, who were controlled only loosely by their grandfathers, and then usually only in finances. Confucianism, even without the “freedoms” that both Roman women and women today deem necessary, strikes closer to the truth than the ancient world of Rome, where adultery and deception were common and even expected.
However, where Confucianism goes wrong is in assuming that men are “better” than women, and that women should never hold positions of authority. A derogatory phrase commonly used for the few women of power was that they were “like hens crowing”. The Yin-Yang belief enforced this behavior by it’s statement that too much Yang (male influence) without enough Yin (female influence) to balance it, would upset the cosmic balance and cause chaos. They believed that by putting women in “men’s” positions would somehow erase the needed Yin.3
Altogether, although the submissive women of China were closer to Biblical standards, they did not meet the mark any more than the more powerful women of Rome. The Bible tells women to be industrious, knowledgable, even-tempered, submissive, obedient, and to care for their children and fear God. Both systems, by either trampling women or encouraging them to decieve authority, were doomed to failure and unhappiness from the beginning.
Roman women’s clothing styles were:
In Rome, of these four, wouldn’t a rich woman have married:
a. a rich ruler
b. a warrior
c. a potter
d. a medical man
Chinese women would not have any way to make money because:
a. they did not want to
b. they had no education
c. women could not work because of their stature
What was the main job of a Chinese woman?
c. caring for the children
d. all of the above
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