Traditional Chinese Values


Question: Make up a list of what you consider to be the traditional Chinese values and/or norms. Does it appear that many of the items on your list are becoming less significant than in the past? Why?

Due to the long term development of Chinese society, Chinese culture are deeply influence the life of people which also known as one of the civilization in world history. Culture can divide into materialistic culture and non-materialistic culture.

Both traditional Chinese values and norms are belonging to the latter one which the thoughts made by the social members.

Culture norms refer to the instructions of human behaviors that people need to follow in the society (Macionis, 2008). Norms can be dividing into the folkways and mores. Mores would be more restricted that it is also the taboo of the society. Punishment may result if someone’s behaviors are violating to mores. Culture value refers to the standards that comment on somebody ( 陳啟田,1999).

There are thousands of norms in traditional Chinese society in political, economic and social aspects. Most members in the society need to follow these norms, otherwise, they may be punished especially for those involving moral judgment.

In this article, we may focus on the social aspect. Two concepts are introduced, they are ‘Men work outside while Women work within the household’ and polygyny. Both of them are interrelated which showing men have higher authority in the family and the society.

In the traditional Chinese society, there are so many cultural norms that justify the behaviors of human being especially women. Women are always considering as inferior but men are superior in the traditional Chinese society due the patriarchy which men have greater power and authority in the society. (何強星,1999)

Due to patriarchy, we may come up with the concept ‘Men work outside while Women work within the household’. This idea deeply takes root in the traditional Chinese society because people generally think that women have physical weakness when comparing with men. It seems common that people use gender specialization on the jobs between men and women. Confucius who is Chinese influential person on moral judgment also supports this. (李翊駿,1998)

The phrase ‘Men work outside’ means men have the responsibility to support the whole families by working outside; meanwhile, ‘Women work within the household’ means women should stay at home to deal with family works. For example, taking care of children and elderly, and doing all the household works without any payment. (何強星,1999) The norms restrict the women activities in the society.

Since men are the labor force of the society who have great contribution to the economy and financial supports of the family. Thus, they have greater authority in the society and governing the family property (李翊駿,1998). As the result, women are inferior but men are superior. Women status is low under patriarchy so that they rely heavily on their father before marriage, husband after marriage and sons when they are old.

They all show the function of division of labor between men and women in the family and society in the traditional Chinese society according to the structural- functional approach. However, this concept will not consider the productive power of women in the society (李翊駿,1998 ).

However, the concept ‘Men work outside while Women work within the household’ still deeply take place in people’s mind nowadays. Although some new ideas come out such as ‘women work outside and men work within the household’ or ‘both of them share the housework’ due to the rise of human right which both men and women are equal under the law. Women start to work as professionals and engage in the political positions such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, the chairperson of United States Secretary and Anson Chan, the former Hong Kong Chief Secretary for Administration. The position of women is rising nowadays.

Although in the past, the concept refer to women are not allowed to work outside. However, the concept still works nowadays. Women need to take care of children and handle house works after working outside. The concept on the role of women still exists in the modern society. A research (see the appendix I) shows that half of interviews think women should concern more on the family than their careers. About 20% of them think that it is women’s responsibility on taking care of children. According to the newspaper, the chairperson of the Women’s Commission is also thinking that this will affect women’s working opportunities and social involvement.

Some radical feminism thinks that women will be liberated with the abolition of the family system and patriarchy (何強星,1999).

Despite the generally thoughts toward women’s role, women status increase a lot in recent years. Based on the labeling theory, women are not considering as inferior or subordinator of men anymore. They start to voice out their feeling and enjoy their human right. Many women are financial independent instead of relying heavily on their husband. . As a result, a wonderful and harmony family should depend on the efforts that both men and women pay to the family.

Under the patriarchy, men have the highest authority in the family and the society. Therefore, they are enjoying many privileges in the traditional Chinese society especially in the marriage but women are still being in an inferior situation such as polygyny.

Marriage refers to a woman and a man who are legally living together as husband and wife. In traditional Chinese society, people do not have right to choose their own partner. Instead, parents will arrange marriage to their children to the one with similar social status with them. This is so-called endogamy which is commonly found in rich families. (Macionis, 2008)

Polygamy is the basic formation of marriage in the traditional Chinese family. Due the responsibility of men in generating next generation, they think they should have more wives. As the result, Polygyny becomes the privilege to men. In that case, men have the right to concubinage. Sometimes, they may have more than one concubine.

However, women are not allowed to have more than one husband in fact. Men will not be punished if they have external affairs but women will be harshly punished if they have external affairs with other person. That is because this women behavior is violating to the norms of Chinese society. One common punishment is pushing them to death.

The function of Polygynous marriage is not only focusing on the generation but it is also gratify men’s vanity and fulfilling men’s desire on sex. In the traditional Chinese society, we may commonly say that the emperor have 3000 concubines which show the power and status of him in the country.

In the conflict approach, conflicts take place frequently under Polygyny between the women that will affect the harmony of the family. Trying to get love form their husband and the power of controlling the whole family become the main arguments of women in the same family like men want to get power from the political condition.

Nowadays, due to the rise of equality and the changing of the society, people are freely choosing their partner. In social exchange theory, there is an interaction on marriage and romance through dating. People know each other and find their potential partner during the dating instead of getting married with someone they had never seen before. (Macionis, 2008)

Polygyny is no significant in the modern society because it was abolished after the setting up of new China in 1949 in Chinese society. Hong Kong still have concubine according to the law of the Qing Dynasty until 7th October, 1971, polygamy becomes the legal statement due to the rise of women status and the influence of the western culture. Women started to think about their rights and the abolition of the concubinage in Hong Kong. (Yahoo knowledge, 2009)

Other problems may come out after the abolition of polygyny l in the society of Chinese. External affairs are common in Chinese and Western countries in both women and men as there is no any punishment to women with external affairs. Therefore, the numbers of divorce cases are continuous increasing in Hong Kong and the world.

In conclusion, there are so many Chinese norms and values to guide the human being of the members in the society especially there are many restrictions on women. Most of them are unreasonable in the modern society. Moreover, many traditional norms are abolished due to the change of the society pattern and the introducing of western ideas. At the same time, some of them are still deeply in people’s mind but the restrictions are more relaxing.


何強星、陳啟田。1999。「家庭」、「文化與社會化」。輯於何強星編《社會學探 論 : 理論與香港本土硏究》。香港 : 學峰文化事業公司

顧鑒塘、顧鳴塘。1994。《中國歷代婚姻與家庭》。臺灣: 臺灣商務印書館

Macionis, J. J. (2008). Sociology (12th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Education.

李翊駿。1998。「性 別 分 工」。《松柏之聲》245 期

上網日期: 2009年12月3日,檢自

Yahoo knowledge (2009)

Retrieved December 1, 2009, from

RTHK (2009).

Retrieved December 1, 2009, from 20090305/news_20090305_55_564399.htm





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