The Chinese Woman

The Chinese Woman (selected)
From the Spirit of the Chinese People, by Ku Hung-Ming, 1915

… … For the womanhood in a nation is the flower of the civilization, of the state of civilization in that nation.

But now to come to our question: what is the Chinese feminine ideal? The Chinese feminine ideal I answer, is essentially the same as the old Hebrew feminine ideal with one important difference of which I will speak later on. The Chinese feminine ideal is the same as the old Hebrew ideal in that it is not an ideal merely for hanging up as a picture in one’s room; nor an ideal for a man to spend his whole life in caressing and worshipping. The Chinese feminine ideal is an ideal with a broom in her hands to sweep and clean the rooms with. In fact the Chinese written character for a wife (妇) is composed of two radicals – (女) meaning a woman and (帚) meaning a broom. In classical Chinese, in what I have called the official uniform Chinese, a wife is called the Keeper of the Provision Room – a Mistress of the Kitchen. Indeed the true feminine ideal, — the feminine ideal of all people with a true, not tinsel civilization, such as the old Hebrew, the ancient Greeks and the Romans, is essentially the same as the Chinese feminine ideal: the true feminine ideal is always the Hausfrau, the house wife, la dame de ménage or chatelaine.


Chiufu (Translated)

Chiufu (translated) By Lin Yutang

Chiufu often said to me, “A man’s life lasts only a hundred years, and of this hundred sleep and dream occupy one half, days of illness and sorrow occupy one half, and the days of swaddling clothes and senile age again occupy one half. What we have got left is only a tenth or fifth part. Besides, we who are made of the stuff of willows can hardly expect to live a hundred years.”

One day when the autumn moon was at its best, Chiufu asked a young maid to carry a chin and accompany her to a boating trip among the lotus flowers of the West Lake. I was then returning from the West River, and when I arrived and found that Chiufu had gone boating, I bought some melons and went after her. We meet at the Second Bridge of the Su Tungpo Embankment, when Chiufu was playing the sad ditty of “Autumn in Han Palace.” Stopping to listen with my gown gathered in my hands, I listened to her music. At this moment, the hills all around were enveloped in the evening haze, and the reflections of the stars and the moon were seen in the water. Different musical sounds came to my ear so that I could not distinguish whether it was the sounds of the wind in the air, or the sounds of jingling jade. Before the song was completed, the bow of our boat had already touched the southern bank of the Garden of Swirling Waters. We then knocked at the gate of the White Cloud Convent, for we knew the nuns there. After sitting down for a while, the nuns served us with freshly picked lotus seeds prepared in soup. Their color and their fragrance were enough to cool one’s intestines, a world different from the taste of meats and oily foods. Coming back, we landed at Tuan’s Bridge, where we spread a bamboo matting on the ground and sat talking for a long time. The distant rumble of the city rather annoyed our ears like the humming of flies…. Then the stars in the sky became fewer and fewer and the lake was blanketed with a stretch of white. We heard the drum on top of the city wall and realized that it was already the fourth watch [about 3 A.M.] and carried the chin and paddled the boat home.


Yun (translated)

Yun (translated) By Lin Yutang

On the seventh night of the seventh moon of that year [1780] Yun prepared incense, candles and some melons and fruits, so that we might together worship the Grandson of Heaven in the Hall called “After My Heart.” I had carved two seals with the inscription,”That we might remain husband and wife from incarnation to incarnation.” I kept the seal with positive characters, while she kept the one with negative characters, to be used in our correspondence. That night, the moon was shining beautifully and when I looked down at the creek, the ripples shone like golden chains. We were wearing light silk dresses and sitting together with a small fan in our hands, before a window overlooking the creek. Looking up at the sky, we saw the clouds sailing through the heavens, changing at every moment into a myriad forms, and Yun said:”This moon is common to the whole universe. I wonder if there is another pair of lovers quite as passionate as ourselves looking at the same moon tonight?” And I said:”Oh, there are plenty of people who will be sitting in the cool evening and looking at the moon, and, perhaps also many women criticizing or enjoying the clouds in their chambers; but when a husband and wife are looking at the moon [The seventh day of the seventh moon is the only day in the year when the pair of heavenly lovers, the Cowherd (“Grandson of Heaven”) and the Spinster are allowed to meet each other across the Milky Way together], I hardly think that the clouds will form the subject of their conversation.” By and by, the candle-lights went out, the moon sank in the sky, and we removed the fruits and went to bed.