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Author Topic: Women in Ancient China  (Read 456 times)

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Offline BeorningTopic starter

Women in Ancient China
« on: December 26, 2015, 10:00:33 AM »
So... I got Qin: The Warring States as a Christmas gift. It's a pen-and-paper RPG set in Ancient China.

The game's genre is historical adventure crossed with low fantasy and - as far as I can tell - the designers wanted to make the setting authentic and close to historical reality. Which is great, but after reading the section of Chinese women's life, I got the impression than it would be quite hard to come up with female PCs... Basically, the Chinese women seem to have been living very controlled and constraining lives. So, there would be no female warriors, diplomats etc... So far, all character ideas for female PCs I get are escapees from brothels and other rebels that constantly fight against the society's expectations etc.

But maybe I'm wrong and there were some social niches in Ancient Chinese society where an independent woman might have found a place for herself?

Anyone here with the appropriate historical knowledge that could help me out?

Offline HairyHeretic

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Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2015, 11:11:01 AM »
Don't take it as being a pure historically accurate setting. It's wuxia, so take that as your inspiration for female characters.







Look at Romance of the Three Kingdoms and The Water Margin, and maybe even Journey to the West.

The players are the heros, they're meant to be larger than life, and to some degree to exist outside of the normal boundaries of society.

Let me know if you plan on trying to run it, I'd enjoy dusting off my Fangshi.

Online Mathim

Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #2 on: December 26, 2015, 11:15:46 AM »
So... I got Qin: The Warring States as a Christmas gift. It's a pen-and-paper RPG set in Ancient China.

The game's genre is historical adventure crossed with low fantasy and - as far as I can tell - the designers wanted to make the setting authentic and close to historical reality. Which is great, but after reading the section of Chinese women's life, I got the impression than it would be quite hard to come up with female PCs... Basically, the Chinese women seem to have been living very controlled and constraining lives. So, there would be no female warriors, diplomats etc... So far, all character ideas for female PCs I get are escapees from brothels and other rebels that constantly fight against the society's expectations etc.

But maybe I'm wrong and there were some social niches in Ancient Chinese society where an independent woman might have found a place for herself?

Anyone here with the appropriate historical knowledge that could help me out?

Out of curiosity is this before or after they did feet binding?

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2015, 11:20:13 AM »
Foot binding came way later than the Warring States period, by about fifteen hundred years.

As I understand it the freest women were typically widows (like Mother Meng, legendary mother of Mengzi [Mencius]) who within limits had status and acknowledged influence in society, particularly as it pertained to raising sons but also in terms of running the households (and sometimes troops) of fallen husbands. Women from outside the boundaries of polite society -- bandits, pirates, whores et cetera -- might attain some freedom of action in the right circumstances and would be the likeliest source of the Strong Female Character. Another option for female characters who don't want to be confined to female roles is to cross-dress as men (some women masqueraded for long periods this way - the famous Chinese example of this is the recently Disneyfied Hua Mulan but there would have been examples of this during the Warring States as well).

Outside of that, powerful women in intensely partiarchal societies often had to work subtly, through influence; so you're looking at a traditional wife or daughter or concubine who achieves status and power through uncommon strength of personality and influence on the men around her, which would be an interesting and very different sort of role-playing challenge.
« Last Edit: December 26, 2015, 11:21:52 AM by Cyrano Johnson »

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #4 on: December 26, 2015, 12:43:09 PM »
Thanks for the input, guys.

Looking at the source material (meaning, the game), there are two pregenerated female characters. One is an escapee from a brothel (which fits the "a female rebelling against the patriarchal society" side of things) and another one is a spy who masquarades as a travelling artist. This is the character that interests me, as it seems that she has at least some acceptance from the rest of society. But I'm not sure how such a character works, exactly - the rulebook describes the Chinese women as being restricted in a multitude of ways. If so, then - how come there are female artists freely travelling around China?

BTW. Hairy, I might want to run this game, but you know... I promised you a Dark Heresy game, too  ::)

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #5 on: December 26, 2015, 12:56:02 PM »
Artists in the period are definitely a "fringes of society" niche AFAIK. Think about the way actors were regarded in Cromwell's Britain and you're probably not too far off.

Offline HairyHeretic

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Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #6 on: December 26, 2015, 12:56:51 PM »
Keep in mind, the game is Mythic China, not Historical China. The players can do what they do because they are larger than life.

Offline Fenrisulfr

Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #7 on: December 26, 2015, 02:41:46 PM »
If wanting to take inspiration from Mulan, I would recommend this one over the Disney version.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1308138/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #8 on: December 26, 2015, 03:45:22 PM »
Artists in the period are definitely a "fringes of society" niche AFAIK. Think about the way actors were regarded in Cromwell's Britain and you're probably not too far off.

I might need to read some more on the history of Chinese artists, then...

Keep in mind, the game is Mythic China, not Historical China. The players can do what they do because they are larger than life.

Good point. But the game seems to be very close to reality, so I keep getting into the mental obstacle that a female adventurer would be something very rare in this kind of setting...

It's definitely not Legends of the Five Rings which, as far as I know, had the samurai-ko treated as something common...

If wanting to take inspiration from Mulan, I would recommend this one over the Disney version.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1308138/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

Whoa, thanks! I had no idea this movie existed...

Offline Kuroneko

Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2015, 04:03:45 AM »
In historical China, the culture was dominated by Confucianism which says, in part, that a woman belongs to her father when she is a child, her husband when she is a woman, and her son when she is a widow.

I suggest you take Hairy's advice and ditch the history in favor of embracing fantasy and Wuxia legends in order to get the kind of character you want ;)

Offline Fenrisulfr

Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2015, 10:24:20 AM »
My suggestion is instead to talk to the players who want to play female characters. Do they want their characters to be considered equals to the men, do they want to fight or work around the historical opinions, do they want some light version of it, something else?

A player looking forward to a story arch of getting recognition despite being a woman, might lose all interest in the game if hearing a "oh, no problem if you want to play a woman. I will run with gender equality."

The actual problem there is if there at the same time is another player who is fed up with the sexism in the real world and don't want to deal with it within the game as well. But I think it would be possible to find compromises.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2016, 08:18:02 PM »
I suggest you take Hairy's advice and ditch the history in favor of embracing fantasy and Wuxia legends in order to get the kind of character you want ;)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon uses a simple but ingenious "out" in which Chinese society as a whole is recognizably its standard Confucian self, but where there's an "underworld" of wu xia fighters where the gender rules don't matter as much as simple ability does.

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Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2016, 07:35:31 PM »
There are quite a few examples of powerful women in Chinese History, though unfortunately a lot of the good they did was undermined by Confucian backlash. My area of expertise is the Three Kingdoms, which is a few hundred years after the Warring States.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Yi_(Zhao_Ang%27s_wife)
Quote
"When Ma Chao attacked Ji, Wang Yi donned a battledress, armed herself with a bow and arrows, and assisted Zhao Ang in defending the city from Ma's forces. She also handed out her personal accessories as rewards to the soldiers, substantially increasing the defenders' morale."

Eventually Ma Chao won and conquered Ji. She became chummy with Ma Chao's wife, which prevented him from harming Wang Yi or her husband. Later she plotted with her husband to take their lands back, successfully liberating it.

Quote
"For the whole period of time from the siege at Ji to the battle at Mount Qi, Zhao Ang had launched nine attacks on Ma Chao and Wang Yi participated in all of them"

Less dramatic, the poetess Cai Yan, kidnapped by barbarians, ransomed, and then recited 400 books, thought forever lost, from memory.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cai_Yan

You might consider playing a character who has a lot of relationships, familial in particular. Women of the period exerted a lot of influence by virtue of who they married or who they mothered. The Empress He was a commoner, but managed to become the Emperor's favorite. She rose her brother to the position of Prime Minister, but most narratives paint him as her lackey.

There is also Lady Wu, who was the mother of a man who declared himself an Emperor.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Wu_(Sun_Jian%27s_wife)
Quote
"Lady Wu was known for her wisdom and shrewdness in politics. The Kuaiji Dianlu (會稽典錄) recorded one incident in which Sun Ce wanted to kill Wei Teng (魏騰), an Officer of Merit (功曹) serving under him, when Wei opposed his views. The other officials were afraid and did not know what to do. Lady Wu showed up, stood beside a well, and told her son, "You've recently established a foothold in Jiangnan and there are many things you still need to do. You should treat men of talent with respect, pardon them for their minor mistakes and honour them for their contributions. Officer Wei has been performing his duties faithfully. If you kill him today, tomorrow others will rebel against you. I don't wish to see a tragedy occur, so I'll throw myself into this well." Sun Ce was shocked and he immediately released Wei Teng."

Not all of them were entirely benevolent, though. Nor were they docile and subservient housewives. :P
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhang_Chunhua
Quote
Once, the warlord Cao Cao wanted to recruit Sima Yi into the Han civil service, but Sima lied that he was ill and stayed at home. One day, while Sima Yi was drying his books under the sun, there was a sudden downpour, so Sima immediately rushed out to collect his books. The incident was witnessed by one of Sima Yi's maids. Zhang Chunhua was worried that the maid would leak out news that Sima Yi was well and get their family into trouble, so she killed the maid to silence her. She then personally prepared meals for the family, and Sima Yi was very impressed with her.

In his later years, Sima Yi favoured his concubine Lady Bai (柏夫人) and started neglecting Zhang Chunhua. Once, when Sima Yi was ill, Zhang Chunhua visited him, and he said to her, "Old creature, your looks are disgusting! Why do you even bother to visit me?" Zhang Chunhua was angry and she attempted to starve herself to death. Their sons did so too. Sima Yi was shocked and he immediately apologised to his wife and they reconciled. Sima Yi later secretly told someone, "It doesn't matter if that old creature died. I was actually worried about my boys!"

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2016, 02:23:24 PM »
Thanks!

Okay, I have a specific question: did women in Ancient China take their husbands' names after marrying them?

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Re: Women in Ancient China
« Reply #14 on: January 21, 2016, 02:40:50 PM »
They did not. Generally, their children still took the husband's name, however.