Speaking of Chinese

The following is a review of the book “Speaking of Chinese” by Raymond Chang and Margaret Scrogin Chang.

“No spelling rules apply.” p.3

Language has always fascinated me, but I never attempted to learn the Chinese language because of all the horror stories you hear about those that have learned it; they say the language is very complicated and takes longer to master than other languages. However, when I read the back of this book—”Here is the book for the person who wants to know more about Chinese without learning to speak or write it, or who is about to begin learning it”—I decided to give it a read.

Interestingly, the language was created very carefully to assert male dominance over woman in China. Many words are made up of several symbols put together. For exampe, the word for male is made up of the symbols for force or muscle and field—so right off the bat you see that Chinese men where expected to be the strong, forceful, working-in-the-field-all-day type according to their language. Here are some more examples:

  • Take + female / female + home = marry
    “When a man marries, Chinese write…take, above, and…female, below. This combination means literally take a woman. Now, when a woman marries, the Cinese write the female symbol to the left of the character meaning home or family. A Chinese woman submissively joined her husband’s family…while a Chinese man forcefully took a wife” (18-19).
  • Female + son = good
    With this one you see that women are for making babies and male babies are better—good— than female (19).
  • Female + female + female = adultery or rape
    This one seems to say: only women can be raped and only women practice infidelity (20-21).

The book depicts some interesting proverbs like “If you plant melons, you reap melons” and “The old man living at the frontier lost his horse” but the Chang’s left out a lot of sexist proverbs that the Chinese have. Self-proclaimed feminist Isabelle Chan via wikinut.com, wrote an article recently about this. Chan says,

Proverbs are of particular importance since they represent generalized knowledge and illustrate enduring cultural models of experience (Holland & Quinn, 1995). For Chinese proverbs, married women are especially viewed from a misogynistic cultural scope. While women are generally synonymous with ignorance as in “女子無才便是德 Women is at their best with no intelligence” (Qin, 2011), married women are not even regarded as secondary beings. They bear painful resemblance to disposable entities owned by the males. “If the husband is not at home, there is nobody” amplifies the dedication of men to a family, which was minimal in the past, and directly wipes out the existence of women, not to mention their roles as devoted wives and mothers. “嫁雞隨雞,嫁狗隨狗 After your marriage, no matter how bad your husband is, even he has nothing, you must live with him forever.” (Qin, 2011) This barbarous creed deprives women of their personal freedom and perpetuates their fate as husband-servers, even if their better half dies young or commits adultery. Chinese not only synchronizes women with undesirable qualities, but it victimizes married women in particular, reducing them to parasites that succumb to male power.
Holland, D. & Quinn, N. (1980). Cultural models in language and thought. Cambridge University Press.
Qin, Y. H. (2011). Study on sexism in English and Chinese proverbs. Retrieved October 4, 2011, from http://www.tgc.edu.cn/xb/ShowArticle.asp?ArticleID=13892

The Chinese language is very beautiful, an art form all by itself, but it is an example of how male dominance is written into language. Coincidentally, the English word brainwash is borrowed from Chinese.


About evinhughes

I am a graduate of Georgia Southern University. I have a bachelors degree in Information Technology and a bachelors in Writing and Linguistics.
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