Traditional values or blatant misogyny? “Female virtue” classes cause uproar
“If you order takeout, rather than cooking dinner for your family and washing the dishes,” said a lecturer from the Fushun School of Traditional Culture, “you have lost your female virtues.” The advice was featured in one of several clips, released by Pear Video, that led to the closure of the school earlier this week.
Over the past month, China’s under-regulated private education industry has been rocked by a series of scandals. This latest installment concerns a “feminine virtue course” offered by the Liaoning Province school, which required its female students to get up around 4:30am to do household chores, including cleaning toilets with their bare hands. The school preaches that “Men are heaven and women are earth”; “Women are supposed to live at the bottom of society;” and “A woman who has had sex with more than three men will die, because semen [mixed] from three different men will become poisonous.”
In one video, a lecturer tells the female students: “Whatever my husband says to me, I should always say ‘yes,’ ‘Okay.’ Women are supposed to do more housework without talking much.” Another says: “We are here to serve others; every strong woman will come to a bad end.” In another video, a woman kneels down in front of a Confucius statue and confesses: “Women should be unadorned and clean. But I have always worn heavy makeup. I have been opposing female virtue for a long time.”
According to the video, the school was established in 2011 and was approved by Fushun’s civil affairs bureau. But the bureau told China National Radio that the school had only been permitted to open, and hadn’t received approval to enroll students. Some students were reportedly sent by their parents to be reformed, others by their employers for “training.”
Curiously, it is the school who feels they have been wronged. “These videos are just taken out of context with some intentional editing. Their purpose was just to attack us, slander us, frame us and finally destroy us,” the school said via its WeChat account.
The school also stated they were just promoting “family harmony,” and the housework they assigned would “make the students obtain some Chinese traditional virtues and appreciate their parents’ hard work.” As for those kneeling down to Confucius and parents to confess their “faults,” the school says that contrite students had volunteered to do so themselves. “We have made a contribution to maintaining social stability and harmony. Many government leaders have given us support and encouragement…I wish the government could clarify the truth and bring us justice,” it adds.
The WeChat statement has since been taken offline, and the local education bureau shut down the school and required all students be dismissed (it has also been reported that its principal was a merchant that dealt in fake products in the 90s, and the brother of a convicted killer and local gang leader).
According to WeChat blog Jiemian, however, after the school was shut down, previous students protested its closure. Other testimonials were mixed. A student who ran away explained why she was sent to the school by her mother: “My mother said ‘After you take this course, you will obey me all the time. Whatever I say, you will feel that’s correct,” said the girl, addressed as Jin Xiao. Another previous student said that she was sent by her company as a form of career training.
In recent years, a number of schools teaching “traditional feminine virtues” have sprung up across the whole country. Rather than promote gender equality, they define “female virtues” as submissiveness and tolerance.
In May this year, female-virtue lecturer Ding Xuan became infamous after she gave a speech at a college in Jiangxi province, expressing opinions many found to be shocking or false, including: “The best dowry a girl has is her chastity”; “Women wearing scanty clothing are more likely to lose her virginity”; and, “If domestic violence happens to you, you should tolerate it, because people who are frequently beaten don’t fall ill easily.”
Though it caused a great outcry online, Ding said in an interview that she was just “giving advice” to women and that it was “for their own good.”
A similar school, the Mengzheng Traditional Chinese Study School, used to operate in Dongguan, Guangdong province before it was shuttered in 2014. The school had 12 courses a year that aimed to train women into becoming submissive housewives. A tape-recorded speech was played on repeat, which told female students that “The four basic principles of marriage are: When you are hit, don’t hit back; when you are scolded, don’t talk back; grin and bear everything; and never divorce.” According to the Southern Weekly newspaper, one Mengzheng lecturer even claimed that a woman should cut off her womb and breasts if she really wants to be an “iron(-willed) woman.”
Despite the outcry, some practitioners don’t think they were doing anything wrong, despite the blatant misogyny. In an interview with The Paper, the headmaster of Mengzheng School Huang Cheng said: “Many modern people are morally bankrupt. Whether rich or poor, people are all suffering. Our traditional culture can help them out and reduce psychological problems.”
All of these cases have made the expression “female virtue” notorious. Many netizens said that these charlatans were actually tarnishing traditional Chinese culture and showing blatant male chauvinism. Some others asked: “Why aren’t there any male virtue classes?”
Cover image featuring Ding Xuan giving a “female-virtue” speech, from Sohu