The role of women is an important part of family life and society, as women– to quote chairman Mao– “are carrying half the Heaven”. The changing role of Vietnamese women through the historical ages has been a study in the merging of many cultures: lndigenous Vietnamese culture, Chinese civilization , French and other Western influences . These influences still leave vestiges at the present time, whether inside Vietnam or among the Vietnamese diaspora outside Vietnam. In Vietnamese history, there are two great ladies known as, the Trung ladies, who threw out the Chinese colonial overlords and won independence for Vietnam in 40-43 A.D., or the Lady Trieu (249A.D.) who also fought the Chinese, or the revolutionaries Co Giang and Co Bac who were active against the French, even though these heroines might give us the hint at the role of Vietnamese women in public life which antedated the movement for equal rights for women in the modern world . Rather, we are concerned here with the economic and social role and legal status of the “ordinary” Vietnamese women throughout history, in Vietnam as well as abroad.
We have found that there is a CENTRAL THEME in the odyssey of Vietnamese women: official moral rules might have been advocated and state laws might have been promulgated to impose inequality on women, but THE REAL POPULAR CUSTOMS, nourished by the reality-imposed functions of women, HAVE CONSISTENTLY SUPPORTED AN EQUAL ROLE FOR VIETNAMESE WOMEN, THUS DEFEATING THE MAN-INSPIRED STEREOTYPES, AND THE LAW EVENTUALLY HAS ALSO TO ADAPT TO THIS EGALITARIAN DRIVE AND GRANTED EQUAL STATUS TO WOMEN. 1. THE VIETNAMESE WOMAN IN TRADITIONAL VIETNAM : INDIGENEOUS AND CHINESE FAMILY VALUES
Traditional Vietnam was dominated by Chinese culture, with the Confucian moral rules of three bonds (tam cÃœÃ–ng) and three dependencies (tam tÃ²ng): the three bonds being the (i)the subject’s loyalty to the emperor, (ii)the children’s piety toward their parents, (iii)the wife’s obedience to her husband; and the three dependencies being the woman’s duty to follow her father when young, her husband when married and her sons when a widow. This unequal treatment of women in morality was translated into a lower status for the wife in the law. Many offenses committed by the wife against the husband were punished with the same severity as offenses committed by children or grandchildren against parents or grandparents. Some actions were considered criminal only when
taken by the wife but not when by the husband (for example: beating wife without wounding). The husband might unilaterally repudiate his wife for one of the seven reasons (thÃƒt xuÃƒt ) such as childlessness or jealousy. But the above moral or legal ideals–no doubt inspired by a male-dominated government–had to make concessions to the importance of the Vietnamese women’s role in reality. They participated in productive labor and probably outperformed men in this role, as the men were busy fighting so many wars in our history or busy studying for the classical examinations to enter the bureaucracy. In folk poems, we see the active role of the Vietnamese females in agriculture and finance.
Because of the reality of the Vietnamese women’s role in the
economy, even the laws of the emperors had to give them equality in civil rights.
In the area of personal right, LÃª dynasty laws required the wife and the husband to love and respect each other and would demote a husband who neglected or abandoned his wife. The wife could also take initiative to ask for a divorce on several grounds unknown to China (for example, the husband neglected to visit her personally for five months). Even more important are the Vietnamese women’s property rights, something the Chinese women did not have. China’s traditional law codes mentioned nothing about the daughters’ succession rights, the LÃª dynasty law specifically stated that brothers and sisters should equally in the succession of the...