A Comparison Between Marjorie Topley and Ziling Ye’s Research on Zishu Nu

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Topics in Feminism
Professor Ding
8 Jan, 2013
A Comparison between Marjorie Topley and Ziling Ye’s Research on Zishu nu In the early nineteenth century rural Kwantung in China, there were a group of women, who were different from the other Chinese women. They go through a hair-dressing ritual and vowed to remain unmarried in their whole lives. They are called zishu nu, which means women who make their own hair. There are two authors, Marjorie Topley and Ziling Ye who had both written a research paper on zishu nu with distinct perspective in respective time. In this paper, I would first look into Topley then Ye’s paper about zishu nu and compare the two authors’ different point of views and perspectives in analyzing the particular phenomenon of zishu nu. In Topley’s research, “Marriage Resistance in Rual Kwantung”, her argument is that due to the particular economy environment in Kwantung, it helps to bring an opportunity for women who refused to marry to support themselves independently and thus raised their social statue above married women. “with the industrialization of the economy, women wishing to remain unwed were financially able to act on their preferences.” (Topley 86) In her argument, the formation of zishu nu is due to the resistance of marriage. In Topley’s research, she first illustrates the physical environment and its effect on the local economy and culture. Then, she looks into the local factors that help generate the resistance. Lastly, she turns to analyze the changes in the area that may have contributed to the movement’s decline. From the environmental aspect, Topley provides a clear overview of the resistance area, which happens in P’an-yu , Nan-hai and Shun-te. It is due to the advantage of subtropical climate that helps the mulberry grows rapidly and therefore silkworms produce more cocoons. As a result, the silk companies require more working labor of women and provided the opportunity for zishu nu to support herself. Or else, if a woman refuses to marry in other areas, the alternatives for her would be either religious orders, to be a nun, or sexual and procreation work, including prostitution, matchmaking, and midwifery. (80) In the silk factory, unmarried women are more preferred than married women. It is because married women need to spend more time on household tasks and they are considered unclean in their pregnancy, which would harm the hatching of the silkworms. Therefore many women, according to Topley, who refuse marriage and wish to support their families choose to go through the rituals and become a zishu nu. Besides the environmental factors, the religion, Hsien-t’ien Ta-tao serves as a significant factor that influenced those women to stick to the belief that to remain single and celibate is a better choice for them. Hsien-t’ien Ta-tao originates from Buddhism; its highest deity is the “mother goddess”. The religion is influenced by non-Han culture, which stressed sexual equality. Men and women could sit to pray together and women have the opportunity to be one of the “master” of the sect and to have disciples. Moreover, women form sisterhood groups, such as “chin-lan hui” to help each other. It is in the “girls house”, where the girls learn the religion from the older girls. Because of industrialization, village population began to increase; therefore, unmarried women would move to the “girls house” to lower the population density in home. Another important reason is traditionally, girls could not be married straight from home; therefore, they stay in the “girls house” before marriage. In the “girls house”, they received education from “pao-chuan”, which teaches them the doctrines of Hsien-t’ien Ta-tao, and sustains and solidifies the resistance movement of zishu nu. In “pao-chuan”, it consists biography of model women for the disciples to follow. There are several important ideas in the book that strengthen the belief to stay celibate for the zishu nu. It is...
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