Thursday, September 24, 2015

Did Jesus Really Liberate Chinese women? Response to Patrick and Loren.

Two frequent visitors, Patrick and Loren, expressed questions and doubts yesterday about my on-going series claiming that Jesus and the movement he inspired have liberated "billions" of women around the world.  I appreciate the challenges, which will allow us to look more closely at a few interesting details.  So here's my response.  

I. Patrick: "What do you mean by 'liberation'?  I didn't see any definition listed so it is difficult to tell what is or isn't a good example of women being liberated outside of the examples you presented.  When you discuss a woman who is liberated what would her status be in that society with family and the society around her once she is liberated?"

Most of the examples I give are obvious enough that I don't think they need much defense: being taught to read, retaining the bones in your feet so you can walk like a human being, and being taken off your husband's funeral pyre so you aren't burned to death with him, are liberating in obvious enough ways that little more need be said.   I think most westerners now share the view that women should be recognized as equally important to men, that they should be free from exploitation and abuse, and free to develop and reach their full intellectual, social, physical, and spiritual potentials.   If you need a rough definition of liberation, I guess attaining the state described in that last sentence will do the trick. 

"What was life like for women before Christianity came into the countries in question? You discuss foot-binding, for example, but is that it? Did they also achieve liberation in other areas of life, also?"

Yes, and I indicate that as well.  As I mention, for instance, almost all the women from one part of Fujian Province as late as the mid-20th Century who had received higher education, had done so from mission schools.  Christianity also has led the fight against concubinage and the double standard, including in China. 

"Exactly what did Christians do to help achieve this liberation? Your premise, at least in the title is that Jesus helped women achieve this liberation. How, specifically, did Jesus do this? Are women there now truly liberated? Part 3 discusses the status of women around the world and you point out that women in Europe enjoy an overall better status than those in non-christian third world countries. The right to vote was one of several events that helped women achieve their liberation in European and American society."

But I show that women ALREADY enjoyed a far higher status in Europe by the Middle Ages, than in competing civilizations.  I also show that the liberation began already in the Roman Empire.  I quote historians on how Christianity improved the status of women in Medieval Europe. And I show that Jesus' teachings lead to that naturally.   Again, you need to read more carefully or thoroughly. 

"You also talk in vague numbers - billions of women throughout history, billions of women now - but you haven't supplied any specific numbers.  China has 1.3 billion people according to the CIA World Fact book of which about half (or 500 million) are women."

Almost 1.4 billion, and half is 700 million.  And none have their feet smashed now.  And almost all are given an education. 

700 million is how many are alive today.  But the liberation began in earnest in the 19th Century.  You have to include prior generations (to some extent) as well.  So in Part IV of this series, which is the most relevant, I estimate that Jesus' influenced has brought increased freedom to 1.5 billion women in China alone. 

"Where do you get your figures from? What sources did you use to determine that billions of women (how many billions) have been liberated from having their feet smashed? According to Wikipedia, which cites their sources, gives a different account, namely: The Manchu Kangxi Emperor tried to ban foot binding in 1664 but failed."

Did you know that the Kang Xi emperor (one of China's greatest rulers ever, perhaps the greatest) was educated, in large part, by Jesuit missionaries? 

"In the later part of the 19th century, Chinese reformers challenged the practice but it was not until the early 20th century that foot binding began to die out as a result of anti-foot binding campaigns.  Foot-binding resulted in lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects, and a few elderly Chinese women still survive today with disabilities related to their bound feet.  Not Jesus or even Christian missionaries are being given credit here."

Of course not.  That's because both Western and Chinese historians, and especially the governments that sponsor official history, and therefore Wikipedia, systematically lie about history, and cover up the role of Christianity in reform. 

The Shanghai historian Gu Weiming describes the actual history of this movement, in his long history of Christianity in China, as do other historians.  Even the Atlantic recognizes:

"So many Western women, especially the wives of Christian missionaries, became strong advocates against the practice, producing pamphlets and even opening shelters in support of afflicted women.  Around the same time, Chinese intellectuals who had studied abroad in Europe and in North America returned to China and stated their support for abolishment."

It wasn't really just the wives, however.   You might want to learn who Timothy Richard, the star of a book published in Taiwan called Five Foreigners Who Have Influenced China, was.  He played a crucial role in that, as in other, campaigns.  Or since you cite Wikipedia, start here:

Here is how that article describes the beginnings of the movement:

"More Christians came to China and began to oppose foot binding, because they thought it was discriminatory against females. In 1875, 60-70 Christian women in Xiamen attended a meeting presided by a missionary John McGovern formed the Natural Foot (tianzu, literally Heavenly Foot) Society, and it was championed by the Woman's Christian Temperance Movement founded in 1883 and advocated by missionaries including Timothy Richard, who thought that Christianity could promote equality between the sexes. The writings of Richard would influence Chinese reformers Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao who then challenged the practice of footbinding."

It would, anyway, be an offense against Occam's Razor to assume that a custom deeply ingrained in Chinese culture for a thousand years, died out for no particular reason, JUST after western missionaries began preaching against that custom, and setting up societies to combat it.   Both Chinese and Western officialdom have a stake in covering up the role Christian missionaries played in world-wide reform, and they play it to the hilt, as I have shown in the latter case on this site in the past.   (In November I plan to finally finish an expose of the historical lies that Chinese history text books engage in, as well.) 

But yes, the work of well-informed historians supports my arguments about the positive impact of Christianity in China, in general and in great detail. 

II. Loren: What is that great Borg-like entity, *THE* family? What in it justifies a status not much different from slavery for the female sex?

What is the family?  Wow!  I'm sorry if you don't know.  But none of the female members of families I know in any way resemble slaves, so you're going to need to explain your thoughts a little more clearly to make sense to me. 

Plato wrote his Republic some time around 360 BCE, over 350 years before Jesus Christ was born. In Book V, he states:

Are dogs divided into hes and shes, or do they both share equally in hunting and in keeping watch and in the other duties of dogs? or do we entrust to the males the entire and exclusive care of the flocks, while we leave the females at home, under the idea that the bearing and suckling their puppies is labour enough for them?

Wikipedia's summary of Plato on the sexes: The Republic states that women in Plato's ideal state should work alongside men, receive equal education and share equally in all aspects of the state. The sole exception involved women working in capacities which required less physical strength.

That seems very feminist to me.

Yes, I've read the Republic, don't need Wikipedia's help.  Very impressive.  Yet for hundreds of years after Plato, women in Athens were barely allowed out of the house.  So a lot of good that did. 

And if Plato's vision had won out, and his commune with shared wives had been created, I doubt that would have liberated women at a very deep level, either -- experience in American communes of the 19th Century and 1960s was not always very promising. 

Christianity existed for centuries before an organized feminist movement got started, so it's clear that there isn't much of a correlation. There should have been an organized feminist movement at least as far back as Emperor Constantine.

Read my series.  Liberation began with Jesus, then the disciples in Acts, and throughout the Roman Empire. 

As to Jesus Christ himself, judging from the Gospels, the most that one can say for him was that he was not grossly misogynist. But he wasn't very feminist, either.

I didn't say he was "feminist" -- an anachronism.  I said he liberated women.  See above for my definition: read the series for a great deal of evidence. 

Whether you choose to call Jesus a feminist or not, depends on your definition of that term.  I say he has liberated billions of women in profound ways, and have provided the evidence, beginning with his interaction with individual women whom he aided and freed in diverse ways.  Does a person who has been freed from a lynch mob, healed, or given new dignity and purpose, care if you call the person who gave her all that a "feminist" or not?  Heck, Bill Clinton is a "feminist," and you see how he treats women. 

As to literate-society preindustrial economies making it difficult for women, that is entirely possible. I note that because there is a strong correlation between organized feminism and how industrialized a society is. Organized feminism first emerged in industrialized nations like the late 19th cy. US and the UK. So one should look for a possible connection between feminism and industrialism.

Nope.  The correlation, while not perfect, is between impact of the Gospel on the public sphere, and that holds true from the 1st Century on.  Saudi Arabia has fully modernized, but a female Saudi friend told me she would only be willing to go back there in a body bag. 


Patrick said...

Hello, David.

I was very surprised when I went to your blog to find that you have taken time out of your busy schedule to write an entire post in response to both my and Loren's comments.

Yes, it is true that you gave examples of what you meant by liberation such as women no longer having to bind their feet or women no longer being thrown on tops of funeral pyres but that is not the same as giving an actual definition. If I were to come up with another scenario such as women are now able to own property without a clear definition I would not know if that fit into your concept of liberation or not.

While it is good that womens feet are no longer being bound or that they are no longer being tossed on funeral pyres was that the extent of their liberation? How did Christianity in these countries help women to achieve their full intellectual, physical and spiritual potentials? Could it be that Christian missionaries thought that such practices were culturally abhorrent and stopped them just for that reason but that they never had any intention of liberating women in other ways?

In the United States, in one of the most Christian areas of the country, millions of black women were literally slaves. They were stripped of any legal rights, had no say in their lives, never reached their full potential either intellectually, spiritually or otherwise. They could be beaten, whipped and raped at their Christian owner's pleasure. Their children, even upon being born, could be ripped from their arms and taken away to be sold and the woman had no say in the matter.

According to this article before the communist government took over over 80% of the population was illiterate. Now the literacy rate for women is 87% and 91% for the population as a whole. It seems that women's literacy rate and overall education has faired better under the communist government that under Christian missionaries.

But I show that women ALREADY enjoyed a far higher status in Europe by the Middle Ages, than in competing civilizations

True that they were not having their feet bound or being tossed on funeral pyres in Europe. However, Christianity was in Europe since 400 AD yet it was difficult for women since then. For almost 1400 years they had almost no legal rights or protections. They were not educated the same as the men, they couldn't own property or inherit property. They were relegated to being second-class citizens or even worse during that time. For several centuries they were burned at the stake or killed via other methods for the crime of being witches. They had almost no say in what they could do and were basically restrained from reaching their physical, intellectual or spiritual potential under Christianity.

Almost 1.4 billion, and half is 700 million. And none have their feet smashed now. And almost all are given an education.

700 million is still not billions which on the face of it sounds well over 1 billion.

You quoted my question regarding the source of your data but you never actually answered it. You say that women fair better in these countries but while certain practices have gone away you still don't supply actual statistics to show it was due to Jesus or Christian missionaries or the gospels or whatever. That is pretty much still a weakness in your case.

Patrick said...

That's because both Western and Chinese historians, and especially the governments that sponsor official history, and therefore Wikipedia, systematically lie about history, and cover up the role of Christianity in reform.

I'm pretty sure you have no evidence of a cover-up of Christian activity. In any case, you said it was Jesus liberating women. For 1,400 years in Europe he left women to be second-class citizens with almost no rights. In the case of missionary wives it was the women, not Jesus, who contributed to reform. What you also don't say was whether the Chinese were already starting their reform of foot-binding and the missionary women jumped on the band wagon or whether the reform actually began with the missionaries.

Again, thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to respond to my comments/questions. I hope you have a good day.

Talon said...

Also I think it would be fair to point out that Plato's vision of equality seems to be related as an IDEAL, and not a moral obligation, perhaps why it was not widely promoted or practiced. In contrast, with Christianity, the lives of all humans have equal value entailing certain rights (and obligations), a value which could not be dismissed when pragmatic or utilitarian concerns were considered. Christianity provides a strong basis to oppose sex-selective infanticide, for instance, and it's a far firmer foundation to build feminism on than "Well, we don't treat female dogs terribly differently from the males, so let's try this out with people too."

David B Marshall said...

Hi, Patrick. One reason I posted something new here is because I was having trouble opening the comments thread to post.

As I also pointed out, education for women was pretty much created by Christian missionaries in much of the world. Education is the first and most important step to full participation in society. For instance, the Soong sisters, who proved very influential, studied at what is now Suzhou university, founded by the Methodist missionary, Young John Allen, who did so much to further reform in China. My wife, growing up in a Buddhist family, also went to Christian (Catholic) schools in Japan, in kindergarden and high school, part of that legacy.

Slavery was of course universal. As I show on this site, Christians were heavily involved in ameliorating its worst effects, and liberating slaves, from the early years of the Church on. (The article is called "Abolition of Slavery: the Early Years," I think.) With the rise of Europe, against the vocal opposition of some popes, Western Europe plunged into the slave trade on an enormous and tragic scale. Again it was zealous Christians who led the fight to end slavery. Rodney Stark's For the Glory of God tells much of that story. (Hector Avalos has written a book purporting to prove otherwise, which he kindly sent but I have not yet had the chance to read. But judging on the weakness of his past arguments, and the strength of the positive evidence, I am skeptical.)

As for "fairing better under the communists," of course they ran the country, the missionaries did not. And they had been waging war for almost 20 years, which disrupted Nationalist efforts to educate, as of course did the Japanese invasion. Communist did both much good and much evil. But communism of course also derived many of its positive values from a civilization that Christianity had helped to create. (As did the Taipings, who proposed similiar reforms already in the mid 19th Century, led by Hong Rengan, a friend of missionary James Legge.)

David B Marshall said...

Also, as I pointed out, the status of women was far higher in Medieval Europe, including from 500-1400 AD, than it was in competing civilizations -- Arab, Indian, or Chinese. (Indian was probably the worst, though India, China and Japan later reformed due to Christian influence, while Muslim societies have not reformed so much, thus are now the worst for women, by and large, with India second.) So that answers your other challenge. Details in one of the articles.

What you say about "missionary women" and "jumping on bandwagons" against seems to ignore too much of my argument. There was no "bandwagon." Footbinding was at the height of its popularity. And the Kang Xi emperor himself was educated by the Jesuits, who pushed a lot of reform too in many areas. And missionary wives were missionaries, and not all of them were women, let alone wives. I mentioned two of the most prominent and influential reformers for women, both of whom were male. And someone like Gladys Aylward was unmarried, and went around from village to village physically unbinding smelly feet. Of course I don't mean Jesus did everything himself -- that would be ridiculous. But these people were among his closest and most zealous modern followers. They saw themselves as following Jesus, and I show in one long article in this series, that when it comes to liberating women, they were right.

Loren said...

As to Christianity and slavery, the most honest assessment is that it was split on this issue, with both slavery defenders and slavery opponents claiming Christian support for it.

As to families, I know what families are. But I don't know what *THE* family is supposed to be, other than being some great Borg-like entity.

As to Plato, I concede that he did not start a feminist movement. I also concede that he also stated some rather sexist things, so he was a mixed bag about feminism. But what he stated about both sexes of people being fundamentally much alike is a remarkable thing to say for someone in his society. It is also far beyond *anything* that Jesus Christ ever said about the subject, to the extent that he said anything all about it.

David Marshall, I think that you will enjoy reading "The Woman's Bible", by late 19th cy. feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. You'll see how much feminism is based on Bible worship by reading that book.

Patrick said...

Hello, David.

You rightly point out that it was Christians in both Europe and America that fought slavery but who brought slavery into Europe and America but Christians. Many Christian pastors argued for slavery, basing their sermons on quotes from the bible. It was also their congregations who stood behind those pastors. Slavery could not have grown to what it did in both Europe and the American South without the support of many if not most of the Christians living there. How did slavery get into Europe and America except with the consent of most Christians?

It is true that women in Europe were not being tossed onto funeral pyres or having their feet bounded. On the other hand Christian men were drowning women and burning them at the stake for being witches. In addition, according to this article all power resided with men and women lived in deplorable conditions.

Thanks again for your time and comments.

Loren said...

As to a correlation between industrialism and feminism, it is not 100.00%. Some industrialized nations are more feminist than others, and feminism took some time to develop in them. But develop it did.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia seems to suffer from an extreme case of the "resource curse". Dependence on oil and other natural resources is associated with social and political backwardness. Someone once compared nations' oil incomes, GDP's per capital, and some democracy ratings, and found that oil-rich nations usually scored much like much poorer oil-poor nations in their democracy ratings. The main exceptions were nations with a strong pre-existing tradition of democracy, like Norway.

David B Marshall said...

Loren: I don't need to read Elizabeth Stanton's book: I've read the original texts, which is always best. Two or three of my posts in that series analyze all the most essential biblical texts to my thesis. I haven't gotten to the Old Testament yet, but then, it's not really central to my thesis.

If you ask the question, "How did Christians see slavery?" then you're right, it's a split. But if you ask, "How did slavery end?" then you simply can't answer that question apart from the influence of Christian theology. And that's worth noting.

I don't concede that Plato's ideals were "beyond" or nearly caught up with Jesus' example. I think examples are more important than abstract ideas, most of the time. That's why the ancients loved Socrates: he didn't just talk a good talk, he embodied, and even died for his ideals. But I'm happy to give Plato credit for his wonderful writings and good ideas (including a sort of incipient ID!), while admitting that a lot of his other ideas were flaky and tyrannical. "The father of faddists," Chesterton put it.

While I agree that oil may have been partly a curse to Saudi Arabia, religion and culture explain a bigger swath of the problems that country exemplifies.

David B Marshall said...

Patrick: About three quarters of witches killed were, indeed, women. (Some of them herbalists or nurses.) Many were accused by other women who saw them as rivals, as was the case, for instance, with Kepler's mother. (There’s a good book telling their story called Kepler’s Witch.)

How did slavery get to America? The same way it got most way around the world before the birth of Christianity: making other people do your work for you without paying them is a natural and, given a certain primitive level of economic development, highly profitable arrangement. Certainly the Atlantic Slave Trade was a terrible evil, and those who revived the slave trade (after slavery had almost died out in Western Europe in the early Middle Ages) were criminals of the first order. But in general, slavery is an extremely complicated issue, because under some circumstances -- making enemies you have just defeated bury the dead on the battlefield, for example, in a time before bulldozers, and when there are few men on your side surviving, and disease threatens -- it is not all that obviously morally wrong. There are worse things than some forms of slavery. And the more moral alternatives are not always easy to accomplish. It is a Christian civilization that made "slavery" an obvious evil, but to be fair to our ancestors, I think we need to consider the situation from their points of view.

As for the condition of women in the Middle Ages in Europe, try a book by Francis and Joseph Gies, Women in the Middle Ages. Life was rough for everyone in the pre-modern world, by our standards, but women were not mere chattel in Europe. Or else read Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, to get that notion out of your head.

Loren said...

Elizabeth Cady Stanton's book "The Woman's Bible" is a criticism of that book for the sexism that it contains, though its authors did like some parts of that book. They liked the first of the Bible's two creation stories (the six-day one), but not the second one (the Adam-and-Eve one).

The first one has both sexes created together at the same time, while the second one has the first woman created from the first man, for the purpose of pleasing that gentleman.

There is plenty of other gross sexism in the Bible, like treating women as men's property. Also 1 Corinthians 11. It has a firm hierarchy

God > Christ > man > woman

It also says that men should pray with their heads uncovered and that women should do so with their heads covered. Also that man does not come from woman, but woman from man, and that man was not created for woman, but woman for man.

David B Marshall said...

Yes, I've read all that. I can understand why feminists would dislike those verses. I'm an historian, though, and to me, the practical liberation effected by Jesus and his followers is more significant than abstract quarrels about philosophy.