For more than 20 years, international visiting professors have come to Portland State University from around the world to share their perspectives and knowledge on a wide range of subjects. On Wednesday, July 18, Zhan Tianxiang, who teaches history at Hangzhou University in China, conducted a lecture titled, The Chinese Family: Tradition and Change.
Tianxiang discussed age-old values, structure and historical-ethical traditions and their evolution in the new China.
This lecture was a part of the “Tour the World at Home this Summer” series, an annual lunchtime series sponsored by PSU and the World Affairs Council of Oregon.
The main topic of discussion was on the Chinese emphasis of the family unit. According to Tianxiang, women in China were historically treated poorly. Men were considered superior to women, with the father as the central figure in the family.
Tianxiang explained that women did not have any status in the family. He gave an example to represent that idea of inequity. In China, if a visitor came to the house when the man was not home, the woman would tell the visitor that no one was home. The woman did not see herself as being a person.
Tianxiang said that women in China had suffered mentally, emotionally and psychically. He mentioned physical suffering in reference to the practice of foot binding.
Chinese women’s social status has changed slowly over the generations. Now there is a popular saying in China that means, “Women hold half of the sky.”
In Chinese culture, it has been important to keep family names in order to continue the family lineage. Last names are first in order, because the family name is valued so highly.
Tianxiang said the most degrading thing to say in China to another person is “May you be the last of your family line.”
The emphasis on family names and the laws restricting more than one child per family in China are reasons why many desire to have a male child. However, Tianxiang explained that the longing for a male child happens on an individual basis, and that many families are happy with a boy or a girl.
Rural areas in China still hold traditional culture in a high regard, mainly because they depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Parents would want a son to help with the farm.
In China, a law allows that if the first child is a girl and the parents want another child they can have one in four or five years. However, there is no allowance for a third child. If a person breaks the child law, especially in the urban areas, they can be demoted or lose their job.
Tianxiang said that there is a definite imbalance in the number of boys and girls. He confirmed that there are many girls in orphanages due to the one child law, but he said that attitudes are beginning to change.
The 2001 lecture series will highlight work from visiting professors that are teaching courses during the summer session. Two lectures remain in the series.
On Wednesday, July 25, the lecture Three Loves of Anton Chekhov, by Natalia Zhivolupova of Russia, will examine the link between true events in Chekhov’s life, his writings and the cultural world of his time. Zhivolupova is chair of the Russian literature department at Nizhny Novgorod State Linguistic University in Russia. She has traveled the world to lecture on Russian literature.
On Wednesday August 1, the lecture “Juan Ramon Jimenez en Federico Garcia Lorca”, presented by Luis Munoz of Spain, will present this lecture entirely in Spanish. Munoz is director of the department of literature at the University of Granada. His writings appear in several books and anthologies.
All lectures will be held in Portland State University’s Urban Center Building (506 S.W. Mill, second floor gallery),from noon to 1 p.m. The lectures are free and open to the public. For more information on the lecture series or visiting professors, contact Maggie Herrington at 503-725-4186.