Review of The role of Hakka women and social development in Taiwan literature

  • Author Chang Dian-wan
  • Title of Thesis The Role of Hakka Women and Social Development in Taiwanese Literature
  • Degree Master's
  • Research affiliation Development and Research Center, Shih Hsin University
  • Year thesis completed 2001
  • Keywords Taiwan literature, Hakka women, Theory of power structure
The traditional Hakka woman is trained from youth to be a superwoman: a good housewife, a diligent farm worker, a superb cook and a talented seamstress. This is the image found in the novels "Sister Ping", Sister Ben" and "Sister Deng"by Hakka writers Chung Chao-cheng, Chung Li-he and Li Chiao. Most of the male characters in these novels are intellectuals, teachers, young men or farm owners. Chang uses the Social Development Theory of the German sociologist Norbert Elias to analyze the historical development of the female image. Chang believes that the above-mentioned rigid image of Hakka women is similar to "Orientalism". It is dualistic and cut-and-dried. Chang attempts to use Elias' theory to break through this dualism (Chang 49-50).

Taiwan's Hakka people have experienced adverse living conditions and exclusion from the nation as a whole. Thus, they perpetuate their historical image of immigration to strengthen their ethnic identity and to reinforce internal strength. Hakka men exercise their authority through self-control via strict morality, regulation of Hakka women, sharp differentiation of the powers of men and women and unity in resisting the forces of the outside world. Thus, the so-called virtue of Hakka women is defined as the virtue of an inferior group seen from the standpoint of their superiors. This feminine myth satisfies the emotional needs of the Hakka and highlights the chauvinism of Hakka males (Chang 11). When dealing with the position of Hakka women and the prestige of the Hakka community, Hakka men have stereotyped Hakka women as capable and strong, as a reason to unite and to enhance ethnic identity (Chang 74).

In the works of Hakka male writers, the marginalization of Hakka females is reflected in the above model. In recent years there have been many changes in politics, society and identity in Taiwan, and the power structure has shifted accordingly. Hakka female writers are breaking through the constraints of the above model, and are refusing to restrain their feelings. They are no longer reflecting a dualistic relationship, which is now shattered. They are more able to describe relationships in society, such as dependence, neediness, entanglement, and the lessening of power differences between the genders (Chang 103-106).

Chang reviewed literature to serve as material for investigating social development and the mutual dependency of Elias' theory to challenge the dualisms of earlier gender and group-consciousness-based analyses of Taiwan literature. This is genuinely a new departure. Chang surpasses traditional research from the point of view of inferior groups like Hakka or women to undertake a new type of study according to the co-existence of humanity as a whole, gender, ethnic groups, and social class. This is truly original and inventive.

However, Elias casts a long shadow over this study. His name appears 36 times, a definite departure from usual practice. Chang should have discussed Elias' theory in detail in the literature review section. The problem is not merely breaking with thesis writing style traditions, but calls into question the suitability of Elias' theory for surveying gender relations. Elias begins with power, and observes the changes in superior and inferior groups in a society. So who are the superior groups and who are the inferior groups? What forms do their agents take? Are they social groups, social classes or ethnic groups? Chang's study does not say much about these key points and does not include any definitions. The implication is that in Taiwan, Hokkien and male groups are superior, and Hakka and female groups are inferior. But, can Hokkien and Hakka or males and females be the main agents of power? From an analysis of works from contemporary female Hakka writers (Chang 51), Chang has chosen as the position of her thesis that males and females are the superior and inferior groups among the Hakka, respectively. But she does not tell us why. If this question is left unclear, Elias' concepts are inappropriate for discussing women's roles in Hakka literature.

A further question is whether non-Hakka women are very different from Hakka women in Taiwanese literature. Of course this is best left to a comparative study, so it is not necessary for Chang to follow up on this point. However, Chang cites stories of other ethnic female images like those of "Cinderella", "My Fair Lady" and "Pretty Woman" (Chang 33). From these examples, readers might conclude that the weakness of women's social position is universal and that Hakka women do not experience anything out of the ordinary. If this is so, why make such an effort to use Elias' theory to analyze Hakka women, and deduce that the Hakka, for long in a weak position, shaped an image of their women to reinforce their group consciousness? If this is the case, a further study is needed to delve deeper into this topic.