Chinese proverbs: How are women and men represented?

Jackie F. K. Lee


Chinese proverbs, a mode of language that children encounter in their early stage of learning, are important tools with which to instil values and transform the social order. Any biases hidden in them may affect children’s self-images and their perceptions of others. The present study examines the images of men and women represented in Chinese proverbs as found in a dictionary published in Hong Kong. Despite the absence of the under-representation of women, gender inequality is evident in the stereotypical depiction of women, who are described as dependent on and submissive to men, and who are valued for their physical charm, chastity, domestic roles and ability to bear sons to continue the family line. For men, on the other hand, values are placed on their talents, friendship building and such personal attributes as bravery, modesty and kindness. Men’s fondness for women is neutrally or positively portrayed as unrestrained or romantic, reflecting the sexual objectification of women. Male supremacy is also evident in the common use of masculine generic constructions and male-firstness in Chinese proverbs.


Chinese; gender; Hong Kong; proverbs

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