Date of Release: 06/19/2006
SAN MARCOS—Lijun Yuan, a philosophy professor at Texas State University, recently earned a nomination for the Levenson Prize for Books in Chinese Studies. Her book, Reconceiving Women's Equality in China, combines philosophical research with true life experience, while also exploring the vast complexities of gender inequality.
"I was happy to hear it," said Yuan, speaking about the nomination. "And was happy that more might pay attention to the other side of the globe."
Having grown up in China during a time of social and economic transformation, Yuan has firsthand experience about what it was like being a woman under two separate social conditions.
She was born and raised under Mao, who believed in equality among the sexes and was known to have said that "women hold up half the sky." But it was during the post-Mao times that women's rights began reverting back to the old ways. It was a change in philosophy as much as it was cultural. While Mao preached Marxism, the current China follows more closely the lessons of Confucianism, which are far more traditional.
According to Yuan, today's Chinese scholars are promoting family values, meaning that an increasing number of women are pressured into staying at home. It is now their responsibility to play the role of housewife, while men work and earn money. The situation has exacerbated to the point where women are quite frequently laid off so more jobs can go to men.
"It seems to be getting worse," said Yuan. "But some might disagree."
While the Chinese job market for women is shrinking incredibly, some believe the opportunities for females to develop a small business or work in low wage factories are on the rise. This conflict of beliefs makes coming to a consensus about the current situation very difficult. Yuan hopes to change this with her work.
"I wanted to do something proud for women's lives," said Yuan, who is looking to broaden the horizons at Texas State.
While she teaches classes in Asian philosophy during the regular semesters, Yuan is committed to expanding the program and thus expanding the minds of students and other faculty. She approaches gender issues by nontraditional means, in that she believes the way a culture operates can be placed into a philosophical framework rather than just a physical one.
It is by understanding the philosophy that we can better understand a society and how it functions. More importantly, we can identify where and how women should fit into it all.