Housekeeping is still considered one of the most important obligations for Chinese women, despite their rising status and the increasing role they play in a full range of social activities, a recent survey shows.
Some 60 percent of the respondents to the survey, who are from over 2,000 families in the southern province of Guangdong, held that "a man should devote himself to building up a career while a woman's role should be at home".
This represents a 14.8-percent rise over the past decade, according to the survey, held first in the early 1990s and again earlier this year, sponsored by the Women's Federation and Bureau of Statistics of the province.
"It suggests a revival of some traditional value," said Lu Ying, a sociologist specializing in women and gender studies at Zhongshan University.
Earlier this year, 34-year-old Tan Yuezhu quit her well-paid job at an advertising agency and became a full-time housewife.
"I have worked up a considerable saving through my past years of hard work," said Tan, "It's now time to have a baby, take care of household chores and enjoy family life."
The centuries-old Chinese tradition that a woman's job is to stay home, attend to her husband and provide early childhood training for the kids has been widely criticized as a shackle on women since the early 1900s.
More and more Chinese women have undertaken different jobs and proved to be as competent as men during the past century.
"When women's status rises to a certain extent, they become more independent and have more choices in life," said Lu, who took the revival of the traditional value as a result of reform and social progress.
"It's up to themselves whether they should keep working or go home," she said.
While professional women are playing an increasingly important role in social and economic life, women's work at home is also widely affirmed and appreciated, she explained. "By rearing child and doing housework, a woman also contributes to the society," said Lu.
Tan, the former white collar, has her own interpretation of equality. "Women do not have to do men's job in order to be treated equal," said Tan, "We might as well accept the differences between males and females and play well our role at home to improve the quality of family life."
To the relief of Tan and her peers, the Chinese government has set to work on policies, laws and regulations to protect the rights and interests of housewives.
The newly revised Marriage Law has included a particular article in this regard, which spells out that upon divorce, wives should get extra compensation for their heavy load of housework, in addition to her share of the family property.
In some cities, full-time housewives can get pretty smart returns from endowment and medical insurance that is widely available in diverse social security schemes.
Though the majority of Chinese women are devoted to and get due respect for their role as wives and mothers, not everyone is willing to give up her job and recess to the cozy nest of her home.
The same survey has found that the majority of the female respondents opposed the traditional idea that "family and husband are center of a woman's life", and 75.1 percent of them said they will keep their jobs even if their families become rich enough to spare them from having to work.
Most Chinese tend to believe that the success of a woman lies in a well established career and a happy family life, explained Lu.
Most women, therefore, spend their lifetime finding a balancing point between the two.
Yao Meiling enjoys her job as an accountant despite the endless chores that keeps her busy at home. The young mother said she will not quit her job. "Because to do that means I will lose my own self and even the true happiness of family life," said the mother of a three-year-old girl.
Working mothers like Yao were not few in Guangdong, as 87.6 percent of women surveyed are at work, and 17.8 percent of them are paid above the average wage for all employees.
"If their climbing employment rate helps improve women's social status, economic independence safeguards their status at home," said Lu.
Backed by the plentiful well-equipped kindergartens and a booming domestic service market, more and more Chinese women can enjoy work and family life at the same time nowadays.
In most cities, children above two years old can receive good care and all the necessary early age training at child centers close to home. Alternatively, parents can find domestic helpers at community service centers.
In Yao's case, she has a helper to accompany her daughter to and from kindergarten, do grocery shopping and fix dinner. Yao herself spends most of the time after work taking care of the child and doing all the cleanup. "It's tiring sometimes but I think it's worthwhile," she said.
(Xinhua News Agency March 7, 2002)