Confucianism, including classical and Han Confucianism, provided a view of the cosmos and social order that legitimated the Chinese patrilineal, patrilocal, and patriarchal family system. Confucian emphasis on obligations to patrilineal ancestors and Confucian exaltation of filial piety contributed to a moral order in which families were central to human identity and to a family system organized hierarchically so that men and older generations had considerable power over women and younger generations (Ebrey 2003, pp. 11-12).
The family system of China was organised around the kinship and lineage of men. The patrilineal principle, the worship of the male ancestral line in a lineage hall, was instrumental in controlling women, their social roles and sexuality …
Implicit in the traditional status of women in the patriarchal family system was that their position, because of cultural and religious beliefs, was comparable to that of an ‘outsider’. Family interest might thus dictate and justify the sacrifice of a female member, including her disposal in a commercial transaction … (Maria Jaschok / Suzanne Miers [edit.]: Women and Chinese Patriarchy: Submission, Servitude and Escape1994, p. 80).
[P]olygamy was a model of success, a kind of perfected form of marriage aspired to by lower-class men and even women (who would rise by becoming concubines or chambermaids in wealthy households, for instance). The access to multiple sexual partners, whether marital or not, was legalized, glorified, and widely enjoyed by Ming and Qing men, a great number of whom were the most powerful and competitive members of their local and national elites. To be sure, polygamy was not the model or ideal for every man and woman; and in fact Monogamy was the usual form of marriage, while polygamy was a matter of privilege and means (Keith McMahon: Misers, Shrews, and Polygamists: Sexuality and Male-Female Relations in Eighteenth-Century Chinese Fiction 2012, Chapter I).
On the other hand, however, they have not stopped seeing themselves as inferior to men and as recipients of male care and support. Consequently, men’s duties have somewhat increased, while women’s have decreased. Women expect of men to be tall, have a house, a car, and a good job with a higher salary. These are all indicators of the desire of women to be taken care of by men and to be in a lower position. Many men, too, stick to their concept of female inferiority; for example, they prefer to have women with lower education and with a docile character. Many women will consider only marrying men who, by their standards, are capable of taking care of them and giving them security.
There were several ways to find a husband, and after a migrant woman landed a stable job that was the next order of business. Some girls consented to the services of a matchmaker back in the village, though that risked being paired with an unpromising young man who had never ventured far from home. Girls who had lived in Dongguan for a while sought introductions from friends, but when you met a man in the city there were things you didn’t know about him, like whether he had a wife and children back home (Chang 2008, p. 206).
[M]arriage was a filial duty; by the time a migrant worker was twenty years old, the parental pressure to wed was relentless and directed at both sexes. No one wanted to become the dreaded daling qingnian, a phrase that literally meant “aged youth” and was defined in the dictionary as “unmarried men or women between twenty-eight and thirty-five.” The traditional timetable of the village matched the city’s pragmatism: A young woman should lock in marriage early, when her value was at its peak (ibid., p. 207).
Women wanted a man with a good job and steady income. Men wanted a woman who was young and healthy. Women wanted a man who was over 1.7 meters tall—at least five feet seven inches—and had his own apartment. Men didn’t care about height or real estate but they preferred a woman with a gentle temperament …
Most of the members [of a matchmaking group] were not looking for love. They did not crave walks on the beach or hot-air balloon rides; their overriding concerns were pragmatic. HAVE AN ENTERPRISING HEART. HAVE GOOD ECONOMIC CIRCUMSTANCES. HAVE STABLE JOB AND INCOME. CAN EAT BITTERNESS. Women in particular were obsessed with height …
The preoccupation with property was not as mercenary as it appeared. Like height, apartment ownership was a marker, a sign that a man could be depended on (ibid., pp. 213-215).
[T]he identities of the hostesses do have a central, unifying axis: the persona of the filial daughter. The distinction between the Chinese hostesses and Western sex workers could also explain the surprising marriageability of Chinese sex workers. In China, the notion of chastity is fluid, and female virtue is defined first and foremost by filiality.
As long as the hostesses subordinate their sex lives to their filial obligations, this mitigates social criticism. Given the importance of filiality, they have in some sense proven themselves to be worthy and virtuous women. Filiality gives them a modicum of power in Chinese society. Thus, women use filiality, an ideology that essentially oppresses them (from a social science perspective) to endow themselves with a degree of power (from the perspective of their individual life histories). But in so doing they reinforce the structure that oppresses them (Zheng 2009, p. 213) …
[A] twenty-year-old rural woman from Hunan, explained to me that the key to being a successful hostess was the ability to establish a stable relationship with the customer and then to exploit him. To reach this goal, as she and many other hostesses emphasized, the hostess needed to play on the customer’s expectations and the stereotypes of how a hostess should act (ibid., p. 214).
Referring to what a hostess told her, Zheng Tiantian writes:
“Fang [a hostess] joined the company in order to get closer to the powerful men there. Every day she dressed up very womanly and appeared very gentle and pure in front of the boss”; with these words, Lin was mimicking Fang’s demeanor, casting her eyes down and looking very subservient. She continued, “She had the techniques to convey her devotion and romantic feelings to the boss. She finally succeeded in hooking up with him and became his second wife.” Needless to say, with her changed status, she obtained financial mobility (ibid., p. 223).
The Female Body as an Instrument
Examples of this are the frequency of and motivation behind plastic surgery (you can read this interesting article, though I don’t completely agree with the argument that Asians want to look ‘Caucasian’) and women who dress in a sexy way and act demurely and flirtatiously in public displays of “femininity” as men see it. The following two videos are examples of commercialisation of the female body and of women who act in a cute, demure, and meek way, but also appear flirtatious and sexual, in order to satisfy the male understanding of femininity.