Producing and Polluting

With the decline of the Dynasty in the mid to late nineteenth century women became increasingly dominant in their roles in society. With the introduction of Western ideologies and culture and the superceding of the government and political powers in decline women begane to become strong figures in Chinese society. The modern day Chinese women has the social status of being the provider but in the same fashion she is thought of as being unclean; this capacity of thought and the fact that women are powerful social figures leads to the basis of women as polluters.

The ideology of women being thought of as unclean in Chinese society stems from the inclusion of sex, birth, and death. These all conceive of allegedly unclean substances and since women are more actively (or thought of as such) involved in each of these tertiary processes their association is cognitive to being unclean themselves. It is the association of women as being unclean and their menstruation cycle that connotes the paradigm of pollution (Eds. Wolf & Witke: Ahern 1975; 194).

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This menstruation blood is associated with postpartum discharge, and in fact they are believed to be the same substance, “These fluids emerge during childbirth and continue to flow, less and less heavily, for about a month afterward. Both menstrual and postpartum discharges are unclean, though the quantities of effluvia associated with birth make that event much dirtier. As one of my informants put it, ‘Menstruation is like one-hundredth of a birth’” (Ahern 1975; 194).

The word that is a staple in Chinese culture that is used in association with menstruation and postpartum effluvia is la-sam. This word entails a connotation towards dirty things such as ‘a child’s dirty face, for instance of a dirty shirt (Ahern 1975; 194). Menstrual fluids are believed to be unclean because they are insalubrious for the body. As such the culture provides for women defoliating themselves during childbirth of this bad blood and replacing this bad blood with clean blood by the ritual of eating tonics (Ahern 1975; 194).

Menstrual blood is though of as so unclean that anyone, male of female who comes in contact with it is detained from worshipping the gods. Ahern states that women dispose of their sanitary napkins in the latrine whose contents are eventually transferred to the rice field. As such the dirt of the field and any other product is thought to be offensive to the gods because of its vicarious contact with menstrual blood, “A gods image…cannot be carried under a clothes-drying pole because pants (men’s and women’s) have probably been hung on it” (Ahern 1975; 194).

This is the case because the pants are believed to have been placed on the line to dry after being clean and having been steeped in the fields and dirt of the field which was at some juncture in contact with menstrual blood. This definition of the word dirt again is not simply within the context of dirt as it is associated with earth the Chinese word la-sam which connotes its association with women; women essential have their own dirt. Not only do women in Chinese societies have their own dirt in a sense but as women are thought of progressively in the paper as polluters their association with other unclean substances highlights this fact.

Menstrual blood is also associated with great mythical powers, or dangerous powers (Ahern 1975; 196), “Menstrual blood is most directly powerful in that, in the villagers’ understanding, it created babies. Some of the menstrual blood a woman produces during pregnancy flows out during childbirth. The remaining accumulated menstrual blood becomes the body of the child…The blood discharged when a baby is born is residue of the creation process” (Ahern 1975; 196). Women are seen as a substantial part of the creation process. It is dualistically in this role of polluter and as creator that women are defined in Chinese culture.