I was recently told a anecdote about a dinner experience an American had on a business visit to China. He was recounting the interesting restaurant styles of these tables with all the food items in the center of the table surrounding a pot of boiling broth and how you pick different items to be cooked then add to your bowl of rice. Part of this story was also about how hierarchical the Chinese class system is and that although all of the people at the table were engineers there was one woman and it was her duty to serve everyone at the table. What really got me about this story was that at the end of this previous piece of information it was said that she enjoyed doing it. It was her honor to serve everyone.
Quite possibly I am just being to American or feminist or completely ignorant about Chinese culture, but I found the last comment to be partially offensive and or ignorant. I asked if he really believed that this was the way this woman felt. He seemed to reply with certainty that he was sure she did. It’s their culture.
My first comment was that this woman is just as educated as anybody sitting at this table and quite possibly a better engineer then some of the people. I found it hard to believe she enjoyed serving everyone. While I would concede that she did it because it is believed to be her duty but I thought she probably would rather not. The reply was that if she didn’t enjoy doing it then why would she join them. My comment to that is that if she does not accept and join in with her peers then she would create a further status divide between her and her male counterparts which could affect her career goals or social standing. He was quite sure I was just being ignorant and that was not the case but I am still wondering a month later.
I guess part of the reason I am putting this out here is because I would really like to know. It is very difficult for me to believe, especially considering she is a highly skilled and educated person that she believes it is her honor to serve her peers. Is there someone out there that is intimately knowledgeable about Chinese culture or is Chinese themselves and could honestly confirm or deny my or my friends beliefs about this circumstance? I suppose she could be practicing Buddhist or Zen philosophy and does consider it her honor but for different reasons other than she is a woman in China.
I understand I may never have resolution to this inquiry but I also feel like if I put it out here it is no longer residing in me. Opinions welcomed.