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Image from the story Investigate The Role of Women in China

Target Grade Levels:
Grades 7-12

Role of Women

• The Activity
• Relevant National Standards
• Cross-Curricular Activities
• Ties to Literature

The Activity

Investigate how the role of women is changing in communist China. Begin by asking students to sketch and/or describe in a paragraph their ideas of what Chinese women are like today. Let students share and discuss the images they've created. Then, show the class the Reporter's Slideshow
from the FRONTLINE/World story Shanghai Nights. Begin with the image of the older woman sitting by the river. Ask students to apply prior knowledge or speculate on the types of activities this woman may have experienced in her lifetime, and what her role as a woman in China has likely been.

Then, advance the slideshow to the next image of the controversial novelist, Mian Mian, who writes about topics that are normally taboo in China, such as depression, suicide, sex, and drugs. Her novel Candy was banned by the Chinese government, which only made her more famous and her novel an underground best seller. Mian Mian lives a fast-paced celebrity lifestyle and continues to push the limits of Chinese culture and the government. Show two more images of Mian Mian, ending with the picture of her wearing dark sunglasses, a white fur coat, and a tiara. (Note: Later images in the slideshow contain pictures and language that are questionable for use in the classroom.) Discuss how someone like Mian Mian might impact Chinese culture, and specifically the role of women there. Do celebrities in the United States have a similar impact in the U.S.? Why or why not?

Expand the discussion of the role of women in China by introducing the class to the matriarchal Mosuo (pronounced MWO-swo) society featured in FRONTLINE/World's Rough Cut video, The Women's Kingdom
(running time: 20 minutes). The Mosuo are an ethnic minority that live outside of mainstream Chinese society, but increased tourism and use of the media now make the culture less isolated. After watching the video, talk about how Mosuo women support themselves, raise children, and approach love. Compare and contrast their lifestyle with women in other cultures, including the United States.

Finally, distribute a handout featuring details from the Youth Culture and Media section of the Facts and Stats page for the Shanghai Nights story.
Have students record hypotheses about how they think the role of women in China will change in the next 10 years. Assemble student ideas into a time capsule.

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Relevant National Standards

These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) at

World History
Standard 44: Understands the search for community, stability and peace in an interdependent world
Level IV, Benchmark 12
Understands gender roles across the globe

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Cross-Curricular Activities
Consider building on the themes of the above activity by working with colleagues in other disciplines to conduct the following activities.

Improve Health Care for Women in Underdeveloped Countries (Health)

The Activity

Proper health care during pregnancy and childbirth is vital to the well-being of both mother and child. To help students investigate the importance of such care, ask them to imagine that they are women who have just learned that they are pregnant. Show students where Afghanistan is on a map and ask them to pretend that half of the class lives in Afghanistan and the other half lives in the U.S.United States. Then, have students research the typical health care that they would receive in their assigned country during pregnancy and childbirth. A good starting point for research on Afghan health care is the FRONTLINE/World's feature, Invisible Women.
For women in the United States, students may wish to start with the Centers for Disease Control report, Safe Motherhood.

Have students incorporate their research findings into a descriptive paragraph about the health care they are likely to receive in their assigned country. Invite volunteers to share their paragraphs with the class. Compare and contrast the care and outcomes reported by the students for each country. Discuss the importance of prenatal and perinatal care to both the mother and the child.

Next, help students do something about the lack of proper health care for women in underdeveloped countries like Afghanistan. Guide students as they plan a fund-raising activity and then contribute the funds to an organization such as UNICEF
or Doctors Without Borders.

Relevant National Standards

Standard 2: Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health
Level III, Benchmark 1
Knows cultural beliefs, socioeconomic considerations and other environmental factors within a community that influence the health of its members (e.g., relationship of values, socioeconomic status and cultural experiences to the selection of health-care services)
Standard 7: Knows how to maintain and promote personal health
Level III, Benchmark 2
Knows how positive health practices and appropriate health care can help to reduce health risks (e.g., good personal hygiene, health screenings, self-examinations)
Standard 8: Knows essential concepts about the prevention and control of disease
Level IV, Benchmark 3
Understands the importance of prenatal and perinatal care to both the mother and the child
Level IV, Benchmark 4
Understands the social, economic and political effects of disease on individuals, families and communities

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