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Wet Nurses in Early Imperial China

In: NAN NÜ
Author: Jen-Der Lee
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Abstract

Wet nurses in early imperial China were chosen from household slaves based on their physical and psychological conditions. A wet nurse would be asked to mind her diet and behavior, with special restrictions on sex and drinks; her duties, besides breastfeeding, often consisted of caring for, and sometimes providing preliminary instruction for, the newborn. Indolent and distrusted wet nurses could be whipped or executed, but loyal and intimate ones could bring themselves and their family material and honorary rewards. It was the honorary rewards that shattered conventional gender and status boundaries and provoked criticism from their contemporaries.

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