Women and Animals: Culinary Dilemmas and Karmic Entanglements

Jennifer Eichman Princeton, New Jersey USA

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The primary focus of this article is the gendering of Buddhist karmic culpability presented in the extra-canonical Buddhist essay, “Quan funü jiesha wen” (On exhorting women to refrain from killing). This mid-1650 work written by the Ming loyalist Chai Shaobing (1616-70) was subsequently reprinted in the Republican era Buddhist periodical press. “Quan funü jiesha wen” offers an extraordinary entry into a Buddhist moral universe in which women who kill animals are subject to various levels of karmic retribution. The bodily intimacy of such retributions is experienced in the form of complicated pregnancies, difficult childbirths, and a myriad of diseases unique to the female reproductive body. The first half of this study provides a full translation and detailed analysis of the Buddhist tropes and exemplary stories Chai employs as he sought to change women’s culinary choices. The second half of this study shifts attention to the essay’s historical context, first through a consideration of its early publication history and the seventeenth-century milieu in which it was created, and then through an examination of how the essay’s ideas on gender fit within the changing world of Republican era China.

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