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Olivia Milburn

Abstract

The texts written for the instruction of women in ancient China are some of the earliest examples of didactic sources aimed at a female readership to be produced anywhere in the world. The oldest surviving texts in the transmitted tradition date to the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). However, in 2010, Peking University acquired a cache of manuscripts written on bamboo, one of which, the Jiaonü (Instructions to women), predates these Han dynasty admonitions texts by several centuries. This paper provides a full translation of this important text, a discussion of the historical and cultural context in which it was produced, and examines its relationship with the later similar works in the transmitted tradition. The Jiaonü throws new light on the way in which women were educated in appropriate gender roles in ancient China.

Linda Grove

Abstract

Almost all of the studies of prostitution in Republican era China have focused on big cities. Using recently rediscovered field notes from a social survey of the small town of Gaoyang in Hebei province, this article describes the practice of prostitution in the mid-1930s and considers how small-town prostitution differed from that in big cities. The women working in the sex trade in Gaoyang were all “clandestine” or unregistered prostitutes, who had been attracted to the town, which was the center of a major rural weaving district where there was a large number of unattached males who had migrated to the locale to work. Cautionary tales, popular in the local community, described the dangers of prostitution, including the spread of venereal diseases and the loss of job or reputation that resulted from spending too much time and money on the pleasures of the sex trade. County government approaches, including a “don’t ask, don’t look” policy, allowed the practice of prostitution to persist despite its illegal nature.

Rebecca Doran

Abstract

The women who served as wet nurses to powerful and in some cases notorious members of the Tang royal family appear in written materials in various capacities in relation to prominent historical actors. An analysis of historical narratives involving these women indicates that their portrayals were strongly influenced by the historian’s mode of moral assessment, in particular, the historical judgment meted out upon their controversial charges. The manipulation in historical narrative of royal wet nurses thus elucidates a fascinating example of the operation of “praise and blame” in traditional historiography. Wet nurses are used as narrative pawns to emphasize the historical judgment of their famous former charges and become a vehicle or mouthpiece for historical evaluation.

Alastair Ewan Macdonald

Abstract

The late Ming short story collections Pai’an jingqi and Erke pai’an jingqi (together known as Erpai), authored by Ling Mengchu (1580-1644), have been credited by a variety of scholars with expressing a relatively “progressive” attitude toward women. This assessment arises from a strong influence in the texts from the philosophies of the heterodox thinker Li Zhi (1527-1602), who argued the notion that women were not inherently less able than men. Scattered throughout the collections are discursive asides addressed at the audience, a number of which not only support this view, but also develop it to assert the legitimacy of female sexual desire, and argue that widowed women should not be derided for remarrying. However, the strong stance taken in these discursive asides is not always reflected in the representations of women in the narratives themselves. Instead, strong female characters are desexed, while many of the other female characters are represented either as paragons of conventional virtue or as alien threats to the male subject. The gulf between the two discourses so created in Erpai highlights the limited influence of rhetoric on representation, and thus on the ideological construction of “woman.”