Exemplary Women of Early China

Exemplary Women of Early China: TheLienü zhuanof Liu Xiang

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Exemplary Women of Early China
    Book Description:

    In early China, was it correct for a woman to disobey her father, contradict her husband, or shape the public policy of a son who ruled over a dynasty or state? According to theLienü zhuan, orCategorized Biographies of Women, it was not only appropriate but necessary for women to step in with wise counsel when fathers, husbands, or rulers strayed from the path of virtue.

    Compiled toward the end of the Former Han dynasty (202 BCE-9 CE) by Liu Xiang (79-8 BCE), theLienü zhuanis the earliest extant book in the Chinese tradition solely devoted to the education of women. Far from providing a unified vision of women's roles, the text promotes a diverse and sometimes contradictory range of practices. At one extreme are exemplars resorting to suicide and self-mutilation as a means to preserve chastity and ritual orthodoxy. At the other are bold and outspoken women whose rhetorical mastery helps correct erring rulers, sons, and husbands. The text provides a fascinating overview of the representation of women's roles in early legends, formal speeches on statecraft, and highly fictionalized historical accounts during this foundational period of Chinese history.

    Over time, the biographies of women became a regular feature of dynastic and local histories and a vehicle for expressing and transmitting concerns about women's social, political, and domestic roles. TheLienü zhuanis also rich in information about the daily life, rituals, and domestic concerns of early China. Inspired by its accounts, artists across the millennia have depicted its stories on screens, paintings, lacquer ware, murals, and stone relief sculpture, extending its reach to literate and illiterate audiences alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53608-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-XII)
    (pp. XIII-XIV)
    (pp. XV-LII)

    Compiled toward the end of the Former Han dynasty (206 BCE to 8 CE), Liu Xiang’s (79– 8 bce )Lienü zhuan, orCategorized Biographies of Women, is the earliest extant book in the Chinese tradition solely devoted to the moral education of women. It consists primarily of biographical accounts of women in early China who were noted for various virtues, though Liu Xiang’s final chapter concerns exemplars of feminine wickedness. TheLienü zhuannot only inspired generations of Chinese women to cultivate traditional virtues such as filial piety and maternal kindness but also lauded practices such as suicide and...

    (pp. LIII-LVI)
    (pp. 1-24)

    The two consorts of Youyu were the two daughters of Emperor Yao.¹ The elder was Ehuang, the younger was Nüying. Shun’s father was perverse and his mother was duplicitous. His father was called Gusou.² His younger brother was called Xiang and was given to idle roaming. Shun was able to harmonize and placate them. He served Gusou with filial reverence. Shun’s mother hated Shun and loved Xiang. But Shun still maintained his composure and harbored no ill will.

    The chiefs of the Four Mountains recommended Shun to Yao.³ Yao thereupon gave Shun his two daughters in marriage so that he...

    (pp. 25-44)

    Queen Jiang, consort of King Xuan of the Zhou dynasty, was the daughter of the Marquis of Qi.³ She was wise and virtuous, so that in all matters she did not mention what was not in accord with propriety, and in all actions she did not initiate what was not in accord with propriety.

    King Xuan habitually went to bed early and rose late, and the royal consorts tended to remain in his chamber. Once, after Queen Jiang [had left his chamber], she took off her hairpins and earrings and went to await punishment in the Lanes of Perpetuity.⁴ She...

    (pp. 45-66)

    The mother of Duke Kang of Mi held the clan name Wei.¹ Once, King Gong of Zhou traveled to the Upper Jing River with Duke Kang in his entourage. [In the course of this excursion] three women eloped with Kang.²

    His mother said, “You must present the women to the king. One may observe that three wild animals make a herd, three people make a group, and three women make a “splendid array.” When the king goes out hunting, he does not take the entire herd, and when a feudal lord goes out, he descends [from his carriages upon encountering]...

    (pp. 67-86)

    The woman of Shen of Shaonan was the daughter of a man of Shen.¹ She had been promised in marriage to a man from Feng.² Though the ritual preparations of the husband’s family were incomplete, they still planned to bring her to their home.³ The woman spoke with her go-between, saying, “The relationship of husband and wife is the beginning of all human relationships, and so it must be correct.⁴ A commentary says, ‘If you make the fundamentals correct, then all things will be well ordered. But mismanaging them by even a small margin will result in an error of...

    (pp. 87-108)

    The righteous nurse of Xiao was the nurse of Cheng, Duke Xiao of Lu.¹ She was a widow of the Zang family. Earlier, Duke Xiao’s father, Duke Wu, with two of his sons, Kuo, the eldest, and Xi, the middle son, went to the court of King Xuan of Zhou for an audience with the king.² King Xuan established Xi as Lu’s heir apparent.³ When Duke Wu died, Xi came to the throne as Duke Yi.⁴ At the time, [the future] Duke Xiao was called Prince Cheng.⁵ He was the youngest [son]. The righteous nurse had entered the palace along...

    (pp. 109-134)

    The concubine Jing was the concubine of Guan Zhong, prime minister of Qi.¹

    [A man named] Ning Qi once wanted to see Duke Huan but had no way to bring this about.² So he took a job as another man’s driver and drove a cart to the east gate of Qi, where he stopped for the night. When Duke Huan came out, Ning Qi tapped the horn of his ox and sang a song in the tone ofshang.³ It was full of sorrow. Duke Huan was intrigued by this, so he ordered Guan Zhong to receive him. Ning Qi...

    (pp. 135-156)

    Mo Xi was the consort of Jie of Xia.² She was beautiful in appearance, lacking in virtue, reckless, depraved, and immoral. Although her actions were those of a woman, she had the heart of a man and wore a sword and a man’s cap.

    Having abandoned propriety and morality, Jie indulged in lustful pastimes with his wives. He constantly sought beautiful women and housed them in the rear palace. He also gathered singers, actors, dwarves, and fools, and those who were able to perform amazing acrobatic feats, all of whom he kept at his side to create decadent entertainments.


    (pp. 157-182)

    The woman of the suburbs of Zhou was a woman who had once encountered the Zhou grandee Yin Gu in the suburbs.¹

    In the time of King Jing of Zhou, Prince Zhao, presuming upon his favored position, caused disorder, struggling with King Jing over the succession so that King Jing could not enter [the capital].² Yin Gu, along with Ying, the Earl of Shao, and Lu, the Earl of Yuan, sided with Prince Zhao.³ According to theSpring and Autumn Annals,in the second year of Duke Zhao in the sixth month, when Jin troops installed King [Jing], Yin Gu...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 183-290)
    (pp. 291-300)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 301-324)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-328)