Women and the Transmission of
Confucian Culture in Song China
This chapter focuses on the development of Confucian culture during the Northern and Southern Song dynasties (960–1279), taking rural culture as its point of departure. Its purpose is to explore how social attitudes held by people with similar locations in local society—a society formed by the nexus of blood and territorial relations—became crystallized as taken-for-granted habits. 1 These habits, in turn, influenced Confucian ethical thinking on gender relations and women. Furthermore, without positing a dichotomous relationship between “elite culture” and “peasant culture, ” or between orality and the written canon, this chapter is concerned with the transmission of norms between the various sociocultural spheres in Chinese society, transmissions that had an indelible impact on women's lives. It concludes with preliminary thoughts on the intersection of gender and class illuminated by our focus on lower-class women.
My interest in local society and nonelite women stems from my understanding of two key concepts: “Confucian culture” and “women. ” Under the rubric “Confucian culture” I include an array of ethical thinking and practices that constituted the orthodoxy in imperial China. The central tenets of classical Confucian learning are embedded in the ethical concepts “Rites-Music-Humanity-Righteousness” and “Three Bonds—Five Relations. ” They were formulated by Confucius (551– 479 B. C. E.) and Mencius (390–305 B. C. E.) and later systematized by the Han philosopher Dong Zhongshu (180–115 B. C. E.) Their purpose was to rationalize and naturalize status hierarchies.
Confucian culture underwent major developments in the Song dynasty. Although Song Confucian learning was built on the foundation of Han learning, it differs from the latter in the depth and scope of its explorations of the origins and