Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan

Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan

Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan

Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan


Representing an unprecedented collaboration among international scholars from Asia, Europe, and the United States, this volume rewrites the history of East Asia by rethinking the contentious relationship between Confucianism and women. The authors discuss the absence of women in the Confucian canonical tradition and examine the presence of women in politics, family, education, and art in premodern China, Korea, and Japan.

What emerges is a concept of Confucianism that is dynamic instead of monolithic in shaping the cultures of East Asian societies. As teachers, mothers, writers, and rulers, women were active agents in this process. Neither rebels nor victims, these women embraced aspects of official norms while resisting others. The essays present a powerful image of what it meant to be female and to live a woman's life in a variety of social settings and historical circumstances. Challenging the conventional notion of Confucianism as an oppressive tradition that victimized women, this provocative book reveals it as a modern construct that does not reflect the social and cultural histories of East Asia before the nineteenth century.


This book is the product of collaboration across many boundaries; no individual could have written it alone. It is a companion volume to Under Confucian Eyes, a collection of documents on gender in Chinese history also published by the University of California Press and edited by Susan Mann and Yu-Yin Cheng. Both grow out of a long-term project seeking to rethink Confucianism in East Asia by using gender as a category of analysis. Planning began in September 1994, when Susan Mann convened a workshop in Davis, California, funded by the Joint Committee on Chinese Studies of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and the American Council of Learned Societies, as well as the SSRC's East Asia Regional Research Working Group. The colleagues who attended the workshop laid the groundwork for the documents collection and began planning an international conference.

In summer 1996 more than thirty invited scholars participated in a three-day conference at the La Jolla campus of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where Dorothy Ko was teaching at the time. This conference received support from a host of agencies. From within the University of California system, funding was provided by the Pacific Rim Research Program, the Humanities Research Institute, and the Council for East Asian Studies of UCSD. We are particularly grateful to Patricia O'Brien, Martha Kendall Winnacker, and Joshua Fogel for their personal encouragement. In addition, we acknowledge the generous and timely support from the Social Science Research Council and the Cressant Foundation.

The scholars who gathered in La Jolla came from Britain, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and the United States. We were relieved to find that language differences did not constitute a barrier. In fact, some non-native speakers of English were the most enthusiastic leaders in discussions. This is in large part due to the excellent simultaneous interpretation provided by a highly competent team during the four days: Madeleine Yue Dong for Chinese and Hiromi Mizuno and Eliza-

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