Chinese Women in the Imperial Past: New Perspectives

Chinese Women in the Imperial Past: New Perspectives

Chinese Women in the Imperial Past: New Perspectives

Chinese Women in the Imperial Past: New Perspectives


The present volume is the result of a Leiden University workshop on women in imperial China by a group of international scholars. In recent years Chinese women and gender studies have attracted more and more attention, and this book is one of the first efforts to focus on major aspects of this subject. It covers a wide range of topics and disciplines, including bibliography, demography, history, legal studies, literature, history of medicine, and philosophy. Chinese Women in the Imperial Past can rightly be seen as connected with the new Brill journal NAN NU, Men, Women and Gender in Early and Imperial China, which was founded to provide the scholarly community with a lasting forum in which the subject of Chinese women and gender can be dealt with in its own right.


Harriet T. Zurndorfer

It has now a truism to say that China entered an entirely new phase of its existence from the Sung dynasty (960–1279). Thanks to the attention paid in several textbooks published in the 1960s and 70s, the economic features of the T'ang-Sung (860–1000) transition are well-known: the development of a wide-range of staple and commercial crops, including rice and tea; the growth of cities, and new markets in the countryside; an expansion in the use and supply of money (including government-issued paper currency for the first time in world history); the spread of printing; the spawning of new industries such as iron and steel making, and porcelain manufacture. Textile production in cities and in monastic centers could employ hundreds of people so that by the end of the Sung era high quality silk and cotton fabrication had become a common empire-wide phenomenon.

But more recently, in the 1980s China historians have concentrated on the social changes evolving during the Sung which set the pattern for Chinese society throughout most of the later imperial era. the shift from a genuine aristocratic nobility which dominated T'ang court politics to a “gentry” elite based on the wealth of landholding and the prestige of examination degrees has captivated the interest of a whole generation of scholars. Seeking to understand more closely the interaction between social status, the state, and not least, kinship, they have shown how differences between a “capital” elite and local gentry elites emerged during the Sung era. the development of a literate but nonofficial section of the population also affected the way of life in local communities: the expression of status through charitable

See Zurndorfer 1997a for a discussion of the significance of Fairbank 1979/ 89 and Gernet 1972/82 in making known these features.

See the works of Chaffee 1985; Davis 1986; Ebrey 1984; Hartwell 1982; Hymes 1986; Walton 1984; Zurndorfer 1989.

in both Hartwell 1982 and Hymes 1986, this theme featured prominently.

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