Women of Imperial China

regarding the role of women. The Qinhadtriedtolessentheinfluence
exerted by rulers’ wives and their relatives. But the earlyHancourtwas
much more tolerant and this nearly led to the downfall of the dynasty
It is very the history of women tothesocialandpoliticalhistoryof
China’s early imperial era (221 BC to the tenthcenturyAD).Thecomplex
interaction of élite and popular practices over hundreds ofyearsresulted
in the gradualpenetrationoforthodoxideologythroughoutsocietyat
large. By the late imperial period foot binding around thetwelfthcentury
to a redefinition of masculinity in the Song period(960-1279),awayfrom
an active Tang (618-907) aristocratic ideal (which included hunting,horse-
back riding, polo, etc.) toward the more refined, artistic,sedentary,and
contemplative ideal of the Song literatus. Such a shift, helpsexplainthe
concurrent redefinition of femininity away from an active andstrongideal
toward a more delicate, frail, dependent and secluded feminine ideal ofthe
late imperial period. Foot binding may thus have been part of aneffortto
differentiate Chinese culture from “loose barbarian” customs. [1]
The most unique feature of Ming imperial marriages was the stipulationlaid
down by the Ming founder Zhu Yuanzhang that all imperial brides shouldcome
from low-ranking families. This policywascarefullyfollowedthroughout
the dynasty, with the result that Ming palace women were less powerfulthan
the imperial in-laws of any other dynasty.
Difficult to arrive at clear-cut changesinmarriageandthegrowthof
lineage building in the late imperial era may best be understood asstatus-
and wealth-building strategies suitable to an era when hereditaryprivilege


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