The examination of the traditional femininity and women’s lives in ancient China

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Cheng, Chen
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University College Cork
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This thesis explores the evolution of the concept of traditional Chinese femininity in relation to women’s lives in ancient China (221 BCE – A.D.1840). It proposes that the traditional Chinese femininity had been trying to seek a balance between the permanent principles and contingency plans for the stability and development of the society, which caused women’s humiliation and freedom. In reality, politicians and thinkers in ancient China had been transforming the concept of femininity itself to make it more adaptable to the social conditions of that time. This may be discussed in terms of three aspects. Firstly, the traditional concept of Chinese human relationships, including the ethical order, always emphasised the influence of individual behaviour on others and the overall stability and linked development of family, society and nation. Thus, both men and women, must be placed within this interrelated, interacting and cooperating relationship. Secondly, the association of family and country created an overlap of family and public affairs, which, objectively, facilitated the movement of women from the inner to the public arena. Thirdly, the notions of political and ethical morality and of men’s virtues and women’s virtues were integrated because of the union of family and nation. Therefore, typically virtuous women could be a source of encouragement for men and, furthermore, men formulated their virtues in the public space by formulating women’s virtues in the private space. The shaping of the gender image and concept of women in ancient China reflected the country’s changing cultural and gender norms. Chinese femininity and lifestyles, like Chinese history, were a continuous presence in the society but were also constantly changing. Through this study, it could be noted that Chinese women were not hidden and that their subjectivity and the concepts motivating them were not merely devised by a male-dominated society and culture.
Traditional Chinese femininity
Cheng, C. 2014. The examination of the traditional femininity and women’s lives in ancient China. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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