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Overt and Covert Treasures

Essays on the Sources for Chinese Women’s History

Edited by Clara Wing-chung Ho

Publication Year: 2012

This is the first published volume on a variety of sources for Chinese women's history. It is an attempt to explore overt and covert information on Chinese women in a vast quantity of textual and non-textual, conventional and unconventional, source materials. Some chapters re-read well-known texts or previously marginalized texts, and brainstorm new ways to use and interpret these sources; others explore new sources or previously overlooked or under-used materials. This book is a valuable product witnessing the concerted effort of twenty some scholars located in different parts of the world.

Published by: Chinese University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-vii

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Acknowledgements and Editor’s Notes

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pp. ix-xiii

As the first volume on sources for Chinese women’s history, the present work attempts to unveil and provide a guide to the wealth of primary materials for women’s history in China. It delivers an important addition to the existing biographical dictionaries, bibliographies,...

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1. An Investigation into the Sources for Women’s History in the Sibu: In Lieu of an Introduction

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pp. 1-34

The aim of this section is to identify sources on women in a wide variety of traditional Chinese books. I will be very brief regarding those sources that are already the focus of individual chapters in this volume, and sources that have been frequently addressed by previous scholars. More...

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2. How the History of Women in Early China Intersects with the History of Science in Early China

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pp. 35-59

At first the received history of science in China seems to have little place for women, especially in early China. Reconsiderations of the history of science in China and the status of Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China have not addressed this question. I begin with...

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3. The Mao Commentary to the Book of Odes as a Source for Women’s History

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pp. 61-111

The Lienü zhuan 列女傳 has long been recognized as the earliest extant text solely devoted to the moral education of women. The History of the Han Dynasty (Hanshu 漢書) tells us that Liu Xiang 劉向 (ca. 80–7 BCE) compiled this work in the reign of Emperor Cheng (成帝, r. 33–7...

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4. 4. Discourses on Female Bodily Aesthetics and Its Early Revelations in The Book of Songs

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pp. 113-130

The famous Chinese ancient literary work, The Book of Songs (Shijing 詩經), selected more than three hundred musical pieces and poems by nobles and commoners from the period of Western Zhou (eleventh century BCE) to the late–Warring States period (sixth century BCE). The...

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5. Social Status, Gender Division and Institutions: Sources Relating to Women in Chinese Standard Histories

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pp. 131-155

Traditionally scholars have valued “standard histories” (zhengshi 正史) as records of political events in Chinese history, where the main actors were men. Although they are now more readily available than ever before for research, they are still underused as a means of gaining a...

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6. Women in Portraits: An Overview of Epitaphs from Early and Medieval China

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pp. 157-183

As scholars have become more aware of the limitations of “standard histories” and didactic texts, epitaphs have increasingly been considered useful sources for studying women in imperial China. Epitaphs seemingly provide us with a rich pool of raw data, filled with concrete...

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7. Ishinpo and Its Excerpts from Chanjing: A Japanese Medical Text as a Source for Chinese Women’s History

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pp. 185-215

Ishinpo 醫心方, the oldest extant medical text in Japan, was compiled in the Heian 平安 period (794–1183) by the great imperial doctor Tanba Yasuyori 丹波康 (912–995) in 982 and submitted to the throne in 984. This thirty-volume text consisted of nearly eleven thousand entries,...

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8. Illustrating Chinese Women’s History

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pp. 217-259

Historians who publish books in English about Chinese women’s history often include illustrations. Authors are generally delighted when their publishers allow them (or encourage them) to include a dozen or more illustrations, seeming on the whole to believe the more the better. The...

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9. Gazetteers and the Talented Woman

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pp. 261-278

My aim is to elucidate the value of gazetteers as tools for researching the lives and works of talented women in traditional China. Because of the vast number of gazetteers in existence, I have limited the project to the following three focused areas of interest. First, I begin by asking...

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10. Women in Chinese Encyclopedias

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pp. 279-305

Leishu 類書 (literally, “classified matters” or “classified books”) are not an obvious source to gather information about women, and their changing status in imperial China. For one thing, leishu are anthologies, and not reference encyclopedias in the European sense of the word....

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11. Gendered Fictions and Chinese Women’s History

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pp. 307-335

Since the late 1960s the relationship between history and fiction and their mutual utility in the successful craft of both has attracted sustained scholarly attention.1 Many have risen to John Fleming’s challenge for “historians to treat literature seriously.”2 A relatively comfortable...

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12. Romantic Recollections of Women as Sources of Women’s History

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pp. 337-367

Accounts based on romantic recollections of wives, concubines, and courtesans by male authors promise glimpses into the private and intimate details of women’s lives. I use the term “romantic” to refer to the celebration of emotions, sensibility, and aestheticized existence....

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13. Auto/biographical Subjects: Ming-Qing Women’s Poetry Collections as Sources for Women’s Life Histories

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pp. 369-410

In recent years, anthologies of women’s poetry and individual women’s literary collections have been rediscovered and used in innovative and productive ways in research by feminist social, cultural, and literary historians of the Ming and Qing periods. Their results have proved...

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14. Personal Writings on Female Relatives in the Qing Collected Works

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pp. 411-434

Writing about women from one’s own family, in forms such as accounts of conduct, elegiac verses, tomb inscriptions, and biographies, was a long-established literati tradition in China. These sources hold untapped stores of information for historians, and the attention paid to them in...

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15. Women’s Characters: Calligraphy as a Source for Women’s History

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pp. 435-460

Calligraphy occupies a peculiar position in the lives of pre-modern Chinese women. On the one hand, unlike sewing and embroidery, the practice of which constituted one of the four accepted feminine virtues, calligraphy was not extolled as a proper use of women’s time. On the...

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16. A Kaleidoscope of Knowledge about Women: The Chinese Periodical Press, 1872–1918

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pp. 461-485

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Chinese woman question (nüzi wenti 女子問題 or funü wenti 婦女問題) was most vigorously debated in the pages of the periodical press, from mainstream newspapers to women’s journals. This question, of how—or whether—to redefine...

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15. Between Drawing and Writing: Prostitutes in the Dianshizhai Pictorial

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pp. 487-542

In the process of compiling a full-text index to the Dianshizhai Pictorial (Dianshizhai huabao 點石齋畫報) (hereafter the DSZ), China’s first popular illustrated news magazine published in the late nineteenth century,1 I have been struck by its large coverage of topics related to...

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16. The Stories of Urban Christian Women in Nineteenthcentury South China: With Special Reference to Missionary-related Sources

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pp. 543-570

This chapter constructs the stories of two Chinese women in nineteenthcentury South China so as to reveal some of the qualities and lived experiences of urban Christian women. By any standard of measurement prevailing among the Chinese women of that period, they were indeed...

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pp. 571-578

Barely two decades ago, a common refrain among established scholars of China was that “women’s history is not a serious academic project because there are simply not enough source materials out there.” This volume will lay that view to rest once and for all. Just as important...

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A Selected Bibliography of Useful Works on the Methodologies of Chinese Women’s History

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pp. 579-584

Over the past two decades, historical studies on Chinese women and gender history have been expanding rapidly. On the one hand, scholars in a variety of disciplines are advocating the integration of “feminist” theories to interpret different issues about Chinese women; on the...

About the Contributors

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pp. 585-589

Sources of Images

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pp. 590-602

Index of Names

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pp. 591-608

E-ISBN-13: 9789629969066
Print-ISBN-13: 9789629964290

Page Count: 620
Illustrations: Y
Publication Year: 2012