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Reviewed by:
  • Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan, and: Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period through the Song Dynasty
  • Lily Xiao Hong Lee (bio)
Dorothy Ko, JaHyun Kim Haboush, and Joan R. Piggott, editors. Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2003. xiii, 337 pp. Hardcover $60.00, ISBN 0-520-23105-8. Paperback $24.95, ISBN 0-520-23138-4.
Robin R. Wang , editor. Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period through the Song Dynasty. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 2003. xiv, 449 pp. Hardcover $49.00, ISBN 0-87220-652-1. Paperback $18.95, ISBN 0-87220-651-3.

The two books reviewed here are important additions to gender studies relating to Asia, and particularly to China. They both serve to broaden understanding of the identity of women and their life experiences in premodern times, the first book geographically and the second ideologically. Women and Confucian Cultures is a collection of essays investigating the impact of Confucianism on the women of premodern China, Korea, and Japan. Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture is an edited volume of writings relating to gender from different schools of thought and genres in premodern China.

Women and Confucian Cultures is in three parts: part 1, "Scripts of Male Dominance," contains four essays; part 2, "Propagating Confucian Virtues," contains three essays; part 3, "Female Education in Practice," and part 4, "Corporeal and Textual Expressions of Female Subjectivity," contain two essays each. Four of the eleven essays are on Japan, three are on Korea, and four are on China.

By comparing the impact of Confucianism in these three countries, Women and Confucian Cultures enables us to see the impact of a group of homogeneous ideas within a developing school in three different cultures, producing different results. Although Confucianism, and especially Neo-Confucianism, signaled in all three countries a general reduction in women's rights and freedom, the studies show that each country has had a different "window of relaxation."

In Japan, the introduction of classical Confucian rituals and laws meant the end of women's opportunity to rule the country, yet the last female tennô was able to appropriate the Confucian virtue of filiality to hold on to her rule for many more years (Joan Piggott, "The Last Classical Female Sovereign: Kôken-Shôtoku Tennô"). Hiroko Sekiguchi, in her essay, shows that certain characteristics of Japanese society prevented the patrilineal and patriarchal family model imported from the Tang from being put into practice completely, especially in the initial stages and arguably even after that (Hiroko Sekiguchi, "The Patriarchal [End Page 15] Family Paradigm in Eighth-Century Japan"). The promotion of female virtues through didactic texts for women in the Tokugawa period increased the opportunity for women to gain an education. Whether it was because the separation of the sexes was less rigorously enforced in Japan or because there was less of an emphasis in Japan on chastity, Tokugawa women had the advantage over their Korean and Chinese sisters of being able to travel to far-off places to further their education and also to go into teaching and school administration toward the end of the Tokugawa period (Martha C. Tocco, "Norms and Texts for Women's Education in Tokugawa Japan").

In China, music was assigned to female entertainers, and, despite the humiliation of being exploited for their beauty and talent, this gave them the opportunity to learn and develop musical skills. This allowed some of them to rise above the level of entertainer to become serious musicians (Joseph S. C. Lam, "The Presence and Absence of Female Musicians and Music in China"). The rise of Daoism to prominence in China also shaped the lives of women in a different way, creating variations on the generally Confucian theme (Suzanne E. Cahill, "Discipline and Transformation: Body and Practice in the Lives of Daoist Holy Women of Tang China"). Korean historian Kim Pusik's biographies of exemplary women in his Samguk sagi bring to light a flexible view of filiality and loyalty whereby part...


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