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"FUXUE" (WOMEN'S LEARNING) BY ZHANG XUECHENG (1738-1801): CHINA'S FIRST HISTORY OF WOMEN'S CULTURE* Susan Mann Zhang Xuecheng's lengthy essay titled "Women's Learning" was written between 1797 and 1798.1 It was the first of his works to attract widespread attention, long before he was recognized as the eighteenth century's great philosopher of history.2 "Women's Learning" drew attention for a number of *I wish to thank participants in the Southern California China Colloquium, convened under Charlotte Furth's leadership at University of California at Los Angeles in October 1990, especially Richard von Glahn, Dorothy Ko, and Pauline Yu. I am grateful also for the comments of anonymous readers, and to Yu-yin Cheng for assistance with difficult passages in the translation of Zhang's essay. 1TiIe essay, which is undated, was written to protest the publication of Yuan Mei's Suiyuan nüdizi shi xuan (Collected Poems from the Entourage of Women Poets at Sui Garden), printed in 1796. See Chen Dongyuan 1977: 269-70, citing comments by Hu Shi in Hu's biography of Zhang Xuecheng. According to Hu Shi, Zhang wrote Fuxue in 1797, at the age of 60. See Hu 1931: 129. 2Nivison 1966: 273-85 observes that "frank and general acknowledgement of Chang's stature as a thinker did not come until after 1920" (p. 284), though his works were known and circulated beginning about thirty years after his death. The Fuxue, on the other hand, was an instant success, (Nivison 1966: 274). Chen Dongyuan 1977: 270 likewise remarks that "Not long after the Fuxue appeared, it was reproduced in numerous printings and circulated very widely," although it had no apparent effect on women's literary activity. Neither Nivison nor Chen, nor Hu Shi in his biography of Zhang, remarks on where the essay first appeared. It was reprinted in two mid-Qing collectanea: Wu Shenglan's Yihai zhuchen, a contemporary collection; and also in the Daoguang collection Zhaodai congshu, compiled by Zhang Chao and others. I have not been able to examine either of these versions. A lightly edited excerpt from Women's Learning appears in the chapter on "Family Instructions" (juan 60) in the Huangchao jingshi wenbian. Probably its most widely read version appeared later, during the early twentieth century, in the Xiangyan congshu, a collection of writings about women published during the early twentieth century (Xiangyan congshu, ji 2, juan 4: 10a-15a). For the essay's influence on women's movements during the early twentieth century, see Li and Zhang 1975, I: 624-27. I am indebted to Alexander Woodside for calling this article to my attention. Page references in this essay are to the text that appears in the standard edition of Zhang's collected works, Zhang shi yishu 1922, juan 5: 30b-41a. A modern punctuated reprint is in Zhang Xuecheng, Wen shi tongyi 1964: 168-77. All references to Fuxue here include Zhang's postscript or afterword, Fuxue pianshu hou. Late Imperial China Vol. 13, No. 1 (June 1992): 40-62© by the Society for Qing Studies 40 "Fuxue" (Women's Learning) by Zhang Xuecheng41 reasons. First, it addressed controversies that sharply divided the literati class of the late eighteenth century. These controversies centered not on women, but on classical revival and the correct or orthodox interpretation of classical texts, which were then being philologically dissected to determine their authenticity . Out of this debate grew another, likewise only tangentially related to women, which contested the purpose and meaning of writing itself, especially the writing of poetry. Texts in the Book of Odes (Shi jing), which was the focus of much of this debate, lent support to both sides of the argument. Finally, Zhang's essay appealed to a wide audience because it was a bitter personal attack on the poet Yuan Mei and his literary theories. "Women's Learning" ridicules a certain nameless patron of women poets, and derides the "ignorant minions" and "benighted intellectuals" who do not understand the true meaning of the great classics. Zhang's attack on Yuan Mei used women and their learning as an emblem of what he viewed as the larger issues at stake in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3257
Print ISSN
0884-3236
Pages
pp. 40-62
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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