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  • Women of the Conquest Dynasties: Gender and Identity in Liao and Jin China by Linda Cooke Johnson
  • Jennifer W. Jay (bio)
Linda Cooke Johnson. Women of the Conquest Dynasties: Gender and Identity in Liao and Jin China. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011. 254 pp. Hardcover $52.00, isbn 978-0-8248-3404-3.

The women in Johnson’s concise study lived in present day Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, and the prefectures in the Beijing region under the Kitan Liao (916-1125) and its conqueror, the Jurchen Jin (1127–1234), that expanded the Liao territory southward to north of the Huai river. The two dynastic changes brought a transformative acculturation to the multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural population of North China from the tenth to the early part of the thirteenth centuries. Solidly anchored on archaeological data, dynastic histories, paintings, and travelogues, the seven chapters are conceptualized with clarity, from which emerges a comparative study of the women from the Kitan 契丹, Jurchen 女真, haner 漢兒 \n (blended Chinese), and Han 漢 or nanren 南人 (Chinese/southern residents) constituencies. Two dozen illustrations add a visual dimension to the complexities of minority and majority women as they reconfigured cultural identities and made adjustments going through the passages of life.

The first chapter searches the dynastic histories for records of empresses and princesses, in addition to lienü 烈女 (exemplary) biographies, epitaphs, and inscriptions, to identify and contextualize the womanly ideals during the two centuries of Liao rule and a century of Jin administration. The indigenous Chinese dynasties prescribed for their women Confucian ethics such as sacrifice, chastity, filial piety, and education of sons. The praiseworthy women of the Liao and the Jin added wise counsel, military acts, and hunting activities that, according to Johnson, gave women greater agency. One of the five Liao biographies was on a Han woman who was married into the imperial clan and who supported Chinese culture. The other four biographies showcased Kitan nationals, three of whom committed suicide to follow their husbands in death. Twelve Jin biographies focused on Jurchen women, and another ten were drawn from Bohai (the conquered Korean state of Parhae), haner, and Han ethnicities. These women were familiar with Confucian classics and Chinese culture; they provided moral guidance to posterity and fought like men to defend their charges or committed suicide to defend their honor.

The next two chapters reconstruct the daily lives and material culture of women living under the Liao and Jin. For the Liao period, the strongest evidence comes from tomb burials. The largest tombs belonged to the Yelü imperial clan and the Xiao clan, from which the Kitan emperors and princes exclusively chose consorts. Burial goods and wall paintings depicting the pastoral lifestyle, equestrian culture, and the mobile yurts lend support to the womanly ideals praised in the lienü biographies. Scenes of Kitan women on horses riding astride with their brothers, or walking freely on the streets, sharply contrast with the life of Han girls who were separated from male playmates at the age of six. Kitan women looked [End Page 100] after the home and herds when men were at war. The many single burials for Kitan women indicate their relative positions of strength in Kitan society. The smaller tombs belonged to the haner, such as the Hann and Zhang collaborator families who accepted some Kitan customs and practices. The Kitan attire and hairstyle of the men, the children, and the servants indicate that they adopted Kitan culture at a quicker pace than did the women, who wore Chinese silks and sported Chinese hairstyles. Johnson tells us that they were preservers of Han culture and probably continued to speak Chinese, inspired, as they were, by the story of Cai Wenji, a poetess who remained loyal to the Han dynasty. In 207, she left her Xiongnu husband and their children to return to the Han capital of Chang’an. To the Han and haner, she was a preserver of Han culture, but the Kitans and Jurchens represented her in military attire manifesting the martial and heroic ideals of exemplary women.

In the Jin period, the outcome of Shizong’s (1161–1190) fundamentalist, nativist campaign against sinicization can be seen in one of the few...


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