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Chapter Four NEI-WAI, GENDER DISTINCTIONS, AND RITUAL PROPRIETY In comparison with the metaphor of yin-yang, the spatial bipolar of nei-wai has been relatively neglected.1 The term nei-wai, when correlated with gender, is often equated with these two mutually opposing and conflicting spheres— family and state—which in turn signify a distinct separation between private and public, or woman and man. However, as shown in the previous chapter, the imposition of the Western dualistic paradigm onto the Chinese complementary , correlative thinking is inappropriate. This being the case, the seemingly unproblematic congruity between nei-wai and private-public or family-state calls for a reexamination.The conventional emphasis on the nature of the separation of man and woman in a literal and physical sense in understanding Chinese gender construction overlooks the symbolic functions of the dynamic and correlative metaphor of nei-wai in the process of genderization. Consequently, the early analysis of the problem of gender relations in the Chinese world and its connection with Confucianism is also one-sided.With the emphasis of the static nature of the nei-wai in gender constructions, China along with its stable family structure, in the Western eye, appears to be frozen in time. Early sinologist Olga Lang, though sympathetic to Chinese culture, wrote in her one of the pioneering studies on Chinese family and society: “[I]mperial China was a static civilization,” and Confucianism was a “great force intensifying the stagnant character of Chinese civilization,”2 Foucault’s summation of the Western imagery of China accentuates the rigidity of Chinese culture: “In our traditional imagery, the Chinese culture is the most meticulous, the most rigidly ordered, the one most deaf to temporal events, most attached to the pure delineation of space; we think of it as a civilization of dykes and dams beneath the eternal face of the sky; we see it spread and frozen, over the entire surface of a continent surrounded by walls.”3 The shared Western image of China as a stagnant civilization frozen in time and surrounded by rigid walls and gates is, in part, supported by the perception of Chinese family and social structure in which both man and woman have their separate places defined by the line separating the nei from the wai with no transgression permitted. However, it will become clear later 69 70 CONFUCIANISM AND WOMEN that the nei-wai binary as a marker of gender distinction and propriety is a dynamic interplay between what is central and what is peripheral, or fundamental and derivative.The boundary between the nei and the wai is constantly moving and being renegotiated, depending on the unique makeup of its social and political context. Its multilayers of meaning cannot be encapsulated by the static representation of the separation between the family and the state or the private and the public in a dualistic fashion, wherein women’s oppression is conveniently summed up by the seclusion of the domestic life separated from the public life of men. In numerous studies on gender relations in Imperial China, the usual rendering of the nei-wai as a static separation of man and woman in the personal, social, and political sphere has been shown to be inadequate, since women did and were socially sanctioned to traverse the assumed rigid boundary of the nei and the wai.4 The nei-wai distinction signifies more than just the ritual propriety of gender relations; it functions also as a marker of civility. In other words, the nei and the wai embody not only the process of genderization and ritualization but also the process of civilization within and without. The spatial binary of nei-wai along with the idea of the differentiation between man and woman (nannuzhibie 男女之別), as Lisa Raphals suggested, is better understood as functional “‘distinctions between men and women’, rather than the strict and inflexible physical, social, and intellectual separation that has so often been assumed.”5 In the following, we will begin by examining the historical roots of the spatial binary of nei-wai along with the concept of the differentiation between man and woman (nannuzhibie) and the concept of li 禮 in the Five Classics, the Confucian Four Books as well as pre-Han texts such as the Guanzi, Mozi, and Xunzi, and Han texts such as the Yantie lun (Discourse on Salt and Iron), Huainanzi, and Hanshu (Book of Han). Such a historical, textual study will enable us to locate the philosophical roots of the...


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