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Chapter Six CHINESE SEXISM AND CONFUCIANISM Given the complexity and ambiguity of Ru or “Confucianism” discussed in chapter 2, how is it possible to identify a definitive connection between Chinese sexist practices and Confucianism as a polysemous symbol of Chinese high culture? Early feminists’ portrait of Confucianism as a unified, sexist ideology through and through is surely a misappropriation and oversimplification of Ru.The link of Confucianism to sexism in early scholarship is mostly focused on a few statements made either by Confucius himself or by Ru literati. Most notably, Confucius’s analogy between young girls and morally deficient “small persons” is said to be a statement about women’s nature. Han Ru Dong Zhongshu’s base yin and venerable yang is taken to be an indication of the inferiority of the feminine and the superiority of the masculine. Song Ru Chen Yi’s statement on widow chastity is treated as an absolute doctrine. In the Liji, passages dealing with the nei-wai distinction are interpreted as a rigid separation between private and public or a physical segregation between genders.There might be some truth in feminists’ accusation of the sexist nature of Confucianism, given the coexistence of Confucianism as the emblem of Chinese high culture with the persistent patriarchal and patrilineal tradition in Chinese society. But by equating some ritual texts or some Ru’s sexist comments with Confucianism as a whole and then Confucianism with sexism, one arrives at two dangerous conclusions: first, one is in effect making the removal of Confucianism a necessary and sufficient condition for gender equality in China, and second, one is committing oneself to a logical fallacy that negates the worth of a philosophy based on a few statements made by the philosopher. As regards the logical fallacy, it is important that one separates the philosophy from the philosopher at least at the theoretical level in order to assess the worth of a philosophy. Feminists’ and sinologists’ assessments of the worth of Confucian ethics by and large focus on the lack of a positive model of woman in historical narratives. Lisa Raphals in her essay “A Woman Who Understood the Rites” went a step farther; she attempted to point out the subtle sexist nature of Confucianism even in the context of Confucius’s praise 119 120 CONFUCIANISM AND WOMEN for two virtuous women. She cited Confucius’s encounters with two virtuous women, one prominent older woman—Jing Jiang—from the powerful family of Ji in the state of Lu, and one poor servant-girl—the girl of Agu—as examples. Despite Confucius’s repeated praises for both women found in preHan and Han texts, Raphals argued, in the historical narrative Confucius and those virtuous, learned women did not stand in a benefactor/beneficiary relation , which was reserved for his male disciples only.1 In other words, Confucius only talked about women by using them as objects for moral instruction, but did not talk to women who were not proper subjects of instruction. Based on these two examples, Raphals, despite her own caution about deriving any certainty from them, went on to say that “they do provide the uncomfortable suggestion that Confucius’ views on human perfectibility and self-cultivation may have spanned social class, but not gender.”2 Yet the absence of a benefactor /beneficiary relationship between Confucius and women in the historical narrative by itself does not need to be interpreted as indicating the impossibility of self-cultivation for women to achieve virtuous personhood. In other words, the worth of Confucian ethics should not be decided based solely on the lack of an explicit reference to women as virtuous junzi in historical narratives . Otherwise, the same critique can be applied to almost all prominent Western philosophers, such as Aristotle, Kant, and Nietzsche, to name a few, whose ethical theories are nonetheless by and large assessed independently of their obvious sexist attitude toward, as well as writings on, women. For instance, Aristotle wrote in the Generation of Animals: “[T]he female is as it were a deformed male,” and in Politics, woman’s rationality is said to be less effective than man’s.3 Based on these remarks, one might say that a woman due to her defective nature is incapable of exercising intellectual contemplation in the Aristotelian world.The same exclusion of the possibility of female participation in the realm of ethics is also present in Kant’s writings. Kant in his Observations on the Feeling...


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