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Chapter Seven TOWARD A CONFUCIAN FEMINISM—FEMINIST ETHICS IN-THE-MAKING In feminist discourse, the term Confucianism appears more as a term of reproach than a possible theoretical ground for women’s liberation. In the early feminist imaginary, “Confucianism” signifies a systematic oppression of Chinese women, in theory as well as in practice, because of its emphasis on male supremacy, its support for patriarchal family structure, and its gendered sphere of nei. The only theoretical salvation for Chinese women wanting to achieve gender parity seems to lie exclusively in adopting Western theories. Some contemporary feminists have explored the possibility of making Daoism an ally of feminism by pointing out its prioritization of feminine attributes. But this possibility is often accompanied by the assumption that Daoism works within the Cartesian duality where yin and yang, femininity and masculinity are treated as equivalent concepts. However, in previous chapters we have called this assumption into question. Feminists, sinologists, and the like often suppose, as Margery Wolf did in her critique of Tu Wei-ming’s reappropriation of neo-Confucianism, that “Confucian personhood” coincides with the male self, and make Confucianism as a whole fundamentally incompatible with feminism. In other words, Confucianism and feminism are viewed as conceptually incommensurable.Yet, to suppose that Confucianism and feminism are incompatible is to impose a racial hierarchy under the guise of feminism, with the West being the sole supplier of ethical theories and the rest of the world a moral problem waiting to be solved. In order to reject such a neocolonial assumption, we must reject the misappropriation of Confucianism found in feminist discourse. More importantly, we must go beyond feminists’ negative assessment of Confucianism by outlining a future project of constructing a feminist theory from within the Confucian framework. However, this is not to say that Confucianism cannot benefit from feminists’ critiques, especially criticism of gender-based division of labor in terms of the nei and the wai. But to admit that there are elements in Confucianism that need rectification is not the same as saying that Confucianism as a whole is essentially sexist and antifeminist, just as one would not say that Aristotelian virtue ethics, 149 150 CONFUCIANISM AND WOMEN Kantian deontology, or Nietzschean existentialism is essentially sexist and antifeminist because some elements of it need rectification. In the following, we will concentrate on key Confucian ethical concepts, in particular the concept of ren—a virtue-based achieved personhood—the virtue of filial piety as the beginning of humanity, and the complementary correlation of yin-yang and nei-wai. The assumption here is that a hybrid feminist theory of Confucianism or Confucian feminism is possible; not only is Confucianism able to meet the challenges of feminism and to address feminist concerns about women’s oppression without going beyond its theoretical framework, but, more importantly, it is able to expand the theoretical horizons of feminism. In other words, despite its emphasis on reciprocal inequalities of social roles and its emphasis on the familial virtues of filiality and continuity, Confucianism is assumed to be able to inform feminism with an alternative theoretical ground for women’s liberation. A fully articulated Confucian feminism will be reserved as a future project in order to do justice to contemporary feminist theories. For now, to provide an outline for this future project shall be sufficient to demonstrate the possibility of the convergence between feminism and Confucianism, or that a possible “feminist space” can be created within the Confucian tradition. T HE PROBL EMS OF GENDER AND THE POLITICS OF FEMINISM As an analytic category,“gender” has troubled feminists greatly, especially since the existentialists’ deconstruction of traditional accounts of the “essence” or “nature” of a woman. The category of “woman” no longer signifies a set of inborn biological facts that supposedly give support to a naturalized gender division of labor and social roles, nor does it signify a set of distinctively feminine psychological and/or behavioral traits. In the existentialists’ deconstruction , “woman” signifies a social construct, a phenomenon sustained by one’s participation in the process of genderization, that is, a process of acquiring and embodying a set of socially recognizable gender norms. As de Beauvoir boldly declared, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” There is no “woman” as a natural being out there, but rather each woman as a socially and culturally recognizable “woman” is made in accordance with each cultural conception of what constitutes a proper “woman.”This existential deconstruction...


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