This groundbreaking work provides an original and deeply knowledgeable overview of Chinese women and gender relations during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Bret Hinsch explores in detail the central aspects of female life in this era, including family and marriage, motherhood, political power, work, inheritance, education, religious roles, and virtues. He considers not only the lived world of women, but also delves into their emotional life and the ideals they pursued. Drawing on a wide range of Western and Chinese primary and secondary sources—including standard histories, poetry, prose literature, and epitaphs—Hinsch makes an important period of Chinese women’s history accessible to Western readers.
Bret Hinsch is professor of history at Fo Guang University, Yilan, Taiwan. He is the author of Women in Ancient China, Women in Early Medieval China, Women in Early Imperial China, Women in Imperial China, Masculinities in Chinese History, and Women in Song and Yuan China.
Chronology of Dynasties
Hinsch…provides a fine summary of the status and behavior of women in the Ming period. He describes the restraints imposed on women, including bound feet and obedience to fathers, husbands, and sons, by Neo-Confucianism, the era's dominant philosophy. His portrait of women's life cycles reveals the limitations placed on women, given their lack of choice in mates and mobility, and society's demands that widows be chaste. Although increased literacy and greater access to education among elite women created opportunities for female writers and artists, the government and even the works produced by women themselves prescribed restraints on their roles and conduct. Challenges to such limitations were met by "historians [who] convinced literati to associate female power with dynastic decline" (p. 136). Thus even women at the Ming court were powerless... [T]he book is clearly written and accessible to the general educated reader. It offers a nuanced portrait of women in a critical transitional period of Chinese history. Recommended. General readers through faculty.
With its accomplished female poets and painters and the growth of an elite cult of romantic love, the Ming dynasty may appear to modern eyes as a time when Chinese women achieved an unusual degree of freedom for self-realization and expression. But we can only understand the forms that such self-realization took, and its limits, if we acknowledge how they were embedded in an elaborate neo-Confucian morality that, partly thanks to an expanding print culture, penetrated steadily deeper into Ming society. Hinsch’s richly detailed and nuanced introduction to women’s lives and identities emphasizes the connections between social control, material prosperity, and moral conservatism that underpinned the cultural flowering of the Great Ming.
Using a wide range of primary and secondary sources in Chinese and English, Bret Hinsch explores issues of family, wealth, power, education, and belief in the lives of the women of the Ming dynasty. His creative use of women’s poetry as a key to their intellectual and emotional lives is a particular strength of this volume.
3/31/22, Choice: This book was featured in a roundup of top community college titles.