Women in World History: v. 2: Readings from 1500 to the Present
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Women in World History: v. 2: Readings from 1500 to the Present

Sarah Shaver Hughes, Brady Hughes

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eBook - ePub

Women in World History: v. 2: Readings from 1500 to the Present

Sarah Shaver Hughes, Brady Hughes

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This work is one of two volumes presenting selected histories from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. It discusses issues within a female context and features political and economic issues, marriage practices, motherhood and enslavement, religious beliefs and spiritual development.

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Information

Publisher
Routledge
Year
2015
ISBN
9781317451815
Edition
1
Topic
History
Index
History

Part 1 1500–1800

1 China and Japan

The Neo-Confucian Regimes of the Qing Monarchy and the Tokugawa Shogunate
DOI: 10.4324/9781315698090-2
Japanese washerwomen in an eighteenth-century print by Kitagawa Utamaro.
(The Metropolitan Museum of Art, H.O. Havemeyer Collection.)
In the modern era, the male neo-Confucian ideal of the woman who devoted her life to pleasing and obeying men was enshrined in ideologies and laws of East Asian states. The social stability achieved by the governments of the Manchurian Qing dynasty in China and the Tokugawa dynasty of shoguns in Japan was, in both cases, predicated upon diminishment of women’s status to gain support of men. In China, as the Ming dynasty’s power waned, the Manchurians of the northern borderland conquered territory and won allies even within the Forbidden Palace. Once they replaced the Ming emperors, Qing rulers sought to make minimal changes beyond putting their loyal followers in important government offices and stationing troops in selected urban centers. Their goal was to govern with support of the Chinese scholars and officials, a strategy that maintained the Qing monarchy for nearly 250 years, from 1644 to 1912. In Japan, leyasu Tokugawa’s assumption of the reins of government as shogun in 1603 ended the civil wars that had been recurrent since the fourteenth century. Japanese feudalism also ended as the aristocracy’s privileges and power yielded to that of the centralized Tokugawa state.
Neo-Confucian dogma became the explicit justification of the new seventeenth-century rulers in China and Japan, who regulated ranking of social classes as they glorified the gender inequality implicit in the patriarchal family. For men, hereditary stratification was undermined by wealth and education, particularly in China, where the examination system offered entry to the elite on the basis of merit. For women, there were fewer opportunities. Little research has been done on what changes the growth of commerce, with concurrent population mobility and urbanization, offered Chinese women in new occupations or status within merchant or artisan families. In Japan, by the eighteenth century, urban women shared key managerial responsibilities in such families. Chinese women, whose property rights were more restricted by the state and custom, might benefit from upward mobility through marriage or concubinage, for their society sanctioned men’s relationships with women of lower social status. For most women of both China and Japan, marriage was the critical career choice, and giving birth to a son was necessary to confirm social worth.

1.1 Qing Rape Laws, 1646

One of the first instances of Qing neo-Confucian policy was redefining forcible rape. As their armies advanced into China, Qing soldiers raped many Chinese women—a consequence of defeat desperately feared by victims of all ages in a society that valued feminine chastity above life itself. Jonathan Spence translated a story about Mongol soldiers (a significant force among the Manchurian bannermen) who tried to rape “Chang’s Wife.” The story, written in the 1670s by P’u Sung-ling, was set in northeastern China a generation after the Qing conquest.
In the year 1674, when the Three Feudatories had risen in rebellion, the expeditionary troops being sent south were bivouacked with their horses in the area of Yen; not a dog or chicken was left, the hearths were empty, women and girls all suffered their outrages.
At this season there had been heavy rains, and the fields were covered in water, like lakes; the people had nowhere to hide, so they climbed over the walls and went into the fields of standing kaoliang. Knowing this, the troops stripped off their clothes and rode naked on their horses after them, tracking them down in the water and raping them. Few escaped.
Only the wife of a certain Chang did not lie low but stayed quite openly in her own home. At night, with her husband, she dug a deep pit in her kitchen and filled it with dried reeds; she screened over the top and laid matting upon it so that it looked like a bed. And then she went on with her cooking by the stove.
When the troops came to the village she went out of the door of the house, as if offering herself. Two Mongol soldiers seized her and prepared to rape her, but she said to them, “How can I do such a thing in the presence of others?” One of them chuckled, jabbered to the other, and went away. The woman went into the house with the other and pointed at the bed, to get him to climb up first. The screening broke, and the soldier tumbled in. The woman took the matting and again placed it on the screen over the hole; then she stood by it, to lure the other when he came. He returned after a short while and heard the shouting from within the pit, though he couldn’t tell where it was; the woman beckoned to him with her hand and her smile, saying, “Over here.” The soldier climbed onto the matting and also fell in. The woman threw more brushwood on top of them and set the whole pile on fire. The flames blazed up, and the house itself caught fire. The woman called out for help. When the fire was extinguished, there was a strong smell of roasted flesh; people asked her what it was, and the woman replied, “I had two pigs, and feared they would be taken from me by the troops. So I hid them in that pit.”
From The Death of Woman Wang by Jonathan D. Spence (New York: Viking Penguin,1979), 103–104. Copyright © 1978 by Jonathan D. Spence. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
P’u Sung-ling reflects Chinese men’s disregard of female identity in allowing his heroine no name of her own. Qing officials had made prosecution for rape nearly impossible when they revised the legal code soon after the dynasty assumed power. Although the core of laws from the previous Ming dynasty was retained, modifications show how the Manchus sought the support of Chinese male scholars. Vivien Ng explains:
In 1646 the Qing dynasty issued its first Qing Code. In the section on “Sexual Violations,” the Qing retained all eight of the Ming statutes on sex crimes; however, it added a modifier to the statute on forcible rape. In one stroke, the Qing government made it very difficult for women to prove that they were rape victims. For the crime of rape to be irrefutably established, the victim must provide evidence that she had struggled against her assailant throughout the entire ordeal. Such evidence must include: (1) witnesses, either eyewitnesses or people who had heard the victim’s cry for help; (2) bruises and lacerations on her body; and (3) torn clothing. Moreover, when initially violence had been used, but subsequently the woman had submitted “voluntarily” to the act, the case was not considered rape, but one of “illicit intercourse by mutual consent,” in which case the woman would be subject to punishment [80 blows with a heavy bamboo if not married, 90 blows if married]. Additionally, the modifier stipulated that, “when a man, having witnessed an illicit affair, proceeded to force himself on the woman, the incident could not be regarded as rape, because the woman was already a fornicator.” In such a case, the episode would be considered one of “illicit sexual intercourse in which both parties intrigued to meet away from the woman’s house,” in which case the punishment for both parties could be 100 blows with a heavy bamboo… .
What motivated the Qing government to introduce such a stringent-definition of rape, one that was so obviously prejudiced against the rape victim? It has been suggested that, because rape was often difficult to prove and consequently was frequently the subject of false accusation, solid evidence was required to substantiate the complaint. Thus, the stringent definition…
This explanation at first sight appears too convenient, presuming that many rape charges were indeed false accusations, a presumption that, incidentally, is still held today in this country by opponents of rape law reforms. In fact, the Qing government did try actively to discourage people from bringing false charges against others. There is ample evidence to suggest that one of the early concerns of the new dynasty was the large number of lawsuits, both legitimate complaints as well as false accusations, that were being brought before district magistrates. Top government officials considered this to be an undesirable development, because in their opinion litigation was a sign of social disharmony… . Several times during the first year of the Shunzhi reign, people living in newly pacified areas were exhorted to desist from unnecessary litigation. In fact, such urgings seemed to have become a necessary part of postpacification proclamations… . It is probable, therefore, that the stringent definition of rape was part of the general effort to discourage litigious tendencies among the populace… .
Pacification required both subjugation of enemy forces and restoration of order and peace of mind… . Lingering doubts about the Manchu conquerors had to be dispelled by whatever means available. Thus, the introduction of the stringent definition of rape in 1646 was probably part of the effort to discourage the Chinese from bringing rape charges against Manchu soldiers, because such accusations would only damage the pacification process.
Pacification of China also meant winning the cooperation of the literati. Toward this end, the Manchus presented themselves as restorers and guardians of Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism, which had been the state ideology of the Ming and which emphasized, among other things, obedience to authority, loyalty to superiors, and chastity for women… . Intensification of state support for the cult of chastity was part of the Qing efforts to sponsor their own Confucian renewal, in order to convert conservative Chinese scholars to the side of the Qing government. Herein lies another explanation for the stringent definition of rape, and one that I believe is the most likely.
At first glance, there seems to be a paradox. If indeed chastity were such a paramount virtue, why did the Qing government make it more difficult to establish rape? It would seem more logical for the government to enact laws that promised swift and severe punishment for any man who forced himself upon a woman, whether violently or not. Is it possible that the main thrust of the new rape law was actually to ensure that women in Qing China would forcefully defend their chastity, even if it meant giving up their lives?
Such an interpretation, of course, would make the Qing rape law both misogynie and sadistic, but so was the cult of chastity. “It is a small matter to starve to death, but a serious matter to lose one’s virtue” was only one of many aphorisms used to indoctrinate young women in Qing China. Often, a woman who found herself disgraced was impelled to commit suicide in order to redeem her good name and that of her family. Women were expected to be chaste even after being widowed, and widow remarriage was fiercely opposed by Neo-Confucian moralists.
Vivien W. Ng, “Ideology and Sexuality: Rape Laws in Qing China,” Journal of Asian Studies 46 (February 1987): 57–60. Reprinted with permission of the Association for Asian Studies, Inc. References omitted.

1.2 Qing Laws Encouraged Widows' Chastity

Qing China is generally considered “a straitlaced, sexually repressed society” (Ng 1987, 57). Certainly, the state’s effort to prevent widows’ remarriage fits into that pattern. Strong pressure on a widow to remarry could come from her husband’s relatives and neighbors who wanted her husband’s property. Jonathan Spence cites the relevant clause from the Qing Code to illustrate how greed could lead to distortion of the law:
“If a widow remarries, her husband’s property, as well as the dowry that she originally brought with her, shall become the property of her former husband’s family.” The clause, originally intended to encourage a widow to stay true to her dead husband’s memory, had an obvious negative effect if—far from encouraging her in her sentiments of loyalty—the husband’s relatives pushed the widow to remarry against her will. They would not just be divesting themselves of the costs of her upkeep and of child care, but be gaining substantial profits as well.
This clause of the [Qing] Legal Code helps to explain the pressures that were placed on woman P’eng in T’an-ch’eng [county of Shantung province] during the spring and early summer of 1670. She fulfilled part of her obligations immediately by enrolling her son, Lien, in the village school; it was only a small school, and the teacher was a part-time one who had to supplement his income by working in his own fields, but this was an important first stage if Lien was to gain literati status and honor his father. But almost from the first her husband’s relatives, instead of supporting her, began to harass her. The main villains were her son’s second cousins, the three brothers Ch’en Kuo-lin, Ch’en Kuo-hsiang, and Ch’en Kuo-lien. The youngest of them took her ox and refused to return it; this was a serious act, since the ox was not only an essential animal for families with fields to plow but was also treasured evidence of a family’s status, well looked after and tethered before the doorway to the house (when not at work) for all to see. After taking the ox, Ch’en Kuo-lien extorted three taels from woman P’eng. The middle brother, Ch’en Kuo-hsiang, moved uninvited into her house and tried to drive her out. The clan head, Ch’en San-fu, did not intervene to help her… . But if they were trying to force her to move away from the area or to find another husband so as to protect herself and her son, they failed completely. Woman P’eng vowed she would not leave her home, and had an angry confrontation with the cousin Ch’en Kuo-hsiang, who swore, “I’ll make sure that no scrap of anything is left to you.”
From The Death of Woman Wang by Jonathan D. Spence (New York: Viking Penguin, 1979), 72–73. Copyright © 1978 by Jonathan D. Spence. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
Eventually, Ch’en Kuo-hsiang killed the widow P’eng’s son Lien in an unsuccessful plot to seize her property legally. She managed to keep her house and land but did not regain the ox.
Spence derives from the county archives actual stories of other widows in the same county. Woman An, widowed after only a half year of marriage, managed to hang herself despite efforts of those around her to prevent it. Woman Wu was driven to return to her clan with her one-month-old baby. She was fortunate that her natal family would accept her. Many a widow knew that the family property had already been divided among her brothers, who would gain complete possession on the death of her parents—so there was nothing left to support her.
Widows were in a dangerous position: they could seldom return to their natal families, and their husbands’ families were often willing to take extreme measures to force them to give up their inherited property. Furthermore, they were often as young as Woman An and Woman Wu, mentioned earlier. Mindful of this, Qing officials mounted a campaign to center public morality on women’s chastity, especially the chastity of widows. Counties were instructed to keep and publicize the names of exceptional women. Their stories became part of the rhetoric that the local literati used to encourage county pride. The central government authenticated chaste widows and authorized their families to erect memorial arches honoring their names in family temples. Susan Mann explores the widow’s position:
The still-fecund widow in the Chinese family became an instant source of ambiguity and anxiety. Without a “free bench” or some other assurance of property to support herself in her old age, she remained dependent upon her dead husband’s family, but her presence in the household was bound to produce sexual attraction and tension. With her physical charms and reproductive powers still at their peak, she could bring a handsome price on the remarriage market—but the norms of Qing society forbade widow remarriage. Somehow the sexual and reproductive powers of a young widow had to be contained and protected within the structures of her dead husband’s family. She could not ...

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