A Ming-Qing Transition in Chinese Women’s History? The Perspective from Law
This article challenges Western scholarship that sees the period of the Ming-Qing transition as a significant turning point in Chinese women’s history, a time during which gender norms and relations underwent significant changes that were of benefit to women. It argues instead that, seen from the perspective of law, this period represents the culmination of trends in evidence since the end of the Song that together amounted to a contraction in a woman’s rights and privileges under the law. Through an examination of changing laws on betrothal, marriage, divorce, and property, it demonstrates how codified law gradually absorbed ongoing peasant practices and expectations and the economic calculus on which those were based. The result of this “peasantization of law” was a greater legal incorporation of a woman into her marital family, a concurrent weakening of her legal ties with her natal kin, and an overall decline in her legal status.
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