Cultivation of virtue: Women's practices and gender issuesduring the Song era (960-1279)
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractIdealized presentations of female behavior prescribed by Ban Zhao (A.D. 45-120) and later male Confucians defined women in the role of inner helpers, thus confining them to the domestic arena. Close scrutiny of data however reveals a cluster of new values for Song women evident through personal cultivation and devotional practices both "within" and "without" the inner sphere. This dissertation offers a preliminary investigation of Song women's practices such as bodily and spiritual cultivations as well as their devotional and philanthropic activities. It examines why and how these specific inner and outer practices evolved into regnant womanly practices that ultimately becarne exemplary behaviors during the Song period. Through the lens of female daily practices, this study also investigates the diverse interactions between genders in the Song era. The first part of this dissertation explores Song women's bodily and spiritual observances within the inner quarters. Song women performed bodily cultivations through various forms of ascetic behaviors, including fasting, vegetarianism, the abstinence from slaughtering living beings, and seclusion in their daily lives, which can be deemed gendered practices. Spiritual cultivation through religious practices such as sutra recitation and other related observances functioned not only as accessible avenues of female spiritual pursuits, but also served as alternative conduits for Song women's literary aspirations. Part Two first discusses the gender discourse and the tension between the norms and historical reality during the Song. The last two chapters examine Song women's practices such as their religious offerings and involvement in community public works and philanthropy outside the domestic realm. In contrast to women's inner practices, women's outer sphere endeavors put their personal cultivation and volition into practice, and also extended their influential financial autonomy beyond the domestic arena into the greater society. This study concludes that despite deviations from conventional Confucian values, these inner and outer womanly practices were perceived as paragons of female virtues. Lastly, it suggests a negotiated process in the workings of gender in the Song culture.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
East Asian Studies