Confucian Four Texts: An Analysis

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With the popularization of the Confucian Four Books during Ming dynasty, female-authored writing achieved a new level of importance. Instructional texts written by female authors including Ban Zhao, Madam Cheng, Song Ruozhao and Empress Xu were compiled as the Four Books for Women as a parallel to the Confucian canon. Through writing, these female authors receive social recognition, discuss public affairs and elevate women’s social status within households. However, writing could only allow women to attain limited social power in pre-modern China, as popular female-authored texts are all written by women from privileged background, circulate with limited impact among a small group of audience and further exaggerate gender inequality.
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For example, in Classics of Filial Piety for Women, Madam Cheng from Tang dynasty emphasizes female leadership role and argues that women could “govern the nine degrees of familial relations” with filial piety (826). Furthermore, Madam Cheng suggests that women also play an important role in supervising their husbands’ moral conducts. She reinforces women’s moral influence by comparing husband and wife to emperor and officials (827). Similarly, in Analects for Women, the female author Song Ruozhao also points out married woman’s responsibility of remonstrance, “If he [the husband] does something wrong, gently correct him (830).” Therefore, with an emphasis on women’s leadership role and moral influence on family members, these instructional texts elevate women’s social status in the domestic sphere to some degree. In summary, writing enables women to receive social recognition with their scholarship, participate in public affairs and increase their domestic status within…show more content…
Ban Zhao, who is recognized for her scholarship and participates in public affairs through her writing, justifies gender hierarchy in Admonitions for Women. She argues that “the controlling of women by man, and the serving of men by women” is a manifestation of the natural principle of Yin and Yang (84). In Analects for Women, the author Song Ruozhao specifies women’s primary responsibilities are doing housework and educating children. She also explicitly points out that a married woman should “listen carefully to and obey whatever [her] husband tells [her] (830).” In Instructions for Inner Quarter, Ming dynasty Empress Xu argues that males and females “have the same innate Heavenly endowment of a moral nature, which represents the potential for sagehood (Kelleher 833).” However, she points out that in order to achieve a womanly sagehood, women should be diligent in doing housework. She claims, “‘A woman shall have nothing to do with public affairs [yet] she discards her silkworms and weaving [for this] (835).’” Thus, even though individual female writers could get recognized with their works and discuss social issues through their writings, female-authored instructional texts reinforce gender stereotypes and exaggerate gender
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