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Woman in Early Imperial China: the socio - political forces and gender norms surrounding elite women in the Han Dynasty

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posted on 2022-03-28, 01:23 authored by Laura Sowden
This thesis focuses on gender norms within literary and historical texts from Han Dynasty China a s they pertain to women. It examines the role of women within that society, with an emphasis on women in the political sphere and imperial court. The study of such history is significant for its own sake. It also contribute s to the understanding of the early underpinnings of the Confucian principles that still influence Chinese society and the Chinese cultural diaspora. Understanding how historical works nuance their discussion of women and analysing the motive s for the presentation of women means historian s are better equipped to critically evaluate the place of women through out history. This thesis engages in analysis of several key Han Dynasty texts that discuss ' women ' , the roles women held and important female members of the Han Dynasty political elite. Because of this historical analysis , it is possible to see that women in the Han Dynasty were politically significant, could hold real political power and yet were increasingly bound and constricted by notions of appropriate female behaviour as the dynasty progressed. The increasing removal of power from maternal relatives of the emperor resulted in historical sources often undermining the legitimacy of female political power within the Han Dynasty system. This was bolstered by an increased conservatism regarding female behaviour which attempted to constrain women's roles and actions and , at the same time , stated that female action could have moral value.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter 1. The mother of them all: Xiwangmu -- Chapter 2. Han Dynasty ideology and women -- Chapter 3. The family as the political unit -- Chapter 4. Gender segregation -- Chapter 5. Biography as history in the Han Dynasty -- Chapter 6. Liu Xiang and the Lienüzhuan -- Chapter 7. 'Woman' in the Lienüzhuan -- Chapter 8. The writings of the ban women -- Chapter 9. Imperial women's roles -- Chapter 10. Women without virtue, politics in the imperial harem -- Chapter 11.The presentation of Empress Lü -- Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 225-232

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Ancient History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Gunner Mikkelsen


Copyright Laura Sowden 2019. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (xvi, 232 pages)

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