Confucianism and Women

A Philosophical Interpretation

By Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee

Subjects: Confucianism
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791467503, 210 pages, June 2007
Hardcover : 9780791467497, 210 pages, April 2006

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Table of contents


1. Introduction

2. Confucianism, Chinese-ness, and Ren Virtuous Personhood


Confucians before Confucius: Ru and Its Ambiguity
Ru, State, and Chinese-ness
Defining Ru: Ren as Confucian Virtue Ethics


3. Yin-Yang, Gender Attributes, and Complementarity


Yin-yang and the Oppositional Binary of Femininity-masculinity
Yin-yang and Correlative Cosmology
Yin-yang Complementarity and Gender Hierarchy


4. Nei-Wai, Gender Distinctions, and Ritual Propriety


Nei-wai, Ritualization, and Civilization
Nei-wai, Functional Distinctions, and Gender Hier-archy


5. Didactic Texts for Women and the Womanly Sphere of Nei


Lienuzhuan, Guifan, and the Tradition of Virtuous Women’s Biographies
The Four Books for Women and by Women
The Question of Female Literacy and the Virtue of Women’s Speech (Fuyan)


6. Chinese Sexism and Confucianism


Gender Oppression and Confucian Virtue Ethics
Case Studies: Widowhood and Footbinding


7. Toward a Confucian Feminism— Feminist Ethics In-the-Making


The Problems of Gender and the Politics of Femi-nism
Outline of a Confucian Feminism: A Hybrid Identity


Reflections and Conclusions


Challenges accepted beliefs that Confucianism is a cause of women’s oppression and explores Confucianism as an ethical system compatible with gender parity.


Confucianism and Women argues that Confucian philosophy—often criticized as misogynistic and patriarchal—is not inherently sexist. Although historically bound up with oppressive practices, Confucianism contains much that can promote an ethic of gender parity. Attacks on Confucianism for gender oppression have marked China's modern period, beginning with the May Fourth Movement of 1919 and reaching prominence during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The West has also readily characterized Confucianism as a foundation of Chinese women's oppression. Author Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee challenges readers to consider the culture within which Confucianism has functioned and to explore what Confucian thought might mean for women and feminism.

She begins the work by clarifying the intellectual tradition of Confucianism and discussing the importance of the Confucian cultural categories yin-yang and nei-wai (inner-outer) for gender ethics. In addition, the Chinese tradition of biographies of virtuous women and books of instruction by and for women is shown to provide a Confucian construction of gender. Practices such as widow chastity, footbinding, and concubinage are discussed in light of Confucian ethics and Chinese history. Ultimately, Rosenlee lays a foundation for a future construction of Confucian feminism as an alternative ethical ground for women's liberation.

Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Mary Washington.


"…an intelligent, thought-provoking study. " — China Review International

"…an ambitious and far-ranging work that manages both to be accessible to non-specialists, thereby facilitating consideration of Confucianism by feminist philosophers working outside the tradition, and to be provocative for scholars of Confucian studies … [an] excellent book. " — Journal of Chinese Religions

"…Confucianism and Women is a concisely presented and coherently structured piece of writing. It is a welcome addition to the current research in the fields of Chinese gender studies and philosophy. " — Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society

"…an excellent work; its style is engaging and it fills an important vacuum in the contemporary feminist scholarship … The book will greatly benefit anyone who is interested in cross-cultural philosophy and gender studies. Its sequel will undoubtedly be eagerly awaited. " — Dao

"Insights on Confucian feminism make this a useful reference. " — WATERwheel

"This book offers conceptual and historical evidence to challenge the stereotypical perception that Confucianism systematically oppresses Chinese women. This is a sharp and insightful work that will make a good contribution to current scholarly work, especially in the field of feminist theory. " — Robin R. Wang, editor of Chinese Philosophy in an Era of Globalization