A Comparison of the Representations of Women in Zuozhuan and Shiji

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Title: A Comparison of the Representations of Women in Zuozhuan and Shiji
Author: Zheng, Xiucai
Abstract: From Chunqiu and Zuozhuan to Shiji, women have experienced a downgrade of their formal status in historical records. In Shiji, women, the wives of dukes, lost their formal equality with their duke husbands in terms of being written into state history, as we see in Chunqiu. Their activities, including marriage, returning home, visits, and death, disappeared from Sima Qian’s history for the Spring and Autumn period, which focuses on the activities of male members of ruling lineages. A positive representation of women’s wisdom, eloquence, and authority is no longer in the interest of nor taken as a ritual part of history writing in Shiji. In the terms of representation of women, especially those from the Spring and Autumn period, in Zuozhuan and Shiji, Zuozhuan gave fuller representation of women than Shiji and its attitude toward women was more positive in comparison to the latter. First, Zuozhuan in many examples presented women as having authority, agency and initiative; in the Shiji versions of these stories, the roles of women were reduced in order to strengthen the agency of and focalization through the male members of a ruling lineage toward a goal of a linear logic of succession. Second, Shiji stressed the disruptive role of women in state affairs by intensively preserving the stories in Zuozhuan that associated women with political disasters and emergencies. Third, Zuozhuan had a non-gendered approach to the effect of women’s wisdom, knowledge and eloquence; it left space for complexity of characterization for women. In contrast, Shiji and Lienü Zhuan, where these stories in Zuozhuan were transmitted, emphasized a patterned understanding of women and produced gender role types. With the representation of women in Shiji, the effect of the agency of women in history is patterned. In Shiji, women’s agency is more closely connected to political disasters and negative political situations. In the limited representation of positive heroines, their good roles came from their virtue in being self-restrictive and submissive. It implies as a historical teaching in Shiji that the limitation of the political autonomy of women is a way to promise the success of lineage and tradition.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1794/12471
Date: 2012

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