Women's Biological Threat to Confucian Social Order: An Examination of Gender Constructs through an Analysis of Pre-modern Chinese Literature
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Cultural views embedded within an array of pre-modern Chinese literature unveil social and gender constructs designed to promote Confucian social order. Confucian culture prioritizes the reproduction of sons, in order to maintain ancestor worship and social order, whereas literature from this period does not celebrate the female’s biological role in reproduction. Instead, women’s biological role in reproduction is characterized as unfavorable and disrupting to social order, while the social role of motherhood is idealized and represented as stabilizing to social order. Consequently, the biological processes associated with female reproduction are ranked on a hierarchical scale reflecting women’s social position that conforms with Confucian gender hierarchies and social mores. An interpretation and analysis of traditional Chinese literature reveals that the positive aspects associated with the social role of motherhood override the negative aspects associated with the biological role. Within this construct, the biological role of motherhood was restrained by depictions of pollution and represented as inferior to the social role. Furthermore, female reproductive power was framed as secondary to men. These societal views parallel Confucian social and gender hierarchies that promote the female role of biological reproduction as a threat to social order.