Grooming a Daughter for Marriage: Brides and Wives in the Mid-Ch'ing Period

Susan Mann

in Marriage and Inequality in Chinese Society

Published by University of California Press

Published in print April 1991 | ISBN: 9780520069305
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520910454 | DOI:
Grooming a Daughter for Marriage: Brides and Wives in the Mid-Ch'ing Period

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During the mid-Ch'ing period, dowry was the hallmark of a respectable wedding. Commoners went into debt and postponed marriages in order to dower their daughters in style. Whereas during the Sung period, the dowry was above all an upper-class concern—families complained about expensive dowries because they dissipated corporate estates—in Ch'ing times, dowry givers quite clearly included families of more modest means. Concern about dowry was only one aspect of the bitter competition for status that pervaded eighteenth-century life, competition which produced an unusual series of conversations about wives and brides in the writings of mid-Ch'ing intellectuals. Their conversations, which appear in a variety of texts (didactic, political, and scholarly), are reminiscent of Victorian writings on the subject of women. Like the Victorians, mid-Ch'ing writers valorized the woman's role as wife, manager, and guardian of the “inner apartments.” In fixing the place of wives in the domestic sphere, they also sought to fix the fluidity of social change that threatened to erode the boundaries defining their own respectability. In questioning classical conventions governing women's behavior, they simultaneously reasserted those same conventions. This chapter argues that their conversations about women and marriage were a metonymic comment on larger social issues of mobility and class during the eighteenth century. The conversations—referred to as a “new discourse on marriage”—were part of the Confucian revival of the mid-Ch'ing period, a revival that reached down through the ranks of the commoner classes and focused on the family.

Keywords: mid-Ch'ing period; dowries; marriage; conversations; wives; brides; mobility; class

Chapter.  12900 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology

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