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Huang, Aubury A. (2021) 'Late Ming Courtesan Culture And China’s Gender System.' The SOAS Journal of Postgraduate Research, 13 (2019/2020). pp. 105-123.

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Abstract

This article argues against existing scholarship that sees courtesans as a transcending force that blurred social and gender boundaries in the late Ming gender system. The gendered position of courtesans is examined from two perspectives, the market economy and the kinship system, to analyse how the booming courtesan culture stemmed from and reinforced the male-dominated gender hierarchy. Firstly, in the market economy, courtesans emerged as a product of the patriarchal practice of objectifying and commodifying women, whereby the ownership of women lay with men. Under such a commercialised environment, the literary and artistic skills of courtesans were highly gendered, sexualised and essentially cultivated to increase their market value and the attraction they held for their male patrons. Secondly, in the kinship system, a clear boundary was constructed between courtesans and respectable women in the domestic sphere. The existence of courtesans prevented such women from entering the public realm. Meanwhile, the de facto freedom enjoyed by courtesans prevented themselves from entering orthodox household units, as they were constructed outside of the kinship system, and were marginalised by both men and women of the gentry class, by Ming legal regulations and by popular literary work, to ensure the continuance of the existing patriarchal family structure and the husband-wife hierarchy.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: Chinese courtesans, Late Ming, gender history, prostitution, literati, family structure
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Doctoral School
SOAS Open Access Journals > The SOAS Journal of Postgraduate Research
ISSN: 25176226
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00035319
Date Deposited: 16 Jul 2021 12:34
URI: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/35319

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