The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Chinese Philosophy and Gender 9781472569851, 9781472569844, 9781472569868, 2015040037

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The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Chinese Philosophy and Gender
 9781472569851, 9781472569844, 9781472569868, 2015040037

Table of contents :
Half Title
Notes on Contributors
I. bringing the past into the present
II. multiculturalism and liberal feminism: is the rift between them necessary?
III. development of gender discourse in chinese culture and thought
IV. purpose of this volume and its four main parts
V. what’s next? a way forward
Part I Confucian Approaches: Ancient and Medieval
Chapter One Women and Moral Dilemmas in Early Chinese Narrative
Chapter Two Discourses on Women from the Classical Period to the Song: An Integrated Approach
Chapter Three Neo-Confucians and Zhu Xi on Family and Women: Challenges and Potentials
I. Unearthing new evidence
Chapter Four The Dream of Sagehood: A Re-Examination of Queen Sohae’s Naehoon
Part II Confucian Approaches: Modern and Contemporary
Chapter Five Close Personal Relationships and the Situated Self: The Confucian Analects and Feminist Philosophy
Ii. The five relationships in early confucian philosophy
Chapter Six Care and Justice: Reading Mencius, Kant, and Gilligan Comparatively
Chapter Seven Moral Reasoning: The Female Way and the Xunzian Way
Chapter Eight Multiculturalism and Feminism Revisited: A Hybridized Confucian Care Ethic
Chapter Nine Would Confucianism Allow Two Men to Share a Peach? Compatibility between Ancient Confucianism and Homosexuality
Part III Daoist Approaches
Chapter Ten Yinyang Gender Dynamics: Lived Bodies, Rhythmical Changes, and Cultural Performances1
Chapter Eleven On the Dao of Ci . (Feminine/Female) in the Daodejing«...»
II. How is the feminine identified in the classical chinese tradition?
Chapter Twelve To Beget and to Forget: On the Transformative Power of the Two Feminine Images of Dao in the Laozi*
Chapter Thirteen The Yijing, Gender, and the Ethics of Nature
Chapter Fourteen Daoism and the LGBT Community
Part IV Buddhist Approaches
Chapter Fifteen Buddhist Nondualism: Deconstructing Gender and Other Delusions of the Discriminating Mind through Awareness
Chapter sixteen Non-Self, Agency, and Women: Buddhism’s Modern Transformation
Chapter seventeen “The Bodhisattva’s Path” as Gender-Neutral Practices: A Case Study of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Community in Taiwa
IV. discussion
Chapter Eighteen Bhik.uni Chao-Hwei’s Buddhist-Feminist Social Ethics

Citation preview



Bloomsbury Research Handbooks in Asian Philosophy Series Editors: Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Lancaster University. Sor-hoon Tan, National University of Singapore.

Editorial Advisory Board: Roger Ames, University of Hawai’i; Doug Berger, Southern Illinois University; Carine Defoort, KU Leuven; Owen Flanagan, Duke University; Jessica Frazier, University of Kent; Chenyang Li, Nanyang Technological University; Ronnie Littlejohn, Belmont University; Evan Thompson, University of British Columbia. Series description: Bringing together established academics and rising stars, Bloomsbury Research Handbooks in Asian Philosophy survey philosophical topics across all the main schools of Asian thought. Each volume focuses on the history and development of a core subject in a single tradition, asking how the field has changed, highlighting current disputes, anticipating new directions of study, illustrating the Western philosophical significance of a subject and demonstrating why a topic is important for understanding Asian thought. From knowledge, being, gender and ethics, to methodology, language and art, these research handbooks provide up-to-date and authoritative overviews of Asian philosophy in the twenty-first century.

Titles in the series: The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art, edited by Arindam Chakrabarti

Forthcoming titles: The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Chinese Philosophy Methodologies, edited by Sor-hoon Tan The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Philosophy and Gender, edited by Veena Howard The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Epistemology and Metaphysics, edited by Joerg Tuske The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Ethics, edited by Shyam Ranganathan



Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc


Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP UK

1385 Broadway New York NY 10018 USA BLOOMSBURY and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2016 © Ann A. Pang-White and Contributors, 2016 Ann A. Pang-White has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the Editor of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury or the author. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: HB: 978-1-4725-6985-1      ePDF: 978-1-4725-6984-4      ePub: 978-1-4725-6986-8 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Pang White, Ann A., editor. Title: The Bloomsbury research handbook of Chinese philosophy and gender / edited by Ann A. Pang White. Description: New York : Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2016. | Series: Bloomsbury research handbooks in Asian philosophy | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2015040037| ISBN 9781472569851 (hb : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781472569844 (epdf : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781472569868 (epub : alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Philosophy, Chinese. | Sex role. Classification: LCC B125 .B56 2016 | DDC 181/.11081–dc23 LC record available at Series: Bloomsbury Research Handbooks in Asian Philosophy Typeset by Newgen Knowledge Works (P) Ltd., Chennai, India

To my mother, Ai-chu Huang—a Confucian daughter-mother-wife and a Buddhist nun-teacher—and to all the men and women who care to make the world a better place


Notes on Contributors




Introduction: Rereading the Canon Ann A. Pang-White


Part I: Confucian Approaches: Ancient and Medieval


1 Women and Moral Dilemmas in Early Chinese Narrative Paul R. Goldin


2 Discourses on Women from the Classical Period to the Song: An Integrated Approach Tak-Ling Terry Woo


3 Neo-Confucians and Zhu Xi on Family and Women: Challenges and Potentials Ann A. Pang-White


4 The Dream of Sagehood: A Re-Examination of Queen Sohae’s Naehoon Hye-Kyung Kim


Part II: Confucian Approaches: Modern And Contemporary


5 Close Personal Relationships and the Situated Self: The Confucian Analects and Feminist Philosophy Karyn Lai


6 Care and Justice: Reading Mencius, Kant, and Gilligan Comparatively Chenyang Li


7 Moral Reasoning: The Female Way and the Xunzian Way Ellie Hua Wang 8 Multiculturalism and Feminism Revisited: A Hybridized Confucian Care Ethics Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee





  9 Would Confucianism Allow Two Men to Share a Peach? Compatibility between Ancient Confucianism and Homosexuality Sin-Yee Chan


Part III: Daoist Approaches


10 Yinyang Gender Dynamics: Lived Bodies, Rhythmical Changes, and Cultural Performances Robin R. Wang


11 On the Dao of Ci 雌 (Feminine/Female) in the Daodejing《道德經》 Lin Ma 12 To Beget and to Forget: On the Transformative Power of the Two Feminine Images of Dao in the Laozi Galia Patt-Shamir



13 The Yijing, Gender, and the Ethics of Nature Eric S. Nelson and Liu Yang


14 Daoism and the LGBT Community Susan Scheibler


Part IV: Buddhist Approaches


15 Buddhist Nondualism: Deconstructing Gender and Other Delusions of the Discriminating Mind through Awareness Sandra A. Wawrytko


16 Non-Self, Agency, and Women: Buddhism’s Modern Transformation Ann A. Pang-White 17 “The Bodhisattva’s Path” as Gender-Neutral Practices: A Case Study of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Community in Taiwan Hwei-Syin Lu



18 Bhikṣunī Chao-Hwei’s Buddhist-Feminist Social Ethics Hsiao-Lan Hu





Paul R. Goldin received his doctorate from Harvard University. He is Professor of Chinese Thought at the University of Pennsylvania and formerly the department chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. He has authored several books on Chinese cultural and intellectual history, including Rituals of the Way: The Philosophy of Xunzi (Open Court, 1999), The Culture of Sex in Ancient China (University of Hawaii, 2001), After Confucius: Studies in Early Chinese Philosophy (University of Hawaii Press, 2005), and Confucianism (University of California Press, 2011). He has edited the Dao Companion to the Philosophy of Han Fei (Springer, 2012)  as well as the new edition of R. H. van Gulik’s classic study, Sexual Life in Ancient China (Brill, 2003). His current work includes a paper re-examining the mind-body problem in Chinese culture through the lens of debates about post-mortem consciousness, and a study of regional identity before the establishment of the Chinese empire in 221 BC. Hsiao-Lan Hu received her PhD in Religion from Temple University. She is an associate professor of Religious Studies & Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy. Her monograph This-Worldly Nibbāna: A BuddhistFeminist Social Ethic for Peacemaking in the Global Community (SUNY, 2011)  is an interdisciplinary study of philosophy and sociology of early Buddhism, engaged Buddhism, poststructuralist feminist theory, liberation theology, socioeconomic studies, and peace studies. Her other publications include “Kamma, No-Self, and Social Construction: The Middle Way between Determinism and Indeterminism,” in Liberating Traditions (Columbia University Press, 2014); “Three Teachings in One,” in The World Book of Faith (Lannoo, 2014); “Rectification of the Four Teachings in Chinese Culture,” in Violence against Women in Contemporary World Religion (Pilgrim, 2007); and “Yearning for Justice and Mercy: Visions of Hells in the Nineteenth-Century Chinese Pao-chuan [precious scrolls],” in Considering Evil and Human Wickedness (Inter-Disciplinary, 2004). She is currently co-authoring a volume on Buddhist women and leadership. Hye-Kyung Kim is associate professor of Philosophy and Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She was born and raised in South Korea. After receiving a BA in Literature and an MA in Philosophy from Ewha Womans’ University, the birthplace and the center of contemporary Korean feminism, Professor Kim studied in Greece and America, and received a PhD in Philosophy from Marquette University. Her main areas of teaching and research are Ancient Greek philosophy, ethics, and Asian philosophy, especially Confucianism. Her publications include “Critical Thinking, Learning, and Confucius: A Positive Assessment,” in Journal of



Philosophy of Education (2003), “Teaching Ethics in America,” in Korean Journal of Teaching Philosophy and Moral Education (2006), “Metaphysics H 6 and the Problem of Unity,” in Journal of the History of Philosophy (2007), and “Confucius” and “Mencius,” in The Encyclopedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy (2014). Karyn Lai is associate professor of Philosophy in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Her primary research area is in early (pre-Qin) Confucian and Daoist philosophies. Her work is often of a comparative nature, drawing insights from Chinese philosophies to address issues in a number of philosophical areas, including moral philosophy, environmental ethics, reasoning and argumentation and, most recently, epistemology. Her monographs include Learning from Chinese Philosophies (Ashgate, 2006) and Introduction to Chinese Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2008). She has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals. She is editor of the Chinese Comparative Philosophy section of Philosophy Compass (Wiley-Blackwell), assistant editor of Sophia: International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Metaphysical Theology and Ethics (Springer) and co-editor of the Chinese philosophy section of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Chenyang Li is the founding director of the Philosophy program at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has previously served as professor and chair of the Philosophy Department at Central Washington University, where he received the University Distinguished Research Professor Award, Outstanding Department Chair Award, and the Key to Success Award (student service). His main research interests are Chinese philosophy and comparative philosophy. His publications include The Confucian Philosophy of Harmony (2013), The Tao Encounters the West: Explorations in Comparative Philosophy (1999), The Sage and the Second Sex (ed. 2000), The East Asian Challenge for Democracy: Political Meritocracy in Comparative Perspective (co-edited with Daniel Bell, 2013), Moral Cultivation and Confucian Character: Engaging Joel J. Kupperman (co-edited with Peimin Ni), and about 100 journal articles and book chapters in such venues as Philosophy East and West, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Asian Philosophy, Review of Metaphysics, Journal of Value Inquiry, Hypatia, International Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophia, and Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy. He was an ACE fellow (2008–2009) and the first president of the Association of Chinese Philosophers in Northern America (1995–1997). He serves on the editorial/academic boards of fourteen publications and organizations. Hwei-Syin Lu earned her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was a member of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica (Taiwan), for thirteen years, doing research on women’s groups and feminism in Taiwan. In 2000, she joined the faculty of Tzuchi University and founded the Institute of Religion and Culture. Her interests of study evolved to include Buddhist women in Tzuchi, which is the largest Buddhist charity organization in Taiwan (and possibly in the world), and it is directed by a nun and lay women. Her research topics range from gender to religion, ethics, healing, life and death. In 2011, she



published an important monograph, Transformation of Human Sentiments to Great Love in Buddhist Tzuchi Community. She is currently a professor of the Institute of Religion and Humanity at Tzuchi University (Taiwan). Lin Ma received her PhD from the Higher Institute of Philosophy, The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium). She is associate professor at Renmin University of China. In the fall semester of 2010 and 2011, she was guest professor at the Higher Institute of Philosophy, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. She is the author of Heidegger on East-West Dialogue: Anticipating the Event (Routledge, 2008). She has also published research papers in Continental Philosophical Review (forthcoming), Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, and Philosophy East and West. In addition, she has presented papers at academic conferences held in Norway, Austria, Germany, Denmark, the United States, and Canada. Eric S. Nelson is associate professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He received his doctorate from Emory University. His research areas include hermeneutics, ethics, and the philosophy of nature. He has published over fifty articles and book chapters on Chinese, German, and Jewish philosophy. He is the co-editor with François Raffoul of the Bloomsbury Companion to Heidegger (Bloomsbury, 2013) and Rethinking Facticity (SUNY Press, 2008). He has also co-edited with John Drabinski, Between Levinas and Heidegger (SUNY Press, 2014); with G. D’Anna and H. Johach, Anthropologie und Geschichte. Studien zu Wilhelm Dilthey aus Anlass seines 100. Todestages (Königshausen and Neumann, 2013); and with A. Kapust and K. Still Addressing Levinas (Northwestern University Press, 2005). Ann A. Pang-White is professor of Philosophy at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She is the founding director of the Asian Studies Program, and the former chair of the Philosophy Department. She received her BA from Tunghai University (Taiwan), her MA from the University of South Carolina, Columbia, and her PhD in philosophy from Marquette University. In 2010, she was awarded the Provost’s Award for “Excellence in Advancing Global Learning.” She is a referee and manuscript reviewer for several journals and university presses. She has published in Medieval Philosophy and Theology, Revue d’ Etudes Augustiniennes et Patristiques, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, The Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, Philosophy Compass, The Journal of Chinese Religions, The Journal of Early Christian Studies, and The Review of Metaphysics. Her recent publications include “Reconstructing Modern Ethics: Confucian Care Ethics” (2009), “Nature, Interthing Intersubjectivity, and the Environment: A Comparative Analysis of Kant and Daoism” (2009), “Caring in Confucian Philosophy” (2011), “Friendship and Happiness: Why Matter Matters in Augustine’s Confessions?” (2011), and “Zhu Xi on Family and Women: Challenges and Potentials” (2013). Galia Patt-Shamir is professor of Chinese philosophy and Comparative Philosophy and Religion at Tel-Aviv University (Israel), in the departments of East-Asian Studies and Philosophy. She earned her PhD degree in the Study of Religion in 1997, from



Harvard University. She wrote a book on human nature in Chinese philosophies and religions (Hebrew, 2004). Her book To Broaden the Way—a Confucian-Jewish Dialogue (2006) focuses on the themes of ultimate, social life, and individual pursuit, as dealt with in both traditions, through religious texts, philosophical methodologies, and literary sources. She has published articles on Daoism, Confucianism, and NeoConfucianism, and on religious practice and theory, in various journals in Chinese, Hebrew, and English, including Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Philosophy and Literature, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, and Comparative and Continental Philosophy. Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee is professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii,West Oahu. She received her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she also received a BA in Political Science and an MA in Philosophy. Her recent publications include the book Confucianism and Women: A Philosophical Interpretation (SUNY Press, 2006); the articles “A Feminist Appropriation of Confucianism,” in Confucianism in Context: Classic Philosophy and Contemporary Issues, East Asian and Beyond, ed. Wonsuk Chang and Leah Kalmanson (SUNY Press, 2010); “How Do We Beat the Bitch?,” in Beyond “Burning Bras”: Feminist Activism for Everyone, ed. Laura Finley and Emily Stringer (Praeger Publisher, 2010); “Why Care? A Feminist Re-appropriation of Confucian Xiao,” in Dao Companion to the Analects, ed. Amy Olberding (Springer Press, 2013); “Confucian Care: A Hybrid Feminist Ethics,” in Feminist-Asian Comparative Philosophy: Liberating Traditions, ed. Jennifer McWeeny and Ashby Butnor (Columbia University Press, 2014); She also publishes in refereed journals such as Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, Philosophy East and West, The Philosophical Quarterly, International Studies in Philosophy, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Journal of Chinese Religions, Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, China Review International, and Asian Philosophy. Susan Scheibler has graduate degrees in New Testament Studies and Philosophy of Religion and a PhD in Critical Studies (Film and Television) from the University of Southern California. She has published in Theorizing Documentary, Alternative Media Handbook, War: Interdisciplinary Investigations, Signs and assorted journals. Her research and teaching interests include film theory, television studies, documentary, Asian film, science fiction, technologies of war, memory, video games, and Asian philosophy. Scheibler is an associate professor in Film and Media Studies in the School of Film and Television at Loyola Marymount University where she co-teaches, among other things, a course on the Meditative Gaze: Daoism and Film. Scheibler has spoken at such engagements as the War, Virtual War and Human Security Conference where she presented on the topic of “Experiencing War the Video Game Way: Call of Duty 2” and the American Cultural Studies Association where she spoke about avatars, war, and the documentary image. She is currently working on two projects: “Windows, Frames, Screens: Understanding Media” and “The Meditative Gaze: Media and Eastern Philosophy.” Ellie Hua Wang is an assistant professor at the National Cheng-Chi University in Taipei, Taiwan. She received her joint doctorate degree in Philosophy and Cognitive



Science from Indiana University Bloomington in 2012. Her main philosophical interest centers on ethics, moral psychology, and the incorporation of the results from studies in empirical psychology into discussions in ethics and moral psychology. She has published in Neuroethics on this topic. Her current research focuses on Xunzi’s moral psychology. Her latest publication, “A Potential Reply to the Situationist Challenge—an Investigation of Xunzi’s Moral Reasoning and Hsi Yi Ching,” is included in a collection of essays titled In Search of Chinese Modernity: Retrospect and Prospect (Cheng-Chi University Press, forthcoming). Robin R. Wang was Daum Professor in the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, and is professor of Philosophy and director of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University. She received her BA and MA from Beijing University, MA from the University of Notre Dame, and PhD in Philosophy from the University of Wales. She is the author of Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2012), the editor of Chinese Philosophy in an Era of Globalization (SUNY Press, 2004), and Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period to the Song Dynasty (Hackett, 2003). She has published many articles and essays and regularly given presentations in North America, Europe, and Asia. She has also been a consultant for the media, law firms, museums, K-12 educators, and health care professionals, and was a credited cultural consultant for the movie Karate Kid (2010). Sandra A. Wawrytko obtained her BA degree from Knox College and her MA and PhD in Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis. She is professor of Philosophy and director of Asian & Pacific Studies at San Diego State University (SDSU). She specializes in Buddhist and Daoist epistemology and aesthetics. She is the editor/author of eight books. She has published numerous articles in professional journals and has contributed chapters to thirty books. She is an editor and a contributing author to the Dharma & Dao: Chinese Buddhist Philosophy (Springer, 2014). She is also the series editor of Peter Lang’s Asian Thought and Culture series, with more than seventy volumes in print. Currently she is developing an eight-volume series, Buddhism for Philosophers: A Guided Tour of Primary Texts, based on intensive summer classes at Fo Guang Shan’s Tsung Lin University, Taiwan, beginning in 1990. She has taught Philosophy and Asian Studies at SDSU for more than thirty years. Tak-Ling Terry Woo is currently teaching in the Department of Humanities at York University in Toronto. She taught at Hangzhou Normal University in 2011–2012. Her recent project involved compiling and editing essays on Canadian women and their religiosities and the effect that these beliefs and practices have on their identities. Her publications include “Chinese and Korean Religions,” in An Introduction to World Religions, ed. Amore et al., 4th edition (Oxford University Press, 2013); “Chinese Popular Religion in Diaspora: A Case Study of Shrines in Toronto’s Chinatowns,” in Studies in Religion (2010); and “Emotions and Self-Cultivation in Nü Lunyu (Woman’s Analects),” in Journal of Chinese Philosophy (2009). She just finished co-editing the book Canadian Women Shaping Diasporic Religious Identities with



Becky R. Lee (2015). She received her doctorate from the Centre for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto in 2000. Her research interests include women in Chinese Philosophy and Religion, Chinese Canadian patterns of religiosity, and Chinese Religion in comparative study. Liu Yang is assistant professor at Northwest University in Xi’an. She studied in China and the United Kingdom, and was a visiting scholar in Chinese Studies at Suffolk and Harvard Universities in 2012. She has published ten articles in Chinese on subjects such as feminism, gender, and Daoist and Religious Studies. Her research interests include gender and narrative in relation to the Yijing, Daoism, and Chinese religion, myth, and folklore.


There are so many people to whom I owe deep gratitude. Where should I begin? Perhaps along a historical line is the most fitting way to proceed. I am extremely fortunate to have been brought up in a lower-middle class family in the 1970s Taiwan, in a social and political environment that encouraged the education of women. Both my parents, with a meager income and influenced by Confucian values, lived a very simple life in order to save up funds to support me, my younger brother, and my younger sister to pursue our educational goals as far as our aspirations would take us. Never did either of my parents show any discrimination based on gender in the allocation of educational funds to their children. My mother (from a farming family), a strong woman with an unparalleled work ethic and determination, had a keen intellectual acumen. She and her two younger brothers were raised by their widowed mother. While in her teens, she earned a scholarship to attend the best middle school for girls in the region. Amid her multiple demanding Confucian roles as a mother, a wife, and a daughter, she was also my teacher, mentor, and confidante. Nonetheless, it is also a social reality that not all girls and women have the good fortune that my family had, particularly in a highly hierarchical—at times stratifying—Confucian society. This upbringing provided me an invaluable backdrop for developing my own view on the potential and limitations of Chinese thought and culture. My interest in Chinese philosophy and gender started relatively late in my academic career. Reading academic articles that engaged in comparative studies of Confucianism and feminist discourse first piqued my interest in this area, followed by my first visit to China for an international conference on Chinese philosophy at Wuhan University in 2007 and my attendance at the World Congress of Philosophy at Seoul National University, South Korea, in 2008. I noted how vastly different were individual and cultural interpretations of essential canonical texts. My many conversations with colleagues from both the East and the West about Asian philosophy, cultures, and practices also made me aware of the fact that even in the twenty-first century, gender studies remains an afterthought in Chinese philosophy, often mixed in with problematic interpretation of texts and lacking full awareness of the historical facts. It is under this premise that the idea for the current volume was conceived. The final product is the result of an immense collaborative effort of an interdisciplinary international group of eighteen experts in Chinese studies. Each of them, despite having their own pressing research agenda, generously set aside time to contribute an article to this book with an aim to invite further conversation in this important growing field. I would like to thank Paul R. Goldin, Tak-Ling Terry Woo,­



Hye-Kyung Kim, Karyn Lai, Chenyang Li, Ellie Hua Wang, Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee, Sin-Yee Chan, Robin R. Wang, Lin Ma, Galia Patt-Shamir, Eric S. Nelson, Liu Yang, Susan Scheibler, Sandra A. Wawrytko, Hwei-Syin Lu, and Hsiao-Lan Hu for their generosity, encouragement, advice, and assistance along the way. Colleen Coalter, acquisition editor of Bloomsbury Academic in philosophy, deserves a big thank you for approaching me with the new series, Bloomsbury Research Handbooks in Asian Philosophy, taking my proposal seriously about doing something less traditional, and more cutting-edge, in Chinese philosophy, and for her incredible efficiency on all fronts. I would also like to thank Andrew Wardell, senior editorial assistant, and all the other staff behind-the-scenes who made the production of this volume a reality. Last but not least, my gratitude goes to my husband, David A. White, a devoted philosopher and an educator, who tirelessly conducted multiple proofreading and edits of my writing, and at times provided invaluable input on other authors’ articles as well. Equally important has been his willingness to release me from many of my wifely and motherly duties by attending to the needs of our 12-year-old son, Winston. A thank you to Winston too, for loving his “tiger mom” and for sharing his view with his friends—that girls can think too and that they are just as smart as boys. May this volume contribute to building a more caring, just, and peaceful world for many generations to come. Ann A. Pang-White The University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, United States


Rereading the Canon Ann A. Pang-White

I.  bringing the past into the present Chinese philosophy, broadly construed, in its varied roots and forms has approximately three thousand years of history, and it continues to exert immense influence on the lives of Chinese people as well as on the world community. Nonetheless, if traditions are not simply to remain as antiquated ideas, they must be able to converse with contemporary readers and address their deepest concerns and longings (Pang-White, 2009b, 2009c, 2011). Premised on the undeniable facts that (1) all persons are embodied and cultural beings and that (2) traditions constitute an essential element of individual identity, it would be a mistake to attempt to eradicate traditions altogether, as certain types of liberal feminists have recommended.1 Instead, it would be more meaningful to ask: Can we, and how do we, reread, reimagine, and reconstruct canonical texts so as to find their new significance in the contemporary world? It is generally agreed that Chinese traditions have had a troubled history in dealing with gender relations—well-known examples include concubinage, footbinding, female infanticide, and so on. For various reasons, Chinese traditions and societies have generally been less enthusiastic in confronting, dialoguing about, and resolving problems of gender disparity. Even though gender studies and feminist theories have populated academic discourse in the West since the 1960s, these topics remain relatively marginalized, often as an afterthought, in Chinese philosophical and cultural discourse. Furthermore, as the growing body of research and our deepened knowledge informs and expands our conception of gender, informed persons must ask themselves how Chinese philosophical traditions would and should engage the LGBT community and their concerns. Gender studies is not and should not be perceived simply as a subject in vogue. Rather, for humanity to flourish in this incredibly interdependent network of reality, it is imperative that we have a better understanding of all members of the human community so as to relate to one another in more inclusive, caring, and just ways. Surely, many of our contemporary concerns and vocabularies are anachronistic in the historical settings of classical texts. However, even within the framework of Western traditions, phrases such as “feminism,” “gender,” and “homosexual” were not part of the existing apparatus of vocabulary until the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries (Jenainati and Groves, 2010).2 Moreover, with the advancement of


Ann A. Pang-White

reproductive technology, new nursing methods, and the use of machines to do heavy physical labor, among many other factors, we have forever changed our thinking about traditional division of labor along gender lines. Undoubtedly, to engage these concepts within Chinese philosophy adds further layers of complexity for several reasons: (1) Chinese philosophy does not operate with the exclusive dualistic logic of “either-or,” a common hypothesis of Western mainstream philosophy; (2) it encompasses at least three quite divergent traditions (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism); (3) it has developed over a time span of approximately three thousand years; (4) it operates with a very fluid conception of masculinity and femininity, rooted in the yin-yang concept; and (5) it upholds a less dichotomized hierarchical concept of the self and the other.3 These important differences render the categories employed in the gender discourse in the West inadequate when applied within Chinese contexts. These limitations must be kept in mind when one engages in cross-cultural comparisons and studies. Nonetheless, as a living tradition and as an active participant in the global community, Chinese philosophy has a responsibility to engage in the global discourse of “questioning,” “thinking-through,” and “thinkingwith” the world community on these important subjects.

II.  multiculturalism and liberal feminism: is the rift between them necessary? To begin a conversation on Chinese philosophy and gender, a brief overview of the history of feminist discourse is needed. It is, however, notoriously difficult and risky to give a uniform definition of feminism and the feminist movement due to the immense complexity of the movement and the vast diversity of feminist thought (Delmar, 1994, p. 5; Tuana and Tong, 1995, p. xi). If a base-line definition must be given in order to facilitate conversation, feminism may be described as “a struggle to end sexist [as well as other forms of systematic] oppression” (Jenainati and Groves, 2010, p. 3). Generally speaking, the word “feminism” as well as the word “homosexuality”4 came into English usage around the 1890s (Jenainati and Groves, 2010, p. 171); however, the women’s movement that began in Europe can be dated back to the seventeenth or the eighteenth centuries. The history of the feminist movement is often described in three waves. The “firstwave feminism” (ca. 1800–1960), notably Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Taylor Mill, and John Stuart Mill, advocated for women’s equal access to education and the right to vote as well as challenged unjust property rights and marital laws. The “second wave feminism” (1960–1990)—inspired by Simone De Beauvoir’s diagnosis in her The Second Sex that a woman is not born but made and that gender suppression is a result of social construction—fought for women’s rights in much more organized movements across cultural, economic, social, legal, and political spectrums.5 The second-wave feminist movement, however, was later severely criticized for being middle class and ethnically white, excluding the diverse voices of women from other social strata and the non-Western world. The “third-wave feminism” (from the 1990s onward) has seen the blooming of a great variety of feminist



perspectives, including ecofeminism, Marxist feminism, psychoanalytical feminism, postcolonial feminism, deconstructive feminism, black feminism, multicultural feminism, transnational feminism, and many others.6 According to some accounts, the movement rose partially as a response to the perceived failures and somewhat parochial feminist sensibility of the second-wave feminism (Jenainati and Groves, 2010, pp.  136–38, 163, 166–68). In other words, women are of “many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds,” not in “some sort of Platonic form each and every flesh-and-blood woman somehow fits” (Tong, 2009, pp.  284–85, 289; 1998, p.  212). The third-wave feminists endeavor to widen the perspective of feminist discourse, particularly with the inclusion of women’s voices from multiple social strata and the non-Western communities. Many thirdwave feminists connect women’s issues to issues of race, class, sexuality, ability, and environmental justice. They further deconstruct any rigid binary distinctions that perpetuate forms of prejudice and discrimination, including the dichotomy of sexgender, male-female, derived from previous versions of feminism. The classification of feminism into “waves,” particularly second-wave feminists’ conception of unity and sisterhood—based purely on the Western history of gender oppression and its concomitant presumption that the First World women and their model is the sole source to provide a unified solution to solve women’s issues once and for all—has encountered strong opposition from postcolonial feminists and writers such as Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Mohanty and Spivak particularly fault the “First World” feminists for holding two mistaken positions: (1) “female essentialism,” the projection of the label “Third World” women—a monotonic universal label that robs the rich diversity of these women’s lived experience and the vibrant regional differences, and (2) “female chauvinism,” which uniformly and unfairly presumes that the “Third World” women are helpless victims, neglecting their struggles and triumphs in their own cultural contexts, while projecting women in the First World as “the voice of reason” who must come to the rescue of their Third World sisters by imposing liberal ideas and values (Tong, 1998, p. 212). Such a mentality has been condemned as simply a new form of “neocolonial imperialism” in a feminist disguise (Rosenlee, 2006, pp. 1–3, 13). The “either-or” logic of exclusion is harmful in our formulation of a worldview that encompasses gender and race. It has been well demonstrated that Western philosophical traditions have been dominated by the patriarchal “either-or” thinking, including even the most beloved figures such as Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel, as well as others (Warren, 1987, p. 6; Pang-White, 2006, pp. 131–33). Aristotle, for example, notoriously proclaimed that women are “mutilated males” (Aristotle, Generation of Animals II, 737a27). Kant wrote that men are sublime (an adjective he used to praise the supreme moral law) and women are only beautiful. These thinkers also tended to hold offensive views regarding other races and ethnicities. Aristotle declares, [A]mong barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them; they are a community of slaves, male and female. That is why the poets say, “It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians. (Politics I, 1242b1; Barnes, 1984, p. 1987)


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Kant writes in his Observation on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, The Indians have a dominating taste of the grotesque, . . . Their religion consists of grotesqueries. Idols of monstrous form, . . . What trifling grotesqueries do the verbose and studied compliments of the Chinese contain! Even their paintings are grotesque and portray strange and unnatural figures . . . [Likewise,] this fellow was quite black .  .  ., a clear proof that what he said was stupid. (Eze, 1997, pp. 55, 57) However, such hierarchical and exclusionary moves are not always a thing of the past. Consider the following argument that takes place between some feminists and what they take to be the regressive nature of multiculturalism. In the past two decades, Susan M. Okin has been one of the most vocal liberal feminists who argue that multiculturalism is harmful to women. In a highly contentious essay, Okin cites extreme cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, polygamy, forced marriage, and many others, to support her quite controversial proposition that the Third World women are better off if their minority cultures actually become extinct. She writes: It is by no means clear, then, from a feminist point of view, that minority group rights are “part of the solution.” They may well exacerbate the problem. In the case of a more patriarchal minority culture in the context of a less patriarchal majority culture, no argument can be made on the basis of self-respect or freedom that the female members of the culture have a clear interest in its preservation. Indeed, they might be much better off if the culture into which they were born were either to become extinct (so that its members would become integrated into the less sexist surrounding culture) or, preferably, to be encouraged to alter itself so as to reinforce the equality of women—at least to the degree to which this value is upheld in the majority culture. (Cohen, Howard, and Nussbaum, 1999, pp. 22–23, emphasis added) Understandably, many people reacted to her arguments. In Okin’s reply to her critics, she denies that she suggested that we should actively eliminate offending cultures. She nonetheless says the following regarding “passive extinction by assimilation”: In most instances people exercising their individual rights will have the greatest impact on whether their culture stays the same, changes, or becomes extinct in a particular context because its members assimilate, more or less slowly, and wholly or partially, into one of the alternative cultures available, which is the kind of “becom[ing] extinct” I had in mind. (Cohen, Howard, and Nussbaum, 1999, pp. 117–18) Okin’s forthright defense of women’s fundamental human rights is to be applauded. Very few people would disagree with her on the importance of gender equity, individual liberty, and human flourishing. Nonetheless, many—I included—feel uncomfortable with her line of reasoning. First, in her rhetoric, a person (in particular, a woman) has to choose either “the enlightened/ majority/liberal culture” or “the unenlightened/patriarchal/minority/ non-liberal cultures.” One wonders



whether the either/or logic of exclusion and domination is at play here. Margaret A. McLaren, in her discussion of the liberal feminist view on rights and equality for women, analyzes Okin’s statements. She perceptively observes, “if feminism aims to embrace a global vision, it must be culturally and historically sensitive and not impose ethnocentric views from the dominant West” (McLaren, 2008, p. 4). Second, Okin’s neglect of a culture’s elasticity and capability to self-correct—to confront its ghosts from the past—is unjustified. Third, Okin problematically perceives a person’s cultural identity as a casual attire—a person could simply put it on, and take it off, at will. With reference to our case in hand, we must ask: Should one ignore the value of pluralism or multiculturalism when it comes to gender studies and feminist discourse? Is the rift between multiculturalism and liberal feminism necessary? It appears as if classical liberalism’s blindness to cultural and individual difference has bled into feminist discourse. Bhikhu Parekh, a political theorist and a critic of Okin, writes about the arrogant liberal mentality: Many a classical liberal argued that since the liberal view of life was grounded in the fundamental truths of human nature and represented more or less the last word in human wisdom, nonliberal communities at home and abroad should be persuaded and, if necessary, pressured and coerced to assimilate into it. This belief informed J. S. Mill’s attitudes to the native peoples, the Basques, the Bretons, the Scots, and the Francophones in Quebec, and formed the basis of his justification of British colonialism in India and elsewhere . . . And since the fun-loving people of Tahiti lacked moral seriousness and high ideals and were little different from “sheep and cattle,” Kant wondered “why they should exist at all” and what the universe would lose if they disappeared altogether. (Cohen, Howard, and Nussbaum, 1999, p. 69) This liberal fear of difference in its hope to preserve an absolute universal morality of liberal values to the detriment of intercultural respect is harmful to the feminist movement. This is not to say that all this is done consciously with intent to harm or to commit evil. Most mean well. Certainly not every modern liberal holds such a view. Nor am I equating Okin with Aristotle, Kant, or Mill. Rather, what is important here is the danger of cultural blinders. When the First World feminists do not see Third World women as true equals, as competent moral agents with their own voices, who can draw from their rich cultural contexts to set their own priorities in their struggles for a better future for women, it only perpetuates the dangerous “either-or” opposition of “the self versus others” and the accompanying top-down attitude of domination, which the feminist movement has so strongly opposed in its struggle against oppressive patriarchy since the eighteenth century. In this neglect (and perhaps fear) of cultural difference, some liberal feminists in the First World have ironically assumed the oppressor’s role of master and colonist after their overcoming of male domination in their own dominant cultures. But this is in itself a violation of the liberal value of true equality and it suffocates the spirit of democratic discourse in the global arena. Not all women are created the same. Multicultural feminism has made great strides in enlarging the perspective of feminist discourse. This inclusion of as many


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conversational partners as possible ought to be applied globally, moving beyond the confines of industrialized countries as well as any intentional or unintentional attempt of a one-way imposition of the West’s ideas on the rest of the world. It is essential for the future health of the feminist movement to recognize the interconnectedness of human existence, the multilayered identity of a woman through her lived experience (including her cultural identity), and the fact that any sustainable social change must come from within, beginning at the home front—the grass roots. In our case, the grass roots within the Chinese traditions would require re-appropriating influential canonical texts; re-examining historical, social, political, and religious contexts; removing unjustified practices/laws/policies; uncovering hidden exemplary historical women figures; and re-imagining the conceptual and practical possibilities of these resources.

III.  development of gender discourse in chinese culture and thought Given its troubled history, can Chinese philosophy and traditions speak and contribute to contemporary feminist and gender discourse? Yes, indeed! For instance, the Confucian idea that “humans are by nature similar to one another; they become far apart because of practice (性相近也,習相遠也。xing xiang jin ye xi xiang yuan ye)” (Analects 17:2), given a creative reading, resonates quite well with Simone de Beauvoir’s belief that gender is not a quality we are born with but is rather a product of social construction as well as with Judith Butler’s performative perspective of undoing sex/gender dichotomy. Furthermore, the Confucian advocacy of selfcultivation as a transformative means open to all persons (women included), coupled with its teaching that “in education, there should no distinction of kind/class (lei) (有教無類 you jiao wu lei)” (Analects 15:38) constitutes a very powerful argument for ensuring adequate social-political infrastructure for equal access to education for all genders. So too, the yin-yang cosmology when appropriately understood does not necessarily support a rigid oppositional split of “femininity/female/women versus masculinity/male/men.” Rather, since all things embrace both yin and yang, all things embody to some degree both femininity and masculinity and are, so to speak, more or less masculine or feminine, depending on their relational contexts to things that are being compared. Nothing is purely yin or purely yang, purely male or purely female. Buddhist insights of nonduality (advaya) and emptiness (śūnyatā) aptly repudiate an essentialist view of gender or any binary state of exclusion. Even with these useful conceptual resources, why is gender disparity less challenged in Chinese society than in other places? It is notoriously difficult to correlate causes with effects in societal phenomena. With this in mind, the following analysis in very broad strokes does not intend to provide an exhaustive or conclusive list of causes. Rather, its purpose is to suggest some prompts for further conversation. Given that in Chinese society, as in other patriarchal societies, the social, economic, and political powers are often in the hands of the patriarchal authority, the fear of repercussions ensures that not many dare to speak up. If not fear, what are the other possible



hidden causes? One possible contributing factor could be language. In English and other European languages, there are two nouns (man and women) and two pronouns (he/she, his/her, his/hers) referencing respectively male and female. Classical Chinese language—in written form or in vocal expression—does not make such a linguistic differentiation along gender lines with regard to a “person or human” (ren 人). In order to refer to a man, one needs to add an adjective “nan (男 male)” to the noun “ren (人 person) to indicate a male person “nan ren (男人).” The same applies to woman: “nü (女 female)” is added to “ren” to denote a woman (nü ren 女人, a female person). Derivatively, therefore, no one particular sex/gender—be it a man or a woman—owns the “personhood” or “humanity,” or is considered its representative pinnacle. Personhood is common to all sexes and all genders. Another anecdotal example is “ta1 (他),” the unisex pronoun for a third person, which can be used cross the sex/gender line to represent a “he,” a “she,” or both. The gender-specific “ta2 (她)” with a female radical (女 nü) attached to the character (也 ye), specifically used to denote a “she” is a comparatively later invention; it was not used in any of the pre-Qin and Han texts (600 BC–AD 200). The word was used quite possibly only in post-Han texts. A cursory search of the massive electronic database of Chinese texts (which is by no means a complete list of all Chinese texts but it certainly contains numerous major texts), the word 她 (ta2, she) occurs rather infrequently across the one-thousand-eight-hundred years period—only forty-seven times in post-Han texts. Furthermore, according to the database, the word 她 (ta2, she) first appeared in the work 《金瓶梅》 (Jin Pin Mei, the Golden Lotus or Plum Bloom in the Golden Vase), a novel dated to the late Ming period around AD 1600. The unisex ta1 (他, he/she) is still used today in reference to a third person regardless of his/her gender(s). In oral communication, there is also no gendered difference in the tonic pronunciation of the word ta1 (他) or ta2 (她)—both words are pronounced the same as “ta” (in the first tone); this makes gender identity quite ambiguous in regard to what the pronoun is actually referring to (is it a male or a female or neither?). Granted that many condescending sexist statements do exist in Chinese vocabulary, the above linguistic evidence nonetheless lends some support to the observations that (1) language influences a society’s consciousness and perception of women either as insiders or as outsiders, as part of the self or as the total other; (2) gendered views of personhood as reflected in Chinese language occur comparatively late, and (3) this correlates with the timing of severe gynophobia and female oppression that happened in medieval and modern China (but less so in early Chinese thought). The somewhat fluid nei-wai zhi fen (內外之分 inner-outer distinction) may be another hidden factor for the Chinese to take gender disparity for granted. The inner-outer distinction in Chinese thought has often been misinterpreted as an exact mirror image of the rejected private-public dualism in the feminist discourse in the West. But this is a mistake. For one, the nei-wai distinction was never solely limited to the spatial metaphor of “the private versus the social-political” differentiation (as in the “household versus the public” bifurcation) in the West. Both nei (內) and wai (外) have multiple meanings. First, it could be used on the same person in a Confucian context with nei referring to inner moral cultivation of the self, while wai delineates one’s participation in civic or civil service, as in “nei sheng wai wang”


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(內聖外王sageliness within, and kingliness without), or referring to the harmony of inner rectitude and outer suavity as in “nei fang wai yuan” (內方外圓). It could also refer to, for example, cultivation of the mind through meditation (nei dan 內 丹) or physical exercise and taking herbal medicine for the fitness of body (外丹 wai dan); or it could refer to the manual for inner practice (nei jing 內經) and for external training (wai jing 外經) in Daoism. Nei-wai can also refer to governmental affairs with nei denoting interior affairs (nei zheng 內政) or the ministry of interior affairs (nei zheng bu 內政部), and wai for foreign or international affairs (wai jiao 外交) or the ministry of foreign affairs (wai jiao bu 外交部). The phrase can also be used in conjunction with the word guo (國 country, nation, state) conveying whether something is happening domestically (guo nei 國內) or happening in other countries (guo wai 國外). These examples suggest that the range and the use of “nei-wai” is a spectrum rather than a monotone. Thus, the use of nei-wai in reference to the division of labor along gender lines as in nan zhu wai, nu zhu nei (男主外,女主內 man is in charge of the outer/external affairs and woman in charge of inner/domestic affairs) is only one of many expressions. And, even for this one, nei-wai may be used in a relative sense; the distinction is somewhat fluid with regard to gender lines. As some of the chapters in this volume demonstrate, many women in Confucian societies were able to negotiate a space of freedom, even under the most constraining circumstances. The women of the aristocracy often appeal to canonical texts to justify gender equity, equal access to education, equal ability in moral perfection, skills in argument, and influence in public affairs. Historical accounts indicate that elite women were often called on for managing not only interior affairs but also external affairs as de facto heads of the household, family clan, or feudal estate when their fathers, brothers, husbands, or sons died, engaged in war, or had to undertake other duties.7 Because ritual propriety was less codified and less restricted among the non-elite public, when faced with economic necessity of sustaining the household, women in the non-elite class often participated in farming, in selling goods in the market place, as well as in other economic or physical activities outside the household, in order to sustain the family. Therefore, while one cannot deny that the codified ritualistic nei-wai distinction has perpetuated the patriarchal nature of Chinese society, one needs to be cautioned that an overly simplistic understanding of the nei-wai distinction runs the risk of distorting the reality of Chinese women’s lives. Nonetheless, an argument may also be made that the flexibility of the neiwai distinction—however limited it is—may have paradoxically punctuated the silence of the Chinese public in confronting gender disparity. Because the nei-wai distinction is negotiable at a personal level, and it does a relatively acceptable job in maintaining social stability and harmony, the public may not have felt a pressing need to challenge the system on a grand scale. The yin-yang thought paradigm so deeply ingrained in the Chinese consciousness may also have contributed to the silence of the Chinese public and thinkers in confronting or challenging gender disparity. A number of authors have demonstrated that yin-yang cosmology has been gravely politicized and abused by the Han imperial Confucian scholar and the state politician Dong Zhongshu (董仲舒), and subsequently by the post-Han Neo-Confucians in the Song, Ming, and Qing dynasties



in order to legitimize a particular political regime or to create unity in politically turbulent times (Ching, 1994; Chan, 2003; Rosenlee, 2006). Instead of being a mutually generating complementary dynamic duo, the fluid yin-yang paradigm took on a mistaken identity—it became a static and hierarchical binary (陽尊陰卑, yang is highly and yin is lowly)—with yang (further mistakenly conceived as a fixed entity) on the top, correlating with male/man, ruling over yin at the bottom, identified with female/woman.8 The essentialization of the yin-yang paradigm and its hierarchical correlation with sex and gender became the first step in social justification of gender stereotypes, asymmetry, and stratification (男帥女, 女從男, man leads and woman follows). When coupled with the desire for a male heir to carry on the family name, an unfortunate slippery slope movement of the yin-yang cosmology deteriorated from an interconnected mutually dependent whole to a narrowly focused patriarchal self and became the widely accepted social norm that prolonged gender disparity in the name of cosmic harmony (Wang, 2012). Due to the availability of an increasing number of contemporary English translations of classic Chinese canons as well as the efforts of scholars in Chinese studies, the study of Chinese philosophy has become much more subtle over the past few decades. Another equally encouraging sign is that the Western oversimplification of Chinese women’s fate in Chinese history, its misunderstanding of Chinese’s cosmological-social-political distinctions such as yin-yang and nei-wai, and its distrust of Chinese culture’s ability to reinvent itself for a progressive gender theory have prompted some of the most well-known scholars in the field to explore deeper the intersection of Chinese philosophy and gender. Dorothy Ko in her path-breaking work Teachers of the Inner Chambers writes: “In 1984 . . . So little was known then about how women lived before the nineteenth century that a frequent reaction to my dissertation topic was ‘You don’t mean that women in traditional China could read and write?!’” (Ko, 1994, p. vii) Other equally important scholars have done pioneering work in this area, including such noted scholars as Patricia Ebrey, Susan Mann, Julia Ching, Diana Paul, Vivian Kohn, Tu Wei-ming, Roger Ames, Henry Rosemont, Bettine Birge, Beata Grant, and Sandra Wawrytko. More recently, we have also seen the works of Chenyang Li, Paul Goldin, Karyn Lai, Robin Wang, Lisa Raphals, Xinyan Jiang, Terry Woo, Sin Yee Chan, Galia Patt-Shamir, Lisa Rosenlee, Ma Lin, Hsiao-lan Hu, Elise Anne DeVido, and myself, among many others.

IV.  purpose of this volume and its four main parts Over the centuries, Chinese philosophy’s encounters with gender have been diverse. This collection of essays intends to present a comprehensive overview of the complexity of the subject in Chinese thought and culture. Covering the historical, social, political, and cultural contexts, an international group of experts in Chinese Studies have written on Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist approaches to the subject of gender. This volume is unique in its ability to bridge the fields of philosophy, religion, history, feminism, and gender studies. Considering why the philosophy


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of women and gender dynamics in Chinese thought has rarely been confronted, the eighteen chapters in this volume provide a cutting-edge cross-disciplinary introduction to Chinese philosophy’s intersection with gender. Generally speaking, Chinese philosophy emerges and evolves from the interaction, confluence, antithesis, and synthesis between three major traditions—Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Socially and politically, Confucianism exerted a greater influence on Chinese thought and culture than Daoism and Buddhism. Historically, Confucianism and Daoism took root in China several hundred years prior to the entry of Buddhism in the first century. Reflecting this historical, social and political fact, this volume is divided into four main parts. Parts I and II are devoted to Confucianism, Part III to Daoism, and Part IV to Buddhism. The Confucian tradition has its own strengths and weaknesses in its encounter with gender. Canonical classical texts are not always consistent in their teaching on this subject and are open to diverse interpretations or even manipulations. While there are Confucian concepts such as those discussed in Section III of the introduction, which lend themselves to support gender equity and equal opportunity for education and sagehood, there are also concepts that are less supportive of women. For example, the five human moral relations (wulun 五倫, including the relations of ruler-subject, father-son, husband-wife, older-younger, and friend-friend) and the inner-outer (nei-wai 内外) distinction, when coupled with the Chinese custom mandating that husbands should ideally be older than their wives,9 could lead to the conclusion that wives ought to be subordinate to their husbands on account of their younger age. Furthermore, the custom that the family surname/clan is carried on only by the male heir also often compromises the positive teachings of Confucian philosophy. The social and political climate of a historical period further complicates gender dynamics when the yin-yang binary becomes stratified and entangled with political loyalty in the symbolism of ruler-husband and minister-wife. With this historical-cultural backdrop in mind, Part I discusses the Confucian approach to gender relations in the ancient and the medieval periods. In “Women and Moral Dilemmas in Early Chinese Narrative,” Paul R. Goldin analyzes Pre-Qin canonical texts (ca. 300–600 BC) such as Zuo Commentary to the Springs and Autumns (Chunqiu Zuozhuan) and Stratagems of the Warring States (Zhanguo ce). Goldin argues that women are often at the center of moral dilemmas in early Chinese literature and that they faced more ethical burdens than men. Commonly, these were caused by the tension between a woman’s relatives from her natal family and persons related to her through marriage. The moral dilemma was for a married woman (both as a daughter and as a wife) to remain loyal to both her father and her husband. In the case of a man, there was never any doubt that his duty as a son was supreme. Furthermore, moral advice from canonical texts for women was often inconsistent. One classic example is that of Song Bo Ji 宋伯姬 (d. 543 BC), the widow of Lord Gong of Song 宋共公 (r. 588–576 BC). The two great commentaries on Springs and Autumns (Chunqiu 春秋), namely the Gongyang Commentary 公羊傳 and Guliang Commentary 穀梁傳, praise her for her decision to die in the fire rather than violating rules of propriety, but the Zuo Commentary



左傳, the third and the most famous canonical commentary, criticizes her for failing to act as befitted the situation (as a married woman, not a girl). Tak-Ling Terry Woo, in “Discourses on Women from the Classical Period to the Song: An Integrated Approach,” investigates Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist canons as well as secondary “non-canonical” texts circulated among the public produced from the Han to the Song periods (200 BC—AD 1300) including Fayuan zhulin (法苑珠林Garden of the Law and the Forest of Gems), Fengdao Kejie (奉道科戒 Rules and Precepts for Worshipping the Dao), and others. Woo argues that the opposingcum-complementary teachings of the three philosophies presented women with a chance to live according to their proclivities as wife, mother, nun, priestess, and even poet; or a combination of these at different life stages. But even as women enjoyed choice in their lives, concepts antagonistic to them were found in these teachings. This antagonistic tendency was deepened in the Song dynasty when each of the three traditions strived to maintain its status by a grand religious and philosophical syncretism. This syncretism gravely undermined diversity and pluralism—it reduced alternatives open to women and contributed to the steady diminishing of women in Chinese history. Both the Confucians and Buddhists participated actively in depicting the vices of ordinary women and recommending necessary restraints to control them, while the Daoists contributed negatively by refraining from balancing the discourse. In Chinese philosophy’s encounter with modernity and feminist discourse, Neo-Confucianism often suffered the most brutal attacks and criticisms. In “NeoConfucians and Zhu Xi on Family and Women: Challenges and Potentials,” Ann A. Pang-White investigates Song Neo-Confucians’ views (in particular, that of Zhu Xi) on women by examining the Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi (Zhuzi Yulei), the Reflections on Things at Hand (Jinsi Lu), Further Reflections on Things at Hand (Xu Jinsi Lu), and other texts. Pang-White also takes a close look at the Song law regarding women’s property rights and the Song educational system. Surprisingly, Zhu exhibited a level of flexibility, though still limited, on these subjects. He was particularly adamant about the importance of women’s education. In addition, even though he opposed the social practice and women’s ownership of dowry (seeing it as a form of commercializing marriage), he did not absolutely oppose women’s property rights. However, his normative and philosophical view on the male/yang and female/yin relationship was less satisfactory. At one place, he used it to illustrate gender equity; at another place, he defended female subordination. Zhu’s social-political teaching on women’s role could benefit from a more consistent development of his metaphysics of li-qi and yin-yang, which can bring new insight to the contemporary feminist “essentialist versus non-essentialist” debate on sex and gender. Neo-Confucianism exerts a tremendous influence on Korean culture. In Korea, Confucianism has historically been used to restrict women both socially and politically. In “The Dream of Sagehood: A Re-Examination of Queen Sohae’s Naehoon,” Hye-Kyung Kim points out that there can be little doubt that (1) Korea’s Chosun dynasty was thoroughly Confucian and that (2) under the Chosun, women were severely oppressed, much more so than in any preceding period in Korea’s


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history. These two facts immediately suggest that (1) is the explanation of (2)—that the oppression of women was due to Chosun Confucianism. This in turn invites the overarching, philosophical question: Is Confucianism compatible with feminism, or is it an inherently oppressive philosophy, inimical to the interests and dignity of women? An Inclusivist thinks the two compatible, an Exclusivist does not. Kim argues that the much maligned Queen Sohae laid the groundwork for an Inclusivist position three hundred years ago, in her Naehoon. Although this is usually taken as one of the foundational works supporting the stultifying oppression of women, a sensitive and sympathetic reading of it reveals that Queen Sohae thought that (1) both sexes are equally capable of virtue, (2) both virtuous men and women are essential for the proper functioning and thriving of marriage, family, and state, and (3) sagehood is possible, desirable, and should be striven for by both sexes. Building on Part I’s study of Confucianism in the ancient and medieval period, Part II addresses Confucian modern and contemporary approaches to gender in response to feminist critique, multiculturalism, and the challenge from the LGBT community. How would the Confucian tradition address these issues? In “Close Personal Relationships and the Situated Self: The Confucian Analects and Feminist Philosophy,” Karyn Lai contrasts feminist philosophy’s image of the situated relational self with the “Man of Reason,” often seen as paradigmatic in the history of Western philosophy. According to feminist philosophy, aspects of the self—location, relationships, capabilities, political institutions, and so on—are irreducible in accounts of ethical action, selfhood, and human well-being. Lai takes her cue from feminist philosophy on the importance of understanding human life in its rich detail. She focuses on Confucian relationality, examining the many ways in which close significant relationships bear on and enrich the self. Lai analyzes the conversations in the Confucian Analects about two significant relationships, the parent-child relationship and friendship. She uses these findings to demonstrate some complexities that arise in close personal relationships and in order to gain a better understanding of the tensions that arise in relational contexts and how they might affect the self. In “Care and Justice: Reading Mencius, Kant, and Gilligan Comparatively,” Chenyang Li investigates the intricate relations between Confucian ethics, feminist care ethics, and the ethics of justice. Refuting several arguments made by others that care and justice can be integrated into one single ethics (e.g., Confucian ethics), Li defends his position that care ethics and justice ethics cannot be integrated into a single value system in the sense of a “configured perspective” (a prioritized system of values, or a worldview), while they may be compatible as values from “single-aspect perspectives.” Drawing from multiple texts and examples from the Book of Mencius and Western classics, Li concludes that from a configured perspective, Mencius’s ethic is best characterized as a care ethic, not a justice ethic, nor a mixture of the two. In “Moral Reasoning: the Female Way and the Xunzian Way,” Ellie Hua Wang examines another canonical Confucian text, the Xunzi. She argues that the female way of moral reasoning with its emphasis on the importance of affect contributes to a fuller understanding of human cognition. Some have interpreted Xunzi to



presume a “male” way of reasoning with strong cognitive control. Wang argues against such an interpretation. She demonstrates that Xunzi shares with feminist ethics an emphasis on the importance of emotion and relation to others in our moral reasoning. Nonetheless, Xunzi also asserts that emotion and relation should not override one’s central moral principle. Thus, an important difference exists between the Xunzian gentleman and the caring person in feminist care ethics. In “Multiculturalism and Feminism Revisited: A Hybridized Confucian Care Ethics,” Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee argues against the unidirectional flow of feminist ideas and theories from the West to the rest of the world in current feminist discourse. She argues that this sort of unidirectionality runs the risk of neocolonialism in a feminist disguise. She proposes non-Western alternatives, specifically the Confucian notion of xiao as an intergenerational labor of love; to borrow from Eva Kittay, it is love’s labor that the feminist community should consider. It is essential to reconstitute a bidirectional theoretical exchange in the feminist space where both feminist care ethics and Confucianism are mutually hybridized, expanded, and ultimately enriched. Continuing the contemporary Confucian approaches to gender, what would Confucius or Confucians say about same-sex relationships? In “Would Confucianism Allow Two Men to Share a Peach? Compatibility between Ancient Confucianism and Homosexuality,” Sin-Yee Chan tackles this important issue. Even though historical accounts documented social acceptance of homosexual practice in ancient China, no direct reference in the Confucian classics to this issue can be found. Hence, one can only reconstruct the Confucian position based on its stance on sexuality, gender, marriage, and the yin-yang binary. Based on the premise that homosexual desires are natural, at least to some people, she presents several thought-provoking arguments regarding the moral permissibility of homosexuality in Confucianism. Confronting obstacles against homosexuality in a Confucian context, she challenges correlating yin-yang with gender and demonstrates how the perpetuation of the ancestral line can be compatible with homosexuality and how homosexual couples can maintain a Confucian family. Given the advancement of reproductive technology, the naturalness of sexual inclination, and the fluidity of the yin-yang distinction, she argues that homosexuality is not impermissible per se according to Confucian norms. What is deemed morally impermissible is when such a practice violates ritual propriety. Part III considers the Daoist approaches to gender, nature, motherhood, and the LGBT community. In comparison to Confucianism, Daoism is much more open to the value and power of the feminine (particularly in the Daodejing 道德經), while at the same time the Daoist philosophy equally emphasizes the relativity, opposition, complementarity, mutual generation, and reversal of yin and yang, femininity, and masculinity. In “Yinyang Gender Dynamics: Lived Bodies, Rhythmical Changes and Cultural Performances,” Robin R. Wang identifies the problem of gender in the Chinese context with the issue of yin-yang dynamics. Based on the early Chinese medical text Huangdi Neijing, Wang demonstrates how yin-yang is a way to grasp the sex/gender dynamics as performativity based. She argues that male/man/masculinity/yang and female/woman/femininity/yin are not fixed entities. Rather, yin-yang can be considered as an internal space-time structure


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in a lived body, in which yin and yang mark points in relations across a spectrum. The same element can be yin/female in a certain relation but yang/male in another and one can talk about yin/female within yang/male, or yang/male within yin/female. Huangdi Neijing identifies at least four aspects of this yin-yang spectrum. They are examined in connection with gender. Yin-yang becomes a link for the crossfertilization between the abstract fields of philosophy/cosmology and the concrete struggle of gender dynamic, leading to a pervasive scheme for a better understanding of gender issues in Chinese culture. In “On the Dao of Ci 雌 (Feminine/Female) in the Daodejing《道德經》,” Lin Ma examines three interpretations of the Daodejing: (1) Joseph Needham’s “quasi-feminist historical reading”; (2) Roger T. Ames’s “correlative [androgynous] reading”; and (3) Liu Xiaogan’s “political reading,” which maintains that the ci-based techniques are invoked for the purpose of accomplishing the xiong-inspired end of social-political control. Diverging from Ames’s and Liu’s interpretations, Ma argues that the feminine occupies a central place in the Daodejing. The pervasiveness of the feminine water metaphor, which constitutes the milieu wherein the primordiality of the feminine finds articulation and Daodejing’s repeated advice, “know the masculine/male (xiong 雄), yet abide by the feminine/female (ci 雌),” cannot be ignored. Agreeing with D. C. Lau, she opposes the idea of a circular process between the lower term and the higher term. She argues that the principle of abiding by the female is not set forth as a means to an end. Rather, the primordiality of the feminine is an irreducible metaphysical principle. In “To Beget and to Forget: On the Transformative Power of the Two Feminine Images of Dao in the Laozi,” Galia Patt-Shamir argues that “motherhood” challenges the definition of self-identity. We normally connect self-identity with one’s self-actualization and self-fulfillment. Yet, thinking of mothers, we encounter a philosophical challenge: a mother “actualizes” herself by sacrificing her very self. A solution to the “paradox of motherhood” can be found in the Laozi’s motherly aspect of Dao as connected to idea of the mysterious female. Two images of Dao in the Laozi show the relatedness of self-effacing and self-fulfilling. From the perspective of being, the Way is the mother of things; it gives life, nurses, shelters, and brings things to maturity. From the perspective of nonbeing, the Way is a mysterious female; it is nameless, invisible, and inconceivable. These images establish a “transformative” aspect of Laozi’s mysticism. Shimar employs a psychoanalytic perspective based on Wilfred Bion’s theory to draw attention to Laozi’s universal appeal and contemporary relevance in resolving the paradox. In “The Yijing, Gender, and the Ethics of Nature,” Eric Nelson and Liu Yang explore the gendered logic of nature in the Daodejing and the Yijing in the context of contemporary environmental and ecological issues. They draw on current ecofeminist thinking that stresses the links between questions of gender and the environment to shed light on the significance of the feminine in the Daodejing and the Yijing. On the one hand, the Daodejing indicates one model of thinking about the feminine character of the natural world. It emphasizes maternal fecundity and the nurturing dimension of nature as well as a comportment of responsiveness, deferential passivity, and deferment. It has been argued that this model suggests



an important way to respond to the activism and aggressiveness of technological modernity and its male-oriented domination of nature. On the other hand, in the Yijing, there are multiple changing models of the natural world and of the feminine. Along with the maternal and responsive modalities that it shares with the Daodejing, the Yijing indicates moments of appropriate activity and intervention of the feminine in the world. Nelson and Yang conclude that the Yijing presents a more extensive basis for reflecting on the contemporary ecological crisis. It does so through a reflective logic that indicates moments of appropriate increased activity as well as moments of deferential letting be. Susan Scheibler, in “Daoism and the LGBT Community,” delves into the influence of the emerging field of transnational queer studies on scholarly and popular interpretations of Daoist philosophy, especially as it is encapsulated in the canonical texts—the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi. Chinese scholars seeking to bring an understanding of traditional philosophy into debates about China’s identity in a modern, global world as well as Asian-American scholars finding ways to reclaim their heritage while also claiming their sexuality have all begun to reread and reimagine canonical texts. This article examines arguments about sexuality as they are constructed around an understanding of two central concepts in Daoist philosophy: yin and yang, or the masculine and feminine principles, present in the myriad things; and de/te, or inner nature. It locates the discussion within the deconstruction and reconstruction of classical texts that has been shaped and informed by recent Chinese and non-Chinese scholarship on Chinese attitudes toward homosexuality, especially as it was understood and practiced during the period when these foundational texts were written and disseminated. Part IV explores Buddhist approaches to gender found in the teachings represented by the ancient Theravada traditions and the later Mahayana schools. While early Buddhist teachings in monastic rules have been criticized as being grossly patriarchal, most Buddhist teachings, particularly in the later texts, stress the idea of nonduality—they debunk gender bias based on the premise of essentialism. The four essays in Part IV investigate essential Buddhist canonical texts, modern Buddhist transformation, and Buddhist perspectives on social ethics, gender, and LGBT community. In “Buddhist Nondualism: Deconstructing Gender and Other Delusions of the Discriminating Mind through Awareness,” Sandra A. Wawrytko analyzes the philosophy of non-dualism delineated in Buddhist texts to illuminate the broader context within which discussions of gender are situated. Buddhism’s adherence to non-dualism offers a philosophy beyond gender, in sharp contrast to the ingrained gender bias of most philosophical systems. The seminal Mahāyāna doctrine of Tathāgata-garbha, the womb of Buddha nature, supports the depiction of Prajñā-pāramitā as the Mother of all Buddhas. Buddhist philosophy goes beyond a feminist agenda by avoiding a reverse sexism that extols the “feminine” by denigrating the “masculine.” The most important melding of these qualities is found in the figure of the bodhisattva for whom Wisdom (prajñā 智慧; Mañjuśrī, Wenshu 文殊) naturally evolves into Compassion (karuṇā 慈悲; Avalokiteśvara, Guanshiyin 觀世音), thus equipping one for complete consummate Practice (Samantabhadra, Puxian 普賢). The rich contours of the Lotus Sūtra deftly reveal


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how this process unfolds. Wawrytko taps into the new findings of neuroscience to support her analysis. In “Non-self, Agency, and Women: Buddhism’s Modern Transformation,” Ann A. Pang-White argues that “non-self (anātman 無我)” and “emptiness (śūnyatā 空)” necessarily entail nonduality. Buddha nature is neither male nor female. Nonetheless, conflicting teachings are found in various Theravada and Mahayana texts. The more conservative texts have historically resulted in long-standing patriarchal practices: Buddhist nuns receive much less respect and financial support than monks, often facing the possibility of extinction. In Taiwan, however, in a complete reversal, Buddhist nuns outnumber male monks in an astonishing 75 percent to 25 percent ratio, with the largest number of Buddhist nuns in the world. Many Taiwanese nuns are highly educated and socially engaged activists. Nonetheless, to assert one’s autonomy to become a nun is extremely difficult in a Confucian society. How do Taiwanese women, society, and Buddhism mutually transform each other? In addition to an analysis of selected essential Buddhist texts, Pang-White investigates two Buddhist communities of women to shed light on Buddhism’s modern transformation. She concludes that to reform Buddhism from within is not only theoretically possible but also practically achievable. In the next chapter, “‘The Bodhisattva’s Path’ as Gender-Neutral Practices: A Case Study of Buddhist Tzu Chi Community in Taiwan,” Hwei-Syin Lu illuminates further the non-dual philosophy elucidated in Wawrytko’s chapter and the flourishing of the Taiwanese-Buddhist nun community mentioned in Pang-White’s chapter. From a sociological point of view, Lu examines how “the bodhisattva’s path” highly values women’s caring work and how men are trained to follow the female model of engaged Buddhism in Buddhist Tzuchi organization, the largest Buddhist charity group in Taiwan. The leader, Master Cheng-yen, is a nun who founded Tzuchi (literally, compassionate relief) in 1966 and has recruited more than forty thousand volunteers who are commissioned to conduct multiple social services. Among the volunteers, more than one-third are males. Although the group ethic is based on women’s experiences, both female and male volunteers learn from their charity work the meaning of suffering, emptiness, and impermanence mentioned in Buddhist teachings. Being enlightened to nurture compassion and to put it into action, the volunteers are free from gender roles socially imposed upon them. Lu concludes that “the bodhisattva’s path” is a gender-neutral calling and the so-called women’s nature of compassion leads the path only in a symbolic sense. In “Bhikunī Chao-Hwei’s Buddhist-Feminist Social Ethics,” Hsiao-Lan Hu writes that the field of “Buddhist-feminist social ethics” virtually does not exist without considering Venerable Chao-Hwei. She has been known for her controversial involvement in various social issues, from demanding gender equality to advocating for animals rights, and from coordinating interreligious efforts against the building of a casino to mobilizing protesters across social strata against the construction of a nuclear power plant. Most recently, she has been an active defender of the rights of the LGBT community. She has officiated at several Buddhist same-sex weddings. Some were much publicized, in accordance with the couple’s wish to raise public awareness on the lack of civil rights for same-sex couples. She has written three monographs on Buddhist ethics. In Chinese academic circles, she is the lone­



scholar-activist who pulls together Buddhist ethics, feminist critiques, and social activism. Her work has effectively planted hopeful seeds for future scholars to theorize about Buddhist ethics that reflect feminist social concerns.

V.  what’s next? a way forward The four parts of this book as a whole provide multiple perspectives on how the three main traditions of Chinese philosophy—Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism— intersect and interact with feminism and gender studies. The arrangement of the chapters takes both a historical and thematic approach. It illustrates that evolution of feminism and gender discourse did not occur only in the West. Rather, Chinese thinkers and experts in Chinese studies have been wrestling with these issues on their own terms with their own intellectual and cultural resources. These authors’ arguments may not necessarily conform to the sensibility of certain kinds of liberal feminists. They may not necessarily speak in the modern liberal language of rights. Nonetheless, their insights are to be taken seriously if all cultures and their members are to be treated as conversation partners, as true equals, in the global scholarship on women’s studies and gender studies. Perhaps, the very concept of “feminism” and “gender” (vocabularies originated from the West) needs to be broadened and redefined. Such a pluralistic and genuinely multicultural approach is to be welcomed for the future growth, the deepening, and the health of gender discourse—it deconstructs the hegemonic either/or logic of domination head-on in the very practice of scholarship. The engagement of Chinese philosophy and gender takes many forms. The authors of the eighteen chapters collected in this volume aim to present nuanced and diverse approaches to this complex subject hoping to fill a great need in the current literature on Chinese philosophy and to provide students and scholars with an important research resource to a growing field. The contributions here do not intend to close the conversation but to create an open platform, inviting further stimulating discussion and dialogue on this important subject that will greatly impact our common future.

Notes 1. For example, Susan M. Okin argues that we should basically get rid of traditions and cultures because most cultures are patriarchal. She claims that “many violations of women’s basic human rights both occur within families and are justified by reference to culture, religion or tradition” (Okin, 2000, p. 33). 2. See also Sin-yee Chan’s and Robin Wang’s articles in this volume. 3. See Ames (2010, pp. 32–46). 4. See Halperin (1999, p. 204) cited in Sin-yee Chan’s article in this volume. 5. (accessed January 26, 2015).


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6. Rebecca Walker coined the term “third-wave feminism” in a 1992 essay, “Becoming the Third Wave.” See also 7. Lady Ban Zhao (45–117), the first woman court historian, is an excellent example among many. 8. See Dong Zhongshu’s Chunqiu Fanlu 《春秋繁露》 (Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn), chapter named “Yang zun yin bei (陽尊陰卑, Yang is highly; yin is lowly).” 9. See Liji 《禮記》 (The Book of Rites), Neize chapter (內則篇).

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Tu, Wei-Ming (1998), “Probing the ‘Three Bonds’ and ‘Five Relationships’ in Confucian Humanism,” in Walter H. Slote and George A. DeVos (eds.), Confucianism and the Family. Albany: State University of New York, pp. 121–36. Tuana, Nancy and Rosemarie Tong (eds.) (1995), Feminism and Philosophy: Essential Readings in Theory, Reinterpretation, and Application. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Walker, Rebecca (1992), “Becoming the Third Wave,” Ms. magazine. Wang, Robin (ed.) (2003), Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period Through the Song Dynasty. Indianapolis: Hackett. Wang, Robin (ed.) (2012), Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture. New York and London: Cambridge University Press. Warren, Karen J. (1987), “Feminism and Ecology: Making Connections,” Environmental Ethics, 9 (1): 3–20. Wawrytko, Sandra (1981), The Undercurrent of “Feminine” Philosophy in Eastern and Western Thought. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Wawrytko, Sandra (2000), “Kongzi as Feminist: Confucian Self-Cultivation in a Contemporary Context,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 27 (2): 171–86. Woo, Tak-Ling Terry (1999), “Confucianism and Feminism,” in Arvind Sharma and Katherine K. Young (eds.), Feminism and World Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 110–47.

Part I

Confucian Approaches: Ancient and Medieval Confucian tradition has its strengths and weaknesses in its interaction with gender. Canonical classical texts are not always consistent in their teaching and are open to diverse interpretations or even manipulations. While certain Confucian concepts lend themselves to support gender equity and equal opportunity for education and sagehood, there are also concepts that are less supportive of women and more prone to misuse. With this backdrop, Part I discusses the Confucian approach to gender relations in the Ancient and the Medieval Periods. In Chapter  1, “Women and Moral Dilemmas in Early Chinese Narrative,” Paul R. Goldin analyzes Pre-Qin canonical texts (ca. 300–600 BCE) such as Zuo Commentary to the Springs and Autumns (Chunqiu Zuozhuan) and Stratagems of the Warring States (Zhanguo ce). Goldin argues that women are often at the center of moral dilemmas in early Chinese literature and that they faced more ethical burdens than men. Furthermore, moral advice from canonical texts for women was often inconsistent. Tak-Ling Terry Woo, in Chapter  2, “Discourses on Women from the Classical Period to the Song: An Integrated Approach,” investigates Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist canons as well as secondary “non-canonical” texts circulated among the public produced from the Han to the Song periods (200 BC—AD 1300) including Fayuan zhulin (Garden of the Law and the Forest of Gems), Fengdao Kejie (Rules and Precepts for Worshipping the Dao), and others. Woo argues that philosophical syncretism gravely undermined diversity and pluralism—it reduced alternatives open to women and contributed to the steady diminishing of women in Chinese history. In Chapter 3, “Neo-Confucians and Zhu Xi on Family and Women: Challenges and Potentials,” building on Bettine Birge’s cultural study, Ann A. Pang-White investigates Song Neo-Confucians’ views (in particular, that of Zhu Xi) on women by examining the teaching of canonical texts on the metaphysics of li-qi and yinyang while taking a close look at the Song law regarding women’s property rights and its educational system. Pang-White concludes that (1) contrary to the received



opinion, Zhu Xi is less rigid on practical matters; (2) nonetheless, his normative and philosophical view on the male/yang and female/yin relationship is inconsistent and unnecessarily conservative. Neo-Confucianism exerts tremendous influence on Korean culture. In Korea, Confucianism has historically been used to restrict women both socially and politically. In Chapter 4, “The Dream of Sagehood: A Re-Examination of Queen Sohae’s Naehoon,” Hye-Kyung Kim points out that there can be little doubt about two things: (1) Korea’s Chosun dynasty was thoroughly Confucian and (2) under the Chosun, women were severely oppressed and disempowered, much more so than in any preceding period in Korea’s history. Nonetheless, Kim argues, a sensitive and sympathetic reading of Naehoon reveals that the much maligned Queen Sohae in fact laid the groundwork for an inclusivist position three hundred years ago: both sexes are equally capable of virtue and sagehood is possible, desirable, and should be striven for by both sexes.

Chapter One

Women and Moral Dilemmas in Early Chinese Narrative paul r. goldin

The patrilocal structure of early Chinese society (Chen, 1937, pp.  23–24) placed women in moral dilemmas that men typically did not have to face. Likewise, filial piety (xiao 孝) was a more contested virtue for married women than for their husbands. While a man’s parents were still alive, his obligations to them unquestionably outweighed his obligations to his wife, even to the point that he could be forced to divorce her unwillingly (e.g., He, 1990, p. 200).1 For a married woman living among her in-laws, however, it was never clear whether her obligations to her husband or her parents were paramount, and writers interested in moral philosophy eagerly explored this area of uncertainty. One tale in the canonical Zuo Commentary to the Springs and Autumns (Chunqiu Zuozhuan 春秋左傳)2 highlights this tension. Yong Ji 雍姬 is the daughter of Zhai Zhong 祭仲 (d. 682 BC), a minister so powerful that his lord, Marquis Li of Zheng 鄭厲侯 (r. 700–696 and 680–673 BC), is intimidated and therefore plots to have him assassinated by a courtier named Yong Jiu 雍糾 (d. 697 BC)—who happens to be Yong Ji’s husband. When Yong Ji learns of the plot, she is placed in an impossible situation: Zhai Zhong was monopolizing power. The Marquis of Zheng was concerned about this, and sent [Zhai Zhong’s] son-in-law, Yong Jiu, to kill him at a feast to be held for him in the suburbs. Yong Ji knew of it, and addressed her mother, saying: “To whom is one closer: one’s father or one’s husband?” Her mother said: “Any man could be your husband, but you have just one father. How could you compare the two?” Thereupon [Yong Ji] informed Zhai Zhong, saying: “Sir, the Yong household is leaving its own residence in order to hold a feast for you in the suburbs. I am informing you because I am confused about this.” Zhai Zhong killed Yong Jiu and left his corpse by the Zhou Family Pond. The Lord [of Zheng] carted off [the corpse], and said: “He let his wife in on the plot; his death is only fitting.” 3 (Yang Bojun, 1990, p. 143)



One must bear in mind that although the characters in this vignette are all historical personages, they serve as mere instruments for the construction of a rich moral dilemma; one is not expected to judge the accuracy of the narration, and there is no reason to believe that the author or authors had access to transcripts of the discussions. (After all, who would have been present to record a private conversation between Yong Ji and her mother?) Yong Ji’s mother suggests—without stating explicitly—that a married woman’s obligations to her father outweigh those to her husband, but the situation is too hazy to permit definite moral inferences (Radice, 2006, pp. 62–64; Li, 2007, p. 150f.). For example, perhaps Yong Ji’s mother encourages Yong Ji to remain loyal to Zhai Zhong and betray Yong Jiu only because she naturally feels closer to her own husband than her son-in-law; in other words, perhaps she does not intend to give a general moral instruction applicable to all married daughters in all situations. Finally, although Yong Ji is persuaded to betray her husband, she does so obliquely. She does not tell her father, “Yong Jiu is going to kill you”; rather, she conveys the necessary information without spelling it out, leaving the matter to his discretion. In the end, the text deftly assigns blame not to Yong Ji, but to Yong Jiu for letting her in on the plot in the first place. Her situation, we are given to understand, did not permit any more praiseworthy resolution. Such dilemmas are rare but memorable, inasmuch as they test the limits of the traditional moral system. A paradigm that stresses thoughtful service as the measure of a person’s moral performance (cf. Goldin, 2011, pp.  13ff.) risks collapse in situations where serving one person precludes serving another. In another case in the Zuo Commentary pitting a woman’s obligations to her father against her obligations to her husband, the outcome is even more difficult to parse. Crown Prince Yu of Jin 晉太子圉, the future Lord Huai of Jin 晉懷公 (r. 637–636 BC), has been sent by his father, Lord Hui 惠公 (r. 650–637 BC), as a hostage to Qin 秦 in order to mollify that enemy, which recently inflicted a crippling defeat on Jin (Yang Bojun, 1990, p. 372). When Crown Prince Yu hears that his father is ailing, he wishes to return home in order to stake his claim to the throne, and asks his wife, Lady Ying 嬴氏, to join him. The problem is that she is the daughter of his captor, Lord Mu of Qin 秦 穆公 (r. 659–621 BC): Yu, Crown Prince of Jin, was a hostage in Qin and was going to abscond and return home. He said to Lady Ying: “Will you come with me?” She replied: “Sir, you are the Crown Prince of Jin, and are being humiliated in Qin. Your wish to return home is quite appropriate. My lord [i.e. her father, Lord Mu of Qin] deputed me, your handmaiden, to attend you, bearing towel and comb; this was to keep you in place. If I were to follow you and go home with you, I would be disregarding my lord’s command. I dare not follow you, but I dare not speak of this, either.” Thereupon he absconded. (Yang Bojun, 1990, p. 394) At first, Lady Ying seems to be saying that she cannot betray her father and declines her husband’s invitation on those grounds. But her final sentence, in which she promises not to inform her father, has the effect of subverting his careful plans to keep Crown Prince Yu in Qin. (Holding Crown Prince Yu hostage must have meant



a great deal to Lord Mu if he was prepared to marry off his daughter as part of the strategy.) Once again, it is difficult to judge the married woman’s actions, and in this case it is not even clear whom she betrays (Radice, 2006, p.  64f.). In the Zuo Commentary, one can often infer the rightness of an action by examining its consequences; yet, here too the results are mixed. Crown Prince Yu does return to Jin and is enthroned as Lord Huai, but he is killed the very next year when Lord Mu of Qin, offended by Yu’s deception, supports an invasion by his uncle and main rival, namely Chong’er 重耳, the future Lord Wen 晉文公 (r. 636–628 BC). This is not to say that men did not face moral dilemmas too. Conflicting familial and political considerations frequently placed men in such situations. The first major narrative of the Zuo Commentary is a famous example: the struggle between Lord Zhuang of Zheng 鄭莊公 (r. 743–701 BC) and his mother, Wu Jiang 武姜, who hated him because he was “born backwards” (wusheng 寤 [=牾] 生) and therefore conspired against him with his younger brother, Gongshu Duan 共叔段 (Yang Bojun, 1990, pp. 10–16). Wu Jiang hoped to have Gongshu Duan named Crown Prince, but her husband, Lord Wu 武公 (r. 770–744 BC), repeatedly refused, selecting Lord Zhuang instead. After Lord Zhuang is enthroned, Wu Jiang makes increasingly brazen requests for territory in behalf of Gongshu Duan, forcing Lord Zhuang to balance his obligation to respect his mother with his need to maintain control of the state (and, lest we forget the fate of most deposed rulers, to keep himself alive). Finally, when he learns of a coup planned by Wu Jiang and Gongshu Duan, he decides that this is the right time to attack his brother. Gongshu Duan is destroyed and Lord Zhuang vows never to see his mother again—an impetuous act that he comes to regret, and overcomes only with the help of an admirer, Kaoshu of Ying 穎考叔, who conveniently twists the words of Lord Zhuang’s oath: Lord Zhuang said that he would not see her until they reach the Yellow Springs 黃泉, the mythic land of the dead (Loewe, 1982, p. 34), so Kaoshu arranges a reconciliation between mother and son in a tunnel near a spring (Li, 2007, pp. 59ff.; Schaberg, 2001, pp. 183ff.). It must have been perilous indeed to be a newly installed ruler with a mother who is determined to dethrone him. (Twenty-first-century readers can only imagine what it would have been like to be ensnared in this kind of palace drama.) The Zuo Commentary leaves little doubt that Lord Zhuang handled this crisis correctly, for he not only eliminates the threats to his rule but also manages to reunite with his once implacable mother. (“Thereafter they become mother and son as before” 遂為 母子如初—though one has to wonder what time “before” refers to, since we are told that Wu Jiang hated Lord Zhuang from the moment of his abnormal birth.) The very intensity of the dilemma makes Lord Zhuang’s happy resolution that much more admirable. Moreover, the narrative presents a parallel dilemma implicitly but no less starkly: the dilemma facing Gongshu Duan. Should he comply with his mother’s ambitious plans for him or submit to his elder brother and duly installed sovereign? As clearly as we learn from Lord Zhuang’s victory that he acted appropriately, we learn from Gongshu Duan’s demise that he failed to find the right way out.4 What men never had to endure, however, was a situation like that of Yong Ji or Lady Ying, who were asked to balance loyalty to their spouses with loyalty to their



fathers. In addition, women’s roles as social inferiors could place them in unique dilemmas, as in the following account from Stratagems of the Warring States (Zhanguo ce 戰國策).5 It is presented as undisguised fiction, but it must have resonated with audiences of the time: In the household neighboring mine, there was someone serving as an official far [from home], whose wife was having an affair with another man. Her husband was about to return home, and her lover was worried. The wife said: “Sir, do not worry; I have already made poisoned wine to receive him with.” Two days later, the husband arrived. The wife sent her maidservant to carry the goblet of wine and present it to [the husband], but the servant knew that it was poisoned wine. If she were to present it, she would be killing her master, but if she were to speak of it, she would be ousting her mistress. So she pretended to be clumsy and spilled the wine. Her master was enraged and flogged her. Thus the maidservant, by being clumsy just one time and spilling the wine, kept her master alive and saved her mistress as well. She was as loyal as this, yet could not escape being flogged. She is one who was found guilty by being loyal and faithful.6 (He, 1990, p. 1091) This tale problematizes “loyalty and faithfulness” (zhongxin 忠信), two ostensibly unexceptionable virtues: the maidservant is supposed to be loyal and faithful to both her master and her mistress, but in extreme situations such as this one, loyalty to one precludes loyalty to the other. Once again, there is no way out; the speaker appears to endorse the servant’s selfless solution, but, far from earning her either party’s gratitude, it causes her to be flogged. True loyalty does not always lead to a just reward (Radice, 2006, pp. 67–70). Complicating women’s choices yet further was the difficulty that canonical sources of moral advice did not always agree with one another. Consider the classical commentaries on the gruesome death of Bo Ji 伯姬 (d. 543 BC),7 the widow of Lord Gong of Song 宋共公 (r. 588–576 BC). The Springs and Autumns (Chunqiu 春秋) chronicle merely states the facts: “In the fifth month, on jiawu 甲午 day, there was a conflagration in Song. Bo Ji of Song died” (Yang Bojun, 1990, p. 1169). The two great catechisms on Springs and Autumns, namely the Gongyang Commentary 公 羊傳 and Guliang Commentary 穀梁傳,8 explain that Bo Ji chose to die in the fire rather than violate rules of propriety. First the Gongyang version: While Bo Ji was still alive during the conflagration in Song, the functionaries said repeatedly: “The fire is approaching; we request that you depart.” Bo Ji said: “That would not be acceptable. I have heard it said that when a married woman goes out after dark, if she does not see her tutor and governess, she does not descend from her hall. The tutor has arrived, but the governess has not.” She was entrapped by the flames and died. (Ruan, 1980, p. 2314ab) The corresponding entry in Guliang is similar, but adds a coda that both praises her and interprets the presence of the tutor and governess as a precaution to protect a woman’s chastity (zhen 貞): When Bo Ji’s lodgings had caught fire, her attendants said: “Madam, will you take the smallest measures to avoid the fire?”



Bo Ji said: “What is right for a married woman is not to descend from her hall at night if her tutor and governess are not present.” Her attendants said again: “Madam, will you take the smallest measures to avoid the fire?” Bo Ji said: “What is right for a married woman is not to descend from her hall at night if her tutor and governess are not present.” Thereupon she was entrapped by the flames and died. Among married women who have acted in accordance with chastity, Bo Ji’s Way of Womanhood was the most thoroughgoing. This affair is presented in detail so as to record Bo Ji’s excellence. (Ruan, 1980, p. 2432ab) Where Gongyang merely implies the point, Guliang states explicitly that the requirements of chastity must be observed even if doing so entails dying in a fire. From a twenty-first-century perspective, it may seem grim, but at least the guidance is consistent: any wife or widow in Bo Ji’s unfortunate situation should be prepared to die if she cannot leave the building with dignity. The Zuo Commentary 左傳, the third and most famous of the three surviving canonical commentaries, does not tell the story as fully (Yi, 2011, p.  118), and comes to a radically different judgment:9 Bo Ji of Song died waiting for her governess. A noble man would refer to [her] as a girl and not a married woman: a girl would wait for someone else, but a married woman would act as befits the situation. (Yang Bojun, 1990, p. 1174) Reminding the reader that Bo Ji was no longer a “girl” (nü 女)—she would have been an elderly lady by 543 BC, widowed for over thirty years—this text suggests that she should have responded to the danger more maturely. It does not deploy the keyword quan 權 (literally “weighing”), which is used elsewhere in traditional texts to denote the act of disregarding an otherwise binding norm in exigent circumstances (Goldin, 2005, pp. 19ff.; Vankeerberghen, 2005–2006), but the underlying logic is the same: under normal circumstances it may be appropriate for a married woman to wait for her chaperone before venturing out of her apartment, but when the whole palace is burning down, one should temporarily override this rule. After the palace has been rebuilt and life returns to normal, waiting for the chaperone will become the right course of action once again. An exchange in Mencius (Mengzi 孟子) discloses the typical understanding of quan: Chunyu Kun 淳于髡 said: “Is it ritually correct that when males and females give and take, they are not to touch each other?” Mencius said: “That is ritually correct.” [Chunyu Kun] said: “If one’s sister-in-law is drowning, does one extend one’s hand to her?” [Mencius] said: “One who does not extend [his hand] when his sister-in-law is drowning is a jackal or a wolf. It is ritually correct that when males and females give and take, they are not to touch each other, but to extend one’s hand to one’s sister-in-law when she is drowning—that is quan. (Mencius 4A.17; Jiao, 1987, pp. 520–21)



What are women supposed to do? Accidents involving fire were common in premodern societies (e.g., Goudsblom, 1992, pp.  65–71), so presumably many married women were caught at some point in a burning building and had to decide whether to flee or steadfastly await their chaperones. The Gongyang and Guliang commentaries would have told them unmistakably that they should stay and accept their fate; the Zuo Commentary would have told them nearly as unmistakably that they should save themselves; and Mencius strongly suggests the same. This is yet another type of dilemma that no male would ever have faced, because no ritual code demanded that males wait for a governess before evacuating a burning building. That would have been considered absurd. Moreover, there is a paradox that cannot be swept aside: the opinion of the Zuo is probably the oldest of the above (Zeng and Wang, 2008), yet it is the one that most readers today would undoubtedly favor. Early imperial discussions of Bo Ji’s predicament repeatedly view it in accordance with the Gongyang and Guliang (Yang Zhaogui, 2014); in fact, as far as I know, no Han source even mentions the Zuo in this connection. The discomforting inference is that the degree to which women were welcome to assess the right course of action for themselves shrank over time, however much one might expect the opposite (Wawrytko, 2000, p.  188; Goldin, 2002, p. 95). When critics sometimes complain that Han thought is narrower and more rigid than the pre-imperial sources that preceded it (e.g., the question is raised in Schwartz, 1985, p.  419), the changing judgments of Bo Ji may be the sort of example that they have in mind. One illustrative Han text is Categorized Biographies of Women (Lienü zhuan 列 女傳), which was compiled by Liu Xiang 劉向 (79–8 BC) from extant historical records, but with strong editorial interventions reflecting his own judgments (Hinsch, 2007; Kinney, 2014, pp. xlvii–xlix). While it would be reductionist to regard this document as representative of the full variety of Han thought, comparing it to the material surveyed above is nevertheless instructive because of its systematic tendency to defuse rather than to explore moral dilemmas. In Categorized Biographies of Women, the right course of action is always crystal clear: women confronted by intractable moral dilemmas should commit suicide. Bo Ji, as one might expect, is praised for bravely accepting death when no other dignified course of action presented itself (Wang, 1937, pp. 62–63). Other dilemmas are resolved with similar moral certitude. A certain Master Qiu 丘子 of the tiny state of Ge蓋 feels obliged to commit suicide out of loyalty to his lord, who has been deposed and slain by invaders, but desists because the enemies have announced that they will kill the wives and children of all who do so, and naturally he wishes to spare her. His wife promptly frees him from this dilemma by killing herself (Wang, 1937, pp. 84–85)—and we are never told whether Master Qiu displayed the same conviction by following suit. Another woman finds herself in a brutal predicament when her husband’s enemies abduct her father and force him to ask her to help them kill her husband. If she refuses, they will kill her father, but if she acquiesces, she will be complicit in the murder of her own husband. Her solution is to save both by sacrificing herself: she tells the bandits to enter the house the following night, but then reclines in the



bed where she said her husband would be. The bandits behead her, mistaking her sleeping body for his (Wang, 1937, p. 97). But most revealing of all is Liu Xiang’s version of the story of the maid who was commanded by her adulterous mistress to serve poisoned wine to her master. Since Liu Xiang himself edited the received text of Stratagems of the Warring States (Crump, 1996, pp.  27–40), and presumably lifted the story from that source, it provides a valuable opportunity to see how he refashioned the narrative for different purposes. This time, the cuckolded husband happens to have a younger brother who informs him of the truth after the maid has been flogged. The wicked wife is immediately flogged to death herself, and the newly widowed master, impressed by the maid’s probity, wishes to marry her. By now readers cannot be surprised that she too threatens to commit suicide—lest she be suspected of having engineered her mistress’s demise in order to take her place—and relents only when the master rewards her and finds another husband for her (Wang, 1937, pp. 91–92). Whereas the moral of the same tale in Stratagems of the Warring States was that loyalty is not always recognized, let  alone rewarded, in Categorized Biographies of Women the providentially placed witness secures a just outcome, and the maid is recorded as a paragon for posterity. Liu Xiang adds a verse from the Odes (Mao 256) that is diametrically opposed to the realism of Stratagems of the Warring States: “No word is unrequited, no virtue unrecompensed” (Wang, 1937, p. 92). One tirelessly repeated lesson in Categorized Biographies of Women is that women must be prepared to die for the sake of their reputation. Philosophically, this reduces a discourse that encouraged people to think through their moral obligations independently to one that judges them solely on the basis of their willingness to die in defense of unquestioned ideals such as chastity and loyalty. Rarely is there any consideration of the social costs of righteous suicide. Just think of all the children who would have had to grow up without their mothers.10 There is one final problem with the sources addressed in this essay: they were compiled by and for the elite and, consequently, afford at best a partial glimpse of the range of standards accepted throughout society. How many women of a lower strata would have known of the example of Bo Ji, let alone modeled their own conduct after it? Not until much later in Chinese history are there robust sources (notably digests of legal cases) attesting to the lives of ordinary women, and preliminary indications are that the moral principles observed by the elite did not generally apply to the rest of the population. Chastity, for example, was regarded as a privilege rather than an imposition: only women of a certain standing were entitled to protect their chastity; the rest were essentially unfree and had scant power to shield themselves from sexual advances by their male masters (Sommer, 2000, p. 6f.). Though it is always dangerous to project insights gleaned from later sources back onto periods for which the sources are silent, there remains good reason to suppose that ordinary women trapped in a burning building would not have considered dying for the sake of their chastity. Life on the farm was probably a good deal less ritualized than life in a didactic narrative. Some early legal texts that have been archaeologically recovered over the past few decades confirm the suspicion that courts did not judge women by the same



protocols as the familiar ritual codices. There was substantially less anxiety about chastity: although the details are unspecified, it is clear that, in contrast to later times, a woman could not be punished solely for “fornication” (jian 奸).11 For example, according to the Qin 秦 laws from Shuihudi 睡虎地 (sealed in 217 BC), if a woman’s two lovers injured each other in a fight, they would both be sentenced—but she would not (Shuihudi Qinmu zhujian zhengli xiaozu, 1990, p. 134; Goldin, 2002, p. 94). The conception of chastity as a privilege of the elite rather than a universal expectation must underlie such legal dispositions. Nevertheless, early imperial laws institutionalized asymmetrical bonds between husband and wife. Polygyny, as manifested in the recognized status of female but never male concubines (qie 妾), was one obvious type of asymmetry (Zhang, 1999).12 The early Han laws from Zhangjiashan 張家山 (sealed in 186 BC) tell us that a husband could injure his wife with impunity as long as he did not use a blade (Peng et  al., 2007, p.  103), but woe unto any woman who intentionally injured her husband, regardless of the implement. One notorious case from Zhangjiashan involves a young widow who was arrested after copulating with a man during the wake for her husband (Xing, 2008; Lau and Lüdke, 2012, pp. 282–99). The presiding judges released her, but only after initially considering a punishment for “unfiliality” (buxiao 不孝), perhaps because it was her dead husband’s offended mother who filed the complaint (Goldin, 2012, p. 17). In any case, it is doubtful that a young widower in an analogous situation would have had to answer to the law. To conclude: early Chinese sources acknowledged that the performance of moral duties was often less tractable for women than for men (Goldin, 2002, p. 55). The demands of interpersonal relationships occasionally thrust men into agonizing moral dilemmas too,13 but women were inherently more vulnerable. Whereas earlier traditions tended to use such dilemmas as opportunities to reflect on the precedence of conflicting moral obligations, Han texts such as Categorized Biographies of Women lavish attention on female characters who resolve them by zealously ending their own lives.

NOTES 1. Despite this well-known principle, Dull (1978, pp. 62ff.) shows that, in Han times at least, it was more common for the wife’s parents to initiate a divorce than for the husband’s parents to do so. This is one example of Dull’s general thesis that Han society was “pre-Confucian” in the sense that even elites did not necessarily abide by what have subsequently come to be regarded as Confucian rituals of conduct. For more recent reflections on this point, see Knapp (2010, p. 144); and Xing (2008, p. 125). 2. The most judicious discussion of the date of this text is Li (2007, pp. 33–59). 3. All translations in this chapter are my own. I am grateful to Ann A. Pang-White and Yuri Pines for their comments and suggestions on the entire piece. 4. See Pines (2002, pp. 195ff.), for other problems of conflicting allegiance faced by men in the Zuo Commentary. 5. For the date and characteristics of this text, see Goldin (2005, pp. 76–89).



6. There is a parallel account in the same text: He (1990, p. 1123). 7. On her life and relatives, see Kinney (2013). 8. For the possible dates and circumstances of composition of these two texts, see Cheng (1993). 9. Such instances of divergent judgment are isolated but not unattested. Yuri Pines (private communication) points out that Lord Xiang of Song 宋襄公 (r. 650–637) is praised in the Gongyang for refusing to attack the troops of Chu 楚 while they are in disarray in the midst of crossing the River Hong 泓 (Ruan, 1980, p. 2259a), even though this leads to a catastrophic defeat, whereas the Guliang (Ruan, 1980, p. 2400bc) and Zuo (Yang Bojun, 1990, pp. 397–98) both criticize his decision. It is perhaps not a coincidence that this affair also involves Song (Gentz, 2001, p. 285). 10. Categorized Biographies of Women contains a biography of a woman who disfigured herself rather than committing suicide because she wished to raise her children (Wang, 1937, p. 75). I am indebted to Oliver Weingarten for this reference. 11. The circumstances under which fornication was and was not punishable remain uncertain (Goldin, 2012, p. 14; Lau, 2005, p. 348). 12. Polygyny was enshrined in myth as well: Sage King Yao 堯 gave not one but both of his daughters to Shun 舜 in marriage (Birrell, 1993, pp. 74–76). 13. Such dilemmas, naturally, can arise in modern Western societies as well, and, notwithstanding our very different moral framework, such instances can likewise elicit visceral reactions. Consider the case of David Greenglass, whose actions most Americans would condemn today: in the notorious Rosenberg espionage case of 1951, he testified against his sister, Ethel Rosenberg, even though she may have been innocent, in order to protect his wife, who was complicit but remained unindicted (Roberts, 2001, p. 484: “My wife is more important to me than my sister”). Largely on the basis of her brother’s false testimony, Ethel Rosenberg was convicted and executed two years later.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Birrell, Anne (1993), Chinese Mythology: An Introduction. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Chen Dongyuan 陳東原 (1937), Zhongguo funü shenghuo shi 中國婦女生活史 (2nd ed.). Shanghai: Shangwu. Cheng, Anne (1993), “Ch’un ch’iu 春秋, Kung yang 公羊, Ku liang 穀梁 and Tso chuan 左傳,” in Michael Loewe (ed.), Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China, pp. 67–76. Crump, J. I. (trans.) (1996), Chan-kuo Ts’e (revised ed.). Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan. Dull, Jack L. (1978), “Marriage and Divorce in Han China: A Glimpse at ‘Pre-Confucian’ Society,” in David C. Buxbaum (ed.), Chinese Family Law and Social Change in Historical and Comparative Perspective. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, pp. 3–74.



Gentz, Joachim (2001), Das Gongyang zhuan: Auslegung und Kanonisierung der Frühlingsund Herbstannalen (Chunqiu). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. Goldin, Paul R. (2002), The Culture of Sex in Ancient China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Goldin, Paul R. (2005), “The Theme of the Primacy of the Situation in Classical Chinese Philosophy and Rhetoric,” Asia Major, 18 (2): 1–25. Goldin, Paul R. (2011), Confucianism. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Goldin, Paul R. (2012), “Han Law and the Regulation of Interpersonal Relations: ‘The Confucianization of the Law’ Revisited,” Asia Major, 25 (1): 1–31. Goudsblom, Johan (1992), Fire and Civilization. Harmondsworth: Penguin. He, Jianzhang 何建章 (1990), Zhanguo ce zhushi 戰國策注釋. Beijing: Zhonghua. Hinsch, Bret (2007), “The Composition of Lienüzhuan: Was Liu Xiang the Author or Editor?” Asia Major, 20 (1): 1–23. Jiao, Xun 焦循 (1987), Mengzi zhengyi 孟子正義. Ed. Shen Wenzhuo 沈文倬. Beijing: Zhonghua. Kinney, Anne Behnke (2013), “A Spring and Autumn Family.” The Chinese Historical Review, 20 (2): 113–37. Kinney, Anne Behnke (trans.) (2014), Exemplary Women of Early China: The Lienü zhuan of Liu Xiang. New York: Columbia University Press. Knapp, Keith N. (2010), “Borrowing Legitimacy from the Dead: The Confucianization of Ancestral Worship,” in John Lagerwey and Lü Pengzhi (eds.), Early Chinese Religion, Part Two: The Period of Division (220–589 AD). Leiden and Boston: Brill, pp. 1:143–92. Lau, Ulrich (2005), “The Scope of Private Jurisdiction in Early Imperial China: The Evidence of Newly Excavated Legal Documents,” Asiatische Studien, 59 (1): 333–52. Lau, Ulrich and Michael Lüdke (trans.) (2012), Exemplarische Rechtsfälle vom Beginn der Han-Dynastie: Eine kommentierte Übersetzung des Zouyanshu aus Zhangjiashan/ Provinz Hubei. Tokyo: Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Li, Wai-yee (2007), The Readability of the Past in Early Chinese Historiography. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Loewe, Michael (1982), Chinese Ideas of Life and Death: Faith, Myth and Reason in the Han Period (202 BC–AD 220). London and Boston: Allen & Unwin. Peng, Hao 彭浩, et al. (eds.) (2007), Ernian lüling yu Zouyan shu: Zhangjiashan ersiqi hao Hanmu chutu falü wenxian shidu二年律令與奏讞書:張家山二四七號漢墓出土法律文 獻釋讀. Shanghai: Guji. Pines, Yuri (2002), Foundations of Confucian Thought: Intellectual Life in the Chunqiu Period, 722–453 B.C.E. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Radice, Thomas (2006), “The Ways of Filial Piety in Early China.” PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania. Roberts, Sam (2001), The Brother: The Untold Story of Atomic Spy David Greenglass and How He Sent His Sister, Ethel Rosenberg, to the Electric Chair. New York: Random House. Ruan, Yuan 阮元 (1980), Shisan jing zhushu 十三經注疏. Beijing: Zhonghua.



Schaberg, David (2001), A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press. Schwartz, Benjamin I. (1985), The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, Belknap. Shuihudi Qinmu zhujian zhengli xiaozu 睡虎地秦墓竹簡整理小組 (1990), Shuihudi Qinmu zhujian 睡虎地秦墓竹簡. Beijing: Wenwu. Sommer, Matthew (2000), Sex, Law, and Society in Late Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Vankeerberghen, Griet (2005–2006), “Choosing Balance: Weighing (quan) as a Metaphor for Action in Early Chinese Texts,” Early China, 30: 47–89. Wang Zhaoyuan 王照圓 (1937), Lienü zhuan buzhu 列女傳補注. [Changsha:] Shangwu. Wawrytko, Sandra A. (2000), “Prudery and Prurience: Historical Roots of the Confucian Conundrum Concerning Women, Sexuality, and Power,” in Chenyang Li (ed.), The Sage and the Second Sex: Confucianism, Ethics, and Gender. Chicago and LaSalle, IL: Open Court, pp. 163–97. Xing, Yitian 邢義田 (2008), “Qin huo Xi-Han chu hejian an zhong suojian de qinshu lunli guanxi—Jiangling Zhangjiashan ersiqihao mu Zouyan shu jian 180–196 kaolun” 秦或 西漢初和姦案中所見的親屬倫理關係—江陵張家山二四七號墓《奏讞書》簡180–96 考論, in Liu Liyan 柳立言(ed.), Chuantong Zhongguo falü de linian yu shijian 傳統中國 法律的理念與實踐. Taipei: Zhongyang Yanjiuyuan Lishi Yuyan Yanjiusuo, pp. 101–59. Yang Bojun 楊伯峻 (1990), Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu 春秋左傳注 (2nd ed.). Beijing: Zhonghua. Yang Zhaogui 楊兆貴 (2014), “Lun Hanru dui Song Bo Ji de pinglun 論漢儒對宋伯姬的評 論.” Zhongguo Wenhua Yanjiusuo xuebao 中國文化研究所學報, 58: 41–63. Yi, Ruolan 衣若蘭 (2011), Shixue yu xingbie: Mingshi Lienü zhuan yu Mingdai nüxingshi zhi jiangou 史學與性別:《明史•列女傳》與明代女性史之建構. Taiyuan: Shanxi jiaoyu. Zeng Jin 曾瑾 and Wang Fang 王芳 (2008), “Cong Zuozhuan dao Lienü zhuan zhong nüxing xingxiang de bianhua 從《左傳》到《列女傳》中的女性形象的變化,” Xinyu Gaozhuan xuebao 新余高專學報, 13 (6): 15–17. Zhang, Kuo 張廓 (1999), Duoqi zhidu—Zhongguo gudai shehui he jiating jiegou 多妻制 度—中國古代社會和家庭結構. Tianjin: Guji.

Chapter Two

Discourses on Women from the Classical Period to the Song: An Integrated Approach tak-ling terry woo

I.  INTRODUCTION This exploratory chapter investigates the shifts in philosophical discourses on women by looking at, on the one hand, philosophers’ efforts at maintaining ideological boundaries and autonomy and, on the other hand, the inevitable blending of ideas across the three philosophies of institutional Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism and their syncreticized folk religious relatives. Both original ideas and their popular interpretations will be examined using selective highlights from the classical to the Song period. This is necessarily a broad study as there is no normative or standard Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and sectarian movement. But I believe that such a broad approach takes seriously Sherin Wing’s proposal to “dismantle the notion of a singular, transhistoric Chinese ‘woman’” (Wing, 2011, p. 9). It aims to achieve this goal by examining, as a cultural whole, divergent ideas about and attitudes toward a multitude of women—high and low, historical and imagined—alongside the numerous alternatives they had on how to act and what they thought of their situation in the world. Women could choose amid a spectrum of complementary-cum-opposing teachings from the Tang to the Song. These alternatives gave them opportunities to live according to their proclivities as wife, mother, nun, priestess, and even courtesanpoet, or a combination of these during different stages in their lives. But concepts unfriendly and antagonistic to the female sex existed in all the teachings, and they generated, reinforced, and finally exacerbated detrimental views of women as “inferior” and “subordinate”: as creatures who are excessively emotional, physically “impure,” and infused with “turbid” qi (氣 vital force). Syncretism and pluralism in Chinese philosophy are the foci here. The various philosophical pastiches that resulted from the combination of seemingly contradictory


ideas from the three philosophies during the Song coalesced and gave rise to four distinct streams of beliefs and practices. First, a Neo-Confucianism, which VivianLee Nyitray characterizes as “fundamentalist” (Nyitray, 2007, p.  47);1 second, an institutionalized Quanzhen (全真) monastic Daoism; third, an other-worldly Dacheng2 (大乘 Great Vehicle) Buddhism; and, finally, a collection of rather gothic bodily practices that expresses extreme and heterodox interpretations of textually based and often abstruse philosophical ideas. The material and social circumstances that exerted influence on Song women within these traditions have been well documented by scholars such as Patricia Ebrey (1993), Bettine Birge (2002), Sherin Wing (2011), and Ann Pang-White (2013). Their insights into Neo-Confucian ideas about women support both Randall Balmer’s finding that fundamentalist religion or, in this case, philosophy severely curtails women’s activities by idealizing them as “the self-sacrificing wife and mother whose hands are little sullied by the business of running the external world”; (Hawley and Proudfoot, 1994, p.  4) and Karen Brown’s contention that men who lead fundamentalist groups and whose identity is confronted by an “external other” will naturally try to assert control over women who are “the more accessible other in [their] midst”3 (Hawley and Proudfoot, 1994, p. 27). For Song Neo-Confucians, the “external other” included the Mongols from the north and the Sinicized Buddhists among the population. Nyitray, quoting Brown, points out that the abstracted and imagined NeoConfucian women carry with them all that is projected to be “undesirable or threatening,” including “sexuality, emotion, pollution, sin, and mortality” (Nyitray, 2007, p. 49). But as Buddhist writings examined here will show, Neo-Confucianism was not alone in these projections about women. Buddhists, interested in release from the world of suffering (“the external other”?), have long imposed these qualities onto women. And, as Richard Davis shows, the ideas in conservative Song NeoConfucianism that are often used to mark a change in attitudes toward women were not new (Davis, 2001, p. 213). A probing of these unfavorable generalizations about women also suggests that while such notions and tendencies were already present, the elevated degree of antipathy toward women was the result of an assimilation of views from elsewhere, most notably Buddhism. The origins of the putative negative qualities of “woman” so pervasive during the Song can be found in all three philosophies. Philosophers of all three traditions adapted to each other’s ideas against a backdrop of social changes represented by a thriving economy, the development of a burgeoning middle class, the prevalence of dowry marriages, and an unprecedented control that women exercised over family property. These changes were accompanied by infelicitous memories of the devastating An Lushan (安祿山) Rebellion4 (755–63) during the Tang and amid threats of foreign invasion in the early Song. It was paradoxically under these successful, prosperous, and precarious conditions that ideas about women from the evolving traditions continued to be melded into the conservative and hostile-to-women tenor of Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism and Ouyang Xiu and Song Qi’s (歐陽修, 宋祁) devastating charge of nühuo (女 禍 Disaster or calamity [caused by] women) in their Xin Tangshu (新唐書 The New



Tang History).5 This unfavorable climate toward women affected Daoism too: Wang Chongyang’s school, Quanzhen (全真 Complete Perfection, Complete Reality, or Complete Realization), clearly influenced by both Confucianism and Buddhism, was effectively a synthesized monastic Daoism. As for Buddhism, it had incorporated and Indianized the core ideal of filial piety into its teachings, according to Hinsch, making one’s mother the focus of practice rather than the traditional Confucian focus on one’s father. In some of its more spectacular and sensationalistic popular representations, Buddhism introduced rather gruesome and bloody tales of selfsacrifice and mutilation premised on the vile nature of some women and the impurity of the entire female sex.

II.  APPROACHING “WOMAN” THROUGH TEXTS ACROSS TIME II.1.  The Texts In order to locate the multiple origins of shared cultural opinions about women expressed during the Song, both elite and popular texts from three periods will be included. First, texts from the Han dynasty will be used: these include Liu Xiang’s (劉向) Lienü zhuan (列女傳 Biographies of Exemplary Women) and Ban Zhao’s (班 昭) Nüjie (女戒 Lessons for Women) as both continued to exert influence into late imperial China. Second, secondary “non-canonical” but functionally normative non-scriptural sources will be incorporated: these include excerpts drawn from a Tang Buddhist encyclopedia and a Daoist monastic manual—respectively, entries on “Sunü” (俗女 Ordinary Women) from the compiler-monk Daoshi’s (道世) Fayuan zhulin (法苑珠林 Garden of the Law and the Forest of Gems), and Fengdao Kejie (奉道科戒 Rules and Precepts for Worshipping the Dao). Finally, Buddhist ideas are traced through three sectarian baojuan6 (寶卷 precious scrolls or volumes): these include first, Mulian sanshi baojuan (目蓮三世寶卷 The Precious Scroll of the Three Lives of Mulian),7 then another popular baojuan Woman Huang Recites the Diamond Sutra (王氏女對金剛經 Wangshinü dui Jingangjing), and finally Miaoshan baojuan or Xiangshan baojuan (妙善寶卷 or 香山寶卷 The Miaoshan Precious Scroll or Xiangshan Precious Scroll). While these and other texts illustrate well the early diversity of views about women, they did however hold a few common or at least similar assumptions and opinions about women. These sentiments coalesced to form a broad spectrum of common cultural generalizations about women by the Song. Three elements are used in this chapter to trace and frame the investigation of how the inimical thinking about women happened over time. First, there was the salvational agenda of individuals; then the political agenda of the state; and finally there was the search for mono-istic8 theories by the different ideologies that could inform and explain the “correct way” of organizing a society, which in turn resulted in a complex synthesissyncreticism of coetaneous philosophies that shared deeply unfriendly notions about women as they encountered and interacted with each other. In addition, to further narrow the field of focus, the pursuit of individual salvation is contextualized during


the Tang dynasty, while political agenda and the search for “a theory of everything” are situated in the Song.

II.2.  Historical Development This study begins with a very brief look at the basic cosmological assumptions of yin-yang, the Yijing, and an examination of the indigenous classical Daoist and Confucian literature that clearly address separate classes and cultures of women. It then moves on to the Han dynasty, the first imperial period that marks the rise of a sweeping philosophical syncreticism by Dong Zhongshu (董仲舒), soon followed by an unprecedented, deliberate, and systematic thinking about women, captured and reflected in Liu Xiang’s Lienü zhuan and Ban Zhao’s Nüjie. The chapter continues on to a Sinicized and institutionally strong Buddhism and a Buddhisized Tang Daoism and ends with popular Buddhism, the monastic Quanzhen Daoism, and the revival of a synthetic-syncretic Neo-Confucianism during the Song. Both negative and positive conceptions about women will be examined in the context of how similar ideas wound up reinforcing notions of women’s inferiority and impurity across socioeconomic class and created “woman” as a class, while the philosophies sought, simultaneously, to differentiate themselves from each other through rituals and beliefs. Ironically the texts show that the antipathy against women was not directed at all women,9 only “ordinary” ones—that is, women who were lazy, self-interested, uncultivated, unenlightened, and uninterested in self-development. The sagely and the wise were venerated as sages, exemplars, and teachers; they were lauded in biographies of lienü (exemplary women), zhenren (真人 perfected ones), and biqiuni (比丘尼 nuns). These “extraordinary” women were active in spiritual cultivation and sought a transcendence of self-centeredness. In short, these women were not self-serving; did not disrupt the foundations of a stable and secure society; and most definitely did not seduce, distract, or interfere with men who were busy working for the common good. The category for imperfect, ordinary, and notably “wicked” women who disrupted sociopolitical stability, threatened material security, destroyed familial harmony, and discouraged or deterred spiritual discipline and enlightenment seems to have been generated because of different sectarian concerns. By the Song, they included Buddhist apprehension that there would be no release from lunhui (輪迴 rebirth) and suffering; Daoist concerns about distraction and interference amid the practice toward transcendence; and Confucian anxiety over cultural survival and continued viability of a government robust enough to stave off chaos and suffering and strong enough to serve and protect its people. The concerted effort to control women by steady reduction in their freedom of movement and in restricting their assigned spheres of activity and engagement according to the traditional notion of the “right place” of nei (內 inner quarters) has mainly been associated with Confucians, but the achievement of such a widespread confinement of elite women in late dynastic China suggests a shared foundation of values across the three traditions and required an ethos that was common to and tacitly agreed upon or at least condoned by all three. Chief among these to



be explored here is the understanding that strong and especially excessive desires and emotions, assumed to be “natural” to women, are both psychologically and materially damaging because they cause chaos, suffering, and ill health. In this, both Confucians and Buddhists can be shown as depicting zealously the excesses of “ordinary” women, and they necessarily recommended corrective restraints that would control female passions and consequently bind the women themselves. The Daoists, on the other hand, seem to have contributed “negatively” to the increasingly disparaging discourses about women by way of omission and acculturation. For while they did not fuel the stereotypes of flesh-and-blood women, and in at least the story about Su Buer, Wang Chongyang’s most famous female disciple, the sin of a lustful nature is squarely assigned to the men who harassed her, the Daoists seem not to have spoken up for women and in some cases they even adopted deeply misogynist Buddhist ideas and appear to have failed to balance the discussion on gender. Socioeconomic class and intelligence, crucial in defining the function and degree of a woman’s influence in public matters during early imperial times, became seemingly irrelevant as discourses about women focused increasingly on their “nature.” But let us first turn to some early texts and ideas.

III.  SOME FOUNDATIONAL ELEMENTS III.1.  The Yijing and Yin-Yang Complementarity There are intriguing traces of female preeminence in the Yijing. If the complement of yin-yang is read as proxy for Woman and Man, and if we gloss yin as “inferior” and yang “superior” as in Dong Zhongshu’s sangang (三綱 three bonds), then we have the puzzle of hexagrams eleven and twelve, respectively Tai (泰 Peace)10 and Pi (否 Obstruction) as follows. The eleventh hexagram, Peace, is represented by kun ☷ (坤 Pure Yin) above and qian (亁 Pure Yang) ☰ below,11 rendering the image of female over male or woman over man. This hexagram Tai, with kun above qian, signals a felicitous era when “the petty depart, and the great arrive, so good fortune will prevail” (Lynn, 1994, p. 205). If this hexagram does not utterly put lie to Dong Zhongshu’s static hierarchy of relational power, then it at least suggests a theoretical inconsistency in his syncretized Confucianism. The twelfth hexagram, Obstruction, transposes the eleventh with qian over kun, or strength over softness, men over women. Obstruction augurs an unfavorable future and is “associated with (evil men and predicts) an unfit time for the noble man to practice constancy .  .  . (as) the great depart, and the petty arrive” (ibid., p. 211). The hexagram Pi thus calls into question the Neo-Confucian belief in the primacy of men. The good times imaged by the prominence of the Great Yin over Great Yang is reflected also in the Shijing (詩經 Book of Odes). The first poem in the volume, Guan Ju (關雎 The Call of the Ospreys), from the section on Guofeng (國風 Lessons from the States), describes the “modest, retiring, virtuous, young lady” who is fit to


be a mate for the prince. The ode’s placement at the beginning of the text suggests an implicit understanding of the importance of women in the life of a state and family. This should not surprise us. As complementarity relegates women to the “inner” realm, Daniel Overmyer hypothesizes that in ancient times, upper-class Zhou women, who were responsible for the home, likely performed three essential ritual roles: as assistants in ancestor veneration, as the chief or sole participants of the silk-worm cult, and as shamans or spirit-mediums (Overmyer, 1991, p. 95).12 There have been a few scholars who have highlighted the unfriendly stance taken against women in the early classical and Han Confucian texts, which hint at preeminence notwithstanding. Sherin Wing, however, believes that writers such as Richard Guisso and Bret Hinsch, who read anti-female sentiments into the ancient texts, “overstate the importance of women” in these sources. Quoting Alison Black, she tells us that the dynamic of yin and yang does not so much insist on “women’s passivity to men’s activity” as suggest that successful relationships often require “complementariness” (Wing, 2011, p. 31). Moreover, if the various combinations of the complements are understood as symbols of complexity in the transformations of phenomena, both material and spiritual, including the cultivation of oneself and the development of character, particularly in a relationship, then both women and men can be found in either yin or yang positions, behaving well or badly during different times depending on the circumstances. Following Wing, I propose that early Huang-Lao and Lao-Zhuang Daoism were also not interested in the issue of women. However, it is also true that Dong Zhongshu, Liu Xiang, and Ban Zhao mark the definitive beginning of an interest in philosophizing about women in the Han dynasty.

III.2.  Confucianism Robin Wang remarks that the position of women in the Odes is similar to our own contemporary experiences of difference, embodied in a variety of personalities moving through an infinite number of circumstances. The symbolic categorical yin, in early Chinese thought, coexisted with the diversity but without being equated to the mythic and primordial Eve or Aristotle’s defective woman. Liu Xiang, following the noted range in the Odes, recognizes a gradation in women’s commitment to moral integrity and purposefully lists different categories in his Lienü zhuan. Ban Zhao,13 on the contrary, writing after Liu Xiang, uses the idea of yin-yang in her Nüjie as emblematic of women and men, conventionally represented as yielding and firmness, and employs the dyad to chart the need for and to urge a correlative education for girls. This focus on educating girls reflects what Cua describes as the “moral vision” in the Zhongyong (中庸 Centrality and Equilibrium), where the emphasis on selfrealization is expressed as perfect sincerity rather than intellectual accomplishments. For, a junzi (君子 exemplary person), whether woman or man, “honors moral nature and follows the path of study and inquiry” (Cua, 1998, p. 29).14 In this intention to achieve rectitude, as Ban understands it, women cannot be different from men if the two are to function as a familial unit. This orientation toward restraining oneself and toward the ethos of mental discipline are found in Xunzi’s “Lilun”



(理論 Discussion of Rites), where he describes how human nature must be tamed and bound by “cutting and filing” of rituals: What is the origin of li? I answer that man is a creature born with desire. If his desires are not satisfied, he cannot but seek some means for satisfaction. If there are no limits or measures to govern their pursuit, contention will inevitably result. From contention comes disorder and from disorder comes poverty. (See also Watson, 1963, p. 89; Cua, 2005, p. 43) Ban Zhao, as a woman, necessarily starts from a different position than Xunzi. She locates the self in context of the family, worrying not so much about desire for material and political goods in the public realm, assumed in Xunzi’s writings, but focuses instead on carnal desire between husband and wife. She accepts that men are yang and defined by “rigidity” while women are yin and defined by “yielding,” and assumes this sexual imagery for the relationship between husband and wife. While concentrating on self-cultivation within family, Ban fits seamlessly into the ethos of the Daxue (大學 The Great Learning),15 which ultimately aims at attaining world peace. In Nüjie, she confers her insight that lust results from constant intimacy between a couple who stays too often in the confines of their own room, and that from this “licentiousness will [in turn] be born a heart of disrespect [in the woman for her] husband. Such a result comes from not knowing that one should stay in one’s proper place” (Wang, 2003, p. 184). In other words, Ban is concerned for a man to find his life and work beyond the inner quarters, and she stresses that “for self-culture nothing equals respect for others” (ibid., p. 181). She writes that: (If wives) do not suppress contempt for husbands, then it follows (that such wives) [will] rebuke and scold (their husbands). (If husbands) do not stop short of anger, then they are certain to beat (their wives). The correct relationship between husband and wife is based upon harmony and intimacy, and (conjugal) love is grounded in proper union. (Wang, 2003, p. 184) Her sentiments are supported by another writer from the Later Han period, Ying Shao (應劭). The respect and love that Ban Zhao mentions extends even into her death. Ying includes in his compilation, Fengsu tongyi (風俗通議 A General Discussion of Customs), the following notion about a husband-wife relationship from the Liji (禮記 The Record of Rites): “(A) man holds the mourning cane for his principal wife during her funeral. He cherishes the fact that she is a member of his clan. The term ‘wife’ [qi] means ‘equal’ [qi] to me, [the husband]” (ibid., p. 190). Mutual love and respect between couples could help prevent discord in the family, thereby reduce communal woes, influence the sociopsychological ethos of the wider society, and finally enhance harmony in the state. Excessive passion in a marital relationship may signal or encourage excess in other areas; this premise that excessive passion in a marriage can cause trouble finds indirect support in Xunzi, who, in writing about the public realm of men, states: The ancient Kings hated such disorder, and hence they established li (rules of proper conduct) and inculcated yi (rightness or sense of righteousness) in order


to regulate men’s pursuit, to educate and nourish men’s desires (so that they) did not overextend the means of satisfaction, and material goods did not fall short of what was desired. Thus both desires and goods were looked after and satisfied. This is the origin of li. (See also Watson, 1963, p. 89; Cua, 2005, p. 43) Early Confucianism was chiefly concerned with the ruling classes for the influence that they were perceived to exercise over ordinary people. And furthering the cause of elite male self-interest, personal security, and political stability, as Anne Behnke Kinney notes, women were expected not to subordinate themselves to the men in their lives. She writes that in order to gain status and power, men—husband, sons, and brothers—were often advised to yield to their womenfolk—wives, mothers, and even daughters. Kinney also highlights Liu Xiang’s interest in how women, as subordinates in a hierarchical relationship, function as a check against abuse of power by men with authority: the admonishment by female family members, for example, can act as a means to balance a man’s reach (Kinney, 2014, pp. xxvii–ix). Finally, Kinney notes that nefarious women were included merely as one category of exemplars among several in the Lienü zhuan: Mo Xi of Jie, for example, is described as dressing like a man and she is characterized as reckless, arrogant, profligate, and dissolute, but she was an individual type and not representative of all women (ibid., p. 135). In contrast to the ideological reasons we have encountered so far, Hinsch offers a psychological hypothesis to the classical and Han discourses on women. Instead of stated sociopolitical aspirations such as marital harmony and political stability, he argues that “masculine honor” constituted the major determinant in how Chinese men conceived of their complementary categorical counterpart: woman. Hinsch writes that it was this honor that drove the segregation of women—an honor that goes beyond even patriarchy, the usual feminist suspect; he contends that this honor favors “righteousness” and men like Qu Yuan, Han Xin, and Tao Qian, who though considered to be “brilliant failures” have nevertheless been memorialized through history even as they had been defeated politically. It is this “masculine honor” that insists on obedience, chastity, and control over women, and in particular the female body in order to bolster a “positive masculine image” so that men will not be shamed. Early Chinese gender relations, according to Hinsch, was shaped by this16 (Hinsch, 2011, pp. 187–200).

III.3.  Daoism Against the backdrop of Dong Zhongshu’s syncretized notions17 about the “right” behavior for women and men, we have Laozi’s intriguing counsel to men: “Know the male but keep to the female/And be a ravine to the empire . . . Know honour/ But keep to the role of the disgraced/And be a valley to the empire” (Lau, 1963, p. 33). If we assume that Laozi is speaking to men, and if we take seriously yin-yang complementarity and turn these aphorisms around for women, would we end up with the following? Know the female but keep to the male And be a hill to the empire . . .



Know disgrace But keep to the role of the honoured And be a mountain to the empire. What might women who “keep to the male” and “know disgrace” look like? What does it mean for a woman to know the female but keep to the male? What would it mean to be a mountain to the empire? Could the stated role reversals be understood through Zhuangzi’s wang (忘 forgetting) (Cua, 1998, p. 39)? That is, the forgetting of the socially constructed self and world in the way that he talks about traditional conventions as humanly created. Zhuangzi asserts that “a road is made by people walking on it; things are so because they are called so. What makes them not so? Making them not so makes that not so.” Liezi, for example, ends his spiritual search by concluding that he had never really begun to learn anything. He went home and for three years did not go out. He replaced his wife at the stove, fed the pigs as though he were feeding people, and showed no preferences in the things he did. He got rid of the carving and polishing and returned to plainness, letting his body stand alone like a clod. In the midst of entanglement he remained sealed, and in this oneness he ended his life. (Watson, 1968, p. 97) Liezi assumes woman’s work, negates the conventional adage of nannü zhi bie (男女之別 difference between men and women), and effectively ignores human (literally man-made) constructs, including Confucian ones. (One wonders what his displaced wife did!) The Daoist sage, in contrast to the Confucian sage, “harmonizes both right and wrong and rests in Heaven the Equalizer. This is called walking two roads” (Watson, 1968, p. 41 quoted in Cua, 1998, p. 47). In Daoist cosmology, “Heaven” is not a creator god addressed as “Father” nor an all-loving earth “Mother”; evincing instead the principles of transformation and yinyang there are multiple complementary deities, female and male, with Xiwangmu (西王母 Queen Mother of the West)18 heading the pantheon on the feminine side. Here, as in Confucianism, there is no primordial Eve, who, in persuading Adam to taste the forbidden fruit, condemns human beings to fall from Eden and into the mortal world. Instead of embarrassment and shame in realizing human nakedness, sexual matters are the purview of female immortals like Sünü (素女 White Girl or Natural Woman as Cahill translates it) (Wang, 2003, pp. 191–94), Selected Woman (Cainü 采女), and Mysterious Woman (Xuannü 玄女) (Cahill, 2006, p. 73). In practical terms, early Celestial Master Daoism, whose ranks were filled with a complement of female and male believers at each level (Kirkland, 1991, p. 47), expressed this cosmological complementary completeness with the ritual of sexual “uniting or harmonization of qi” (合氣) where adult non-married initiates engaged in the symbolic re-creation of the interplay between the two primary elements of yin and yang. Confucians and Buddhists alike excoriated this extra-marital rite as “orgiastic” (Kohn, 2004, p. 4). Notwithstanding equal ranks among the believers, the mimicking of the cosmic binary through sexual ritual, abundant feminine deities, and the belief in Heavenly Equality, Daoism is unique in not having a volume


dedicated to women until the end of the Tang, with Du Guangting’s (AD 850–933) Yongcheng ji xian lu (墉城集仙錄 Records of the Assembled Transcendents of the Fortified Walled City),19 which then distinguishes itself among hagiographies of extraordinary women by blending the fantastic with the real, integrating “biographies” of goddesses like Xiwangmu alongside historical women like Xue Xuantong of the Tang20 (Wang, 2003, pp. 346–71; see also Cahill, 2006). It is clear from this very brief overview that the two indigenous Confucian and Daoist philosophies offered radically different views and possibilities for women from China’s cultural beginnings. It was into this pluralistic environment that Buddhism found itself when it arrived in Han China.

III.4.  Buddhism The early correlation of women to “negative” yin qualities, the association of women with the inner realm, and the portrayal of some women as potential temptresses who can destroy home and state have led some Sinologists to consider Confucianism to be irreparably unfriendly to women while Daoism, in contrast, received relatively little though mostly positive attention early on (See Kirkland, 1991; Despeux and Kohn, 2003; Grant, 2008, p. 3). Buddhism, on the contrary, though not without its critics, found a steady stream of champions. Rita Gross, for example, believes that Buddhism can overcome patriarchy; and Wawrtytko notes that Chinese Mahayana philosophy can be read as “a more radical approach than mere androgyny”, as suggested by the native yin-yang complementarity, by “revealing the Buddha-nature (in everyone and) arguments for a woman’s equal access to awakening” (Wawrtytko, 2009, p. 297); while Hinsch believes that the sangha (僧伽 community of Buddhists) “empowered medieval Chinese women by allowing them exciting new social and spiritual roles” (2002, p. 53). These scholars may be right about Mahayana Buddhism’s liberal beliefs and liberating potential, but it is also true that long-standing Buddhist ideas of pollution and the assumption of one common lascivious nature for all “ordinary” women21 and not just some proportional minority of women, as suggested by Liu Xiang’s Lienü zhuan, exerted a powerful influence over Chinese ideas about gender. The new ideas reinforced native tendencies toward blaming women—in particular their sexuality, for the discord in and breakup of families, and for the fall and disintegration of empires, especially captured by Dong Zhongshu’s New Text correlative Confucianism. The popularity of Buddhism eventually forced Confucians to reinvent and reassert themselves, but the latter remained at a disadvantage in conversion work. Grant and Idema tell us that popular Buddhism is quite different from Buddhist philosophy as discussed among the elite communities, both monastic and secular literati; but at least one text shows that the difference in content may not be as great as assumed and that the difference may have been primarily in the style or presentation of the ideas. The monk Huijiao (497–554) describes effective missionary work this way: (When a good preacher) speaks about death, he makes heart and body shiver for fear; if he speaks about hell, tears of anxiety gush forth in streams. If he points out earlier karma, it is as if one clearly sees one’s deed from the past; if he predicts



the future consequences, he manifests the coming retribution. If he talks about the joys (of the Pure Land), his audience feels happy and elated; if he discourses on the sufferings (of hell), eyes are filled with tears. At that moment the whole congregation is converted and the whole room overcome with emotion: people throw themselves down on the floor, bang their heads against the ground, and beg for grace; each and every one snaps his fingers; everybody recites the name of the Buddha. (Grant and Idema, 2011, pp. 3–4) A Confucian teacher who is committed to zhongyong (中庸 centrality and equilibrium) hardly has a fighting chance against such an ardent missionary monk. The success of Buddhism introduced an entirely new way of conceiving “woman,” which eventually resulted in what Yuet Keung Lo describes as “Conversion to Chastity.” But first, back to the early days of Buddhism.

IV.  BUDDHISM AND ITS EFFECT ON DAOISM FROM HAN TO THE SIX DYNASTIES PERIOD IV.1.  Overview Buddhist philosophy distinguishes itself from Confucianism and Daoism through its focus on how to escape the unsatisfactory aspects and unavoidable suffering in life. Its answers to existential questions such as “Why are we here?,” “What is our purpose in life?,” “How are we to behave in the world?,” “Is there a world beyond the material one?,” “Why do good things happen to bad people?,” “What will happen in the afterlife?” are remarkably different from native responses. These answers include exotic ideas such as lunhui (輪迴 transmigration), wu or niepan (悟 or 涅槃 realization or enlightenment and “extinction”22), wunian and wuzhu (無念 or 無住 no-thought and non-abiding or non-attachment), jingtu (淨土 Pure land or Land of Bliss), tian and diyu (天 and 地獄 heaven and hell), yuan (緣 conditions), and yinguo (因果 karma or cause and effect). Buddhist ideas inevitably transformed the landscape of Chinese philosophy. The anti-family rhetoric and flagrant misogyny conveyed by many of the passages included later in this chapter, which outline the impurity and sinfulness of women were foreign to Han culture. Masatoshi Ueki suggests in her introduction to the Sishierzhang jing (四十二章經 Sutra of 42 Chapters), an apocryphal Chinese text dated to the Han,23 that such hostility to women and family clearly shows a monkish fear of the challenge of “carnal desire” in their practice (Wang, 2003, pp. 266–67). For if one’s goal were to transcend this world of suffering and be released to the “other shore,” then one would be wise to heed the following teaching from the Buddha: The restraint of a house in keeping a man chained onto his wife and children is stronger than that of a prison. Even though one is put in prison, he will be released someday. By contrast, a wife and children never free a man from bondage. A man of passion would often become attached to carnal desire without sparing expenses . . . Such stupid persons are called unenlightened ordinary men. If he


deepens his understanding of these teachings, he will reach the state of Arhat (羅漢 perfected persons) where earthly desires are eliminated. (Ibid., p. 268) The Buddha in the Sishierzhang jing continues to say that “being attached to carnal desire causes a man grief. This grief seizes him with fear. If he keeps away from attachment to carnal desire, however, he has no cause to grieve or fear.” Then he goes on to introduce another new idea: that it is more difficult to be born a man than a woman, signaling clearly that the latter is a lower birth than the former (ibid.) This idea of female inferiority appears to have been accepted with little or no resistance. Is this because it echoes Ban Zhao’s writing: “On the third day after the birth of a girl the ancients (placed) the baby below the bed . . . (so) plainly indicated that she is lowly and weak, and should regard it as her primary duty to humble herself before others” (Wang, 2003, p. 179)? And is it due to Kongzi’s notorious statement: “Women and servants are particularly hard to manage: if you are too familiar with them, they grow insolent, but if you are too distant they grow resentful” (Analects 17:25 in Slingerland, 2003, p. 212)? Buddhism may have contradicted Confucian family values and this-worldly concerns but it supported Dong Zhongshu’s syncretized yin-yang hierarchy and Ban Zhao’s interpretation of “ancient” practices—rituals that were presumably no longer extant but whose imputed meaning lingers, continuing to place girls lower than boys in social status. As Buddhism confirmed and exaggerated women’s “lowliness” with impurity and sin on the one hand, it promised the possibility of escape from endless vexations on the other. Baochang’s Biqiuni zhuan (比丘尼傳 Lives of the Nuns) must have offered hope, helped to shape new ideals, and marked “the beginning of a new Chinese Buddhist view of womanhood” (Hinsch, 2002, p. 56). An elite woman during the chaotic times of the Six Dynasties would have had access to Confucian and Daoist writings, as well as the new ideas that Buddhism tendered. Ordinary women would have been exposed to “elite” values through state-sponsored rituals, itinerant storytellers, and the performing arts. In the arena of applied philosophy,24 often expressed in religious values and through religious institutions, elite women “were often subject to similar popular religious notions about the nature of women and aspired to similar sorts of religious (philosophical) ideals (as their less literate sisters)” (Grant and Idema, 2011, p. vii). Whether they were daughters of an official or a fisherman or a courtesan, girls and women were expected to be a “filial” daughter, a “supportive” wife, and an “exemplary” mother. To this and the existing cosmologically inspired understanding of a woman’s nature, the new religion Buddhism would teach that women are not only to be associated with darkness, softness, and weakness but also with deep flaws, full of sin and impurity, even as they learnt that like men they could become pusa (菩薩 bodhisattva or enlightened beings), just as the indigenous philosophies taught them that they had the capacity to evolve into exemplars, sages, and transcendents. Daoist texts dating from the fifth century clearly show Buddhist influence. For example, the Zhengyi fawen taishang wailu yi (正一法文太上外籙儀 Text of the correct and unified ritual teachings, protocols for the exterior registers of the Most High, shortened to Protocols)25 takes on ideas like rebirth through actions in past



lives, the inferiority of a woman’s body, leaving home for religious avocation, all notions previously unknown to Daoism. The following is an excerpt: [I], daughter so and so, was born at such and such a time and date. The sins of my previous karma being weighty, when I was born I received a female body. I am weak and ignorant and do not wish to marry. In my parents’ home there is no way for me to study. Now I vow to devote my life and take refuge at the master’s gate. (Overmyer, 1991, p. 99) There are several points of interest here. Buddhist notions of enlightenment and sengjia (僧家 sangha or Buddhist community) and its extra-familial system, carried over to Daoism here, do offer new opportunities for women. However, while the woman chujia (出家 leaves home) for an opportunity to study, she also takes on the new and profoundly misogynist idea that she has been reborn a woman because of her “weighty” karma (Overmyer, 1991, p. 100). Karma is also understood affirmatively in a different passage, as conferring blessings on a wife who has chosen to remain at home, can depend on her community, devote herself to achieving longevity, and describes her life as a blessing because, she writes, fortunately due to my past karma (I) have been able to uphold the great Tao . . . I have been able to rely on people of the Tao . . . I look up to the Tao to extend my life, praising its marvelous transformations; overcome with gratitude for its profound blessings, may I forever fill the role of a “seed person” [a member of the elect, waiting for Lord Lao to return], diligently rely on the ritual teaching, and offer pledges of my sincerity and faith. (Overmyer, 1991, p. 100) As Daoism integrates new ideas from Buddhism, Buddhism continues to strike out in different directions, influencing folk beliefs and practices, and, eventually, Confucianism.

V.  PERSONAL AGENDA AND PHILOSOPHY DURING TANG DYNASTY (618–907) V.1.  Overview For Confucianism, the Tang dynasty was the time of the Nü xiaojing and Nü lunyu. The traditional Confucian call for self-cultivation and focus on women as inner counselors continue as demonstrated by Chapter Nine, “Elucidating Wisdom,” in the Nü xiaojing, where the author includes the biography of Lady Fan advising King Zhuang of Chu in his choice of ministers, offering an example of woman as inner counselor. This has its origins in the second chapter of Lienü zhuan (Murray, 1988, p. 106). Rabidly anti-woman rhetoric is absent from Tang Ru (儒 Confucians) writings. Daoism and Buddhism remained popular and both offered spiritual salvation through guided body and mental disciplines. There were undoubtedly as many goals and motives for devotional practice as there were believers; but, in general, the former aimed ultimately at physical immortality or religious transcendence, and the


latter intended to escape from rebirth. Buddhism was especially influential, giving prominence to fears of feminine seductions that distract from enlightenment. Livia Kohn believes that though the impact of Buddhism was grand, the misogyny that resulted from the ultimate goal of release “had little impact on the treatment of (Daoist) women, who were taken much more seriously . . . than in Buddhism” (Kohn, 2004, p. 8). Cahill observes that while Daoism did not create social or gender equality in Tang society, it did provide extraordinary opportunities for some women (Cahill, 2006, p. 196). Daniel Overmyer, on the other hand, hypothesizes that women were most authoritative through their ritual agency in syncretic folk or popular sectarian movements that maintained indigenous folk beliefs about the sacred yin as expressed in the Eternal Mother and other female deities. But as the following excerpt shows, the influence of Buddhist ideas about woman’s inferiority and impurity are clearly conveyed not only by the centrality of karma in the Protocols covered in the previous section, but also by the inclusion of the idea of a woman’s blood being polluted, as conveyed through the trope of the Blood Pond in Yuanshi tianzun jidu xiehu zhenjing (元始天尊濟度血湖真經 The True Scripture of the Heavenly Worthy of Primordial Beginnings Who Saves [Beings] from the Blood Pond). This Daoist text can be dated any time from the Tang to the Yuan dynasty, and obviously uses language that echoes Buddhist concerns of female impurity: Childbirth causes various predicaments. During their monthly flow, when they clean dirty clothes, or when they bear sons and daughters, their blood dirties the earth gods. Dirty fluids pour out into streams, rivers, ponds, and wells. People, without knowledge and awareness, draw water for drink and food and offer it as sacrifice to the spirits. Thus they violently offend the Three Luminaries. (Grant and Idema, 2011, pp. 235–36) By the Tang dynasty, even the Daoist Fengdao keyi included a detailed calculation of retribution. In section one,26 which is clearly influenced by Buddhism, Fengdao keyi discloses the punishment for sinful sexual behavior and explains how lasciviousness is in itself punishment for breaking precepts in points 11, 58, and 63 respectively as follows: Anyone who commits debauchery and indulges in sex in this life will suffer from insanity. Having passed through this, he will be born among the sows and boars (76) . . . Having a foul-smelling and unclean body given to lasciviousness comes from having indulged in the five strong-smelling vegetables or having been a pig or dog before . . . (And finally,) Life as a worm nourishing on excrement comes from having been lascivious, debauched, and unclean (80). (Kohn, 2004) Although these elements do not deal directly with women, the inordinate amount of attention paid to physical impurity and sexual indulgence necessarily affects the theorizing about the nature and value of the achievement of immortality that emanate from women. The unappetizing and intentionally revolting image of “a worm nourishing on excrement” marks a grand philosophical departure from Zhuangzi’s observation that the Dao is even in the “piss and shit!” (Watson, 1968, p. 241).



V.2.  Buddhism If the earthy descriptions and extreme carnality of sin in the Daoist context feel vaguely non-native in their ideas and images, the entry for the Sunü (俗女 Ordinary women) section in the early Tang Buddhist encyclopedia, Fayuan zhulin (法苑珠 林 Forest of Gems in the Garden of Law),27 carries forward and conveys well the ethos of monastic fears and misogyny in the Sishierzhang jing. It offers undeniable evidence of Buddhism as a source of hyperbole in the theorizing of women. The narratives included below provide plausible evidence to fill out historical lacunae in the identification of possible sources for the anti-feminist content in Daoist texts. Here are samples from Daoshi’s encyclopedia: Laywomen, ordinary women, are sick with many poisons. The Buddha said that their evil and deviance are much greater than men’s. They either falsely paint their faces, use jewellery and powder, or they wear beautiful clothes to seduce foolish men; or they pout seductively, singing and laughing flirtatiously; or they ask questions, sigh and hum while staring reverently; or they expose their shoulders, chests and arms to cover their face and head; or they saunter and sway their figure with each step; or they open and close their eyes, pretend to be sad or happy, seducing stupid men and making their hearts wild. (Woo, 2000, p. 203) Here we find a “near” but not quite yet totalizing version of the primordial Eve who seduces men and brings them low: “near” because even amid the virulent antifeminist rhetoric we find the qualifiers “laywomen” and “ordinary women,” leading us to understand that not all women are “evil” and deviant. But Fayuan zhulin’s Daoshi is not working only within Buddhism; the syncretic context is plain to see when he quotes the notorious comment about women and small-minded persons from The Analects 17:25 (ibid., p.  207) to buttress his case. While he draws on Confucius in his commentary on the one hand, the grotesquely intimate portrayals of the bio-psychological state of women reach forward and outward to proffer unavoidable parallels to the language and images we encountered in the Protocol and the Blood Pond on the other. Here is one account of the Buddha speaking to his favorite disciple. Ananda, there are five types of parasites that live in women which men do not have. These five parasites live in the vagina. Of each type of parasites there are eight thousand more, with a mouth at each end. They are like the point of a needle, always bothering and biting women, making them act . . . The women are led on by the parasites; this is why it is called irritation. In licentious women, this special dharma, as a result of karma, produces lascivious actions. Their desire for and their attachment to their husbands know no (limits) and satisfaction. (Woo, 2000, p. 211) Such explicit language and images are startling, even shocking after the staid Chinese classics. The Buddhists, deftly strategic in their missionary work, became dominant, and Buddhism the most successful religion, among the general population ensuring the prominence of their philosophy. Huijiao’s counsel to skillful28 manipulation


of potential converts is evident in the use of bianwen (變文 transformation text) like The Transformation Text of Maha-Maudgalyana Rescuing His Mother from the Realm of Darkness (大目蓮冥間救母變文 Da Muqianlian mingjian jiumu bianwen), a text that tells the story of Mulian’s rescue of his wicked mother from hell. Beata Grant and Wilt Idema suggest that it can be dated to circa 800 and combines “overt didacticism and entertaining descriptions and dialogue,” clearly intended for audiences with varying degrees of literacy (Grant and Idema, 2011, p. 7). The edition of The Precious Scroll of the Three Lives of Mulian29 that Grant and Idema have translated is dated to the late nineteenth century but can be traced back to earlier transformation texts and can offer us here a sense of the ambiance of popular Buddhism (ibid., p. 9). The women in the blood pond are described as “stark naked, their bodies completely exposed: the skin on their bodies was ripped away, and their flesh had been reduced to a rotten pulp” (ibid., p. 45). These precious scrolls and earlier transformation texts can be categorized as early Chinese versions of Pulp Fiction and Hollywood blockbusters. Buddhists realized that to be effective in their soteriological work, they must accept traditional Chinese values, and when they became so popular that they threatened the primacy of the two indigenous philosophies, the native traditions to ensure their survival responded by integrating Buddhist teachings into their own philosophies, to the detriment of Chinese women. The Sinicization of Buddhism accentuated the tendency toward syncretic resolutions when philosophical encounters hinted at potential conflict. When filial piety, a core Confucian value, interfered directly with the Buddhist aspiration for release from the world of suffering, the two ideals were melded together. Hinsch examines this conundrum and describes one way in which the two ideals were blended in popular Buddhism. He notes that Chinese filial piety was traditionally directed at one’s father but when it became Buddhisized or Indianized, the bond between mother and son was emphasized instead. He hypothesizes that while women welcomed Buddhism as a religion that gave them “powerful new social roles under the rubric of filial piety,” they also found themselves caught in the tension between traditional Confucian demands and new Buddhist ones. The story of Mulian rescuing his mother from hell is an extreme example of the bond between mother and son. It appears to be an attempt at reconciling the universal experience of an impure birth as understood by Buddhist teachings, the profound intimacy between a woman and her child, the opportunity at release from rebirth through a human life, the special debt that a son owes for his “superior” birth, and the problem that these factors pose in terms of the inferiority of such an unholy vessel in relation to her male progeny. Hinsch believes that the story was likely popular with “devout laypeople (who) would have been particularly anxious to harmonize Confucian filial piety with Buddhism, since they still lived in communities where filial piety was the dominant ethic” (2002, p. 63). Where the Mulian narrative addresses woman as mother, a second example of the syncretic effort presents the perspective of a daughter in the story of Miaoshan, the epitome of an extraordinary Confucian-Buddhist girl or woman who sacrifices herself for a parent’s health through filial slicing—for her father in this case (Wing, 2011).



The story of Mulian and his mother, and the women described in the Sunü section in Fayuan zhulin, dramatize the impure, evil, and deviant nature of women, whereas the story of Miaoshan focuses on women’s enlightened Buddha nature expressed in the exceptional willingness of a woman to sacrifice her own body in order to keep her father alive. But if Buddhists believe that comfort might be found in the non-duality of purity and impurity, saintly holiness and evil, harmony and deviance, and the emptiness that these characteristics express, the Chan monk Zongmi (780– 841) offers an interesting perspective. To the question, “If attachment and anger are empty, and they are called the Mind-without any state (wu i-chieh hsin [無一界心 wu yijie xin]), why then is it still necessary for corresponding remedies?,” Zongmi answers: Though atachment [sic] and anger are empty, yet they are capable of creating karma. Karmas are also empty, yet they are capable of producing sufferings. Sufferings are empty too, yet they are unbearable to experience .  .  . Although karmas are considered as empty, yet when the empty dharmas are accumulated, one would know the pains of burning and boiling when one is punished in the hells. The sufferings are empty, yet are still painful. (Jan, 1986, p. 156) In other words, according to Zongmi, even if all things are empty—that is, impermanent and without a substantive self—women will still suffer for their actions from previous lives; and even if women can become enlightened in their current life, that will not change their distinctive nature.

V.3.  Daoism, Popular Religious Movements, and Medicine As Daoism absorbed Buddhist attitudes about sex and Confucian ideas of worldly achievements embodied in “a person with abundant descendants and a plenitude of wealth and nobility (that) comes from having given widely in donation” (Kohn, 2004, p. 85), Du Guangting minimizes the deities’ sexual natures and monstrous and animal sides in his Yongcheng jixian lu, but continues to include in his biographies the Mysterious Woman who continued to be one of the three goddesses featured as the Yellow Thearch’s (黃帝) teachers in texts on bedchamber arts since the Han; the two others included are the Natural Woman and the Selected Woman (Cahill, 2006, p. 73). By this time, however, Daoist texts often described coitus as a drain of jing (精 essence) and qi (氣 breath or vital energy) that is required for spiritual practices. Marriage was considered a hindrance for female adepts: some mutilated themselves or even committed suicide to avoid marriage. Others, married women, would avoid intercourse by claiming to be sick (Cahill, 2006, p. 18). Religiously, Daoism continued to promise and proffer ritual rank and spiritual protection to all women, high and low. On the one hand, two imperial princesses, sisters of Xuanzong (r. 712–55), were ordained and promoted in 711 to Preceptor of Highest Mystery, a ceremonial rank of the Lingbao (靈寶 Numinous Treasure) school; (Kohn, 2004, p. 17) and, on the other hand, Xiwangmu was worshipped as the patron of women, especially those who lived on the periphery and beyond the structures of family and normative values, including both prostitutes and


renunciant nuns, some of whom were retired courtesans (Cahill, 2006, p. 73). Then there were Du Guangting’s hagiographic subjects who were portrayed as teachers, ritual practitioners and leaders, and pursuers of transcendence, just like Daoist men (Cahill, 2006, p. 19). While women may have enjoyed more freedom and fewer restrictions during the Tang in comparison to later dynasties, the assumptions of their impurity, pollution, frailty, and emotional and desirous nature had already became well entrenched. According to a physiognomy text, the complexity of a woman’s nature necessitated an extremely detailed physical examination for her, in comparison to a man, who could simply be assessed with his clothes on. There was common wisdom that reinforced the desirability of weakness in a woman: for example, a woman who is in any way stronger than a man being considered for her betrothal must not be married to him nor be hired as a wet nurse in his family (Lee, 2003, p. 24). While no universal Eve or defective woman has yet been found in the Daoist philosophical writings, there was the theorizing about women as a category in medical theory, which developed and adapted to changing historical conditions. Chen Yanzhi of the Eastern Jin dynasty noted a major shift in the social circumstances for women that affected their health and he recorded the following observation in his Xiaopinfang (小品方 Jotting Prescriptions): It was easier to treat women’s disorders in ancient times because they married late, their kidney qi was already established and they hardly ever fell ill and rarely suffered from injury. Today, women marry early, the base of their kidneys is not established, and childbirth harms their kidneys. That is why young ladies who fall ill nowadays are hard to cure. Those who marry early and go through childbirth early will be ruined even if they suffer no illness. (Yi, 2012, p. 191) As Chen documents social changes in his notes compiled from 454 to 473 and chronicles the effect of early childbirth for some women, it was during the Tang dynasty that the Sage of Medicine Sun Simiao (孫思邈) (581–682) developed universal categorical assumptions about the female sex. He explains in Beiji qianjin yaofang (備急千金藥方 Prescriptions Worth a Thousand): For miscellaneous disorders [za bing] that are the same in women and men, one should consult the main chapters of this work. Nonetheless, females’ longings and desires are more intense than those of their husbands, and they are more frequently stimulated to become ill. Add to this that in women envy and dislike, compassion and love, grief and sorrow, attachments and aversions are all especially stubborn and deep-seated. They cannot themselves control these emotions [qing], and from this the roots of their illnesses are deep, and their cure is difficult. (Furth, 1999, pp. 71–72) Sun understands and conveys clearly his assessment that women are driven and controlled by desires and emotions, echoing the rhetoric of the contemporary Buddhist Fayuan zhulin. In unpacking Sun’s medical opinion, Furth traces early medical attitudes toward women, noting that intercourse during menses was considered unhealthy for both partners, suggesting that menstrual blood was



associated with “the power of pollution.” But she writes that it was the Buddhist notion of pollution that drew attention to the “uniqueness” of woman’s impurity. This understanding marks the culture of Song medicine, when a woman’s generative body was conceptualized as “being weakened by its gestational functions” and female difference became the overwhelming focus of attention (Furth, 1999, p. 58).

VI.  SONG DYNASTY SEEN THROUGH INSTITUTIONAL AGENDA: SOCIOPOLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS SURVIVAL VI.1.  Overview Sherin Wing writes that long-established lineage families “ousted from the government” in the Song set up “economic outposts in their home towns, creating a new class of local gentry engaged in promoting the local economy” (Wing, 2011, p.  17). These families encouraged Confucian ideals as Confucianism became dominant again after gaining momentum from renewal during the Tang, and this will be the main focus of this section. Both Buddhism and Daoism continued to concentrate respectively on individual release from suffering and rebirth, and transcendence of the mundane world. Buddhism was fully Sinicized and Wang Chongyang (王重陽) developed a syncretic monastic Quanzhen Daoism (全真 Completion of Authenticity, Complete Reality, Complete Perfection, or Complete Truth) that blended the philosophies from all three traditions. Finally, popular or sectarian movements continued to combine ideas from all three religions providing a practical reading of the philosophical ether. The ethos of the Song dynasty reflects a generalization of coenobitic values and set in motion elements of Puritanism and asceticism that began in the Tang as a part of personal devotion but became increasingly enmeshed in policies targeted at attaining state security and stability. The trend toward renunciation served as a conduit to three developments that became most noticeable in the Ming, and that illustrated the gradual degrading of sex and, with it, women. First, there was the gradual disappearance of fangzhong shu (房中術 manuals or handbooks of the bedchamber) from official dynastic histories that begin in the Song until not a single title could be found in the bibliographic section by the Ming. Second, even sex with one’s spouse had become indecent in the contemporary Daoist gongguo ge (功過格 Tables of Merits and Demerits)—a remarkable departure from the historical practice of harmonization of breath (Lo, 1993, p. 466). And lastly, in his Nannü shenyan (男 女慎言 Collection of Proverbs on Man and Woman), the physician Long Zunxu (龍 遵敘) (1573–1699) described women in their capacity to seduce men as worse than poisonous snakes (ibid., p. 467). Neo-Confucian theorizing about women was a part of this trend toward Puritanism and asceticism. The indigenous cultural renewal was shaped in part by threats of invasion from the north and events dominated by women during the Tang. While the publication of the Confucian Nü xiaojing and Nü lunyu, and the


Daoist ordination of two imperial princesses mark the Tang dynasty as a period of sanctioned public participation for women, it was also a time of unprecedented feminine executive power and influence, embodied by no less than Wu Zetian and her courtly female relatives and associates,30 and Xuanzong’s favorite, Yang Guifei, who became intimately linked to the An Lushan Rebellion. Their authority was deemed heterodox and castigated by Song Confucians like Ouyang Xiu and Song Qi as nühuo.

VI.2.  Daoism and Neo-Confucianism As sexual mores became stricter, the story of Sun Buer (孫不二 Sun Non-dual), the only woman among the first list31 of the seven masters of Quanzhen Daoism and Wang Chongyang’s most famous woman disciple, offers some relief to the trenchant anti-woman diatribe discussed above. When she asks to become Wang’s disciple, he rejects her, saying that she would encounter men who would accost her during her practice; and when this happens she would be so humiliated, and feel so ashamed and devastated that she would commit suicide. Wang’s comments here reflect the normative Confucian value of female chastity that clearly hinders her intention for spiritual cultivation and transcendence, personal goals that would come to naught. Undeterred, Sun Buer went to her kitchen, heated a large pot of oil, and with her face over the boiling oil threw water onto it. Seeing her pockmarked sincerity, Wang accepted her as a disciple and sent her to Chang’an, where she was indeed, as he had predicted, harassed by some men. The men are, however, defeated by divine intervention and fail to interfere with Sun’s practice. Unlike the dominant Confucian and Buddhist perspective, lust is located here in the men, who learn the error of their ways as the female practitioner remains safe with supernatural help. “Lasciviousness” is in this way identified as male32 (Sommer, 1995, p. 220). In contrast, the Confucian anxiety over nühuo was primarily institutional: it was predicated on the belief that women had misappropriated power during the Tang—a transgression they believed to be imperial feminine malfeasance that resulted in threats to cultural and political survival. This concern is anticipated in the judgment against ambitious and materialistic women in the preface of the privately written Beishi (北史 History of the Northern Dynasties), compiled circa 750, after the death of Wu Zetian (625–705) and during the rise of Yang Guifei (d. 756). Li Yanshou (李延壽), compiler of the Beishi writes: The virtue (de [徳]) of a wife rests with her gentility, although she establishes her reputation for probity (jie [節]) based entirely on the trait of strident piety (zhen lie [貞烈]). Gentility is the root of benevolence (ren [仁]), while ardent chastity is the characteristic of righteousness. In the absence of gentility, there is no way to perfect benevolence; in the absence of ardent chastity, there is no way to perfect righteousness . . . The consorts of princes and other great men who acquire habits of abandon through sensual and vulgar pleasures—although privileged to wear fine clothes, eat delicate meats, and ride royal carriages of jade—will never enter the chronicles drafted in red ink . . . they will die among the deer in ways that defy description. (Davis, 2001, p. 212)



Numerous scholars including Sherin Wing, Andersen Chiu, and Jo-lan Yi have pointed out that men authored many of the traditional Confucian texts with little interest in the lives of women. This didactic use of women in writings directed at encouraging loyalty and righteousness in men of the gubernatorial class is perhaps not so different from the employment of misogynist remarks and theories in Buddhism and Daoism that are intended to aid personal salvation rather than express hatred toward the female sex. This supposes that women were merely pawns in the common drive toward divergent “ultimate” goals. Wing, for example, believes that “women were not the protagonists and their constraint is not the focus of (Neo-Confucian) narrative.” She believes that NeoConfucian policies and prescriptions were directed at men and aimed at stability and creating “better social cohesion in a rapidly shifting society” by “outlining men’s roles through situationally dependent codes of behavior” (Wing, 2011, p. 19). Yi Jo-lan reinforces Wing’s assessment with a quote from Andersen Chiu, who writes that “the reason why Ouyang Xiu and Song Qi praised female virtues was to criticize the irresponsible officials in the government in another way” (Yi, 2012, p. 153). Ouyang Xiu’s introduction to the section “Lienü zhuan” in the Xin Tangshu (新唐書 The New History of the Tang dynasty) certainly supports Yi, Wing, and Chiu’s analyses. He writes: Now I collect accounts of those whose actions are particularly distinguished and compile them into chapters. In doing thus, I hope to trace the virtues of those fathers who behave as fathers, sons who behave as sons, husbands who behave as husbands and wives who behave as wives. (Yi, 2012, p. 139) Ouyang Xiu’s use of the rectification of names appeals to assumed traditional ideals that form a cornerstone in the renewal of Confucianism. The importance of controlling women is especially clear when he writes: Since antiquity, the calamity of women (nühuo) can ruin the world when serious, when less serious can ruin the family, when still less serious can ruin the individual. (Davis, 2001, pp. 213–14) Davis believes that Ouyang Xiu was philosophizing about existing ideas but that he and his Song contemporaries went farther in “their scope and rhetoric than earlier writers” (ibid.). The Confucian and Buddhist materials that we examined in the previous sections certainly support his assessment; in addition, they show that Davis is only partially correct when he describes “the radical change toward an extreme reconceptualization of female virtue that betrays an unprecedented connection between heroic virtues to bodily pain in the 11th century.” The images and language in the four cases from Xin Tangshu that Davis uses can be deemed unprecedented if only Confucianism is considered; if comparisons are made instead to bianwen and baozhuan, the connection is immediately obvious. The four cases are gruesome and sensational, and most “unConfucian” but definitely Buddhist, even if it does appear in a dynastic history: a “quintessentially” Confucian document. Davis draws four examples from the section on lienü or “notable women”33 including first, the wife of Fang Xuanling (579–648), who gouges out her eye to


prove her faithfulness to him; and second, the wife of Zhou Di, who lived through cannibalistic times in the area of Guangdong, during the Shiduo insurrection (888), and who sacrifices herself as food to be sold in the marketplace so that her husband could live. Then there was the Woman Dou, who inserts herself between an attacker and her husband, is severely wounded but survives. Fourth and finally, the filial Woman Li, named Miaofa, who lived during the An Lushan rebellion, cuts off her breast to leave with her nursing son so that she can leave to mourn her father. When she finds that he had already been buried, she takes a knife and stabs at her heart when relatives refused to open his grave for a final viewing. When they relented, she “used her tongue to lick away the dust and her hair to wipe it clean. She even erected a small hut to the left of the grave, planting pine and cypress trees by her own hand, trees on which rare birds came to perch.” Then when her mother became ill, she often neglected to eat or drink in sympathy, and when her mother finally died, “she pricked herself in order to write a message in blood on her mother’s arm prior to burying her”34 (Davis, 2001, pp. 206–8). As popular Buddhism creeps into the Xin Tangshu, Wing-tsit Chan suggests that under the influence of the Huayan’s (華嚴 Flower Garland) Perfect Harmony (圓融) and Chan (禪) psychology, Neo-Confucianism developed the notion of li (理 Principle) as a “rational” metaphysical foundation of all truths and values (Chan, 1967, p. xvii), thus justifying as “reasonable” the subordination of women. ChengZhu teachings also incorporated the Yijing, not as a book of divination and occult practices as the Daoist and folk spiritualist but as “an intelligent explanation of the evolution of the universe” reinforcing further the supremacy of qian over kun (ibid.). These Neo-Confucian moves are not new. They have a precursor in Han dynasty’s Dong Zhongshu and his use of the yin-yang wuxing (五行 Five elements or phases) system as the foundation for the “natural” essence of the three bonds. The philosophers, set apart by over a thousand years, sought to create a grand and comprehensive theory that included “answers” to existential questions like the nature of the world we live in, who we are, why we are here, what values we should live by and how we should behave toward one another. What we get from Zhu Xi is a position on gender relations that elaborates Dong Zhongshu’s three bonds: Between man and woman, there is an order of superiority and inferiority, and between husband and wife, there is the principle of who leads and who follows. This is a constant principle. If people are influenced by feelings, give free rein to desires, and act because of pleasure, a man will be driven by desires and lose his character of strength (characteristic of yin and yang), and a woman will be accustomed to pleasure and forget her duty of obedience. Consequently, there will be misfortune and neither will be benefited. (Chan, 1967, p. 272) Zhu Xi also reinterprets traditional sources as he uses them. He condemns the love ballads in “Guofeng (國風 Lessons from the States)” in the Shijing (詩經 Book of Odes) as “obscene and licentious” (淫奔 淫亂 邪淫) and draws new contours to Neo-Confucian self-cultivation, further suggesting seepage of Buddhist antipathy to desires (Lo, 1993, p. 472). He says:



To eat and to drink are the heavenly principle, whereas to require delicious taste is of human desire .  .  . (469) However in these desires there is a distinction between the heavenly principle and human desires on which one should not err even to the smallest degree . . . (470) Desire such as those of the mouth, nose, ears, eyes, and the four limbs [allusion to Mencius, VII.B.24] are indispensable to a human being. If one has too many of them and does not restrain oneself, one will inevitably lose one’s original heart.35 (470) As Zhu Xi insists on the avoidance of excessive desires, he expects also a wife’s faithfulness. In his commentary on “Jun zi xie lao” (君子偕老 persons of character [husband and wife] grow old together), Ode no. 47 from the Mao Commentary, he strays from the original commentary, which criticizes Xuan Jian for extravagance in dress, and only indirectly for her remarriage. Instead Zhu Xi hones in on remarriage. He writes: Woman is born for the service of man with her person, so that the wife draws out her life with her husband and should die with him. Hence when her husband dies, she calls herself “the person not yet dead.” She henceforth is simply waiting for death and ought not to have any desire of becoming the wife of another. (Kinney, 2012, p. 85) Ouyang Xiu, Song Qi, and Zhu Xi all focus on the destructive nature of women based on the Tang experience. The range of qualities in notable women narrows into two main grades: the “chaste and virtuous,” which included women who did not remarry, and the “wicked and pernicious,” which included women who caused familial and dynastic ruin. The latter could be represented by three Lienü zhuan biographies including Mo Xi, Da Ji, and Bao Si; these could serve handily as a template for such undesirable women who personified the dreaded nühuo. Mo Xi is described as “dissolute,” “reckless, arrogant, and profligate,” lacking in “sympathy for laws or rules” and lacking in empathy for people; Da Ji, like Mo Xi, is also described as sadistic and cruel, and without empathy, as is Bao Si, who is described as lacking in empathy and good sense, and failing to encourage the king to better behavior. Other objectionable traits illustrated by these women include a venal, lascivious, and devious nature that leads to involvement in intrigue and deadly violence, and an overweening ambition that leads to betrayal and ultimately results in political upheaval and social chaos (Kinney, 2014, pp. 135–56). The Neo-Confucian fear of disasters caused by women—one is almost tempted to say a policy-setting fear of instability and chaos—echoes and reinforces Buddhist fears and Daoshi’s descriptions of women in “Sunü.”

VI.3.  Sectarian-Salvational Movements Even as Confucians institutionalized their fears about women through their political philosophy, ordinary women and men continued to pursue their soteriological goals in radically syncretic folk religious movements. Overmyer tells us that women in sectarian movements were not only active members but were occasional founders, teachers, and congregational leaders. Harking back to the ancient cult of Xiwangmu


and primordial categories of yin-yang, the prominence of women grew out of “a mythology based on a supreme goddess, the creator and mother of all, in which male and female children have equal religious status” (Overmyer, 1991, p. 108). It is difficult to say how and why, but women did bypass the rabidly anti-woman messages and fashion positive religious experiences from them, making sense of conflicting assumptions and demands from the three philosophies.36 The following excerpts from the translated edition of Woman Huang Recites the Diamond Sutra likely dates to the early twentieth century but the story itself can be traced back to the Song (Grant and Idema, 2011, p. 11). It deals with the conflict between the Confucian commandment of filial piety and the Buddhist teachings about woman’s impurity when Woman Huang meets Yama, the King of the Underworld. The Yama King of the Second Court spoke up and asked: “Listen to me, pious person Woman Huang, Maybe you didn’t eat the five spices or six creatures, But how did you ever manage to raise your children? I am afraid you have polluted both Heaven and Earth; You must have dirtied them with many bowls of blood. You have polluted the sun, the moon, and also the stars, And yet you dare say you have done good until now?” Instead of kowtowing to the spirit, Woman Huang talks back and explains that “the gravest unfilial behavior in the world” is not to “produce sons” for her husband’s lineage. She exclaims: If I had cut off the line of the Zhao family, I’d have Recited the Diamond Sutra in vain for all those years. If you say that I should not have borne any children, Then I shouldn’t have been married off to a husband! (Grant and Idema, 2011, p. 189) For Woman Huang, Confucian values of filial piety and patrilineality trump Buddhist notions of pollution. When we compare this to Wing’s interpretation of the Song dynasty Miaoshan story as protest against Confucian privileging of marriage over a life of detachment and commitment to spiritual release, we see a reversal where Buddhist values are placed over Confucian ones. “Marriage was thus an arena in which men could create mutually beneficial ties economically, politically, and socially” (Wing, 2011, p. 17). As Wing puts it, “By following a Buddhist path rather than simply obeying her father and getting married, Miaoshan ultimately saves not just her father physically, but spiritually. In so doing, she demonstrates the superiority of Buddhism” (Wing, 2011, pp. 22–23). Wing believes that the Miaoshan narrative contains “androcentric, coenobitic behaviors” simply transferred from the male community and “reveals what Song men and monks valued in women, especially Buddhist women; it does not (however) necessarily indicate what Buddhist women themselves either did or valued in Buddhist practice as has been suggested by other studies” (Wing, 2011, p. 21). It is clear that women suffered from patronizing values: they were damned if they were “filial” and damned if they were “unfilial”; they were damned if they chose



family and damned if they chose monasticism. Put positively, they had choices even if they were imperfect ones. Fictional accounts in popular religious literature show different rationales of how women might have lived out conflicting values, giving us a richer, more textured understanding not only of the elite philosophies but also of the various hierarchies of virtues or values that came from popular expression of encounters between the different philosophies.

VII.  CONCLUSION: UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES IN THE SYNCRETISM-SYNTHESIS OF PHILOSOPHIES Tendencies toward grand theories and ultimate concerns appear to be the culprits in the steady diminishing of women in the conceptualization of their nature and place in society within Chinese philosophical history. The borrowing and blending of ideas across traditions appear to have facilitated this decline. These unfortunate changes have been traced through four philosophical currents in this chapter: Dong Zhongshu’s correlative yin-yang Confucianism to the Song Neo-Confucian dread of foreign dominance and influence; Daoism’s misguided willingness to adopt dubious ideas in the interest of transcendence; Buddhism’s intended end for release from this world of suffering; and the radical popular amalgam of all three philosophies. All four have contributed to the reduction in the diversity of ideas about women. Beyond the syncreticizing of potentially conflicting ideas, Bret Hinsch also recognizes a synthesis of common ones that weaken diversity too. Both orthodox Confucianism and Buddhism agree that women should sacrifice themselves, though in different ways. Where Confucian rhetoric demands self-sacrifice, for example, in terms of widow faithfulness, in the interest of the family, Buddhism shares the same ideal of sacrifice in “avoiding remarriage (but) through monasticism, commissioning a sacred image on behalf of her parents, reciting a Buddhist text to bring her parents merit, and so on” (2002, p. 70). Buddhism was extremely successful in its strategies of acculturation and the stories of Miaoshan and Mulian support Hinsch’s analysis of their approaches into four categories: first, the use of Buddhist penance to overcome Confucian guilt; second, the encouragement to excel at Confucian practice before abandoning it for Buddhism; third, the effort to simultaneously practice both Confucian and Buddhist virtues; and fourth, the ideal to transform Confucian practice into Buddhist practice (2002, p. 56). As discussed, the spirit of syncretism-synthesis evident in Buddhism permeates the folk expression of Chinese philosophy. Even as the philosophies remain institutionally and doctrinally separate at the elite level, the earth god, an indigenous folk deity, is assigned to describe Woman Huang with Confucian virtues while describing her performing Buddhist devotion: Woman Huang has always been a good woman. From morning till night reciting the Diamond Sutra. She keeps the Three Obediences and Four Virtues. (Grant and Idema, 2011, p. 158)


She is quintessentially an illustration of the syncretic-synthesis phenomenon: Confucian and Buddhist at the same time, framed by indigenous beliefs in multiple deities. But she is also open to charges of pollution and still responsible for the lineage of her husband’s family; in other words, she is deemed responsible for the state of the environment and the certainty of descendants. Lisa Li-Hsiang Rosenlee writes that “Confucianism is seen as a dynamic working of different voices and indeterminate meanings in orthodox teachings that (offer) . . . conceptual tools to engage in internal critiques of the social abuse of women” (Rosenlee, 2011, p. 187). Given the multiple roots of the abuse, Daoism and Buddhism need to be employed as “conceptual tools” for the “dynamic working” of “the social abuse of women.” The fundamental transformative pluralism assumed in the Yijing confirms Rosenlee’s belief that the “complementarity and reciprocity of yin-yang” need not be restrictive; hierarchical social relations in Confucianism do and can rise above dominance and submission and recognize the importance of both nei-wai, making both familial and societal responsibilities equal in importance (ibid., p. 184). The syncretism and synthesis of the philosophies are often understood as an open-mindedness and receptivity to new ideas, and a rich tolerance and acceptance of differences. Zhang Carsun, Mou Zongsan, Tang Junyi, and Xu Fuguan’s 1958 “A Manifesto for the Re-appraisal of Sinology and the Reconstruction of Chinese Culture,” for example, celebrates Confucianism within the broad liberalism of the three teachings. Our investigation on the thinking about women, however, suggests a less laudatory perspective of the same syncretized and synthesized traditions. The gradual accretions of unfriendly views of women stand as a caution to what gets adopted into the different branches of Chinese philosophy, which will in turn come to define the greater shared tradition. What appears to be tolerance and acceptance of diversity on a broad level can have dire negative effects on the level of specificities. Great care and attention need to be given to how the nature and place of women are theorized and conceived in the renewal of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism.

NOTES 1. Nyitray identifies five elements of modern religious fundamentalism and finds them in Neo-Confucianism to varying degrees. They include: (1) “the perception of a tradition under threat” from the spiritual traditions of Buddhism and folk religiosities as expressed through bianwen and baozhuan, socioeconomic developments like dowry marriages and the commercialization of relationships as intimated by the budding market economy, and foreign invasion from the north; (2) “charismatic leaders who articulate the threat” like Zhu Xi; (3) “advocacy of active and often political responses to threat” that fed normatively Neo-Confucian policies post-Song; (4) as illustrated by the consolidation of teachings from the two Cheng brothers and Zhou Dunyi and the formation of Cheng-Zhu Confucianism, “a strong and urgent sense of solidarity and often political responses to threat”; and (5) “nostalgia for a glorified past coupled with the achievable prospect of an equally glorious future” through the correction of perceived degeneration caused by “wrong views” influenced



by a misunderstanding of the nature of self and society, perhaps best demonstrated by Ouyang Xiu and Song Qi’s notion of nühuo as expressed in their Xin Tangshu (Nyitray, 2007, p. 48). 2. The use of the Chinese term here seems more appropriate than the Sanskrit “Mahayana.” 3. Nyitray quotes Brown from John Hawley and Wayne Proudfoot in the Introduction (Hawley, 1994, p. 27). 4. An Lushan, the “adopted son” of the Brilliant Emperor Xuanzong and his notorious concubine Yang Gueifei, was a general of Iranian and Turkish descent during the Tang. 5. Ouyang, Xiu and Song Qi (eds.) (1060), Xin Tang Shu. See shibu/24shi/newtangsu/xts_005.htm. 6. Baojuan were likely first developed from lectures with Buddhist themes. They were written in alternating prose and short verse and performed for an audience. Miaoshan is one of the earliest “heroic religious women” in this genre. Glen Dudbridge and Dan Overmyer date the genre back to the 1100s during the Song (Overmyer, 1991, p. 110) whereas Grant and Idema trace it to the Yuan (Grant et al., 2011, p. 8). 7. This baojuan was likely influenced by an earlier bianwen (變文 transformation text) version. Bianwen were popular chantefables, prosimetric texts developed and performed during the Tang dynasty; they often recounted episodes from the Buddha’s life and incorporated religious ideals from all of the three main traditions: Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. 8. I use “mono-istic” instead of “monolithic” to echo the more successful attempts at universalization in the West Asian Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions. 9. The assumption of universal misogyny in the early studies on Chinese women may have been affected by the Judeo-Christian and Greek traditions that are based on the biblical ancestress Eve and Aristotle’s “defective” woman, who is a deformed man. 10. Everett Kleinjans writes: “One can understand why the eleventh hexagram (T’ai) represents the ideal relationship between husband and wife” (Kleinjans, 1990, p. 112). More important than the spousal relationship for Confucians would be the complement of emperor and minister; the latter, as the junior kun partner, would have precedence over the former, counseling benevolent policies and ensuring sound moral actions. 11. Suzanne Cahill reminds us that the original meaning of yin referred to “the shady bank of the river or side of the hill”; but the term became a metaphor for “the dark, wet, passive, responsive female force,” whereas yang came to represent the “bright, hot, active, creative male force” (Cahill, 2006, p. 8). 12. Overmyer does not specify class in his article but the qualifier seems appropriate as most of the available sources describe upper-class women. 13. Ban Zhao can be read as oppressive because of her acceptance of the stereotypical yin-yang, weak-strong complements and her support of the principles of sancong side (三從四德 the three followings/obedience and the four virtues). See Lee Lin-lee for an extra-Western feminist and positive reading of Ban.


14. See Zhongyong, section 27. 15. The eight steps outlined in the Daxue begin with the investigation of things, go on to the extension of knowledge, the sincerity of will, the rectification of the heart-mind, the cultivation of self, regulation of the family, good governance for the state, and finally end with peace in the world. 16. There were undoubtedly men, most likely elite men, who were consumed by their need for honor and concern that women shame neither their natal nor marital families. However, the segregation of the sexes must also have included both the intention to protect and offer safety to women in a world of men and the very real political havoc created by a character such as Mo Xi. 17. This study will not deal with the different schools during the period and will treat Dong Zhongshu’s New Text School as representative of mainstream Confucianism. 18. The prominence of Xiwangmu as a symbol of the feminine in religious belief and practice, and her loss of stature and relative lack of visibility after the Tang, may be the result of Guanyin’s meteoric ascendance. The rise of the “other” most prominent Chinese feminine deity, Buddhism’s pusa (菩薩 enlightened being or bodhisattva) of compassion, may be the result of Buddhist skillful means, that is, the strategic displacement of the Daoist goddess by the promotion of Guanyin as female, based on the Lianhua jing (蓮華經 The Lotus Sutra). Intriguing as this hypothesis is, it will have to be investigated in a separate paper. 19. The Confucians had Liu Xiang’s Lienü zhuan and the Buddhists had Baochang’s Lives of Nuns compiled no earlier than AD 516. 20. The reasons for the mix of the historical and the fantastic in the biographies of goddesses and women deserve more attention but cannot be dealt with here. 21. To be fair, Buddhism teaches that everyone—women and men alike—is tainted by greed, hatred, and ignorance; so women are not alone in their depravity even if they have particular challenges. 22. Wu or enlightenment is often used instead of nirvana or extinction of the three poisons: greed, hatred, and ignorance. This idea is not entirely new and can be seen in Zhuangzi’s zuowang (坐忘 sitting and forgetting). 23. The provenance of this sutra is unclear. Ueki recounts the tradition where the translation of the Sishierzhang jing is attributed to two foreign monks but others say that it is very likely a completely Chinese work. 24. By applied philosophy I mean the resolution and arrangement of expressed ideals in ordinary, everyday life: at home, in the marketplace, and at work. 25. Zhengyi or Correct and Unified is another name for the Celestial Masters. Zhengyi is also translated as Orthodox Unity. 26. The first section is a shortened version of the Yinyuan jing (因緣經 The Sutra of Cause and Condition). 27. The compilation was completed in 668. I use it here as a convenient way to show “typical” Buddhist narratives as the structure of an encyclopedia is meant to be an easy reference for interested parties.



28. Fangbian (方便 skillful means) is a key idea in Chinese Mahayanist Buddhism; it counsels preachers to speak at the level of the audience. 29. Although the edition translated by Grant et al. dates to 1876, I use it here to show the flavor of these stories of South Asian provenance. 30. See chapter on “The Imperial Women: Women at Court,” in Religious Ideals, Beliefs and Practices in the Lives of Women during the Reign of T’ang Ming Huang for a description of the activities at court, including first Wu Zetian (武則天), followed by Anlo kongzhu (安樂公主 Princess of Peace and Happiness), Wei Hou (韋后 Empress Hou), and Shangguan Chaorong (上官眧容). 31. Vincent Goossaert gives two lists, Sun Buer is on the first, but has been removed from the second. I have no additional information on this at the time of publication. http:// 32. I do not mean to suggest that Confucians and Daoists do not talk about lustful men. The dynastic histories are full of records of oversexed and debauched emperors, and Buddhist records also include nuns who were targets for lascivious officials but remained unharmed because of supernatural protection. In the section on “Sunan” (俗男 Ordinary men), in the Fayuan zhulin, men are described as stupid and violent. The difference is that Wang Chongyang himself identified the problem in the men he expected would harass Sun Buer, who wanted to simply practice purity. There are interesting points of contrast and comparisons here, but they will not be the focus of this chapter. 33. “Notable women” is Davis’s translation. 34. Davis notes that while men were likewise described as caring for ailing parents and foregoing progeny, social status, and wealth, in some cases to the extent of using “their own mouths to clean the ulcerous sores of parents or their bare hands to dig graves . . . acts of self-mutilation and destruction of the sort described . . . for women is noticeably missing” (Davis, 2001, p. 210). 35. In his discussion about desires, Zhu Xi refers to Mengzi’s “heart-mind” but not to Xunzi’s discussions of li and apportioning items of desire so that chaos will not ensue. 36. It may also be argued that women did not escape the misogyny and patriarchy, that their appeal to goddesses may be seen in a Marxist light, that is, as a cry of the oppressed for help in a heartless world.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Birge, Bettine (2002), Women, Property, and Confucian Reaction in Sung and Yüan China (960–1368). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Brown, Karen McCarthy (1994), “Fundamentalism and the Control of Women,” in John Stratton Hawley (ed.), Fundamentalism and Gender. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 175–201. Cahill, Suzanne (trans.) (2006), Divine Traces of the Daoist Sisterhood: “Records of the Assembled Transcendents of the Fortified Walled City.” Magdalena, NM: Three Pines Press.


Chan, Wing-tsit (ed.) (1986), Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Chan, Wing-tsit (trans.) Chu Hsi and Lü Tsu-ch’ien (comp.) (1967), Reflections on things at hand: the neo-Confucian anthology (Jinsilu). New York: Columbia University Press. Chang, Carsun (Zhang Junmai) Tang Chun-I (Tang Junyi), Mou Tsung-san (Mou Zongsan), and Hsu Fo-kuan (Xu Fuguan (1957), “A Manifesto for a Re-Appraisal of Sinology and Reconstruction of Chinese Culture,” in The Development of NeoConfucian Thought, vol. 2, pp. 455–83. New York: Bookman Associates. Chiu, Andersen (1995), “Changing Virtues? The Lienü of the Old and the New History of the Tang,” East Asia Forum, 4: 28–62. Cua, Antonio (2005), Human Nature, Ritual, and History: Studies in Xunzi and Chinese Philosophy. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press. Cua, Antonio (1998), Moral Vision and Tradition: Essays in Chinese Ethics. Washington, DC : Catholic University of America Press. Daoshi (道世) (comp.) (668), “俗女部’ ‘俗男部” (Ordinary women and ordinary men) of 法苑珠林 (Garden of laws in the forest of gems) in 大正新修大藏經 (Taisho Tripitika), Vol. T53, No. 2122. Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association, V1.60, Normalized Version. Davis, Richard (2001), “Chaste and Filial Women in Chinese Historical Writings of the Eleventh Century,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 121 (2): 204–18. Despeux, C. and L. Kohn (2003), Women in Daoism. Cambridge, MA: Three Pine Press. Ebrey, Patricia Buckley (1993), The Inner Quarters. Marriage and the Lives of Chinese Women in the Sung Period. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press. Furth, Charlotte (1999), A Flourishing Yin. Gender in China’s Medical History, 960– 1665. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Goossaert, Vincent (2008), “Quanzhen,” in Fabrizio Pregadio (ed.), The Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism, 2: 814–20. See Grant, Beata (2008), “Women, Gender and Religion in Pre-Modern China: A Brief Introduction,” Nan nü, 10: 2–21. Grant, Beata and Wilt Idema (trans.) (2011), Escape from Blood Pond Hell. The Tales of Mulian and Woman Huang. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press. Gross, Rita M. (1993), Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism. Albany: State University of New York Press. Hawley, John S. and Wayne Proudfoot (1994), “Introduction,” in John Stratton Hawley (ed.), Fundamentalism and Gender. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 3–44. Hinsch, Bret (2011), “Male Honor and Female Chastity in Early China,” Nan Nü, 13 (2): 169–204. Hinsch, Bret (2002), “Confucian Filial Piety and the Construction of the Ideal Chinese Buddhist Woman,” Journal of Chinese Religion, 30: 49–75. Kieschnick, John (1992), “Analects 12.1 and the Commentarial Tradition,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 112 (4): 567–76.



Kinney, Anne Benke (2012), “The Mao Commentary to the Book of Odes as a Source for Women’s History,” in Clara Wing-chung Ho (ed.), Overt and Covert Treasures: Essays on the Sources for Chinese Women’s History. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, pp. 61–112. Kinney, Anne Behnke (trans. and ed.) (2014), Exemplary Women of Early China: The Lienü Zhuan of Liu Xiang. New York: Columbia University Press. Kirkland, R. (1991), “Huang Ling-wei: A Taoist Priestess in T’ang China,” Journal of Chinese Religions, 19: 47–73. Kleinjans, Everett (1990), “The Tao of Women and Men: Chinese Philosophy and the Women’s Movement,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 17: 99–127. Kohn, L. (2004). The Daoist Monastic Manual: A Translation of the Fengdao kejie. New York: Oxford University Press. Lau, D. C. (1963), Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching. London: Penguin. Laughlin, K. L. and E. Wong (1999), “Feminism and/in Taoism,” in Arvind Sharma (ed.), Feminism and World Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 148–78. Lee, Jen-der (2003), “Gender and Medicine in Tang China,” in Asia Major, 3rd series, 16 (2): 1–32. Lee, Lin-Lee. (2009), “Inventing Familial Agency from Powerlessness: Ban Zhao’s Lessons for Women,” in Western Journal of Communication, 73 (1): 47–68. Lo, Ping-cheung (1993), “Zhu Xi and Confucian Sexual Ethics,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 20 (4): 465–77. Lo, Yuet Keung (2008), “Conversion to Chastity: A Buddhist Catalyst in Early Imperial China,” Nan nü, 10, (1): 22–56. Lynn, Richard John (trans.) (1994), The Classic of Changes: A New Translation of the I Ching as Interpreted by Wang Bi. New York: Columbia University Press. Murray, Julia K. (1988), “The Ladies Classic of Filial Piety and Sung Textual Illustrations: Problems of Reconstruction and Artistic Context,” Ars Orientalis, 18: 95–129. Nyitray, Vivian-Lee (2007), “Fundamentalism and the Position of Women in Confucianism,” in Arvind Sharma and Katherine K. Young (eds.), Fundamentalism and Women in World Religions. New York, London: T & T Clark, pp. 47–76. Ouyang, Xiu and Qi Song (eds.) (1060), Xin Tang Shu. Overmyer, Daniel L. (1991), “Women in Chinese Religions: Submission, Struggle, Transcendence,” in Koichi Shinohara and Gregory Schopen (eds.), From Benares to Beijing: Essays on Buddhism and Chinese Religion. Oakville, New York, London: Mosaic Press, pp. 91–120. Pang-White, Ann A. (2013), “Zhu Xi on Family and Women: Challenges and Potentials,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 40 (3–4): 436–55. Reed, B. E. (1987), “Taoism,” in Women in World Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 161–81. Rosenlee, Lisa Li-Hsiang (2011), “A Feminist Appropriation of Confucianism,” in Wonsuk Chang and Leah Kalmanson (eds.), Confucianism in Context: Classic Philosophy and Contemporary Issues, East Asia and Beyond. Albany: SUNY Press, pp. 175–90. Slingerland, Edward (2003), Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett.


Sommer, Deborah (ed.) (1995), Chinese Religion: An Anthology of Sources. New York: Oxford University Press. Tsai, K. A. (1994), Lives of the Nuns: Biographies of Chinese Buddhist Nuns From the Fourth to Sixth Centuries: A Translation of the Pi-chʻiu-ni chuan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Wang, Robin (2003), Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture. Indianapolis/ Cambridge: Hackett. Watson, Burton (1963), Hsün Tzu: Basic Writings. New York: Columbia University Press. Watson, Burton (1968), The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press. Wawrytko, Sandra (2009), “Buddhism: Philosophy beyond Gender,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 36, (2): 293–312. Wing, Sherin (2011), “Gendering Buddhism: The Miaoshan Legend Reconsidered,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 27 (1): 5–31. Woo, Tak-Ling Terry (2000), Religious Ideals, Beliefs and Practices in the Lives of Women During the Reign of T’ang Ming Huang. (Dissertation). Toronto: University of Toronto. Yi, Jo-lan (2012), “Social Status, Gender Division and Institutions: Sources Relating to Women in Chinese Standard Histories,” in Clara Wing-chung Ho (ed.), Overt and Covert Treasures: Essays on the Sources for Chinese Women’s History. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, pp. 131–56.

Chapter Three

Neo-Confucians and Zhu Xi on Family and Women: Challenges and Potentials ann a. pang-white

I.  Unearthing new evidence The Song 宋 Dynasty (960–1279) was a complex historical era. Despite its remarkable achievements in literature, art, law, and economics, scholars generally hold that women’s lot took a turn for the worse during the Song era in comparison with earlier historical times such as the Tang 唐 Dynasty (618–907) and the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (Wudai Shiguo 五代十國, 907–960/979).1 Cheng Yi’s 程頤 (1033–1107) condemnation of widow remarrying depicted in the statement that “to starve to death is a very small matter. To lose one’s integrity, however, is a very serious matter,” recorded in Zhu Xi’s 朱熹 (1130–1200) Jinsi Lu 《近思錄》 (Reflections on Things at Hand) typifies the Song Neo-Confucians’ attitude toward women.2 The most authoritarian and patriarchal interpretation of the Han 漢 idea of “three bonds” (sangang 三綱),3 “three obediences” (sancong 三從)4 and “four womanly virtues” (side 四德),5 acquired wider acceptance in the Song era by virtue of the new rhetoric. Quite surprisingly, however, recent scholarship has unearthed some new evidence about the Song era, especially in the fields of history and social studies. For example, Patricia Buckley Ebrey observes that the Song Dynasty was a paradoxical era for Chinese women. On the one hand, foot-binding and strong condemnation of widow remarriage did become more widespread. Aristocratic women were indeed admonished in much stronger terms to confine themselves to the inner quarters. And yet, on the other hand, women in Song times also possessed unprecedented property rights. For instance, married women had considerable control over their dowry after marriage. Female descendants had the legal right and protection to inherit properties from deceased parents, usually one-half to one-quarter of the male heir’s share, or possibly 100 percent of the property if there was no male heir. In no other premodern historical times did women possess such strong property rights that were protected by law.6


On matters of education, Bettine Birge notes that Song women were often much more educated than women in other historical times. Some women were highly learned and exemplary in their literary talents.7 She attributes the phenomenon to the invention of printing. Benefiting from high levels of education, Song women (both the elite and the commoners) were often responsible for multiple tasks. In addition to the traditional womanly work of raising and educating their children, their work also included making land transactions, hiring workers, handling the economics of the household, offering advice and assistance to local villagers, and so on. Their work went well beyond the confines of the inner quarters of the household. In short, historical facts demonstrate that the inner-outer (nei-wai 内外) distinction was much more fluid than many contemporary thinkers have imagined.8 In addition, one should also take account of the noted differences found in normative versus descriptive texts in Song scholars’ writings. Compromises between the ideal and real-life situations were often seen in less normative texts. Concerning Cheng Yi’s controversial stand on the remarriage of widows (a text quoted earlier), Julia Ching reminds readers that it would be a mistake to think that all Song scholars subscribed to a uniform position on this issue. For instance, famous Song scholars and reformers Fan Zhongyan 范仲淹 (989–1052) and Wang Anshi 王安石 (1021–1086) held somewhat more liberal positions in comparison to Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi. Fan’s mother became a widow “when [Fan] was only two years old and remarried to provide support for [him].” Similarly, Fan approved of his granddaughter’s remarriage after she lost her husband quite early in life.9 After Wang’s son became mentally unstable, Wang An-shih helped arrange the divorce of his daughter-in-law and made sure that she remarried well.10 Even Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi (the most conservative of Song scholars) demonstrated a certain level of flexibility in applying their ideas to real-life situations. For example, contrary to his inscription that a widow should not remarry, Cheng Yi praised his father for arranging the remarriage of a widowed grandniece.11 Zhu Xi also was less rigid in the treatment of real women that he encountered during his life. A case at hand is that contrary to his student’s more strict opinion, Zhu supported the ruling of a local magistrate in permitting a woman to follow her parents’ wishes to return to her natal home on the ground that “her husband was too poor to support her.” “[T]he husband is not capable . . . What can one do? In a case like this, one should not be bound by great moral principles.”12 Furthermore, it is worth noting that Song NeoConfucian scholars’ admonition against the remarriage of widows equally applied to widowers.13 Ebrey once asserted that laying blame on Neo-Confucianism provides a convenient way for contemporary thinkers to criticize Chinese patriarchal practices without directly criticizing Chinese civilization as a whole.14 While Ebrey’s statement may be overly contentious, her research along with the recent works by Bettine Birge, Julia Ching, and many others suggest that reimagining Song Neo-Confucian view on women and family is not only theoretically informed but also empirically grounded. To limit the scope of this chapter, I will focus primarily on the views of Zhu Xi. Zhu is most well known for his classification and commentary on the



Sishu《四書》 (Four Confucian Classics), which became standard texts for civil service examinations in China from 1313 to 1905. Zhu Xi’s influence also reached Japan and Korea. In what follows, I will first investigate the links between Song social practices of Zhu’s time and his views on women’s education, marriage, property rights, and household management in order to gain a more complete understanding of Zhu’s view on women. Secondly, I will explore and appropriate the feminist potential of Zhu’s metaphysics on li 理 and qi 氣, yin 陰 and yang 陽, as a potential counterweight to his more conservative views on gender relations.

II.  ZHU XI ON FAMILY AND WOMEN II.1.  Framing the Question Canonical Confucian texts such as the Daxue《大學》 (the Great Learning), Lunyu《論語》 (the Analects), and Mengzi《孟子》 (the Book of Mencius) have demonstrated the continuity of the familial, the social, and the political realms—an essential Confucian belief. The relation of the three realms is best conceived as three concentric circles beginning with self-cultivation and radiating outward in gradation toward the larger world. The five relationships (wulun 五倫) from the Mengzi well articulates the Confucian understanding of the inner working of society and right relations between the self and others: “love between father and son, righteousness between ruler and subject, distinction between husband and wife, proper order between the older and the younger, and good faith between friends.”15 It therefore implies that while the self cannot be reduced to mere relations, the Confucian self and moral cultivation are always embedded in them. Thus, we read for example in the Lunyu, “Virtue is not solitary. It is bound to have neighbors”; “by one single thread [loyalty and reciprocity] is my way bound together”; and to be humane is “to love others.”16 This view of the self is in direct contrast to the Hobbesian anti-social egoistic self and the Cartesian disembodied thinking self. Wulun further suggests a view of the self informed by a person’s social and political roles and his/ her corresponding responsibilities as son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister, friend to friend, and minister or ruler. On the basis of Confucian classical texts before the early Han, the reciprocal familial relations and their corresponding virtues were regarded as the normative model for the outer public realm. The public and political realm was to be patterned after the family model. In other words, the family dynamic took precedence over the public and the political not only in the order of nature but also in its normative value. An unfortunate reversal of this relation of reciprocity occurred in the Baihutong 《白虎通》 (Discussions in the White Tiger Hall) and Dong Zhongshu’s Chunqiu Fanlu 《春秋繁露》 (Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn). These documents introduce the moral imperatives of “three bonds” and “three obediences” in order to legitimize the authority of the new Han dynasty after the collapse of the Qin 秦 dynasty. A parallel development of honoring yang and denigrating yin can also be seen in the Han’s attempt to distance itself from the former Qin dynasty, which aligned itself with the cosmic yin. Many scholars have noted that the hierarchical


alignment of yang with male and yin with female only began in the early Han, but not in any of the earlier ancient texts or classical Confucian texts. For example, in the Shijing 《詩經》 (the Classic of Poetry), the Zuo Zhuan 《左傳》 (Zuo Annals), the Guoyu 《國語》 (Discourse of States), the Laozi 《老子》, the Zhuangzi 《莊子》, the Mozi 《墨子》, and the Xunzi 《荀子》, the yin-yang binary was presented as a nonoppositional pair and as part of the cosmic qi that brings forth all things.17 Yin and yang are different but equal. However, during times of political instability, in order to strengthen the power of political authority, the domination of political symbolism over the familial (with its top-down autocratic-patriarchal logic rather than a reciprocal-dyadic relation) often became the norm. Political loyalty to the state and to the political ruler became dominant.18 The early Han 漢, and later the Song 宋, the Ming 明, and the Qing 清 dynasties among others, all suffered from this unfortunate reversal of paradigm. Because family plays such an important role in a Confucian society as the first social and learning environment that an individual is situated in, enculturation of obedience to authority (children to parents, wife to husband, and minister to ruler) must begin in the household. The political purpose of the three bonds, three obediences and four womanly virtues, the affirmation of female inferiority and the admonition against widow remarriage are therefore evident when mapped against this husband-ruler and wife-minister political analogy in the “State Feudal Confucianism.”19 How do we free Confucian ethics from this distortion that began in the Han dynasty and continues to exercise its influence today? Some scholars such as Weiming Tu have argued that depoliticizing Confucian philosophy must be the first step.20 In addition, since the Han Confucian ethics is distorted because of its distorted cosmology, Chung-ying Cheng points out that a return to an ethics based on early Confucian commentaries on the Yijing 《易經》 (the Book of Change) is a key.21 Here is where history and social studies are critical in providing empirical evidence to explain why social or political reality may be at odds with the original philosophical ideal. Within the context of the Southern Song dynasty 南宋 (1127– 1279), a time of extreme political instability, we will now turn to Zhu Xi’s view on the role of women, their education, and property rights as embedded in such a cultural context.

II.2.  Women’s Role, Identity, and Responsibility It should not come as a surprise that in Confucian ethics and social philosophy the gender identity of a woman begins at birth as a female. This first stage of natural identity ties her to the social roles that she is expected to perform throughout her life in relation to the other sex and gender. Before Zhu Xi, Liu Xiang’s Lienu Zhuan 《列女傳》 (Biographies of Virtuous Women, 79–8 BC), Bao Zhao’s Nujie 《女誡》 (Lessons for Women, ca. 45–114), the Song sisters’ Nu Lunyu 《女論語》 (The Analects for Women, ca. 780–805), and Lady Zheng’s Nu Xiaojing 《女孝經》 (The Book of Filial Piety for Women, ca. 730 or later) were already widely circulated. Zhu Xi cited texts from the first two (composed during the Han period) in his work, and he probably was familiar with the latter two as well (composed during the Tang



period). Because Zhu Xi did not write a treatise specifically addressing the subject of women, we can only get a glimpse of his view on women from his occasional discussion of them in the Zhuzi Yulei (Chu Tzu yü-lei) 《朱子語類》(Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi [Chu Hsi]), the Zhuwenkung Wenji 《朱文公文集》 (Collected Works of Zhu Xi), the Jinsi Lu 《近思錄》 (Reflections on Things at Hand), the Xu Jinsi Lu 《續近思錄》 (Further Reflections on Things at Hand), the Jiali 《家禮》 (Family Rituals), the Xiao Xue 《小學》 (Elementary Learning), and from the eulogies and burial inscriptions that he wrote for deceased women. In these texts, a woman’s role and identity was essentially defined and tied to family relations, either through her natal family, if not yet married, or her husband’s family, if married. Within the family structure, the parent-child relation is fundamental and therefore precedes all other relations. Thus parental care and love for children during their early stages of life and filial piety and care by adult children toward their parents in the later stages of their life were the most important reciprocal virtues in the Confucian social context and framework. Respecting and caring for one’s natal parents, getting married in adulthood, serving one’s husband and in-laws, raising children, and running the household harmoniously were all parts of one’s filial obligations, which began with the natal family and were transferred to one’s matrimonial family once married.

II.3.  Women’s Education Household management for a woman included homeschooling the children, running the household frugally, performing family sacrificial rituals, providing advice to her husband on matters that troubled him, hiring workers, and keeping harmony with in-laws and relatives. To fulfill these tasks, Zhu Xi and other Song scholars always believed in the importance of women’s education. Illiteracy was never recommended by Zhu Xi as a virtue for women as evidenced in the Zhuzi Yulei 《朱 子語類》(Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi [Chu Hsi]), where elementary learning for children was discussed. A student asked: Girls should also be educated. In addition to teaching them the Classic of Filial Piety, how about also teaching them selections from the Analects that are clear and easy to understand? Zhu Xi replied: That will do. Ban Zhao’s Lessons for Women and Sima Guang’s Family Precepts are good too.22 A wife was expected to be a wise and effective helpmate to her husband. Thus, in a chapter of Jinsi Lu 《近思錄》 (Reflections on Things at Hand), titled “The Way to Regulate the Family,” Zhu Xi cited a passage from Cheng-Yi regarding the importance of selecting a daughter-in-law: being wise, resourceful, and resilient were among the many desirable traits in addition to being obedient.23 In addition, as mentioned earlier, a number of books written for women or by women were already widely circulated during the Song era and Zhu Xi quoted texts from these works (e.g., the Lienu Zhuan).24 All these texts supported wisdom and intelligence as


important virtues for women. Another example is the Nu Xiaojing where Lady Ban Zhao converses with her female students: The women said, “we now understand your teachings concerning modest purity, filial principles, . . . May we ask if a wife who obeys her husband’s orders can be called worthy?” Lady Ban replied, “What kind of talk is this? . . . In ancient times when King Xuan of Zhou .  .  . was late for court, Queen Jiang [accused herself of leading him astray and] took off her hairpin and earrings to wait for her punishment at the end of the alley. This brought King Xuan to his senses . . . Viewed in this way, if the Son of Heaven had ministers to point out his errors to him, he would not lose his empire, . . . And if a husband had a wife to point out his errors to him, then he would not slip into incorrect ways . . . How can following a husband’s orders be considered wise?”25 Thus, even within the bounds of obedience, a wife’s moral duty would require admonishing her husband. Silence and obedience in this kind of situation not only violate one’s moral integrity and wifely duty but also violate filial piety by bringing shame to the family name. In the Zhuzi Yulei, Zhu Xi praised the literary talent of the well-known Song poetess Li Qingzhao.26 He upheld women’s equal capacity to achieve the paramount Confucian virtue ren, although their expression differs from that of men.27 Zhu’s funerary inscription writings also reveal his admiration for highly learned women. They were said to have read the Yijing (the Book of Changes), the Lunyu (the Analects), the Daxue (the Great Learning), the Zhongyong 《中庸》 (the Doctrine of the Mean), the Mengzi (the Book of Mencius), the Nujie (Lessons for Women), the Xiaojing 《孝經》 (the Classic of Filial Piety), the Lienuzhuan (Biographies of Virtuous Women), and Buddhist texts.28 In addition to Zhu Xi’s admiration for both his own mother and his teacher Cheng-Yi’s mother, another worthy example is Madame Yu. Yu was especially praised by Zhu for her womanly virtue and her literacy. Her moral cultivation, intelligence, and literary efficacy were great assets to her children, household, and local community. In a funerary inscription, paying tribute to Madame Yu, Zhu wrote: In daily living and management of affairs, she paid attention to the finest details. When she spoke with people she always adhered to filial piety, brotherly respect, loyalty and trustworthiness. Her words were simple, but the principle had nothing lacking. Relatives in both her and her husband’s family praised her actions highly and were persuaded by her words. If anyone had misgivings, they would always go to her and consult about the matter. When there was a problem that was difficult to resolve, and all the mouths were clamoring without stopping, if someone reported, “Mme. Yu’s words are like this,” the matter would always be settled harmoniously.29 In medieval China, social custom would not allow schools or academies to take in girls or young women as students. Girls and young women were homeschooled and were expected to become teachers of their children and younger-age relatives (including both boys and girls) until they reached age ten.30 After age ten, boys



would go to school outside of home, and girls would continue to be homeschooled. Birge writes that Zhu Xi “was aware of the formative influence mothers have on their children, and thus it was crucial that a mother has the virtue of being able to properly teach her children.”31 The Zhuwenkung Wenji (Collected Works of Zhu Xi) recorded Zhu Xi’s plan of editing a book for women’s education because he felt that Bao Zhao’s Lessons for Women was somewhat inadequate. The section titles included discussion and learning (or teaching), filiality, generosity, frugality, correctness, among others.32 Thus, the subjects of woman’s education included not just traditional women’s skills but also subjects such as family rituals, morality, and basic arithmetic.33 Women would be incapable of managing home economics or complex land transactions if they did not have basic arithmetic skills or some degree of literacy.

II.4.  Women’s Property Rights and the Problem of Dowry Contemporary feminist scholarship especially emphasizes women’s property rights as an important marker for women’s autonomy. Ebrey and Birge have done considerable research on women’s property rights in the Song Dynasty. Both agreed that women enjoyed unprecedented legal protection of their property rights over their dowry and inheritance. But why did Song women have such powerful property rights? Ebrey and Birge argue that this resulted from the confluence of several historical factors in the Song period: (1) rapidly changing times and unstable political and economic conditions,34 (2) the spread of literacy and the printing of law books,35 (3) flexible reinterpretation and application of the law at the local level,36 (4) the development and the strengthening of family kinship and descendant line,37 (5) Confucian conception of care for the vulnerable,38 (6) the development and heightened requirement of dowry in marriage, and39 (7) government law against large land ownership.40 According to historical evidence, the Song period enjoyed greater economic prosperity compared to earlier dynasties as a result of increasing commercialization, even though it also suffered from constant threats of war along its northern borders. While the accumulation of private property of individual households increased, the Song government, inspired by the Confucian ideal of communal care, also updated its legal system so as to ensure fair taxes and prohibit land monopoly and economic exploitation. For wealthier households, it became an economic imperative that family property must be divided up among its heirs (including female heirs) so as to avoid heavy taxes or government confiscation. Furthermore, the spread of literacy and the mass printing of law books contributed to common people’s knowledge of the legal codes and their use of the court for legal solutions to disputes. The Song jurisdictional system was a tiered system that had a strong reliance on local courts. Local judges were authorized to make legal decisions


on local matters including property disputes. These local courts tended to be less rigid and more flexible in their interpretation and application of the state law.41 Family surname and descendant line generally favored male heirs. But by a twist of fortune, it helped to promote women’s property rights. Particularly when male heirs were not available, the heightened sense of descendant line and the idea of kinship demanded that family property be inherited by female heirs. Both the law and the courts protected this property right for women.42 Even though the idea of dowry began as early as the Han dynasty, the size of the dowry and the importance attached to it were heightened so much in the Song dynasty that a woman without a dowry was perceived as one without status and often suffered discrimination from her in-laws. Customarily, natal parents with sufficient material means would necessarily put aside a share of their material property and other goods as dowry for their daughters, separate from the property that was to be inherited by their sons. The dowry remained with the wife, and the law did not require its merger with husband’s family property. The Song law informed by the Confucian concept of familial care also protected the material well-being and livelihood of orphaned children, widows, and divorced women by granting them property rights that entitled them to a share of family property.43 Song Neo-Confucians typically opposed the practice of dowry. They also criticized married women’s property right to their dowry as their private property. There are many reasons why they held such a view. They argued, for example, that the expectation of a luxurious dowry tended to commercialize marriage and therefore denigrated women as a means to wealth. At times this unbearable economic expectation led to female infanticide when natal parents could not afford a sizable dowry. Dowry also created quarrels and a power hierarchy between sisters-in-law, generated favoritism among in-law’s attitudes toward their daughters-in-law, and encouraged egotism and haughtiness in wealthy daughters-in-law. All undermined family harmony, unity, and virtue. Sima Guang (Ssu-ma Kuang) lamented: Nowadays, it is the custom for covetous and vulgar people first to ask about the value of the dowry when selecting a bride and the amount of the betrothal gift when marrying a daughter. Some even draw up a contract saying “such goods, in such numbers .  .  . ” thereby treating their daughters as an item in a sales transaction .  .  . How can such a transaction be called a marriage among gentlemen-officials?44 So too, Zhu Xi saw marriage as a ritual union between a man and a woman, a protection of both sexes and the family institution, rather than simply as an exchange of goods and services. His stand on the ritual meaning of marriage and his encouragement of dowry donation must be understood in this context. Zhu Xi did not oppose property rights as such. Rather, what he opposed was its potential to undermine family unity and its temptation to selfishness and other vices.45

II.5.  Women, Marriage, and Household On the Confucian view, without marriage a woman’s identity was not fully gendered and therefore was perceived as being incomplete. Women once married



(especially those with children), their gendered identity evolved from “woman as daughter” to “woman as wife” and “woman as mother.” As matrons and managers of the household, these women were not necessarily stripped of their agency but were often vested with economic, intellectual, and moral power. In their various responsibilities, they functioned as the mediators between the inner and the outer realms, even though less so in comparison to their male counterpart. As demonstrated above, Zhu Xi’s more descriptive writings about real women in life (as recorded in the Yulei and in funerary inscriptions and eulogies), when compared to his didactic normative writings about ideal womanhood, reflected his sensibility. It is therefore not unreasonable for one to conclude that contrary to the sharp divide of the private and the public, which confined women to powerless dark corners of the inner chambers, the Confucian inner-outer (nei-wei) distinction was a relational negotiable boundary between the two genders, even for conservative Song Neo-Confucian thinkers such as Zhu Xi. This is not to suggest that the apparent tension between Zhu Xi’s descriptive texts (which were more sympathetic to women’s social contribution) and his didactic normative texts (which mostly stressed gender hierarchy) can be simply wiped out. But it does suggest that Zhu Xi’s view is not as categorically against women as it first seems. It is necessary then as the next step to explore and to appropriate the feminist potential of Zhu Xi’s normative texts in regard to li, qi, yin, and yang. Could there be something in his work worth salvaging that can contribute to contemporary feminist discourse? This is where we shall turn to next.

III.  THE LI-QI, YIN-YANG, DYADIC RELATION: TWO INCONSISTENT IMPLICATIONS Like Zhou Dunyi 周敦頤, Zhang Zai 張載, and Cheng Yi before him, Zhu Xi understands the universe to be a dynamic cyclical process of self-creation. To explain this self-generative process of the Way (Dao道), Zhu Xi postulates two hypostases: li 理 (order, principle, or pattern) and qi 氣 (psycho-physical energy/force). Qi branches out to the yin (rest, tranquility, female, gentleness, yielding, cold, darkness, night, death, etc.) and the yang (movement, activity, male, assertiveness, expanding, warm, light, day, life, etc.). Through the integration of the yin and the yang forces, the world was formed. The circle of life and the rotation of the four seasons also began.46 However, this circulating of qi is not without order. Thus, in Zhu Xi’s view, this order immanent in change clearly demonstrates the presence of li in qi: There is no other event in the universe except yin and yang succeeding each other in an unceasing cycle. This is called Change. However, for [this] activity and tranqui[l]ity [to occur], there must be the principles [li] that make them possible.47 So too, in his reply to a student’s question: “What are the evidences that principle [li] is in [psycho-physical] force [qi]?” Zhu Xi responded, “there is order in the complicated interfusion of the yin and the yang and of the Five Agents [water, fire,


metal, wood, earth]. Principle [li] is there.”48 The connection between li and qi and their relationship to Dao are further articulated in the following text: Yin and yang are not Dao; one yin and one yang, circulating unceasingly, this is Dao . . . Dao should include both li and qi . . . [The] Yijing speaks of “One yin and one yang are called Dao.” This is speaking about li and qi. Yin and yang are qi; but “one yin and one yang,” this is li.49 Interestingly, in his commentary on “One yin and one yang are called Dao” from the Yijing (the Book of Changes), Zhu Xi interpreted the statement by means of both li and qi (implicitly correcting Zhang Zai’s identification of Dao with qi alone). Zhu asserted that “Yin and yang are not Dao; one yin and one yang, . . ., this is Dao” and “This is speaking about [both] li and qi.” The number that precedes the words “yin” and “yang” seems critical to Zhu Xi. This number indicated that a numeric order must be present in qi to account for Dao’s encompassing operation. While noting that the yin and the yang forces are qualitatively different, following the Yijing Zhu Xi observes that the blending of the two qi exhibits a rational pattern that is detectable both in Nature and in human affairs. He identifies not just any numbers, but the number one, with li or Dao: “Yin and yang are not Dao; one yin and one yang, circulating unceasingly, this is Dao.” (Emphasis added) “Yin and yang are qi; but, ‘one yin and one yang,’ this is li.” (Emphasis added) It is not unreasonable to inquire: Why the number “one,” not “two” or “three” or any other numbers? Could it be the case that the one-yin and one-yang binary illustrates a “proper proportion or pattern” (as in both “principle 理” and “propriety 禮”) that constitutes order and harmony? Several yin and one yang, several yang and one yin, or several yin and several yang, would disrupt this proper proportion and pattern. When coupled with the male/yang and female/yin correlation, an argument could be made, in my view, that the “one yin and one yang” principle provides a cosmological basis and imperative for gender equality that demands a reciprocal equal conjugal relation between a husband and a wife. Promiscuity and concubinage should therefore be shunned. Regrettably, Zhu Xi himself did not pursue this line of reasoning when he allows a husband to “have a wife and also concubines.”50

III.1.  Are the Yin and the Yang Equal? Nonetheless, the “one yin and one yang” principle sounds promising. Can it relieve contemporary feminist concerns about gender equality? It may, but only if the yin and the yang forces are given equal metaphysical standing that could translate into concrete human affairs. Otherwise, the “one yin and one yang” principle could perpetuate exploitation of the weaker sex. Still influenced by earlier Han thinkers’ politically motivated yin-yang hierarchy that was so ingrained in the Song consciousness, Zhu Xi’s teaching on the yin-yang relation was one of incoherence, if not an outright inconsistency. On the one hand, he agreed with Zhou Dunyi on the yinyang complementarity. He quoted Zhou’s Taijitu Shuo 《太極圖說》 (Explanations of the Diagram of the Supreme/Great Ultimate) as the opening canonical text to



begin the Jinsi Lu (Reflections on Things at Hand). “On the Substance of the Way,” Zhu wrote: Master LIEN-HSI [Zhou Dunyi] said: . . . The Great Ultimate through movement generates yang. When its activity reaches its limit, it becomes tranquil. Through tranquility the Great Ultimate generates yin. When tranquility reaches its limit, activity begins again. So movement and tranquility alternate and becomes the root of each other, giving rise to the distinction of yin and yang, and the two modes are thus established. By the transformation of yang and its union with yin, the Five Agents of Water, Fire, Wood, Metal, and Earth arise. When these five material forces are distributed in harmonious order, the four seasons run their course . . . Ch’ien [Heaven] constitutes the male[/yang] element, and k’un [Earth] constitutes the female[/yin] element. The interaction of these two material forces engenders and transforms the myriad things. The myriad things produce and reproduce, resulting in an unending transformation.51 Complementarity, alteration, and mutual causation between movement/activity/yang/ male and stillness/tranquility/yin/female are clearly affirmed in this text. The yin and yang are seen as relational terms. One causes the other. Without yin, there would be no yang; and without yang, there would be no yin. Each lays latent in the other as a transformative potential that would unfold itself at the appropriate time. Thus, when “activity reaches its limit, it becomes tranquil . . . When tranquility reaches its limit, activity begins again.” “Movement and tranquility alternate and become the root of each other.” Generation of the myriad things, the rotation of the day and the night and the four seasons, the reform of political power, the historical changes of dynasties, would all be impossible without the yin-yang co-relation. Thus, Zhou advised and Zhu followed, the way of the sage is to keep to the mean: seeing and seizing the advantages of both the yin and the yang forces, as manifested in the Moon and the Sun, Heaven and Earth, the male and the female, the virtues of gentleness (rou 柔) and firmness (gong 剛), compassion (ren 仁) and righteousness (yi 義). Thus is the lesson of “one yin and one yang, circulating unceasingly” that Zhu inherited from Zhou Dunyi and Daoist philosophy. On the other hand, in other didactic texts by Zhu Xi, women are construed unfairly as the weaker sex because of their yin nature.52 In a later chapter of the Reflections on Things at Hand, a normative emphasis is placed on the inferiority and subordination of yin/female to yang/male: Between man and woman, there is an order of superiority and inferiority, and between husband and wife, there is the principle of who leads and who follows. This is a constant principle.53 In Further Reflections on Things at Hand, women are advised in strong terms to be obedient and content with the refinement of the inner chambers: To do wrong is unbecoming to a wife, and to do good is also unbecoming to a wife. A woman is merely to be obedient to what is proper. If a daughter does nothing wrong, that is enough . . . Only spirits and food are her concern, and not to occasion sorrow to her parents is all that is called for . . . And Mencius’


mother said, “all a wife needs to do to fulfill her proper station in life is to prepare the five dishes, cover the wine, take care of her in-laws, and mend the clothes.” Therefore, a woman should bear the [propriety] of the inner chambers and desist from any ulterior motives.54 In this latter assertion, Zhu Xi is hardly speaking as a consistent thinker or metaphysician, a clear departure from his more balanced view on the yin-yang relation and the kind of sensibility seen in his descriptive writings discussed in Section II.

III.2.  Li and Qi: Inseparable and Equal Seeing Zhu Xi’s inconsistent handling on the male/yang and female/yin relationship, could the connection between li and qi provide something more promising? As discussed above, li and qi are integral to the orderly production, reproduction, and functioning of Nature and human affairs. Moreover, for Zhu Xi, li can never exist apart from qi: “In the universe there has never been any [psycho-physical] force [qi] without principle [li] or principle without [psycho-physical] force.”55 “[Li] is not a separate entity. It exists right in [qi]. Without [qi], [li] would have nothing to adhere to.”56 The same applies to Taiji 太極 (the Great Ultimate). On some occasions, Zhu Xi identifies Taiji with li as in “The Great Ultimate is nothing other than principle.”57 But at other times, he also makes it clear that “the Great Ultimate including principle and [psycho-physical] force”58 and “The Great Ultimate exists only in yin and yang, and cannot be separated from them.”59 Furthermore, li and qi are not only inseparable but also equal. Qi actualizes li. Chung-ying Cheng explains, “Qi is the natural process of change while li is the end product of the natural process of change. There can be no li apart from qi . . . li is not separate and separable from qi. It is generated from qi only when qi exists.”60 Without qi, li would have nothing to adhere to and would remain an abstraction. Conversely, without li, change initiated by qi would be disorderly. Ultimately, neither can be spoken of as prior to the other absolutely. Thus, Zhu Xi wrote, “Fundamentally [li] and [qi] cannot be spoken of as prior or posterior.” 61 Nonetheless, for the sake of epistemic convenience, li may be spoken of as conceptually prior to qi. Therefore, he commented: “But if we must trace their origin, we are obliged to say that principle is prior. However principle is not a separate entity.”62 For instance, one can certainly think of numbers in abstraction, and yet no real numbers can exist as such outside of the mind. The connection between li and qi, Julia Ching suggests, may be understood “in terms of essence and existence.” While li represents the order and the essence of a being, “the actualization of li through chi[/qi], is . . . the passage from essence to existence.”63 Without qi, there would be essence without existence, abstract principle without being. Even though Zhu Xi himself did not suggest that the li-qi relationship runs parallel to that between men and women, nonetheless yin-yang and li-qi are fundamental concepts in Zhu’s cosmology and axiology. A creative reconstruction of his rendering of the nonhierarchical relation between li and qi can prove useful as a potential counterweight to transform his conservative ethics of gender dynamics.64 The relationship between men and women is depicted as one of the “five human relationships” (wulun) in Confucian philosophy. Obviously, not all relations in the



five human relationships are equal relations. So too, not all hierarchical relations should be condemned. Provided that reciprocal responsibility and mutual care are carried out, the asymmetrical-hierarchical relations between parent and child, rulers and subjects, and the old and the young, can be justified from the perspective of age, maturity, position, and gratitude. The two remaining relations are those between friend and friend, and husband and wife. That the friend-to-friend relation is between equals is a platitude. However, the spousal relation between husband and wife, because it involves gender, and possibly age and position as well, is a more complicated one. On a rare occasion in didactic texts, Zhu Xi suggested a partnership relation between the two spouses. Using the image of Heaven and Earth, the yin and the yang were seen as mutually dependent generative forces. In the Xu Jinsi Lu (Further Reflections on Things at Hand), he spoke of the conjugal relation with a noted praise of the yin force: To live as man and woman is the most intimate human affair, and the exercise of Dao is found therein . . . The beneficial rain that falls from the mixing of yin [and yang] and is like the Dao of the home that comes from the harmony between husband and wife.65 Of the five human relationships, he regarded the spousal relation as the most fundamental of all: it is “the foundation from which natural relationships between father and son, and brother and brother, are made possible and are continued.”66 Furthermore, Zhu was sensitive to the effect that wives have on their husbands, and husbands’ reliance on their wives as confidants, a result of conjugal intimacies and enhanced emotional connection and trust. He noted that husbands tend to share their personal opinions on important matters more with their wives than with anyone else,67 and he thus worried about the potential overindulgence in conjugal affection that could lead one to deviate from the Way. When understood within the context of Confucian idea that there is no stark separation between the private and the public, but that they are concentric circles radiating out from the personal to the household, the state, and the world, the influence of wives and mothers in the social and the political realm— although often indirect—should not be underestimated, even during the Song era. Women’s power was both to be respected and to be feared. Ritual restrictions on the two genders were thus put into place to regulate the interaction between men and women. Zhu’s philosophy reveals his conflicted feeling toward women’s influence and contributions to societies. Nonetheless, on account of his reference to the harmony of the yin-yang as the ideal image of Dao and conjugal relation and the equality of li-qi, to make an argument that wives (and women) are to be treated as equals to their husbands (and to men) is certainly not out of the bounds of reason. In fact, reason demands this.

IV.  CONCLUSION Given the far-reaching Neo-Confucian influence in Asia, in this chapter we have explored the most well-known Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi’s view on women. We


investigated further the differences between Zhu Xi’s descriptive and normative texts (first noted by Birge) in relation to women. We found that in his descriptive texts Zhu Xi demonstrated a level of sensitivity and flexibility toward women. And yet, he was inconsistent and overly rigid toward women’s role in his didactic texts. Zhu Xi seems unaware of the apparent contradiction in subscribing to both a metaphysics of complementarity between equals and a social philosophy of gender hierarchy between unequals. Improvement on Zhu Xi’s social and political teaching on women’s role could derive from a more consistent development of his metaphysics. For example, it would be sensible to drop the contradictory yin-yang hierarchy and replace it with a new yin-yang paradigm consistent with the “different but equal” li-qi complementarity. When thus modified, the metaphysics of yin-yang and li-qi could make an important contribution to contemporary feminist discourse, particularly in light of the debates on sex and gender between essentialists and nonessentialists. First, the complementarity and mutual causation of the yin-yang would render male and female natures distinct but fluid, inter-relational and equal. Second, the interfusion of both the yin and the yang forces in all natures (nothing is purely yin or purely yang) suggests an alternative model of sexual and gender identities that can cut through the rigid “essentialist versus nonessentialist,” “biological versus social,” binary oppositions. Under this new conceptual scheme, gender equality would be both a metaphysical and a normative imperative. A consistent and fruitful reconstruction of Zhu’s yinyang li-qi metaphysics could prove useful in this endeavor, especially in utilizing Asian texts in the Asian contexts, to create a more diverse and egalitarian socialpolitical philosophy.

Notes 1. Acknowledgement of Intellectual Credits and Rights: This chapter is a reprint, with slight revisions, of my article “Zhu Xi on Family and Women: Challenges and Potentials,” previously published in the Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 40 (3–4) (2013): 436–55. © 2014 Journal of Chinese Philosophy by Wiley. I wish to thank the journal and the publisher for giving me permission to reuse the article here. I am indebted to anonymous reviewers’ comments on an earlier version of this paper. Some parts of this chapter were presented at the International Society for Chinese Philosophy panel at the Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, December 27–30, 2012. My gratitude also goes to participants at this panel for their generous feedback, to David White for proof reading, and to the editor-inchief, Chung-Ying Cheng, the managing editor, Linyu Gu, and the assistant editor, Timothy Connolly, of the Journal of Chinese Philosophy for their helpful guidance and suggestions along the way. See Robin Wang, introduction to Zhu Xi’s Jinsi Lu (Reflections on Things at Hand) (2002, pp. 316–18); Sin Yee Chan (2003, pp. 312–33). 2. Jinsi Lu, chapter 6, selection 13. The translation used in this chapter for Jinsi Lu is from Wing-Tsit Chan (1967), Reflections on Things at Hand. Here, at p. 177.



3. “Three Bonds” refers to the social-political hierarchy that “the minister serves the ruler, the son serves the father, and the wife serves the husband.” It probably first appeared in the Han imperial document Baihutong 《白虎通》 (Discussions in the White Tiger Hall) and in the writing of the Han scholar Dong Zhongshu’s 董仲舒 Chunqiu Fanlu 《春秋繁露》 (Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn). 4. “Three Obediences” set forth the following. Before marriage, a woman should obey her father. When married, she should obey her husband. If widowed, she should obey her son. The imperative first appeared in the Baihutong and was recorded in Liu Xiang’s 劉向 (79–8 BC) Lienu Zhuan 《列女傳》 (Biographies of Virtuous Women). 5. This refers to women’s virtue, speech, decorum, and work. The idea originally came from the Liji 《禮記》(Book of Rites) and was emphasized by Ban Zhao 班昭 (ca. 45–114) in her Nujie 《女誡》(Lessons for Women). 6. Ebrey (1993, pp. 5–6). Scholars have made varied choices in using either pinyin or Wade-Giles Romanization system. I follow authors’ original usage. 7. One can easily call into mind the famous Song poetess Li Qingzhao 李清照. 8. Birge (2002, pp. 29–30). 9. Ching (1994, p. 260). 10. Ibid. 11. One student noticed this contradiction, asking “Taking the widowed grandniece home and giving her in marriage seems to contradict the teaching that a widow should not remarry.” Zhu replied, “Generally speaking, that should be the case. But people cannot follow that absolutely.” See Zhuzi Yulei (Chu Tzu yü-lei) 《朱子語類》 (Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi [Chu Hsi]), Vol. 6, Book 96, p. 2473. See also, Chan’s Reflections on Things at Hand, p. 179 and his (1989, p. 540). 12. Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi, Vol. 7, Book 106, p. 2644. See also Ching (1994, p. 269); Chan (1989, pp. 538–39). 13. Ching (1994, p. 270). 14. Ebrey (1993, p. 6). 15. Mengzi, 3A: 4. 16. Lunyu, 4:25, 4:15, and 12:22. See also 17:19 for an explanation of the ritual of three-year mourning and the parent-child relation and 6:30 for the reciprocal nature of virtue. 17. Rosenlee (2006, pp. 50–55). 18. Ching (1994, pp. 273–74). 19. Sima Guang (Ssu-ma Kuang) 司馬光 wrote, “As a wife is to follow a husband all her life without change, a minister is to serve his ruler without fear of death. Such are the great norms for human relations” (Ching, 1994, p. 262). Similarly, Zhu Xi urges, “let her understand that [when a dynasty falls,] the minister must remain loyal, so too . . . the widow must remain chaste . . . in the eyes of a gentleman who knows the classics, . . ., this is something that cannot change” (Ching, 1994, p. 271). 20. Tu (1998, pp. 122–24). 21. See Cheng (1997) and (1998).


22. Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi, Vol. 1, Book 7, pp. 126–27. 23. Reflections on Things at Hand, Chapter 6, Selections 8–9. 24. Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi, op. cit. Here Zhu Xi quoted Liu Xiang’s Biographies of Virtuous Women and Ban Zhao’s Lessons for Women. See also Birge (1989), “Chu Hsi and Women’s Education,” pp. 348–49. 25. See Ebrey (2001, pp. 61–63). 26. Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi, Vol. 8, Book 140, p. 3332. See also Wing-tsit Chan (1988, p. 784). 27. Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi, Vol. 1, Book 4, p. 57; Vol. 4, Book 59, p. 1403. 28. Birge (1989, pp. 354–55). 29. Collected Works of Zhu Xi, Book 92, cited in Birge (1989, pp. 346–47). 30. There was a long tradition of women as educators at home. For example, Ban Zhao (author of Lessons for Women) and Madame Yu, mentioned above, were both educated by their female relatives. Both Ban and Yu themselves later also became teachers of others. See Birge (1989, pp. 348–52). 31. Ibid., p. 348. 32. Zhuwenkung Wenji 朱文公文集 (Collected Works of Zhu Xi), Book 35. Birge (1989, p. 326) and Chan (1989, p. 542). 33. Birge (1989, p. 344 and p. 353). The subjects were outlined in Zhu Xi’s Elementary Learning. 34. Birge (2002, p. 64). 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid., pp. 64–65. 37. Ibid., chapters one and two. 38. Ibid., p. 41 and pp. 91–97. 39. Ibid., p. 48 and p. 76. The idea of dowry began as early as the Han Dynasty but is heightened during the Song era. 40. Ibid., p. 65. 41. Ibid., pp. 64–65. 42. Ibid., chapters 1 and 2. 43. Ibid., p. 41 and pp. 91–97. 44. Ching (1994, p. 263), and Ebrey (1991, p. 55). 45. Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi, Vol. 8, Book 128, pp. 3080–81, where Zhu Xi appeared to take it for granted that women can own property. See also Birge (2002, pp. 150–52); Chan (1989, p. 541). 46. Zhu Xi spoke of: at the beginning “there was only [qi] consisting of yin and yang. This force moved and circulated, turning this way and that. As this movement gained speed, . . . , it consolidated to form the earth in the center of the universe” (Chan, 1973, pp. 641–42). 47. Ibid., p. 641 48. Ibid., p. 635.



49. Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi, Vol. 5, Book 74, p. 1896. 50. In the Collected Works of Zhu Xi, Book 62, Zhu Xi stated that husband is like the Heaven (乾 qian ☰, the yang force) and wife is like Earth (坤 kun ☷ the yin force). He argues that yang over yin is a natural hierarchy. Thus, husband can have a wife and also concubines, but a wife is not permitted to have two husbands. Unfortunately, Zhu Xi is overly entrenched in the social view of his time, which disables him from thinking outside of the cultural box. See also, Ching (1994, pp. 265–66); Chan (1989, p. 539). 51. Zhu Xi, Jinsi Lu, chapter 1, selection 1 in Chan (1967, pp. 5–6). This is Zhou Dunyi’s commentary on the Great Appendix of the Yijing. Consult also Wang (2005) (a wellwritten commentary on Zhou Dunyi’s Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate). 52. Zhu Xi’s commentary on Zhou Dunyi’s Tongshu 《通書》 (Penetrating the Yijing). See Chan (1967, p. 203). 53. Jinsi Lu, chapter 12, selection 12. Chan (1967, p. 272). 54. Xu Jinsi Lu 《續近思錄》 (Further Reflections on Things at Hand), chapter 6, pp. 121–22 of the Taipei Shijie Shuju edition. Translation with modification from Wang (2003, p. 325). 55. Chan (1973, p. 634). 56. Ibid. 57. Ibid., p. 638. 58. Ibid., p. 643. Chung-ying Cheng notes that Zhu Xi did not sufficiently work out the role of li and its relation with qi. See Cheng (2009). 59. Chan (1973, p. 630). So too, in Jinsi Lu, Zhu quoted Zhou Dunyi: “The Five Agents constitute one system of yin and yang, and yin and yang constitute one Great Ultimate.” See Chan (1967, p. 5). 60. Cheng (2009, pp. 82–83). 61. Chan (1973, p. 634). 62. Ibid. 63. Ching (1979, p. 281). 64. In doing so, one should avoid drawing the analogy that male is therefore li 理 (essence, principle, the active) and female qi 氣 (material or inertia) in an Aristotelian sense. Qi is not simply the material that manifests principle or essence, but the dynamic change that brings forth li. Zhu Xi’s li-qi exhibits a mutually enriching relation that is lacking in Aristotle’s metaphysics of form (essence) and matter (material). 65. Xu Jinsi Lu, chapter 6, p. 119 and p. 121 (of the Taipei Shijie Shuju edition). Translation with modification from Wang (2003, pp. 323–24). 66. Ibid., p. 115. 67. Ibid., p. 120. Zhu Xi wrote, “[The relationship between] husbands and wives is the most intimate and the most private of all human relations. We may not want to tell something to a father or brother, but it can all be told to one’s wife. These are the most intimate of human affairs, and Dao is exercised therein.. . . The feelings between husband and wife are very intimate, but they can easily become overindulgent.” Translation from Wang (2003, p. 324).


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Wang, Robin (ed.) (2003), Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period through the Song Dynasty. Indianapolis: Hackett. Wang, Robin (2005), “Zhou Dunyi’s Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate Explained (Taijitu shuo): A Construction of the Confucian Metaphysics,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 66 (3): 307–23. Zhu, Xi (1967), Jinsi Lu 《近思錄》(Reflections on Things at Hand), trans. Wing-Tsit Chan. New York: Columbia University Press. Zhu, Xi (1973), Selections from Zhuzi Quanshu《朱子全書》(The Complete Works of Chu Hsi [Zhu Xi]), in Wing-Tsit Chan (ed.), A Source Book of Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 605–53. Zhu, Xi (1974), Xu Jinsi Lu 《續近思錄》 (Further Reflections on Things at Hand). Taipei: Shijie Shuju 世界書局. Zhu, Xi (1986), Zhuzi Yulei (Chu Tzu yü-lei) 《朱子語類》 (Classified Conversations of Zhu Xi [Chu Hsi]). Eight Volumes. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局.

Chapter Four

The Dream of Sagehood: A Re-Examination of Queen Sohae’s Naehoon hye-kyung kim

The Chosun dynasty ruled in Korea from 1392 until 1910. It brought with it by far the most thoroughly Confucian society that the world has seen. From top to bottom, Confucianism dominated the intellectual, social, and political life of the Korean people. Praised for its many accomplishments, Confucianism in Chosun Korea has also been blamed as the major force behind past and continuing gender inequality. Even if it is true—and I think it is—that “Confucius and Mencius, the founders of Confucianism, are not responsible for its history of oppression of women” (Li, 1994, p. 81), it is also true that the Neo-Confucianism that the Chosun dynasty was based on contributed to gender inequality and the oppression of women in Korea. But to leave it at that, as many scholars have, is unfair. There is much more to be said, and the story is extremely complicated and nuanced. I’ll be telling just a bit of that story in this chapter.

I First, to properly situate my topic, a brief history of the Chosun dynasty is in order. The major founding scholar-official of Chosun was Jeong Dojeon.1 He and other early Confucian scholar-officials were avid followers of Zhu Xi’s brand of NeoConfucianism and advocated its adoption in Korea. They aimed at building a strong and harmonious state, founded on and interfused with Confucian principles. Their principal objective, in short, was to realize the Confucian vision of an ideal state in the Korean peninsula. An ideal Confucian state isn’t primarily a matter of custom and regulation, nor is it achieved through law and punishment, or precept and disapproval. The Chosun


scholar-officials certainly knew as much. But they also knew that the establishment of a Confucian state had to begin with the reform of the corrupt morals and customs of the previous dynasty, the Koryo dynasty. That required strong legislation. They thus began with the legal reform of the roots of society: the institutions of marriage and family. During the Koryo dynasty, women had relatively great economic power and freedom. Chosun laws, in contrast, severely limited the lives of women. In effect, they mandated a submissive, restricted, and economically powerless life for all, or very nearly all, women. That was the norm in Chosun Korea and, in truth, to a lesser extent, it is still the norm for the great majority of women in Korea today. Thus, while Confucianism has had many positive effects on Korea, and the Korean people have greatly appreciated them, there can be little doubt that Korean women suffered under the Chosun (Son, 2006). Today, more than 100 years after the fall of the dynasty, Korea is still grappling with its Chosun past. (Of course, there can be little doubt that the agenda for reflection and re-evaluation was set back decades by the Japanese occupation of 1910–1945 and the subsequent Korean Civil War from 1950 to 1954.) Contemporary Korea is rigorously debating whether to continue and develop Confucianism or to reject and abandon it altogether (with many options between these two extremes, of course).2 The “Woman Question” is particularly pointed, especially in light of the fact that virtually everyone agrees that, historically, Confucianism has contributed to gender inequality and oppression of women. Symptomatic of attempts to come to grips with the problem was a conference held in 1999. In that year, the Korean Confucian Society had its first joint conference with Korean Feminist Society. The theme of the conference was “Confucianism meets Feminism.” (I translate the title not literally, but to capture its import.) At the conference, a number of Confucian scholars argued that Confucianism could be interpreted, or at least legitimately re-reinterpreted, as compatible with the advocacy of the intellectual, moral, social, and political equality of men and women. Others disagreed. Every scholar, however, no matter what his or her philosophical orientation, agreed that Confucianism cannot survive as a legitimate moral, social, and political philosophy without embracing gender equality. What they disagreed about, and continue to disagree about, is the possibility of such an inclusive Confucianism.3

II The above is simply very general background information and stage setting for the principal topic and main thesis of this chapter. I’m an inclusivist; I believe that Confucianism is compatible with gender equality, the rights of women, and female empowerment. But my argument here is more limited, mainly historical in nature, and, in a sense, very exciting, at least for the sort of people likely to have read this far. I will argue that Queen Sohae4 (1437–1504) demonstrated the possibility of inclusive Confucianism long before the existence of modern academic conferences. My argument will be based on a close reading and examination of the Queen Sohae’s Naehoon (內訓, 내훈, Lessons for the Inner Quarter).5 Queen Sohae was the first



female author and female Confucian intellectual in Korean History. She composed the Naehoon for the instruction of women. Her inspiration was Mencius, and she argued that (1) women can become sages and (2) women should strive to become sages. If Queen Sohae is right, she establishes fundamental gender equality at a stroke. This is because sagehood is the highest ideal of Confucianism. A sage is a person who has cultivated human virtues to the highest degree. Only a few people, such as Yao, Shun, and Confucius, can unequivocally, and without the slightest doubt, be said to be sages. The implications of this are the following. In accordance with her joint claims, Queen Sohae expresses a view about the intellectual and moral capacities of women. Her view is that (1) women’s capacities for human perfection are the same those of men and that (2) women should strive to attain those ideals no less than men. If both the capacities and ideals for men and women are identical, men and women are equals, and therefore nothing given the one should be denied the other. Due to historical and social contingencies, however, Queen Sohae accepted and even advocated the traditional role of women as wives and as subordinate to men. It is probably for this reason that her arguments on female sagehood did not contribute to inclusive Confucianism and also, that quite frankly, contemporary feminists scholars have not been receptive to—in fact, have been hostile to—her and her work. Han (2005), for example, argues that the aim of the Naehoon was to inculcate submission and obedience to men and to reinforce patriarchal dominance through education. Without wishing to engage in an acrimonious dispute with Han or others, I want to argue that, at the least, there is more to the Naehoon than that, and that the document deserves a far more sympathetic reading. To put my main philosophical points in a nutshell, the concept of female sagehood may be the road to an inclusive Confucianism. In addition to the concept of female sagehood, Queen Sohae advocated the moral and intellectual partnership of women with their husbands and recognized and emphasized the contributions of women to society and the state. In its nascent form, Queen Sohae shows us how Confucianism includes a foundation of gender equality, that is, how Confucianism, rightly construed, can be inclusive Confucianism. In order to appreciate Queen Sohae’s vision for women, it is first necessary to sketch the historical context in which Queen Sohae lived and composed the Naehoon.

III The beginning of Chosun dynasty is marked by its enactment of rigorous legislation to lay the foundation for a new dynasty. The legislation aimed at strengthening the new order by reforming the moral and cultural norms of Koryo, based on Confucian values and ideals. Neo-Confucian scholar-officials who were trained in Zhu Xi’s philosophy during the last years of the Koryo were the main force behind the new legislation. As Deuchler (1992, p.  102) puts it: “They [the scholar-officials] took Neo-Confucianism as the universal basis upon which the state itself would have to


rest.” Buddhism and the breakdown of family ritual propriety, they thought, were the leading causes of the social disorder in the late Koryo. New laws were needed to rebuild society. These new laws had to embody the Confucian ideals of social order and harmony. The Great Code of National Administration (경국대전, Kyongguk Taejon) was compiled as the first comprehensive constitution of the new dynasty. The final form was based on several preliminary codes and resulted from rigorous debates among Confucian scholar-officials of conflicting ideologies, agendas, and philosophical beliefs. The Great Code was promulgated in complete form in AD 1485. Major legislation respecting women was contemporaneous with the preliminary codes and also found expression in The Great Code. In one of the preliminary codes, The Chosun Code of National Administration, Jeong appealed to the authority of the sages and the Confucian classics and claimed that the success or failure of the state depended on the success and failure of the family. He argued that the breakdown of the social order was due to the collapse of husband-wife ritual propriety. According to him: Men and women are the foundation of human norms and the beginning of human history .  .  . The success or failure of the state depends on the success or failure of the family. These days, in considering the marriage of a man and a woman, families don’t inquire into the virtues of the man or the woman, and choose the husband or wife only by the transient wealth they have . . . Also, one of the six wedding rituals has been abolished: the bridegroom does not bring the bride to his family. Some men are married into the woman’s house. [And] ignorant wives sometimes become contemptuous of their husbands, rely on the love of their parents, and become arrogant and jealous, resulting in conflict with their husbands. The collapse of husband-wife ritual propriety is due to a disrespectful beginning. How can we unify and uphold proper ritual propriety without purifying the prevailing customs and legislating new rituals? Thus I propose legislation on marriage after an examination of the Great Books.6 (Chosun Code, Code of Rites) One of the causes for the breakdown of family order, Jeong claims, is the arrogance and jealousy of the wife, caused by the erosion of the ritual propriety of the return of bridegroom with bride. The implicit allusion here is a degradation of ritual propriety that occurred during the Koryo dynasty. Under Koryo, a woman could marry her husband into her own family and raise a family in her natal family. Jeong sees this marital practice as a serious violation of ritual propriety, one that upsets the proper hierarchy of men over women. The arrogance and jealousy that result from eroded ritual propriety leads wives to disobey their husbands. Jeong thinks that wives’ disobeying their husbands contributes to the collapse of proper husband-wife relationships, and ultimately to the collapse of society. Jeong and other early Confucian scholar-officials drew heavily upon The Elementary Learning by Zhu Xi7 in formulating legislation and moral norms respecting women and the family. These norms held sway during the Chosun dynasty. The Elementary Learning contains the famous norms of “Three Bonds and



Five Virtues” and “Seven Wrongdoings of Women.” The “Three Bonds” was taken especially seriously by Chosun scholar-officials. It says that wives are obliged to obey their husbands just as, and in the same deferential way that, ministers are to obey their kings and sons are to obey their fathers: According to Confucius, a woman is required to obey others. Therefore she ought not to make a decision by herself. A woman has three duties. She has to obey her father when unmarried, her husband when married, and her son when widowed. She should never do anything by herself. She should never go out without instruction and permission and only prepare food for her family. (The Elementary Learning, Book 2) The authority of these norms is simply Confucius’s purported say-so. According to this, women are completely subordinated to men, and a woman’s excellence resides solely in obedience and subordination. In addition, The Elementary Learning requires the absolute marital fidelity of women. It states that a wife’s fidelity— meaning, her having sex with, and only with, her first husband—is more important than her life, and thus a wife should serve only one husband. Remarriage, for any reason, is thus strongly discouraged. The oppressive story continues in the “Seven Wrongdoings of Women.” Building upon the norms of absolute obedience and subordination, it allowed men to easily divorce their wives and further reinforced the subordination of wives to husbands. Confucian scholar-officials also passed laws that, in effect, virtually prohibited women from remaining single. Although women had a premarital and, in some cases, postmarital existence, in the eyes of the law they were essentially wives and had to live a life of obedience and subordination to their husbands.

IV The long list of “women laws” of the Chosun dynasty details the exact nature of the norms of obedience and subordination forced upon women. A brief summary will suffice: All women should be married. Women should be regulated through the institution of marriage. Only the first wife of a husband is recognized as the legitimate wife of the man, and only the first wife’s sons are qualified as candidates for important government positions. Getting married and being the faithful first wife of a man is the only way a woman is recognized as a member of society. Unmarried women could not participate in the social order. Under the Great Code of National Administration, the state could even punish the father of an unmarried daughter over the age of 30. Remarriage was strongly discouraged. A remarried woman could not be the primary wife of a government official. The descendants of a remarried woman could not hold government office. A wife beating her husband was punished, and a wife accusing husband of wrongdoing was also punished, unless the husband had committed treason. Women could not marry three times. A woman’s inheritance from her parents and her dowry were taken to be a part of her husband’s property. When a wife died, her property belonged to her husband and did not return to


her natal family. Women’s social, political, and economic power was thus severely reduced by legislation. In addition to legislation, women were, in the main, not educated. Education was not needed, since a woman’s only duty was to obey. The Elementary Learning recommends that girls be exclusively occupied with household chores, such as weaving and cooking. The opportunity for education for women was minimal, but not completely nonexistent. A few—but very few—women could read Chinese and were familiar with the traditional Chinese moral training texts for women, the Four Books for Women (女四書, 여사서).8 The books most heavily relied on in the education of women were the Naehoon and the Samgang haengsilto (삼강행실도), the latter of which is a collection of drawings and stories depicting the exemplary ritual propriety of a loyal minister, a filial son, and a chaste wife. The education of women aimed only “to instill through the weight of China’s classic literature, the ideals of a male-oriented society and to motivate them [women] for the tasks of married life” (Deuchler, 1992, p. 208). Marriage was hierarchical and patriarchal. The governing Confucian principle behind marital legislation was the “Three Bonds” principle, contained in the “Three Bonds, Five Virtues.” The “Three Bonds” was originally formulated by Dong Zhongshu,9 in Ban Gu’s10 History of Former Han. The doctrine was presented as a fundamental moral precept. According to it, the three most fundamental bonds are those between king and minister, father and son, and husband and wife. The bonds of the “Three Bonds” refer to the fact that there are fundamental duties of one party in each of these three pairs to the other party of the pair. The Elementary Learning is mainly based on the principle of the “Three Bonds.” The “Five Virtues,” on the other hand, refers to ideal virtues in five relationships: king-minister, fatherson, older brother-younger brother, husband-wife, and friend-friend. Even though there is nothing in the “Three Bonds” to imply a hierarchical order of any kind, Dong Zhongshu explains each pair in terms of yin-yang, and assigns the power of yang to king, father, and husband, and the power of yin to minister, son, and wife. As yang dominates over yin, the husband dominates over wife (Wang, 2005, pp.  209–31). Confucian scholars in China had taken the theory of yin and yang not only to explain the nature of the universe, but also to illuminate and justify the dominance of men over women. Chosun Neo-Confucian scholar-officials adopted this principle, transmitted it through elementary education, and used it to justify legislation regarding women. Strange as it may seem, Confucianism coupled with a cosmological distinction, the yin/yang distinction, was the justification for female oppression (Li, 1994, p. 84). I say, “strange as it may seem” because rationally, it seems hard to fathom how a moral philosophy coupled with a piece of speculative physics could be the philosophical basis of an obviously repressive, inherently unjust social order. In any case, the hierarchical understanding of the man-woman and husband-wife relationships resulted in the principles of “The Female Duty of Triple Obedience,” “The Wife’s Loyal Obedience to Husband,” and “The Seven Wrongdoings of Women.” These, in turn, were articulated in The Elementary Learning and further specified and made concrete in multiple pieces of legislation in early Chosun (Lee, 2008, p. 218).



V To be brief and dogmatic, The Elementary Learning is not a legitimate literary descendant of the Confucianism of Confucius and Mencius. In fact, passages in it that emphasize wives’ complete subordination and obedience to husbands are not even essential components of the Neo-Confucianism that the Chosun dynasty accepted. This isn’t just my say-so. In what follows I will expose and explain the views of Queen Sohae, a female Korean scholar, who long ago explored the possibility of separating oppressive Confucian norms from Confucian philosophy and tradition proper. Queen Sohae appealed to the teaching of Mencius and to other ancient texts to determine the legitimacy of the prevailing oppressive Chosun norms imposed on women. In this and the following sections, I will argue that Queen Sohae’s Naehoon replaced the female virtues of obedience and subordination with much more egalitarian virtues. Her basis for doing so is her underlying belief in the intellectual and moral equality of men and women. Although she accepted the hierarchical relations of men and women that the Chosun scholars read into the principle of the “Three Bonds,” she reinterpreted the nature of that hierarchy as much more equalitarian. The Naehoon consists of 116 passages. The passages were selected by Queen Sohae and are taken mainly from The Elementary Learning, by Zhu Xi, and The Biographies of Virtuous Women (Lienuzhuan), by Liu Xiang. Her teaching—for the book is essentially an instruction manual—is thus necessarily limited by its nature, that is, by the fact that it is an anthology, reproducing primary sources. The Naehoon is divided into seven chapters, with each chapter on, in effect, a single female virtue.11 The selections, however, are prefaced by Queen Sohae’s own commentary. The Preface makes it clear that the book is an instruction manual for women. It also makes it clear how the passages that follow are to be understood. That fact is of paramount importance, for it shows that Queen Sohae is not simply a more-thanwilling participant and supporter of a male-dominated Chosun society. The Preface shows that she knew that she was writing within an oppressive society, knew its main outlines were unalterable in her lifetime, was attempting to better the social position of women within the cultural framework in which she found herself, and wrote within the philosophical framework of Neo-Confucianism.

VI Queen Sohae first admonishes women for their lack of interest in virtues. Women seem interested only in household chores, such as weaving, she thinks. Her remarks make it evident that she doesn’t accept some of the basic precepts of The Elementary Learning at face value, as far as the education of women is concerned. Rather, in the Preface she suggests that merely doing household chores is not a part of a woman’s virtue: “Women are only interested in worthless things, such as the width of yarn in weaving, and do not know the goodness of virtuous actions. This is what I lament every day” (Naehoon, Preface).


Queen Sohae’s lamentation is against what is explicitly advocated in The Elementary Learning. Its first chapter instructs girls from an early age to act gently, to obey, to weave, to make garments, and to assist in ancestral rituals, while it instructs boys from an early age to learn letters, numbers, ritual propriety, music, poetry, archery, and speaking. Not content with general lamentations concerning female failings, Queen Sohae reproduces stories of wicked wives of kings causing the destruction of a state. But the point of the stories is not that “women are wicked and must be carefully watched.” It is that virtuous wives are necessary for the flourishing of the state. Women, she makes clear, contribute to the success or failure of a marriage, a family, and a state. This also suggests, even entails, that women, all women, should be educated. As she says: From these cases, we can see that even if a state’s being governed, or disturbed, or thriving, or ruined is related to the goodness or wickedness of men, it is also related to the goodness or wickedness of women. Therefore, women should be taught. (Naehoon, Preface) It is not only men but also women who contribute to building a strong and thriving state. Since women contribute, they should be educated. And since they should be educated, they should be taught virtues. To teach virtues: the Preface makes clear that Queen Sohae composed her book as a manual of instruction for acquiring virtues. In fact, more than that, she summarizes the aim of her book as teaching women to aspire to become sages. Since a sage is a person who has cultivated human virtues to the highest degree, women must be taught virtues, and taught to aspire to their attainment to the highest degree: “Alas, the whole teaching of a person is here. Once you lose the Tao and regret losing it, you will never follow it again. Inscribing this teaching in your heart and bones, aspire to become a sage” (Naehoon, Preface). Becoming a sage is the highest Confucian ideal. A sage is a person who has perfected the virtues of human nature and realized his or her highest good as a human being. In exhorting women to aspire to become sages, Queen Sohae makes several unstated assumptions: (1) women are capable of being taught virtues, (2) women are not merely capable of being taught virtues but can acquire virtues, (3) women can acquire virtues to the highest degree, and (4) women should aspire to acquire virtues to the highest degree. Behind these four assumptions is the authority of Mencius: Queen Sohae is a Confucian through and through. Mencius is the first Confucian scholar to argue for (1) the goodness of human nature and (2) sagehood being possible for anyone. Mencius did not explicitly mention women, but Queen Sohae assumes that his “anyone” includes women and uses his authority to justify her normative claim that women should strive to become sages. Becoming a sage, in fact, is not only, she thinks, not something a woman is incapable of, but is something that a woman should not think is forbiddingly difficult: Mencius says: when a person says “I am not able to cross the Northern Sea with a big mountain,” he truly cannot do it. But when a person says “I am not able to cut a branch for a man,” he merely doesn’t do it; it is not that he can’t do it. It is easy



to cut a branch, while it is hard to cross the Northern Sea with a big mountain. All things considered, you should not take cultivating yourself as a hard task at all. (Naehoon, Preface)

VII This may be a considerably less radical doctrine than it seems, however, for one can raise a question about the nature of the female sage that Queen Sohae has in mind. Early Chosun scholar-officials enacted oppressive and discriminating laws against women on the assumption that the path of righteousness—the virtuous path—for women is one of obedience and submission. If Queen Sohae accepted the norms of the time, female sages would be women with the virtues of submission and obedience, and thus the more submissive and obedient a woman is, the more virtuous she is, and the nearer she is to attainment of sagehood. If that is how Queen Sohae envisions female sages, she would not be undermining but would actually be underwriting hierarchical and patriarchal norms. There is some evidence that this is the case. Members of the Chosun Confucian elite approved the Naehoon, and used it, along with only a small number of other texts, as training manuals for the education of girls and women. This suggests that the Naehoon’s teaching was regarded as consistent with the ideology of the exclusively male and extremely patriarchal Chosun elite. Deuchler’s (1992, p. 257) description of the Naehoon reflects this interpretation of the book: Naehun taught girls the four basics of womanly behavior: moral conduct—women need not have great talents, but must be quiet and serene, chaste and disciplined; proper speech—women need not have rhetorical talents, but must avoid bad and offensive language and speak with restraint; proper appearance—women need not be beautiful, but must be clean in dress and appearance; and womanly tasks— women need not be clever, but must pay attention to such duties as weaving and entertaining guests. Naehun also elaborated on the roles a married woman had to fill: she had to serve her parents-in-law, to be an obedient and dutiful wife, and a wise and caring mother. Further evidence for this interpretation can be found in the Naehoon itself. In a passage taken from The Elementary Learning, Queen Sohae seems to embrace the principle of “Triple Obedience”: According to Confucius, a wife should be submissive to her husband, not handle affairs by herself, and fulfill three duties: Obey her father when unmarried, obey her husband when married, and obey her son after her husband dies. This means that a woman should never handle things alone. (Naehoon, “Husband and Wife”) There is also a passage that explicitly denies the equality of husband and wife. In the passage, the husband is compared to heaven: Even though the Instruction for Women teaches that the wife is equal to the husband, a husband is heaven to a wife. A wife should respect her husband, treat


him with propriety, and serve him as if he were her father: she should lower the body and not act arrogantly, being ever obedient and not opposing her husband for even a moment. (Naehoon, “Husband and Wife”) If Queen Sohae teaches the complete obedience of a wife to her husband, her views do not seem consistent. It seems a conceptual impossibility to be both perfectly virtuous and completely obedient and submissive—at least unless complete obedience and submission is the perfection of virtue for women. But that would mean that the concept of sagehood is inherently relative, and relativized to one’s gender. The prospect isn’t an inviting one.

VIII But I don’t think the invitation need be accepted. There is an alternative interpretation that resolves the apparent inconsistency while avoiding an inherent, universal gender relativization. The interpretation is relativistic but not universal, empirically grounded but not conceptual. According to it, obedience and submission are required not of all wives, but only of certain wives. Wives who are ignorant and unwise should obey husbands who are learned and virtuous. This interpretation is bolstered by the stories of virtuous wives found in the chapter “Husband and Wife.” No story in that chapter celebrates obedience or submission as a virtue of wives as wives, or of women as women. In the stories, the virtues of patience, gentleness, benevolence, righteousness, and wisdom are praised as ideal virtues for women. Queen Sohae praises those virtues, not obedience, or at least not obedience as unthinking adherence to male command. It is by juxtaposing and then blending the quoted passage and the stories of the Naehoon that a better, more accurate view of Queen Sohae’s position becomes available: Queen Sohae understands obedience as a single concept whose requirements for application (and whose verbal expression, or denoting terminology) differ for ordinary women and for virtuous women or those aspiring to be sages. She upholds the virtue of obedience and the norm of “Three Bonds,” but relativizes the concept’s application to the moral and intellectual development of the person. If this seems unduly abstract and vague, compare the concept of tallness. Tallness is a single concept, but one whose requirements for application are not uniform; they differ, depending on the circumstances, and are relativized to the developmental stage of the person the concept is applied to. A tall 5-month-old baby is not a tall 5-yearold child, and a tall 5-year-old child is not a tall 15-year-old teenager. The concept is univocal but criteria for its application depend on contingent features of the circumstances of application and, most importantly, on the physical development of the person. An important additional point is that with proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, a tall 5-month-old can become a tall 5-year-old, and a tall 5-year-old can become a tall 15-year-old. The situation is the same with patience and other ideal virtues that Queen Sohae identifies with obedience. With sustained proper training, patience, in its most developed and praiseworthy form, is possible for anyone, man or woman. But we



cannot and should not expect a person without proper nutrition and healthy habits to be a tall adult; and we cannot and should not expect a person, whether man or woman, to be a patient person, to the highest possible degree, without sustained and proper training. The physical is far from the moral, but the structure and the attainment of the perfection of both largely run in parallel. There is a verbal difference between the two, however, and I believe Queen Sohae was well aware of it as well. With some concepts not just criteria of application but verbal expression—the term or word used to express the concept—is also relativized and dependent on degree of development. Compare, in this regard, the terms “stubborn,” “persistent,” “steadfast,” and “sticking to one’s guns.” Although in some sense all express the same concept, it is an evaluation of the overarching moral condition of the person and the epistemic situation in which the concept is applied that determines which is the correct term to apply. This, again, is a relativization, but not a gender-specific one. With patience, the case is similar. Thus for sagely women, the virtue of obedience is, better termed, “patience” or “gentleness,” while for non-sagely women it is, better termed, “obedience” pure and simple. To illustrate the point and to return to the Naehoon and be more concrete, consider the sort of practical situation that Queen Sohae undoubtedly had in mind. When a husband is confused, lost, ignorant, or vicious, a sagely wife can and should guide him and mentor him, using patience and gentleness among other virtues. And when a wife is ignorant—and Queen Sohae thought that most wives are ignorant, if only for the lack of education—she should simply obey her husband, the majority of whom, Queen Sohae believes, are intellectually and morally superior to their wives, if only because of their superior education. This position is not inherently sexist or oppressive to women, even if, for historical reasons beyond Queen Sohae’s control, the second situation is—rather, was—much more empirically prevalent than the first. On this interpretation, Queen Sohae takes the husband-wife relationship to be hierarchical, and validly so, for most women, but not to be grounded in Confucian philosophy, or a distorted interpretation of the principle of yin-yang. The hierarchy is contingently based, grounded in a social reality that Queen Sohae rightly believed was beyond her control. Confucian philosophy, in fact, supports the same ideals for men and women, and the possibility of sagehood for both. At the risk of being repetitive, let me be clear: for all women—and men—Queen Sohae certainly believes in the norm of obedience. However, this norm is radically re-construed in far more positive terms, and viewed in light of overarching ideals of benevolence, righteousness, and wisdom.

IX But even this is too weak, for other remarks of Queen Sohae point to a need for all women to be educated, and thus for all women to strive for sagehood. The virtue of obedience in women, even in “lower women,” requires education, just as virtue in


men, no matter what their caliber, requires education. The argument for this is made in the chapter “Husband and Wife”: If a husband is not benevolent, he cannot lead his wife. If a wife is not benevolent, she cannot serve her husband. If a husband does not lead his wife, respect and dignity are destroyed. If a wife does not serve her husband, integrity is destroyed. When these two are put together, the use of them is one, not two. Today’s gentlemen teach their sons the classics to act properly, knowing that it is a vice not to properly lead a wife and not to uphold respect and dignity. But they don’t teach their daughters, not knowing that it is wrong for a wife not to serve her husband and not to follow ritual propriety. According to the Book of Rites, a person should be taught at the age of eight and should be determined to learn at the age of fifteen. Why should not women take this as a norm? (Naehoon, “Husband and Wife”) For Queen Sohae, the virtue in a husband and the virtue in a wife serve the same general function in their relationship, that of achieving a harmonious union. A wife is definitely capable of virtue—she must be benevolent—and since virtue requires education, a wife must be educated. Thus, just as the leadership required of a husband is not arbitrary authoritarian rule but the exercise of virtue, so too obedience required of a wife is not blind obedience but the exercise of virtue. And just as the possession and exercise of a husband’s virtue require proper education, so too do the possession and exercise of a wife’s virtue. A corollary of this is that a wife is required to respect and obey only a proper form of leadership. Respect and obedience are not owed to the mere will of the husband. In a harmonious union, a wife obeys the virtue of her husband and exercises these virtues herself. The nature of obedience in a harmonious union is not mere submission or mindless subjection of a wife to a husband, but rather patience and gentleness in the approach to a husband. Queen Sohae’s position on this is clear: Respect and obedience are the major virtues of a wife. Respect is nothing other than long-term patience, and obedience is nothing but generosity and gentleness. Long-term patience is to know when to stop and what is fitting, while generosity and gentleness is to respect a mild approach to a husband. (Naehoon, “Husband and Wife”) Note that in place of terms that connote the submissive and the subservient, Queen Sohae speaks of patience, generosity, and gentleness. In the chapter “Husband and Wife,” she illustrates these concepts, and shows what their contents entail, with six stories of virtuous wives, wives who exemplify patience, generosity, and gentleness (as well as humility and frugality). These stories are taken from the Biographies of Virtuous Women. Besides illustrating these virtues, the stories have the same subtext: it is the duty of a wife to guide her husband in accord with righteousness. In these stories, the wives are not submissive but assertive, refusing to give ground to others’ convictions, and even resistant to their husband-kings’ wishes. The courage of their convictions is based on their education. The classics they have learned, such as the



Book of Poetry or the Book of Rites, serve them, their husband- kings, and their state well. Consider, for example, the story of Lady Fan. Lady Fan is the wife of King Zhuang of Chu. King Zhuang enjoyed hunting excessively and didn’t stop even if Lady Fan begged him to. King Zhuang corrected his vice and became diligent in governing the state, when Lady Fan didn’t eat meat. One day, King Zhuang had a long morning meeting with his cabinet and was greeted by Lady Fan who asked whether he had a long meeting and whether he was not hungry. King Zhuang replied: “I haven’t felt out of spirits and hungry since I had a conversation with a wise man.” Lady Fan asked, “Whom are you referring to by ‘wise man’?” King Zhuang answered: “Wu Ju.” Lady Fan laughed, covering her mouth with her hand. The King asked why she was laughing. Lady Fan answered, “Wu Ju is a generous person, but not a loyal man with integrity.” The king asked why she thought that was the case . . . [Lady Fan’s answer was:] “It has been ten years since Wu Ju helped Chu. [Since then,] he has only promoted his children or his family members. I have never heard that he has hired and promoted competent people and fired incompetent people. What he did was to blind the king and obstruct the path of competent people. If he did not promote competent people knowingly, then he is not loyal. If he did not recognize competent people, he is not wise. That is the reason why I laughed.” The king was pleased and repeated the words of Lady Fan to Wu Ju . . . A historian of Chu recorded “King Zhuang became great due to the help of Lady Fan.” (Naehoon, “Husband and Wife”) Lady Fan had observed the hiring and promotion practices of Minister Wu Ju. She understood the intentions of the minister and knew the motives behind his actions. She then explained to the king, at the right time and in the right way, that Wu Ju should not be regarded as good. Her gentle admonition awakened the king’s understanding and showed the king how wrong his perception of the minister was. In a proper way, by exercising the virtue of obedience—patience—she guided the king to reform his cabinet and to build a better state. All of this is an exercise of the highest form of the virtue of patience and gentleness. As the story illustrates, the virtue of a wife is not mere obedience or submission, but patience and gentleness guided by wisdom. It makes for, and is needed for, the proper functioning of her husband-king, and the state. To be a wife, then, is to guide and give proper advice to a husband, even if he is a king, when the husband alone cannot determine what is right. But the virtue of patience requires not just proper advice but advice properly given—given at the right time, in the right way, with the right words. If it is proper advice, properly given, even a king will recognize his shortcomings, learn, and be pleased with the needed exercise of his wife’s virtue. The person who can render such aid is the intellectual and moral equal of a king. This is appropriate respect and obedience, Queen Sohae tells us. This is the respect and obedience required in a wife to her husband in a husband-wife bond. The story of Empress Ma of the Ming dynasty is similar. Briefly told, the story is this. Empress Ma instructs her husband on how to rule the state benevolently,


assists the king on war strategy, orders recording the lives of virtuous empresses, advises the king to forgive the small mistakes of his ministers, and awakens the king to the importance of valuing people not of great material wealth. She was a political advisor, mentor, and a teacher to her husband. The king follows his wife’s teachings and benevolently rules his state. The state thrives. Empress Ma is, in short, intellectually and morally superior to her husband, and an equal partner to him. Although never explicitly stated, it is evident that Empress Ma is familiar with philosophy. In the story, she criticizes Daoist philosophy on the grounds that it rejects goodness and righteousness. She claims that benevolence and filial piety belong to goodness and righteousness—in fact, that goodness and righteousness are necessary conditions for benevolence and filial piety, conditions without which benevolence and filial piety are impossible. The basic moral of the story of Empress Ma is the same as that of Lady Fan. But by including it in the chapter on husband and wife, Queen Sohae is also arguing that intellectual ability and moral, political, and philosophical insight are among the virtues of a wife. It is Empress Ma’s intellectual ability and moral, political, and philosophical insight that inform her advice to the king and help guide the state. In fact, in the story the king sometimes explicitly asks for her advice on statesmanship and knows that he can learn from her.

X The contents of the stories Queen Sohae selects imply that when properly understood, the Confucian tradition of biographies of virtuous women does not support a strictly hierarchical husband-wife relationship. That is not implicit in the “Three Bonds,” if they are properly understood. Queen Sohae suggests that the husband-wife bond is different from, and should be understood very differently from, the king-minister bond and the father-son bond. She bases this, a proper understanding of obedience and submission, on women’s biography books, which are part of the Confucian tradition. An intellectual and moral partnership between a husband and a wife is what they prescribe. For Queen Sohae, the stories of virtuous wives who are intellectually and morally superior to, and/or equal partners with, their husbands are as enlightening as the solemn teachings of The Elementary Learning of Neo-Confucianism. Her view of proper relations between a husband and wife are based on Mencius’s teaching and the women’s biography tradition. When improperly understood, the richness and complexity of Confucianism is the source for and the justification of gender inequality; but when properly understood, the richness and complexity of Confucianism can be the source for and the justification for gender equality. One important thing to notice about Queen Sohae’s moral reminder—for that is what it is—that obedience and submission are better construed as generosity and gentleness is that her project in the Naehoon is to issue an even more general moral reminder: the virtues associated with women—call them the female virtues—are not limited to the gender roles associated with women.12 In the first chapter, “The Words and Actions of Women,” she includes passages whose moral point is that the



virtues of gentleness and care are desirable not just for women but for men as well. Moreover, she doesn’t just include but introduces the virtues of gentleness and care in stories of both men and women exemplifying those virtues. In doing so, in including men right from the start, her assumption can only be that gentleness and care are not virtues for women alone, even if they are traditionally considered “female virtues.” Philosophically speaking, then, desirable female virtues are better termed just plain virtues; the “female” part is social association, not ethical reality. To obtain a fuller and better understanding of Queen Sohae’s position, this point needs to be coupled with the earlier point that a wife’s virtue of obedience and service to her husband is nothing but patience and gentleness.

XI To dig a little deeper concerning her view of the virtues, and concerning gentleness and care in particular, consider the story of Youkwan: Not even briefly did Youkwan speak fast or show hastiness, even if he was busy. His wife tested him on how gentle he was: One day Youkwan dressed up for a morning meeting and she ordered her maid to spill a bowl of soup on his official attire. Youkwan’s face did not change its expression. He said (to the maid) in a calm manner, “Did your hands get scalded?” His character and disposition was thus broad and noble. (Naehoon, “Words and Actions”) Youkwan’s calm manner of speaking and concern for the maid exemplify the highest degree of gentleness and benevolence. But notice that the story (1) is included in a book for the instruction of women, (2) is in the very first chapter of that book, and (3) speaks of a man exhibiting a virtue to the highest degree. Queen Sohae’s selection of this story and its position in the book are far from arbitrary. The story illustrates what it means to be benevolent and gentle—not what it is for a woman to be benevolent and gentle or what it means for a man to be benevolent and gentle, but what it means to be benevolent and gentle, period. The story is meant to encourage women to cultivate virtues, to become sages. But virtue, and the path to sagehood, is the same for both man and woman. This point, and Queen Sohae’s mode of illustration, isn’t limited to the virtue of gentleness. Other stories in this manual for the moral instruction of women show men practicing filial piety, familial love, humility, and frugality. The points that virtues are gender-neutral and that women are capable of acquiring them are reiterated. Consider another example, a story about a virtuous brother: Even though Lee Juk of the Tang Dynasty was appointed to a high office, he always lit the fire in the cooking oven and made rice soup for his sister when she fell ill. His beard had once been burnt from attending to the oven. His sister asked: “Why do you bother to do this by yourself, when there are many maids to do the work?” He said: “You and I are getting old. I want to make soup for you as often as possible, but how many times will I be able to do it?” (Naehoon, “Words and Actions”)


The brother is a high official but makes rice soup for his sister whenever she is sick. He can easily order the servants to take care of her, but his love of her is manifest in forgoing the easy, imperious, and impersonal path, and happily choosing—not just choosing but willingly, happily, affectionately choosing—to serve his sister himself. As a man of high position, this is a humble act of love. Queen Sohae includes the story to encourage women to cultivate familial love and to perform, no matter what a woman’s social rank and political power may be, humble acts for family members, especially parents and siblings. Familial love and humility are desirable in both men and women and are manifested in the same way, regardless of the gender of the loving or the loved. What are regarded as principal female virtues are, in reality, not gender specific.

XII Queen Sohae’s major contribution in the Naehoon lies in her reinterpretation of the husband-wife bond: the virtue of wives is not obedience and blind submission to husbands, but patience and gentleness; and patience and gentleness are human virtues, not female virtues per se. Thus the duty of a wife in the husband-wife bond is not hierarchical in the way that the king-servant and father-son bonds are. That said, Queen Sohae’s aspiration for the sagehood of women was not, for historical reasons, extended to all women in her society. The sagehood of all contemporaneous women, she knew, was an empirical impossibility. And she was not a social revolutionary, not someone who, during her lifetime, engaged in political or social activism geared to reform the oppressive rules and norms that women suffered under. Political activism of the sort seen in the contemporary world was an empirical impossibility in the world of fifteenth-century Korea. Queen Sohae believed that as things stood in Korea at the time, most women should obey their husbands blindly, since most women have not been trained in the virtues or in the classics of Chinese literature. In that sense, she accepted “Three Bonds” as traditionally understood. But she was no simple-minded reactionary, and no female Quisling. Sagely women, women of wisdom and moral insight, women who are fully capable of leading and guiding their husbands, are not a philosophical impossibility but, for contingent reasons, merely a societal rarity. Kim (2006, pp. 79–93) appears to be close to me on the point. She argues that an aspiration for female sagehood could not bear fruit during the Chosun, that there were no female sages, due to lack of opportunity: with education and training in virtues largely denied to women and instruction manuals being rare, women were reduced, as a matter of historical fact, to live their lives as dependent and subordinate beings. Living at the time, I have argued, Queen Sohae was slightly more optimistic. She believed that under the oppressive social and legal circumstances, very few women could cultivate themselves by learning to the highest degree and become sages. According to her, female sages can, would, but unfortunately only to a small extent, do make great contributions to the proper functioning of marriage, family, and state. Within a world in which, empirically speaking, what we today regard as the absolute equality of men and women was a



social impossibility, we can see, in the Naehoon, a vision of ideal women who are the moral and intellectual equal of men. Queen Sohae’s Naehoon may not have included any roadmap for reforming educational structures for women, but it opened the door for inclusive Confucianism, even if incompletely. Analytic philosophers like to distinguish between conceptual revision and moral revision. Above myself have characterized Queen Sohae’s contribution as conceptual. Certainly, in the chapter “Husband and Wife,” Queen Sohae re-construes the wife’s duty of obedience as a norm of patience and gentleness informed with wisdom; and certainly, in a sense, this is conceptual revision. But, in strict point of fact, it is moral revision. Queen Sohae isn’t really changing the concept of obedience but recovering it, the old concept, from the misunderstanding and abuse into which it had fallen. Hers is the same concept that Confucius held, but it is a concept that had been morally distorted, perhaps unwittingly, at the hands of Chosun Neo-Confucian scholar-officials. She isn’t advancing a program of conceptual change but attempting a conceptual rescue. Her aim is moral, not conceptual, for she is a good Confucian. And as a good Confucian, she practices the virtues she preaches. Through the very gentleness and care she advises, she admonishes the Chosun for bad judgment, for misunderstanding, for getting things wrong, and for making life worse for husband, wife, family, and state. She herself exemplifies the sagely virtues that her stories illustrate.

XIII Many scholars will undoubtedly think that this chapter is a defense of the indefensible, that Queen Sohae is an obvious opportunist defender of the patriarchal status quo, that the title of this paper should be the same as one of Hintikka’s: “Impossible Possible Worlds Vindicated.” But while it must be admitted that Queen Sohae is no saint, nothing like a contemporary feminist, and ambivalent in many crucial respects, the case can be made, and I have tried to make it, that the universal contumely she has suffered and the blanket condemnation that her thought has met are unwarranted. Inspired by Mencius and the women’s biography tradition of China, Queen Sohae made room for female sages against the oppressive norms of Chosun Neo-Confucianism. Although she largely subscribed to a hierarchical husband-wife bond, she showed us that women can become sages, in fact, that sagely women existed, were intellectual and moral partners of men, and contributed to the success of the state. Hers was a true contribution toward showing us that Confucianism and feminism can and should inform each other.

Notes 1. Jeong Dojeon (1342–1398) was the major architect of the Chosun dynasty. He laid down the philosophical and ideological foundation of the Chosun dynasty and wrote the first constitutional code, Chosun Code of National Administration, in 1394.


2. The list of recent bestseller books in Korea includes titles such as Nevertheless Confucius Should Live, The Nation Will Survive Only When Confucius Dies, and Humanity Survives When Confucius Lives. 3. The detailed report of the conference and following developments can be found in Koh (2008), “Gender Issues and Confucian Scriptures: Is Confucianism Incompatible with Gender Equality in South Korea?” 4. Queen Sohae was the mother of King Sungjong (the ninth king of Chosun dynasty). She was educated in the Confucian classics, composed the Naehoon, the first instructional book for women in Korea, was deeply involved, late in her life, in the politics of her time, and was an avid advocate of Buddhism. 5. Published in AD 1475, the original Naehoon appeared in both Chinese and old Korean. The version of the Naehoon that informs this article includes original languages texts, plus an excellent translation into modern Korean by Sunyoung Lee and Seunghee Lee. Their translation was published by Chae Ryun Publishing in 2011. All translations from Korean into English in this chapter are my own. I have mainly relied on the modern Korean version of the Naehoon for my translations, but have also consulted the Chinese and Old Korean versions of the text. 6. Jeong claims that the Five Classics, such as the Book of Change, the Book of Documents, the Book of Odes, the Book of Rites, and the Spring and Autumn Annals, all considered the union of a husband and a wife with respect. 7. The book was the most influential text for moral instruction during the Chosun period. It was composed by Liu Zideng, a disciple of Zhu Xi, as a primer for studying the Four Books. Chosun scholar-officials and elites took the book as an essential instructional manual for the everyday self-cultivation of Confucian gentlemen. It was revered as Zhu Xi’s teaching. 8. They are Admonitions for Women (女誡 Nuji, 여계) by Ban Zhao; the Analects for Women (女論語 Nulunyu,여논어), by Song Ruoxin and Song Ruozhao; Instruction for the Inner Quarters (內訓 Neixun, 내훈), by Empress Wen of Ming; and Concise Selection of Model Women (女範捷錄 Nufan jielu, 여범첩록), by Liu. See chapter five of Confucianism and Women, by Rosenlee (2006), for a detailed explanation of these books. 9. A Confucian scholar in the Han dynasty (176 BC–104 BC). 10. A court official, who composed the book on the history of Former Han in AD 111. 11. The seven chapters of the book are on the virtues in words and actions, filial piety, rituals of marriage, husband and wife, rectitude of motherhood, harmony in family, and frugality. 12. On the relation between the representation of virtuous women in the Biographies of Virtuous Women and gender-neutral virtues, see Rosenlee (2006, pp. 96–98).

Bibliography Deuchler, M. (1992), The Confucian Transformation of Korea: A Study of Society and Ideology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.



Great Code of National Administration (in Korean) (1985), trans. W. Han, S. Lee, H. Min, T. Lee, and O. Kwon. Seoul, S. Korea: Academy of Korean Spirit and Culture. Han, H. (2005), “The Life of Queen Sohae and the Naehoon,” Korean Thought and Culture, 27: 81–131 (in Korean). Jeong, D. (1394), Chosun Codes of National Administration (in Korean), trans. Y. Han (2012). Seoul: Olje. Kim, C. (2006), “Everyone Could Become a Sage and Confucian Women Could Not Become Sages,” in Philosophical Essay on Asian Feminism. Seoul: Random House Korea, pp. 75–93 (in Korean). Koh, E. (2008), “Gender Issues and Confucian Scriptures: Is Confucianism Incompatible with Gender Equality in South Korea?” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 71, (2): 345–62. Lee, S. (2008), “The Perception of Women in Early Chosun Confucianism,” Korean Studies Quarterly, 31 (2): 193–221 (in Korean). Li, C. (1994), “The Confucian Concept of Jen and the Feminist Ethics of Care: A Comparative Study,” Hypatia, 9 (1): 70–89. Queen Sohae (1475), Naehoon (in Korean), ed. and trans. Sun Lee and Seung Lee (2011). Seoul: Chae Ryun. Rosenlee, L. (2006), Confucianism and Women: A Philosophical Interpretation. Albany: State University of New York Press. Son, A. (2006), “Confucianism and the Lack of the Development of the Self Among Korean American Women,” Pastoral Psychology, 54 (4): 325–36. Wang, R. (2005), “Dong Zhongsgu’s Transformation of Yin-Yang Theory and Contesting of Gender Identity,” Philosophy East and West, 55 (2): 209–31.

Part II

Confucian Approaches: Modern and Contemporary Building on Part I’s study of Confucianism in the ancient and medieval periods, Part II addresses Confucian modern and contemporary approaches to gender in response to feminist critique, multiculturalism, and the challenge from the LGBT community. How would the Confucian tradition address these issues? In Chapter 5, “Close Personal Relationships and the Situated Self: The Confucian Analects and Feminist Philosophy,” Karyn Lai contrasts feminist philosophy’s image of the situated, relational self with the “Man of Reason,” often seen as paradigmatic in the history of Western philosophy. Lai takes the cue from feminist philosophy and analyzes the conversations in the Confucian Analects on two significant relationships, the parent-child relationship and friendship. In Chapter  6, “Care and Justice: Reading Mencius, Kant, and Gilligan Comparatively,” Chenyang Li investigates the intricate relations between Confucian ethics, feminist care ethics, and justice ethics. Drawing from multiple texts and examples from the Book of Mencius and Western classics, Li concludes that from a configured perspective, Mencius’s ethic is best characterized as a care ethic, not a justice ethic or a mixture of the two. In Chapter 7, “Moral Reasoning: The Female Way and the Xunzian Way,” Ellie Hua Wang examines another canonical Confucian text, the Xunzi. She argues that the female way of moral reasoning with its emphasis on the importance of affect contributes to a fuller understanding of human cognition. Nonetheless, Xunzi also asserts that emotion and relation should not override one’s central moral principle. Thus, an important difference exists between the Xunzian gentleman and the caring person in feminist care ethics. In Chapter  8, “Multiculturalism and Feminism Revisited: A Hybridized Confucian Care Ethics,” Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee argues against the unidirectional



flow of feminist ideas and theories from the West to the rest of the world in current feminist discourse. She expresses that this sort of unidirectionality runs the risk of neo-colonialism in a feminist disguise. Alternatively, she proposes non-Western alternatives, specifically the Confucian notion of xiao as an intergenerational labor of love that the feminist community should consider. In Chapter  9, “Would Confucianism Allow Two Men to Share a Peach? Compatibility between Ancient Confucianism and Homosexuality,” Sin-Yee Chan investigates Confucian perspectives on homosexual relationship. Even though historical accounts documented social acceptance of homosexual practice in ancient China, no direct reference in the Confucian classics to this issue can be found. Hence, one can only reconstruct the Confucian position based on its stance on the related issues of marriage, reproduction, and the yin-yang binary. Based on the premise that homosexual desires are natural needs, she presents several interesting arguments regarding the moral permissibility of homosexuality in Confucianism.

Chapter Five

Close Personal Relationships and the Situated Self: The Confucian Analects and Feminist Philosophy karyn lai

Close personal relationships are critical to human well-being and, yet, they can be difficult. In balancing our own needs, interests, and desires with those of the significant other, our emotions, obligations, memories, and shared experiences are often entangled. How do we respond to a friend who is overly demanding or provide support for a sibling with low self-esteem? The Confucian Analects recognizes the centrality of personal relationships to personhood. Many of its conversations dwell on how relationships with significant others must first be nurtured and developed before a person can interact with others in society and handle matters successfully (Analects 1.6; 1.7). Personal relationships shape the self by influencing our inclinations (Analects 1.2) and deliberations (Analects 9.25; 16.4; 16.5), and in affecting the way we see and value things (Analects 1.8; 9.30). In Confucian philosophy there is another, more substantive, way in which personal relationships are central to selfhood: the uniqueness of each person derives in part from the relationships he or she has. A person is unique because she belongs to this family, has these relationships within the immediate and extended family contexts, and has other significant relationships with friends, colleagues, and so on. In this way, Confucian personhood is not conceived of in abstract or universalizable terms; a person’s identity may only be fully understood in terms of how he or she stands in relation to significant others. In this way, the Confucian self is a concrete, located self. Feminist philosophy shares many of these focal points and concerns. In more recent debates in the field, some scholars have proposed the notion of a situated self, as opposed to an idealized, context-independent, and neutral notion of personhood.



The discussion in this chapter takes its cue from scholarship on situatedness in feminist philosophy. The Confucian Analects includes conversations about the practicalities of relationships and I draw on them to illuminate how a Confucian self encounters daily scenarios: when to acquiesce, when to stand one’s ground, when loyalty has priority over truth-telling, and so on. In light of these tensions, how might a person position herself? As these tensions contribute to the complexity of relational ties and relational interaction, a deeper understanding of tensions like these raises awareness of the social, ethical, and emotional resources that are critical to a person’s development in such related and embedded contexts. The aim of the discussion here is to use some conversational details in the Analects, in dialogue with feminist philosophy, to demonstrate how close personal relationships can have a profound impact on a person’s sense of self. This is even more critical if inequitable relational norms are entrenched within particular communities. In the first section, I present a brief overview of elements in feminist philosophy that deal in particular with the concrete, situated self. This sets out the methodological justification for exploring relational practicalities in the following sections. In Section II, I discuss the Confucian focus on relationships with particular reference to the five significant relationships (wu lun 五倫) upheld within the Confucian tradition. Sections III and IV single out two significant relationships in Confucianism; the first is the parent-child relationship and the second, friendship. The point of these two sections is to expose the multi-dimensional nature of relational engagement as well as the complicated tensions that arise in relationships. In the final section, I consider how the Confucian picture of relational self might inform our thinking about the vulnerabilities of the situated self.

I.  FEMINIST PHILOSOPHY’S SITUATED SELF A primary concern of feminist philosophy is that mainstream Western philosophy often overvalues conceptual, universalizable, and agent-independent accounts of human well-being, and of life more generally. In such accounts, the “Man of Reason” is the paradigmatic, model human being (Lloyd, 1984). Correspondingly, ethical action should be impartial and universalizable (Cottingham, 1983; Held, 1987; Blum, 1990; Friedman, 1991). Feminist ethics proposes a concept of self that is engaged and emotionally responsive (Gilligan, 1982; Noddings, 2003). In some of the feminist debates, discussions have also focused on how the “Man of Reason” paradigm has shaped conceptions of knowledge (Code, 1991; Harding, 1991). In feminist epistemology, not only is knowledge not independent of the knower, it is also seen to arise in part from her position (Harding, 1991). According to Lorraine Code: Situation .  .  . is not just a place from which to know, as “perspectives” talk implies, indifferently available to anyone who chooses to stand there. Practices of negotiating empiricism emerge, whose negotiations are less exclusively about addressing everyday scientific or secular debates over what counts as evidence than about how the ongoing commitments of an inquiry—the epistemic imaginary



that frames and informs it—generate questions about the nature of evidence and its relation to “facts.” (2007, p. 226) From the perspective of feminist epistemology, knowledge is shaped by the circumstances of the knowing subject. This includes not only her faculties, capacities, motivations, and feelings (Walker, 2007). It also encompasses external circumstances such as the prevalent ideologies of the contexts she lives in and their associated institutions (Alcoff, 1988) as well as the relationships she has. Alcoff refers to these aspects of situatedness, which are constitutive of identity, as “positionality” (Alcoff, 1988, pp. 428–36). To understand identity in this way both avoids essentialism and commits to a thick notion of self. Its anti-essentialism is characterized by a notion of self that is dynamic and that changes in relation to the range of elements such as those described previously. For Alcoff, a person’s positionality is not merely the locus within which they operate but also includes how they respond to and interact with others within these networks. Although the conversations in the Confucian Analects arise from a very different context and are driven by different motivations, they reveal certain assumptions about the self that would seem to overlap with some of those in feminist epistemology. In particular, the text sees many of the concrete particularities of life as irreducible in a proper understanding of personhood, knowledge, action, and well-being. The following three sections explore some of these concrete particularities that come together to “situate” a Confucian life.

Ii.  The five relationships in early confucian philosophy The Mengzi (孟子), a Warring-States (zhan guo, 戰國; 475–221 BC) text, is possibly the earliest Confucian text that identifies five key human relationships. The text is associated with the figure Mengzi (385?–312? BC) and it often cites Confucius (551–479 BC) as a figure of authority. Mengzi views these five relationships as a basic component of the ideal society governed by sage-kings: [The sage-king] appointed Xie to be the Minister of Education to teach people human relationships: close affection between father and son, rightness between superior and minister, differentiation between husband and wife, proper order between young and old, and trustworthiness between friends. (Mencius 3A.4, adapted from the translation by D. C. Lau, 2003, pp. 115–17)1 For Mengzi, each of these relationships is distinguished from the others by virtue of different aspects of relational bonds, including affect, emotion, standing, obligation, reciprocity, duty, and reliability, as appropriate in each case. The following picture arises from the Mengzi’s categorization of these relationships: Father and son: qing (親), representing familial relationships; Superior and minister: yi (義), representing obligation and duty; Husband and wife: bie (別), representing gender;



Young and old: xu (序), representing age; Friendship: xin (信), representing integrity in relationships (trustworthiness and reliability). In terms of its cross-influences across the period, Mengzi’s differentiation of the five relationships as a single group seems not to have been mentioned beyond this text although texts like the Analects (which we will explore in the following two sections) deal with one or more of the relationships in their discussions. In another Confucian text believed to be from the Han period (han chao 漢朝 206 BC–AD 220), the Zhongyong (中庸), these relationships are collectively dubbed the “five relationships” (wu lun 五倫). However, in this later text, no detail is provided on each type of relationship: The universal way of the world is fivefold, and the means of putting it into practice are three. Ruler and minister, father and son, husband and wife, elder brother and younger brother, and friend and friend: these five relationships constitute the universal Way of the world. Wisdom, goodness, and courage: these three are the universal virtues of the world. The means of putting them into practice is oneness. (Chapter 20, trans. Gardner, 2007, p. 120) Compared with the Mengzi passage, the finer-grained characterizations of each of the five relationships are not mentioned here. Later again, the notion of the wu lun was often associated with the “three bonds” (san gang 三綱)2—seemingly without textual basis—and both themes were together seen as instrumental in driving Confucian conservatism (Hsü, 1970–1971; Tu, 1998). It is not the intention here to rehearse the arguments about doctrinal authenticity or the perpetuation of the Confucian notion of relationships through Chinese intellectual history. Suffice it to say that Mengzi’s characterization of the five relationships offers a small glimpse into the Confucian backdrop on relationships, noting in particular the importance to Mengzi of differentiating between them. The following two sections focus on two of these five relationships as they are discussed in the Analects. The aim is to draw out the detail in these conversations in order to demonstrate the Confucian attentiveness to the complexities of particular relationships. It is envisaged that these explorations will deepen our understanding of what it means for a person to be situated, that is, where emotions, affection, obligations, loyalties arising from particular relationships bear on the self, its decisions and actions. Here, I have selected filial piety (xiao 孝) and friendship (you 友). Filial piety plays a foundational role in the Confucian conceptual framework, as we shall see in the following section. Friendship, discussed in section four, is the only one of the five relationships that does not inherently involve hierarchy or inequality. Hence, it provides a philosophically interesting picture of a relationship between equals.

III.  FILIAL PIETY IN THE ANALECTS In Confucian philosophy, the notion of an ideal life incorporates a person’s effective interactions with others in terms of how she conducts herself, responds to others,



fulfills obligations, negotiates tricky situations, and handles responsibilities. These ties, and often tensions, begin from a young age and the early years in particular are viewed as critical in a person’s development. In this section, I investigate the parentchild relationship to bring out its multilayered complexities. Filial piety is at the core of Confucian life, not only because the parent-child connection has a place of priority among other relationships (e.g., Analects 17.9), but also because this relationship has a major impact on a child’s most impressionable and formative years (Analects 1.2). Some of the text’s conversations emphasize the affective aspects of filial piety, in particular, of respect for one’s parents: Ziyou asked about filial conduct (xiao 孝). The Master replied: “Those today who are filial are considered so because they are able to provide for their parents. But even dogs and horses are given that much care. If you do not respect your parents, what is the difference?” (Analects 2.7, trans. Ames and Rosemont, 1998, p. 77) This conversation marks out the distinctiveness of human attachment, highlighting indebtedness to one’s parents. The character xiao comprises the character “耂,” which signifies age or older generation, and “子,” which signifies son. Xiao applies only to the child, not the parent; the onus is on the child to manifest xiao; parents cannot “xiao” their children. “Child xiao parent” is not a transitive relation: it does not imply “parent xiao child” as, for instance, in the case of “X is next to Y.” Furthermore, it appears to be a relationship marked by subordination: Meng Yizi asked about filial conduct (xiao 孝). The Master replied: “Do not act contrary.” Fan Chi was driving the Master’s chariot, and the Master informed him further: Meng Yizi asked me about filial conduct, and I replied: ‘Do not act contrary.” Fan Chi asked, “What did you mean by that?” The Master replied: “While they are living, serve them according to the observances of ritual propriety (li 禮); when they are dead, bury them and sacrifice to them according to the observances of ritual propriety.” (Analects 2.5, trans. Ames and Rosemont, 1998, p. 77) The phrase that has been translated “do not act contrary” is wu wei (無違)—without departure from the parents’ words or wishes. The etymology of the second character, wei 違, further compounds the concern about subservience. Its left half consists of the character chuo (辵), which signifies movement and denotes to “walk away from.”3 In the context of the passage, a filial child is not permitted to walk away from the parents’ views or wishes. This applies as well to adult children in a parent-child relationship. In addition to this conversation, two well-known passages emphasize the obligatory nature of filial piety. The first, Analects 13.18, poses important ethical difficulties for Confucian thought. It stresses the place of loyalty in the father-son relationship by requiring that fathers and sons cover up for each other: The Governor of She in conversation with Confucius said, “In our village there is someone called ‘True Person.’ When his father took a sheep on the sly, he reported him to the authorities.”



Confucius replied, “Those who are true in my village conduct themselves differently. A father covers for his son, and a son covers for his father. And being true lies in this.” (Trans. Ames and Rosemont, 1998, pp. 166–67) In another conversation, the limits to remonstration with one’s parents are set out in no uncertain terms: The Master said, “In serving your father and mother, remonstrate with them gently. On seeing that they do not heed your suggestions, remain respectful and do not act contrary. Although concerned, voice no resentment.” (Analects 4.18, trans. Ames and Rosemont, 1998, p. 93) The main worry about this advice is that it is not simply about holding back one’s suggestions or attempting not to feel resentful. The passage implies that the child has a legitimate cause for raising an issue with his or her parents but is not allowed to take it beyond a certain point. On the other hand, although these conversations appear heavy-handed, their aim would have been to capture the obligatory nature of filial piety. While some of the conversations seem to highlight compliance, there is also emphasis on the child’s internally motivated support for his or her parents, grounded in their gratitude arising from the recognition of parental love and concern (Analects 2.7). Reciprocity—albeit a nonsymmetrical one—underlies the parent-child relationship. The unwillingness of Zaiwo (宰我) to carry out the three-year mourning period to its full term for his parents bears out this point (Analects 17.21). Confucius’s comment on Zaiwo was a rhetorical question: “Did Yu enjoy the three years’ love of his parents?” While expressing disapproval, Confucius’s comment also suggests the reciprocal nature of such relationships, which might have helped to explain why Zaiwo no longer felt grief before the mourning period was over. In Analects 2.6, when Meng Wu Bo (孟武伯) asked Confucius what filial piety was, Confucius replied saying: “Parents are anxious lest their children should be sick” (trans. Legge, 1861, p.  12). This is a rather literal translation of the phrase “父母唯其疾之憂” (fu mu wei qi bing zhi you). Commentaries on this passage have focused on the responsibility and responsiveness of children, noting that children should not give parents cause for worry other than illness.4 In these commentaries, and notwithstanding the ambiguity, the reason for not giving parents cause for worry is grounded in parental concern. What emerges from these conversations on filial piety is a complicated picture of entangled emotions and obligations. From the perspective of the child—whether a young child or a fully grown adult—the parent-child relationship is to be celebrated, although it may also place onerous demands on the child. Filial piety in the Analects is not just one-sided in its demands on children. We have seen the conversations that imply that the first move in the relationship, marked by loving concern, must be taken by parents. Ideally, in a proper filial relationship, respect and concern for one’s parents arises naturally and is neither coerced nor calculative.5 Caring responses to one’s parents are a natural consequence of “the three years’ love of his parents.” The Confucian child is situated in the following ways and more: she is brought up within her particular family context and shaped by the values, commitments, and character



of her parents, her place within the family, her responsiveness to her parents, and how she handles the expectations required of her position within the family. A number of ethical notions are involved in Confucian filial piety including: gratitude, loyalty, obligation, reciprocity, responsiveness, concern, responsibility, affection, and respect. I will return in the final section to consider how such positionality might impact on a person in gender-specific ways.

IV.  FRIENDSHIP IN THE ANALECTS Friendship is a relationship among “equals,” unlike the parent-child relationship. In the Analects, friendship has a palpably moral dimension: friendship is marked by respect and sincerity (Analects 5.17, 5.26) and friends admonish, share and learn together (Analects 12.23, 5.26, 12.24). The conversation in Analects 16.4 states explicitly that friendships can have a major impact upon a person: Confucius said, “Having three kinds of friends will be a source of personal improvement; having three other kinds of friends will be a source of personal injury. One stands to be improved by friends who are true, who make good on their word, and who are broadly informed; one stands to be injured by friends who are ingratiating, who feign compliance, and who are glib talkers.” (Trans. Ames and Rosemont, 1998, p. 197)6 It is no wonder that Zengzi (曾子), one of Confucius’s followers, noted that “the gentleman acquires friends by means of cultural refinement, and then relies upon his friends for support in becoming good” (Analects 12.24; trans. Slingerland, 2003, p. 137). There are two well-known conversations on how one needs to have friends alike oneself (Analects 1.8; 9.25). This advice “無友不如己者” (wu you bu ru ji zhe) is sometimes translated as “Have no friends not equal to yourself ” (e.g., as in Legge, 1861, p.  5; emphasis mine). However, the term translated as “not equal” (bu ru 不如) is more accurately rendered as “not alike” to avoid the suggestion that there is some requirement of equality in rank or status where friendship is concerned. The concern here is about compatibility in axiological commitments rather than parity in social status. The text makes explicit statements about what we might call “moral equals,” who may tactfully admonish the other whenever necessary. Indeed, this seems to be an entrenched feature of friendships such that it is necessary in the text to make the point that frequent or insistent reproofs can create distance between friends (Analects 4.26, 12.23). Slingerland explains the moral influence between friends in his commentary on friendship: [W]hat Confucius means by a “friend” (you 友) here is a person who shares one’s moral aspirations (cf. 9.30, 16.4, 16.5). One is to compare oneself with other people in general in order to evaluate one’s moral progress (4.17, 7.22, 16.11), but the fellowship provided by a friend in virtue combines a powerful spur to further moral development with a deeply felt solidarity of purpose— an important solace during the long and arduous process of self-cultivation. (Slingerland, 2003, p. 4)



Given that friends have significant moral sway, it is important to have discussions with like-minded people. The Analects—conversations—often capture exchanges between a follower and Confucius, with Confucius himself presenting some instruction or insight to his interlocutor. However, there are also conversations that portray Confucius enjoying interchanges with his followers on a range of topics. For example, Confucius has a relaxed exchange with Yan Yuan (顏淵) and Ji Lu (季路), where they each speak about their desires: Ji Lu desires to have chariots, horses, and light fur clothes, and to share these with friends; Yan Yuan wishes he would neither boast about his strengths nor show off his abilities; while Confucius seeks to bring comfort to the aged, to be trustworthy to friends, and to protect the young (Analects 5.26; see also 11.26). These exchanges can be mutually edifying, and there is an unmistakable sense of joy (le 樂) in friendship (e.g., Analects 1.1, 16.5). Friendship is understood to be constitutive of the self in that friends exert significant influence on one’s views and beliefs. Hence, it is especially important that friends hold views and have values that are compatible with one’s own. In comparison to the parent-child relationship, friendship does not necessarily involve gratitude to friends for the necessities of life or, indeed, for life itself. Hence, in some ways, admonishing a friend is a more straightforward task when compared to the Analects 4.18, where a limit is imposed on the extent to which one is allowed to remonstrate with one’s parents, though we are warned that frequent reproofs can wear down friendship (Analects 4.26). What is distinctive about friendship in the Analects is its emphasis on moral reliance between friends. As noted in the Mengzi passage on the five relationships discussed previously, xin (信), trustworthiness or reliability, is the distinctive characteristic of friendship. The character xin consists of two characters, the first, “亻,” the symbol for person, and the second, “言,” the symbol for speech. In the two passages that emphasize not having friends that are not compatible (Analects 1.8; 9.25), xin is emphasized, as is loyalty (zhong 忠): “The Master said, ‘Hold loyalty and reliability as fundamental. Have no friends not alike yourself. When you have faults, do not hesitate to abandon them’” (Analects 9.25; adapted from the translation by Legge, 1861, p. 88. [Passage 9.24 in Legge]). Especially in its coupling with zhong, to embrace xin is not simply to stand by one’s word, but also to be a reliable friend, one that can be counted on. While parents provide guidance, especially in the formative years, friends provide support of a different kind, marked by loyalty, sincerity, and reliability. Importantly, friends are prepared to be a sounding board for one’s decisions and actions. As like-minded companions, friends provide good counsel, though the advice sometimes needs to be imparted tactfully. The sway of friends is a powerful force, as noted in Analects 16.4 cited above: ideally, friendships provide moral, emotional, and intellectual support, but friends whose characters are wanting may harm a person.7 Notwithstanding this possibility, the Analects views friendships positively and as central to human wellbeing. One of its conversations draws an apt parallelism between craftsmanship and friendship: a craftsman sharpens his tools in preparation to undertake his work well while an exemplary person, in preparation for office, forges friendships with other exemplary persons (Analects 15.10).



V.  RELATIONAL COMPLEXITIES In the preceding discussion, we have seen how the Analects attends to the multidimensional nature of personal relationships. The description of the two relationships above is not exhaustive but illustrative of the considerations that might arise in such close relationships. That Confucian philosophy recognizes such complexity in relationships is also substantiated in secondary literature, including in treatments of Confucian relationality and feminist philosophy (Li, 2000; Star, 2002; Rosenlee 2006), and in the characterization of Confucian ethics as role ethics (Rosemont Jr. et  al., 2009; Ames, 2011). The discussion so far has taken a phenomenological approach in outlining the many considerations involved in close relationships. This approach highlights concrete details involved in a person’s interaction with others. In this section, I adopt the methodological framework from feminist debates on the situated self to consider how these details are morally significant within a conception of selfhood and action. In what follows, I make three points on how the discussion here might enrich our understanding of the Confucian situated self. The concern here is to appreciate how the complexities of close personal relationships impact on the self, rather than to present Confucian philosophy in a positive light. The first emphasizes a problem in Confucian philosophy that, in failing adequately to account for gender as an important dimension in relationships, it may contribute to inequalities for women and also possibly for men. Second, I briefly consider the nature of moral reasoning if the particularities of personal relationships take precedence over universalizable moral principles. Finally, I focus on the practical implications of situated morality especially if a child’s sense of self and well-being are shaped by its relationships in early life. Of particular importance are institutional frameworks that protect children, given that close personal relationships can have a lasting influence in shaping the self. I discuss each point in turn. First, an important concern about Confucian relationships is their ingrained hierarchical nature, seen in four of the five relationships articulated by Mengzi. From the perspective of feminist and gender studies, much has been written about the irrelevance of the Confucian husband-wife relationship to contemporary contexts (e.g., Tu, 1998; Rosenlee, 2006). The literature also abounds with empirical studies on problems for women who have to live with these expectations of wifely submission (e.g., Slote and De Vos, 1998). Although such research needs to be wary of its claims about the nature of the correlation—that is, whether Confucianism is causally implicated in expectations of wifely submission in China and in Chinese diaspora cultures—philosophers and ethicists need to be mindful of how the Analects and other Confucian texts might be exploited to justify such acts. For example, it would be naïve in light of what we have seen so far in the Confucian texts to hold, as Tu Wei-ming does, that “the wife is not subservient to the husband, but is his equal” (1998, pp. 132–33). There are other, more urgent and pervasive gender-related concerns that extend beyond the husband-wife relationship. For example, Rosenlee points out: [In Confucian philosophy,] women, the limited beings, are forever incomplete. The Confucian project of self-cultivation and the ideal of junzi, although they are



not gender specific in their moral content, are nevertheless beyond the reach of women as gendered beings of nei [inner; 內]. Hence, what needs to be rectified in Confucianism is the gender-based division of nei-wai [inner-outer; 內外] . . . the nei-wai distinction as a gender distinction will need some modifications in order to create a feminist space within. (2006, p. 154) Rosenlee has rightly identified one of the ways in which Confucian philosophy’s handling of gender threatens its relevance to contemporary debates and modern life; these problems cannot be so speedily swept under the rug to say that the wife is the husband’s equal. But the problem may be more intractable than Rosenlee suggests, for the ideal of the junzi (君子), the Confucian exemplary person, is in fact gender-specific; the kinds of pursuits undertaken by the junzi include charioteering and archery (Analects 9.2), activities that would have been outside the domain of women. The gender- (and class-) specificity of the junzi concept has been closely scrutinized by Erica Brindley: Confucius’ society was governed by norms and expectations that would have informed his views on how social groups such as women, artisans, and farmers might have related to such an ideal. While he might not have explicitly barred women and lower-class people from the junzi ideal, there is no conclusive evidence that he encouraged them to pursue it, or that he even considered such an ideal relevant to them. In fact, some occupations and ritual roles were manifestly considered to be incompatible with the fulfillment of the junzi ideal. This suggests that the junzi ideal was not just a moral goal that could be pursued by anyone. It was an occupation and social role that was to some degree inappropriate for, irrelevant, and effectively off-limits to individuals of certain social backgrounds and gender. (2009, p. 61) Brindley also notes that the junzi concept is closely intertwined with self-determining agency. By contrast, “lesser” titles, for example, of the common person (min 民) and others, including of women, are lacking in individual autonomy. In addition to these textual concerns, some empirical evidence from life in contemporary societies is troubling: Margery Wolf presents data from research in Taiwan that show differential treatment of boys and girls: In their early years, little boys in Taiwan quickly learned that their gender was an advantage they had over older and stronger siblings. Their sisters (younger and older) and even their older brothers were expected to give way to them, for they were the “precious bundles.” . . . [By contrast,] when their brothers were making demands and getting them met, girl’s demands were less consistently met. (1994, pp. 257–58) I draw on these observations not to place blame on Confucianism for these practices. The point here is to urge caution regarding how we might appropriately draw on Confucian notions of relationships. We have seen that Confucian philosophy does not provide sufficient detail on how gender impacts on the self: women only figure in the five relationships once, and there, too, in a subordinate position. This is compounded by the fact that gender can—and does, in Wolf ’s



study—determine the ways in which people interact with and relate to others. One important lesson from Wolf ’s, Brindley’s and Rosenlee’s work is that, if the notion of gender is not integrated into an account of relationships, important and subtle differences between men and women (or boys and girls) and how they relate, or are expected to relate, could be ignored. This, in turn, could lead to inequality. Such gaps could be insidious; we can quite straightforwardly extend Brindley’s observations about the junzi to friendship. Many of the Analects’ conversations on friendship, just like its picture of the junzi, are applicable only to men. For example, in Analects 15.10, friendship is instrumental to a person’s taking up official duties. This is not an option for women. In his analysis of friendship in the Confucian historical context, Kutcher states that “[h]aving a good friend should make one a better son, brother, or official” (2000, p. 1616). Without this ever being explicitly stated, attention is given to the way men relate with each other in close companionship, but there is silence where friendship between women is concerned. Those interested in promoting the contemporary relevance of Confucian relationships must address the issue of its silence on the impact of gender in close personal relationships. Second, Confucian philosophy understands that relationships are constitutive of self; the parent-child relationship provides the earliest contexts when a child learns to respond and to understand normativity in relationships. Relational features—the kinds of relationships a person has, the hierarchies, obligations, loyalties, emotional entanglements within these relationships and the ways in which they bring both joy and tension—are irreducible in a Confucian picture of the self. It follows that individuals are not inter-substitutable as each has a particular sociomoral identity. The Confucian account of personhood resists the suggestion that forging and maintaining relationships is a universalizable experience, even though it holds that relational norms (e.g., what it means to be a good father) may apply in certain relationships. Viewing the picture this way presents a paradigm shift from those moral frameworks that assume universality, autonomy, and detachment. To focus on the details of a life and its relationships makes a difference to moral reasoning in at least two ways. First, it means that moral reasoning needs to attend to these details of relationships. For example, our decision on a certain matter may be made in response to the needs and interests of close friends. We see that Confucius gave two different answers to two of his followers because of their different tendencies: Zilu inquired, “On learning something, should one act upon it?” The Master said, “While your father and elder brothers are still alive, how could you, on learning something act upon it?” Then Ranyou asked the same question. The Master replied, “On learning something, act upon it.” Gongxi Hua said, “When Zilu asked the question, you observed that his father and elder brothers are still alive, but when Ranyou asked the same question, you told him to act on what he learns. I am confused—could you explain this to me?” The Master replied, “Ranyou is diffident, and so I urged him on. But Zilu has the energy of two, and so I sought to rein him in.” (Analects 11.22; trans. Ames and Rosemont, 1998, pp. 146–47)



Among other things, this passage emphasizes the need for sensitivity to the needs of different people; Confucius here comes across as a person whose moral aptitude is assessed in part on the basis of how well he understood the people he had close relationships with. In addition, to consider questions of morality from the point of view of a person’s situatedness means that rules or universalizable principles do not take precedence, even though they may have prima facie significance. It is not that the Confucian account does not pay heed to moral principles but rather that relational particularities may take priority in defining the self and its well-being. To grant moral weight to relational details is to understand that our responses to particular cases turn on these details. Hence relationally defined principles such as loyalty (zhong 忠) and mutuality (shu 恕) may take precedence over truth-telling (Analects 13.18). However, because details of close personal relationships are not always universalizable, interactions with others may get complicated: if Confucian philosophy focuses primarily on close personal relationships, how is one to respond to a stranger, whom one knows little about? Or how is one to interact with others within a group? Ambrose King suggests that people in societies influenced by Confucian philosophy might face some difficulties when interacting with others within a group scenario (King, 1985). These considerations call for greater awareness of how generalities and particularities of relating to others figure in a person’s interaction with others, within their particular social environments. For instance, in thinking about appropriate fatherly concern, we will have to include consideration both of what it means to be a caring father (in general), as well as when it might be appropriate for a caring father (in particular scenarios), say, to restrict the food intake of his overweight child. Third, one important underlying assumption of Confucian philosophy is that the self, being fundamentally relational, is malleable (Brindley, 2011). Because Confucian philosophy considers personhood in relational terms, it also holds that selfhood is constituted in part by the significant relationships a person has. As we have seen in its discussions on friendship, for instance, the Analects sees the vulnerability of a person in terms of how he might be affected by his friends. A key practical issue arising from this belief in the malleability of human nature is the importance of institutions that support the development of shared conceptions of functional, fulfilling relationships. In particular, the discussions about the parentchild relationship in Confucianism draw our attention to the significance of the family context in the early childhood years, in shaping the self. These early years, when the child is most impressionable, are the most critical years in a person’s development of a sense of self. Within the family context, a broad range of normative and affective considerations are involved. Here, one learns about dependencies, obligations, affection, loyalties, concern, love, the sharing of burdens, and so on— or the lack thereof. Worse still, one might learn that a parent cannot be trusted, or is to be feared. These early impressions of relationships are difficult to reverse and hence it is especially important that children are provided with a sense of functional, and dysfunctional, relationships with a clear understanding that the latter fall outside the bounds of normality. The vulnerability of children and their inability to stand up for themselves makes it imperative that, in contemporary



liberal societies, such possibilities be closely scrutinized. From a practical point of view, the critical question is what, and how much, a community or the state should do to ensure that childhood experiences are primarily positive ones insofar as possible, both of which should be considered in light of respect for the parents’ right to determine the nature of their domestic life. In conclusion, I have focused on the notion of the situated self that is a focal point in feminist philosophy. I have selected especially to examine the concrete particularities involved in close personal relationships, which are an important dimension of the situated self. Given that relationships are an important feature of Confucian moral life, the discussion has dwelt on the rich detail provided in a Confucian text, the Analects of Confucius, to expose the complexity of relationships and different levels of entanglement in close personal relationships. Following this scrutiny, I have articulated three important implications of such a view of a relational, encumbered self. The first emphasizes gender as an irreducible dimension of close personal relationships. The second outlines the nature of the paradigm shift from that of a moral theory that requires detachment and universalizability to one that understands relational particularities as morally significant. The third focuses on the importance of attending to the early childhood years as these are a critical part of a person’s moral landscape. Together, these deliberations demonstrate how close personal relationships can bring both joy and complications to an individual’s life. In light of these considerations, it would be remiss for accounts of selfhood not to consider how such relationships shape and situate the self.

NOTES 1. The categorization of the relationships in the Chinese text (“close affection between father and son, rightness between superior and minister, differentiation between husband and wife, proper order between young and olds, and trustworthiness between friends”) is as follows: “父子有親,君臣有義,夫婦有別,長幼有[序], 朋友有信。” (Lau, 2003, p. 114). 2. A version of the three bonds idea first appeared in the Han Fei Zi (韓非子), a text attributed to Han Fei the Legalist thinker. In this text, the three bonds are referred to as “san che” (三者 three relationships). Han Fei, who argued against the Confucian proposal for good government, stated that: Thy servant has heard, “Minister serves ruler, son serves father, and wife serves husband, if these three relationships run harmoniously, all-under-Heaven will have order; if these three relationships are in discord, all-under-Heaven will be disorderly. This is an immutable principle of the world and neither the intelligent king nor the worthy minister dares to depart from it.” (“Loyalty and Filial piety” chapter, 《忠孝》, adapted from the translation by Liao, 1959, p. 312) In place of the three relationships, which Han Fei sees as a standard appropriate to the past but not to the present, he proposes: “Uphold penal law and not worthiness” (ibid.).



3. The Shuo Wen Jie Zi, one of the earliest Chinese character etymologies, explains wei in the following manner: “Wei: to depart. (Meaning) from walking (chuo), phonetic from wei (違:離也。从辵韋聲。) (Shuo Wen Jie Zi, 四十一上 (p. 41); translated by author). 4. Notable commentaries including those by He Yan (何晏, ca. 195–249 CE) and Zhu Xi (朱熹, 1130–1200), emphasize that xiao in this passage entails not giving parents any reason for worry, other than ill health (which cannot be helped). Refer to He Yan’s Collected Explanations of the Analects and Zhu Xi’s Collected Commentaries on the Four Books. The commentaries on this passage are found in Book 2 in the respective texts, “On Government” (wei zheng di er 為政第二). 5. Philip Ivanhoe terms this a “psychic debt” of the kindness received from one’s parents (2000, p. xii). 6. Additionally, one’s daily self-examination includes reflection on how one has interacted with friends (Analects 1.4). 7. Refer to Kutcher’s careful and insightful study of friendship, which highlights the wariness of Confucians through Chinese history about this relationship as it was the only relationship that was nonhierarchical and therefore deemed unstable (2000).

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Star, Daniel (2002), “Do Confucians Really Care? A Defense of the Distinctiveness of Care Ethics: A Reply to Chenyang Li,” Hypatia, 17 (1): 77–106. Tu, Wei-ming (1998), “Probing the ‘Three Bonds’ and ‘Five Relationships,” in Walter H. Slote and George A. De Vos (eds.), Confucianism and the Family. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 121–36. Walker, Margaret Urban (2007), “Moral Psychology,” in L. Alcoff and E. Kittay (eds.), The Blackwell Guide to Feminist Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 102–16. Wolf, Margery (1994), “Beyond the Patrilineal Self: Constructing Gender in China,” in Roger T. Ames, Wimal Dissanayake, and Thomas P. Kasulis (eds.), Self as Person in Asian Theory and Practice. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 251–67. Xu, Shen 許慎 (d. 120) (1963), Shuo Wen Jie Zi (shuo wen jie zi: fu jian zi 《說文解字: 附檢字》. Revised by Xu, Xuan (許鉉, 916–991). Beijing: Zhonghua shu ju chu ban (北京: 中華書局出版). Zhu, Xi 朱熹 (1983), Collected Commentaries on the Four Books (Sishu Zhangju Jizhu 《四書章句集注》). Beijing: Zhonghua shu ju (北京: 中華書局).

Chapter Six

Care and Justice: Reading Mencius, Kant, and Gilligan Comparatively chenyang li

Two decades have passed since philosophers began to investigate intensely the intricate relations between Confucian ethics, on the one hand, and care ethics and justice ethics, on the other. Two streams of this trend of study have drawn particular attention. One is on the relation between Confucian ethics and feminist care ethics; we can call it the Confucian-care ethics stream. The other is on the relation between Confucian ethics and justice ethics; we can call it the Confucian-justice ethics stream. In the Confucian-care ethics stream, discussions have been mainly on similarities and differences between Confucian ethics and feminist care ethics, and their affinity or opposition (e.g., Li, 1994, 2000; Star, 2002). In the Confucian-justice ethics stream, important issues have included whether Confucian ethics embraces, or should embrace, universal values and impartiality. In recent years, some scholars have argued that Confucian ethics integrates both care and justice (e.g., Tao, 2000; Wee, 2003). In this chapter, I will defend a view of the relationship between the concepts of care and justice and the relationship between care ethics and justice ethics on the basis of the notion of “configuration of values,”1 and show why care ethics and justice ethics cannot be integrated into one ethics. I will support this view by rereading Confucian thinker Mencius,2 justice ethicist Immanuel Kant, and feminist thinker Carol Gilligan, comparatively.

I Advocating Confucian ethics as embracing both care and justice, some scholars have attempted to show that we find both of these values in Confucian ethics. Namely, Confucians embrace both care/responsibility with gradations, on the one hand, and impartiality and universal obligations on the other. For example, through a thoughtprovoking study of Mencius, Cecilia Wee has argued that “Mencius inhabits the ‘feminine’ perspective insofar as his morality is grounded in care and responsibility. However, he develops from this a philosophy of government which recognizes the



need for impartial justice to apply among citizens” (Wee, 2003, p. 3). On the basis of this evidence, Wee concludes, “the standard picture in feminist literature, wherein the ‘care’ perspective is depicted as fundamentally incompatible with the impartial ‘rights’ perspective, is mistaken.” While meticulously careful not to rush to judgment, Wee suggests that my work may imply such an incompatibility thesis (Wee, 2003, p. 6). In this chapter, I would like to clarify my own position on this issue. I hold that these two perspectives, understood as care ethics and justice ethics, are indeed incompatible, if “incompatible” here means being impossible to be incorporated into a single value system. In what follows, I will show in what sense and why these two perspectives are incompatible. In discussing care ethics and justice ethics, people often use the term “perspective,” as in “care perspective” and “justice perspective.” For the sake of clarity, let us first define this term. “Perspective” can be understood in different ways. It can mean a single aspect from which something is considered or evaluated; it can also mean a view from a relation between aspects of a subject. An example will illustrate this difference. Suppose a team of two persons needs to decide how to complete a project of making an airplane model. From an economic point of view, it is better to make the airplane frame from raw material because buying the frame costs more money; however, from an efficiency point of view, it is better to buy an airplane frame from a shop because it saves the team’s time. I call perspectives of this kind “perspectives as aspects of view” or “single-aspect perspectives.” Furthermore, suppose the two team members disagree on how to go about the frame. While they do not disagree on the fact that buying the frame is more efficient and making it is more economic, they disagree on which approach is better for their entire project. Economy and efficiency compete in this case. Suppose team member A thinks that efficiency is more important than economy and member B holds that economy is more important than efficiency in completing their project. We say that they have different “perspectives.” I call these their economy and efficiency “perspectives as interrelated aspects” or “configured perspectives,” because one person in her judgment configures economy to be more important than efficiency while the other person thinks the opposite. As I will show next, when we use “care perspective” in the sense of care ethics and use “justice perspective” in the sense of justice ethics, “perspective” means “configured perspective”; in this sense, “care perspective” and “justice perspective” are incompatible. This distinction between two senses of perspectives is important to us because while care and justice may be compatible as single-aspect perspectives within a configured perspective, in the sense that a configured perspective can embrace both values, care ethics and justice ethics are not compatible as configured perspectives because these two are opposed to each other in prioritization and cannot be incorporated into a single value system. I should note that Wee did not argue explicitly that care ethics and justice ethics are compatible; she may even not hold such a position. She writes, “there may well be no inherent incompatibility between the ‘feminine’ ethics of care and concern and the ‘male’ impartial perspective” (Wee, 2003, p. 3). “Perspective” here is ambiguous and can be construed either as single-aspect perspective or as configured perspective. The use of the term “feminine ethics of care” in her statement seems to support the



latter interpretation. Consequently, without further clarification Wee’s position is at least vulnerable to being interpreted as saying that care ethics and justice ethics are compatible. In ethics, “single-aspect perspectives” are moral values. Moral values provide directions and guidelines for human action. For example, when an ethics contains both values of truthfulness and human life, it promotes both telling the truth and protecting human lives. While these values are largely compatible, they are not always independent of each other and they may come to compete, or even conflict, with each other. For example, if one has to decide whether to lie to the Nazis the whereabouts of a hidden Jew, it involves at least two single-aspect perspectives that compete (or conflict) with each other. From the single-aspect perspective of telling the truth (or “no-lying”), one should not lie about the whereabouts of the Jew; from the single-aspect perspective of protecting human lives, one should do what one can, including lying, in order to save the Jew. The person’s decision as to what to do depends on which value she places above the other in her configuration of these (and other related) ethical values. If we examine values at a general level as in the case of telling the truth and protecting human lives, we find that most values in ethical traditions are similar. For example, we can find such values as hard working, thrift, kindness, courteousy, trustworthiness, friendship, loyalty, fairness, or pursuit of knowledge in virtually every ethical tradition. If we evaluate a person from single-aspect perspectives, we can ask whether she is hard-working, or whether she is thrifty, or whether she is trustworthy, and so forth. Different single-aspect perspectives may compete, as in our example of the Jew and Nazis scenario. An ethics, such as Confucian ethics and Mohist ethics, is a system of values; it embraces and configures different values, including competing values, together in a more or less systematic way. Different ethics may configure values differently. That is, in different ethical systems, the same set of values may be interrelated in different ways. For example, while both Confucians and Mohists embrace universal love as well as love for one’s parents, they configure these competing values differently. They disagree on which is more important. Confucians consider love for one’s parents a priority higher than what Mohists would; Mohists give priority to universal love. Because different ethics have different configurations of values, they present competing configured perspectives on the same moral issues such as whether one should love one’s parents more than one loves anyone else. In other words, an ethics is a configured perspective; it incorporates different singleaspect perspectives that may compete or even be in conflict with one another. Neither Confucians nor Mohists would object universal love and love for one’s parents per se. But because these two kinds of love compete in the same person, they disagree on how much love a person should give to his or her parents and how much to others universally. That is to say, on issues like this one, Confucian ethics and Mohist ethics provide differently configured perspectives. The fact that both ethics embrace the values of universal love and love for parents does not entail that they as two ethics are compatible on the configuration of these values. In order to further illustrate my point, let us take a look at another example, namely the moral values of filial piety and loyalty to the state (the “ruler”). Although



both filial piety and loyalty are highly valued in Confucianism, pre-Qin Confucians gave filial piety a higher priority than loyalty to the state. The Analects places filial piety at the foundation of exercising humanity or ren (1.2). The Mencius gives us a good case in point. In the Mencius, Mencius’s student Xian Qiumeng raises a question regarding people who in serving the state were “too busy with state affairs to care for their own parents.” Mencius had to defend them, not by saying that serving the state was more important than caring for one’s parents, but by saying that service to the country was the greatest act of filial piety (Mencius 5A:4). Mencius said: The son’s utmost act of filial piety is to honor his parents; the utmost act of honoring parents lies in supporting his parents with the entire country. Being the emperor’s father is the highest honor; being supported with the entire country is the utmost form of support.3 (Mencius, 5A:4) In saying so, Mencius was able to defend these people without giving up the priority of filial piety over loyalty. It is of course conceivable that a Confucian thinker could disagree with Mencius’s defense and argue that these people may have misplaced some priorities and failed their filial duty. Nevertheless, the fact that Mencius uses the value of filial piety, not loyalty, to justify these people’s behavior, proves that he places filial piety above loyalty to the state. Otherwise, he would have simply said that loyalty to the state was more important. The “Six Virtues (Liu De)” text of the Guodian Bamboo Strips maintains that one should “forgo the emperor’s funeral in order to attend the funeral of one’s father, but not forgo one father’s funeral in order to attend the emperor’s (wei fu jue jun, bu wei jun jue fu).” The funeral ritual was one of the most important rituals of the ancients in China. This principle makes a clear case of how classic Confucians put filial piety above loyalty to the ruler. This belief was the reason why ancient Confucians could avoid punishment when they declined the ruler’s summons to serve a state post with the excuse of the need to stay home in order to serve their aged parents. (This has not always been the case throughout history. See Li, 2007.) In Japan, however, under the influence of a configuration of values that blends Confucianism with Shinto, loyalty to the emperor takes a front seat before filial piety, even though both are high values (see Li, 2004, ch. 8). Now let us come back to the issue of care ethics and justice ethics. These are two configurations of values and present two differently configured perspectives. It is not that there is no sense of justice in care ethics, as people have sometimes presumed. Amy, the 11-year-old girl in Gilligan’s “rights and responsibilities study,” wondered whether “to keep friendship or keep justice” when confronted with a moral dilemma; justice is not entirely out of the picture (Gilligan, 1982, p.  59). Gilligan’s study suggests that development for both men and women entail an integration of rights and responsibilities through the discovery of the complementarity of these disparate views: For women, the integration of rights and responsibilities takes place through an understanding of the psychological logic of relationships. This understanding tempers the self-destructive potential of a self-critical morality by asserting the



need of all persons for care. For men, recognition through experience of the need for more active responsibility in taking care corrects the potential indifference of a morality of noninterference and turns attention from the logic to the consequences of choice. (Gilligan, 1982, p. 100; italics added) Gilligan’s study shows that, by developing a post-conventional ethical understanding, women come to see the violence inherent in inequality, and men come to see the limitations of the concept of justice that is blind to the differences in human life. It is not that women are blind to justice; it is rather that “women bring to the life cycle a different point of view and order of human experience in terms of different priorities” (Gilligan, 1982, p.  22; italics added). I understand this as suggesting that women (usually or mostly) configure their values differently than men do. When rights and care conflict, women tend to give more weight to care than men do. Of course, we should note that for Gilligan the “different voice” is characterized not by gender but by theme; its association with women is not absolute (Gilligan, 1982, p. 2). On the contrary, justice ethics is not entirely void of care. Kant is a classic representative of justice ethics. His rationalist approach to ethics has been widely taken as a paradigmatic case of opposing feelings with reason. Strictly speaking, however, this is not true. For example, Kant writes, While it is not in itself a duty to share the sufferings (as well as the joys) of others, it is a duty to sympathize actively in their fate; and to this end it is therefore an indirect duty to cultivate the compassionate natural (aesthetic) feelings in us, and to make use of them as so many means to sympathy based on moral principles and the feelings appropriate to them.—It is therefore a duty not to avoid the places where the poor who lack the most basic necessities are to be found but rather to seek them out, and not to shun sickrooms or debtors’ prisons and so forth in order to avoid sharing painful feelings one may not be able to resist. For this is still one of the impulses that nature has implanted in us to do what the representation of duty alone might not accomplish. (Kant, 1996, p. 205) For Kant, sympathetic feelings as joy and sadness are “aesthetic (ästhetische)” because they are sensible feelings of pleasure or displeasure at other people’s joy or suffering. He holds that we have a duty to foster two kinds of natural feelings, namely our feelings toward the beauty of nature and our feelings of sympathy toward fellow human beings. Kant distinguishes two kinds of reactions to others’ joy and suffering. He calls the first kind mere “receptivity” to the feelings in common with others. It is the feelings that nature has implanted in us. The other kind is “the capacity and the will to share in others’ feelings.” The former is natural and therefore “unfree.” The latter is “free” and is based on practical reason (Kant, 1996, pp. 204–5). Natural feelings themselves are not morally praiseworthy for Kant because they are not motivated by reason; they nevertheless can be cultivated to acquire moral worth because they can serve as a means to promote active and rational benevolence, which is found in the second kind of feelings. Kant calls our need to foster these feelings for the sake of rational benevolence “the duty of humanity.”



In his Critique of Practical Reason, Kant addresses a different kind of feeling. He says, “no kind of feeling, [even] under the name of practical or moral feeling may be assumed as prior to the moral law and as its basis.” For Kant, “moral feeling” is different from natural feeling because moral feeling is produced by reason. However, Kant maintains that moral feeling “does not serve for an estimate of actions or as a basis of the objective moral law itself but only as an incentive to make this law itself a maxim” (Kant, 1956, pp. 78–79 [75–76]). These feelings, both natural and moral as described by Kant, may not be equivalent to care in care ethics. They are, however, unmistakably of the same kind of predisposition in us on which the concept of care is based. What is relevant to my thesis here is that, regardless of the role that Kant has assigned to these feelings, they are clearly of positive value in Kant’s ethics. That is to say, even though these caring feelings are by no means configured in Kant’s ethics as highly as they are in care ethics, they are nevertheless incorporated in Kant’s ethics as a good thing to possess. Unlike Gilligan, whose study is based on empirical observation, theories of justice ethics are mostly theoretical constructions, with little or no direct empirical support. While some of these philosophers did not incorporate care in their ethical systems, everyday experience tells us that, in real life, people who routinely practice justice ethics also care, even though they may not “care” as much as care ethicists do. If my above argument holds, we can say that it is not that care ethics entirely rejects justice, nor is that justice ethics completely rejects care; it is rather that, when care and justice compete, these two single-aspect perspectives (i.e., values) are configured differently in these two ethics. While care ethics gives a higher priority to care, justice ethics gives a higher priority to justice. In other words, care and justice as single-aspect perspectives are present in both care ethics and justice ethics. But care ethics and justice ethics are two configured perspectives. Care and justice as singleaspect perspectives are indeed compatible in the sense they can be incorporated into the same ethical system, as both care ethics and justice ethics incorporate care and justice. Care ethics and justice ethics, as two configured perspectives, however, are incompatible. They are incompatible because they give contradictory answers to the question of which single-aspect perspective is more important, similar to the two configured perspectives held respectively by the two team members in the abovementioned airplane model example. When care and justice compete or conflict, care ethics generally places care ahead of justice, whereas justice ethics generally places justice ahead of care. This, however, is not to say that care ethicists would always follow the requirement of care and would never follow the requirement of justice when the two conflict, or vice versa for justice ethicists. In some circumstances, the requirement of one is simply too overwhelming not to follow, as in a “life and death” situation; the person just has to follow that of care or justice in ways that he or she would not in cases where the two requirements are largely comparable. The argument for the compatibility of care perspective and justice perspective as ethics relies on an equivocation of the two senses of “perspective.” It has to take the fact that both care and justice (as values, that is, single-aspect perspectives) are present in Mencius’s moral philosophy as evidence that both care ethics and justice ethics (as value configurations) are present in Mencius’s moral philosophy. To be



sure, there is nothing wrong in saying that Mencius embraces both care and justice as two (competing) values. But saying that Mencius embraces both care perspective and justice perspective in the sense of configured perspectives implies that Mencius is either incoherent (that he contradicts himself on which of the two values is more important in general) or inconsistent (that he says conflicting things at different times about which of the two values is more important). My reading is that Mencius indeed embraces both care and justice as two single-aspect perspectives, but he does not embrace both care ethics and justice ethics as two configured perspectives. Using this understanding, we can explain some puzzling issues in interpreting Mencius’s ethics. For example, Mencius promotes universal love (e.g., Mencius, 1A) on the one hand and severely criticizes Mohism of its doctrine of universal love (e.g., Mencius, 3B:14) on the other. For Mencius, universal love is a good thing, but it should not be placed above one’s love for one’s parents. For Mencius, as for Confucians in general, one’s duty toward one’s family is a primary duty that receives the utmost priority; it is not to be compromised by other duties.

II There are at least two ways people can misread Confucian philosophy with regard to care and justice. One is to interpret Confucian thinkers as embracing both care ethics and justice ethics. The other is to interpret these thinkers as embracing care as one single-aspect perspective and entirely rejecting justice as the other single-aspect perspective. In this section I will examine two passages in the Mencius to show why both interpretations are mistaken. The first passage is Mencius 7A:35. Tao Ying asked, “When Shun was emperor and Gao Yao was the judge, if the Blind Man killed a man, what was to be done?” “The only thing to do was to apprehend him.” “In that case, would Shun stop it?” “How could Shun stop it? Gao Yao had authority for what he did.” “Then what should Shun do?” “Shun looked upon casting aside the Empire as no more than discarding a worn shoe. He would have secretly carried the old man on his back and fled to the edge of the Sea and lived there happily, never giving a thought to the Empire.” (Lau, 1970, p. 190, with revisions) Shun was a sage-emperor. The Blind Man was his father. Gao Yao was Shun’s minister of justice. Here Tao Ying’s hypothetical scenario presents what may well be the ultimate moral dilemma for Confucians. On the one hand, Confucians give filial piety the utmost value and take serving one’s parents to be the most sacred duty. On the other hand, a person, in particular a ruler as in the case of Shun, has a moral as well as a political obligation to uphold the law and to maintain justice in society. In this case, Shun’s duty to serve his father and his duty to uphold the law come to a direct clash. Mencius suggested a twofold solution. On the one hand, Shun should



not interfere with the state’s prosecution of his father for murdering a man. On the other hand, Shun should give up his throne and take his father to flee into the edge of the Sea so he and his father could live there happily together. This passage can be disturbing, to say the least. Later Confucians may not always agree with Mencius on this point. For example, in his Interpreting the Mencius (Mengzi Jie), the Song scholar Su Zhe 蘇轍 (1039–1112) questions the reasonableness of Mencius’s comment on Shun’s hypothetical act.4 Recently, some authors have argued that this passage shows that Mencius supported interference with justice in order to protect one’s own father, and therefore it is a case of Confucian corruption (Liu, 2004). While this reading may not be entirely baseless, the authors may have read too much into Mencius’s suggestion and thereby missed the moral of his story. The book of Mencius is more appropriately read as moral teachings rather than a manual for specific actions. We should in this passage read Mencius as suggesting primarily two things. First, Shun should not use his power of the throne to interfere with the state’s prosecution of his father. (Even when he was to carry his father away, he was to do it “secretly” according to the text.) Second, he should take whatever actions reasonable to him as the son in order to help his father. If we read the passage this way, Mencius’s solution is applicable even today. First, if a mayor’s or a president’s father has committed a serious crime and is being prosecuted within his own jurisdiction, he should not use his power to interfere with the prosecution; he should remove himself from the post rather than let his father be prosecuted under his watch. Second, he should take whatever actions reasonable to him to help his father, perhaps hiring the best lawyer in town for his father (which was obviously unavailable in Shun’s time). If we read the passage this way, I believe we grasp better the moral of Mencius’s teaching. The Song Confucian scholar Yang Shi 楊時 analyzes the hypothetical situation in terms of a matter of conflict between Shun’s duty to his father and his duty to the law, neither of which in Yang’s view can override the order. Yang writes of Shun’s delimma, Releasing someone who has committed murder abrogates the law. Executing his father injures what he owes for his father’s kindness in raising him. The point is that there is not a day when society can be without the law, and that there is not a day when the son can sacrifice his father. However, the people can always find a ruler. Therefore, [Shun] lets court prosecute his father in order to uphold the law for society, and he secretly carries his father on exile in order to repay his father’s kindness. In doing so, Shun is able to fulfill his duty to both ends.5 While I agree with Yang Shi’s analysis of Shun’s scenario in terms of conflict between two major duties, I think Yang Shi is too quick to claim that Shun is able to fulfill his duty toward both his country and his father. Ultimately, by carrying his father away “secretly,” Shun places his duty to his father above his duty to the law. What does this passage bear on our discussion of the relation between care ethics and justice ethics? We can look at this dilemma as an example of dealing with a conflict between the value of filial piety and the value of justice (in the sense of upholding the law). We can imagine five possible scenarios. First, if Mencius had only advocated filial piety but not justice, he would have said that Shun should use



his power as the emperor to interfere with the state’s prosecution. For example, Shun should order Gao Yao not to press charges against his father. Second, if Mencius had only advocated justice but not filial piety, he would have said that Shun should fully support the state’s prosecution of his father just as anyone else, and perhaps use his power to ensure that the prosecution moves forward without distractions. Third, if Mencius had advocated both filial piety and justice equally, he would either have to toss a coin to decide on which way to go or be caught right in the middle as Buridan’s ass, and would not be able to recommend anything on what Shun should do. Fourth, if Mencius had advocated both filial piety and justice, but he had advocated more justice than filial piety, he would have said that Shun, perhaps after some hesitation, should support the state’s prosecution of his father while either looking away from his post as the emperor or stepping down. Fifth and finally, if Mencius advocated both filial piety and justice, but he advocated filial piety more than justice, he would have said that Shun, on the one hand, should not order Gao Yao to stop the prosecution, and on the other, in an ultimate sacrifice for his father he should give up the throne and carry the old man away on exile. That was exactly what Mencius recommended. From the above analysis we can see that Mencius’s solution is the logical conclusion of the fifth possibility of the Confucian configuration of the two values of filial piety and justice. This passage shows that Mencius advocated both care and justice as single-aspect perspectives, not that Mencius advocated both care ethics and justice ethics. Cases like the above present tragic scenarios. We should look at them with the unavoidably tragic outcomes in mind. In wake of the June 4th incident in China, some protesters in the Tiananmen Square tried to hide with their families, relatives, and friends. While some of them were protected, others were turned in to the government in compliance with the law. Should we blame one group of families, relatives, and friends, and praise the other? Is there a universal answer to which course is the right one to take? In his Two Cheers for Democracy, E. M. Forster famously said, “if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” Loyalty to one’s country is highly desirable; so is loyalty to one’s friend. If both cannot be obtained at the same time, what should one do? Mencius clearly had this kind of ultimate moral dilemma in mind when he said, Fish is what I want; bear’s palm is also what I want. If I cannot have both, I would rather take bear’s palm than fish. Life is what I want; rightness is also what I want. If I cannot have both, I would rather take rightness than life. (6A:10; Lau, 1970, p. 166, with revisions) It is not that Mencius did not prefer having both fish and bear’s palm, and both life and rightness. The question is rather which to have when only one of these is possible. In cases like these, a person has to sacrifice one in order to obtain the other, and the sacrifice, no matter which one, results in tragedy. Tragedy occurs when two good things of great magnitude on their rightful paths clash with each other and one cannot be obtained without sacrificing the other. In the above story, Shun made the ultimate choice in sacrificing his duty to his country in



order to fulfill his obligation toward his father. Perhaps it will shed light on the issue if we compare Shun’s situation with that of Antigone’s. In Sophocles’s tragedy Antigone, the heroine Antigone was faced with the ultimate dilemma. Her brother Polyneices was killed in an unsuccessful attack against his own city-state Thebes. Creon, the king, decreed that Polyneices’s corpse was not to be buried as punishment to Polyneices’s crime against the state. In Antigone’s eyes, obeying the law of the state and not giving Polyneices a proper burial was to betray her brother (Sophocles, Antigone, line 57).6 Out of duty to her blood brother, Antigone decided to defy the state and to give Polyneices a proper burial. She was fully aware that her action was unlawful and was prepared to face the consequences. But she justified her action on the ground that she was following the laws of the gods, for she maintained that when one has to choose between obeying the laws of the state and obeying the laws of the gods, one should choose the latter. In this case, it meant to bury her brother’s corpse in violation of the law of the state. In Antigone’s view, the laws of the state were never as strong as those of the gods and the mortal should never override the eternal laws of the gods (lines 453–59). Ismene, Antigone’s sister, was faced with the same dilemma. While she did not want to disrespect the laws of the gods, she also did not want to act against the state (lines 78–79). Her choice was to obey the law of the state and not to join Antigone in burying their brother. Although Ismene eventually stood with her sister for punishment, her stand on the two clashing duties was not dissimilar to that of Creon’s. For Creon, a man should never put his friend before his country (lines 182–83) and one should never make friends with those who act against the state (lines 187–88). Creon did not deny duties to one’s friends and family, but took duties to the state as more important (lines 660–61). Haemon, Creon’s son, recognized the rightfulness of the words of the king (the state), but he considered other words, namely those of the gods, on the importance of family relationships and the duty to preserve these relationships as well (lines 687–88). The Chorus Leader found that reasons for both sides were well presented (line 725). So, ultimately we are comparing two values pointing to opposing directions in this situation, the value of upholding the laws of the state and the value of preserving and protecting the integrity of family relationships portrayed as upholding the laws of the gods in Antigone. To be sure, one can find much dissimilarity between the case of Shun and that of Antigone. What is relevant to our discussion is that both cases are about moral dilemmas resulting from two compelling obligations. The heroes had to make an “either-or” decision and, no matter which way they were to go, the outcome was to be fulfillment on the one hand and violation on the other. The decision, however, hinges on the individual’s configuration of values. Both Shun (as portrayed by Mencius) and Antigone placed their obligation to the family before their obligation to the state when these two come into a mutually exclusive, ultimate clash. There are of course situations where different values prescribe opposed actions, but they do not necessitate a tragic clash and do not force people to make an “eitheror” choice with grave sacrifice as in the case above. Let us look at another passage of Mencius 5A:3. Wan Zhang said, “Xiang devoted himself everyday to plotting against Shun’s life. Why did Shun only banish him when he became Emperor?” “He enfeoffed him,”



said Mencius. “Some called this banishment.” “Shun banished Gong Gong to You Zhou,” said Wan Zhang, “and Huan Dou to Mount Cong; he banished San Miao to San Wei and killed Gong on Mount Yü. On these four culprits being punished, the people in the Empire bowed to his will with admiration in their hearts. That was because he punished the wicked. Xiang was the most wicked of them all, yet he was enfeoffed in You Bi. What wrong had the people of You Bi done? Is that the way a benevolent man behaves? Others he punishes, but when it comes to his own brother he enfeoffs him instead.” “A benevolent man never harbours anger or nurses a grudge against a brother. All he does is to love him. Because he loves him, he wishes him to enjoy rank; because he loves him, he wishes him to enjoy wealth. To enfeoff him in You Bi was to let him enjoy wealth and rank. If as Emperor he were to allow his brother to be a nobody, could that be described as loving him?” (Lau, 1970, pp. 140–41, with my revisions). The passage raises an extremely thorny yet important issue for Confucians. It is the question of what to do with family members who are morally corrupt. Xiang was Shun’s notoriously wicked brother who plotted to murder Shun. Yet after becoming the emperor, instead of revenge, Shun enfeoffed Xiang to a place called You Bi. Some would read this passage as another outright example of Confucian corruption. Indeed, if someone did such thing today, we would be outraged by his extreme nepotism. However, if we read this passage with its historic context in mind, it may not be what it first appears to be. In Shun’s time there was no distinction between the emperor’s family and his state, between his estate and his country. This is indicated in the saying that “no soil under Heaven is beyond the emperor’s land; no one under Heaven is not the emperor’s subject” (Mencius, 5A:4). As the “son of Heaven (tian zi),” the emperor’s state was his country and his country was his family estate. Therefore, the question of what to do with his brother Xiang in Shun’s country was a question of what to do with Xiang in his family. That was of course a very different scenario from today. If we bear in mind this historic context, the question raised in the above passage becomes, what to do with a wicked family member in distributing family estate? Imagine you have a family estate in a village and, unfortunately, your brother is wicked. What would you do? Some would banish him, namely dispel him from the family and kick him off the family estate. This can be perfectly understandable to some people today. But Confucians place a very high value on the family and on family relationships, and they are willing to go the extra mile on this. Instead of dispelling a wicked brother from the family, a Confucian (the most generous one, perhaps) would designate a piece of land on the family estate to this brother and offer him a way to live. That was precisely what Shun did with Xiang by enfeoffing him. Furthermore, a caring and responsible Confucian would not leave his brother alone; he would take concrete measures to help his brother to get on to, and to stay on, the right track. That, again, was precisely what Shun did with Xiang by appointing responsible officials to help and monitor Xiang. The passage continues, “May I ask what you meant by saying that some called this banishment?” “Xiang was not allowed to take any action in his fief. The emperor appointed



officials to administer the fief and to collect tributes and taxes. For this reason it was described as banishment. Xiang was certainly not permitted to ill-use the people. Shun frequently wanted to see him and so there was an endless flow of tributes streaming in. “Before tribute was due, You Bi was received on account of affairs of state.” This describes what happened. (5A:3; Lau, 1970, p. 141, with revisions) Shun’s handling of the matter is what Mencius regarded as an ideal solution under far-from-ideal circumstances. Shun did not abandon his own brother. He designated his brother to a piece of land so Xiang could live. And he assigned responsible officials to the land to make sure that the place was managed well. Furthermore, Shun used state occasions to see Xiang even before the tribute time, as ancient records indicate. This whole arrangement was more like a moral rehabilitation program than a nepotistic practice. In doing so, Shun successfully preserved the family relationship while giving Xiang a chance to return to his moral senses. Against my above reading, it may be argued that Mencius himself did not agree to the notion that the emperor owns the entire country. It may be argued that Mencius could not accept that premise of the above argument and, therefore, the above defense does not work. I maintain that we should distinguish two issues here. The first issue is whether the notion of emperor’s ownership of the country is justified. The second is whether Shun acted appropriately given the common understanding of his time. Mencius did not agree that the emperor owns the country; to the contrary, for him the people are more important than the emperor. This revolutionary Mencian philosophy, of course, came much later and cannot be expected to have had any effect prior to its time. Given that the emperor’s ownership of the country was a widely accepted reality, it can still be said that Shun acted appropriately within the context of his perception of reality. Let me use an example to illustrate this point. We can agree that, if someone is the sole owner of a property, she can decide what to do with it by herself. If she co-owns the property, she should make decisions about it jointly with her co-owner(s). Furthermore, if she does not own the property, she should not meddle with it without appropriate authorization. Let us imagine that she and all people around her believe that she is the sole owner, even though for some unknown reason she in fact is only a co-owner (or even a non-owner). Now further imagine that she does something with the property, which is appropriate (e.g., a good business move) if she were the sole owner. In this circumstance, we can still in an important sense say that she has acted appropriately with the property as its sole owner, even though we may say the contrary if taken into consideration the fact that she is actually only a co-owner (or non-owner). But that is completely different from the case in which she acts as the sole owner even though she knows that she is not. In the same way, given the Confucian belief of how one should treat one’s family and given the belief that the emperor owns the country, it can be said that Shun acted appropriately with his brother Xiang, even though in today’s understanding as well as in Mencius’s own philosophy the answer is to the contrary. It should be noted that Confucians do not deny that there is a cost in pursuing their prioritized values. There is a cost involved in pursuing values because different single-



aspect perspectives compete and sometimes work against one another. Embracing a configured perspective implies holding that the pursuit of certain values are worth the cost and implies willingness to accept incurred cost. In the case of Xiang, it is not that Mencius did not love the people of You Bi, or that he did not think that a moral brother would be preferable to the wicked Xiang, or that, other things being equal, enfeoffing a moral brother would be more just. It is rather because he highly values family relationships that he praises Shun’s solution as an appropriate one under the circumstances, even though it was by no means without cost. Care and justice do not always have to conflict, and care ethics and justice ethics may endorse the same course of action under some circumstances. But when the two values conflict, upholding one involves a cost on the other. It is on which course of action is more worthwhile that the two ethics part their ways. Confucian ethicists are willing to pay more than justice ethicists are in order to preserve family relationships. When we compare Confucian ethics and justice ethics, we should remember this crucial difference between the two ethical approaches. A careful reading of relevant passages in the Mencius shows that while Mencius embraces both care and justice as single-aspect perspectives, he does not embrace care ethics and justice ethics as configured perspectives. Mencius’s ethic is best characterized as a care ethic, not a justice ethic or a mixed bag of these two ethics.7

NOTES 1. For more discussion on this concept, see Li (2008). 2. In this chapter I am primarily concerned with the ethics of Mencius. Xunzi may provide a different picture, however. 3. All English translations used in this paper are from Lau, Mencius, 1970. 4. Accessed on September 19, 2014. 5. “蓋殺人而釋之則廢法,誅其父則傷恩。其意若曰:天下不可一日而無法,人子亦不 可一日而亡其父。民則不患乎無君也,故寧與其執之,以正天下之公義; 竊負而逃,以伸己之私恩;此舜所以兩全其道也。” (Yang, 1973, pp. 23–24). 6. I am using the standard line numbers for referencing Sophocles’s Antigone, similar to what we do when referencing Aristotle’s and Plato’s works. 7. This is a revised and expanded version of an article previously published as “Does Confucian Ethics Integrate Care Ethics and Justice Ethics? The Case of Mencius,” Asian Philosophy 18 (1) (2001): 69–82. The author thanks Taylor & Francis for permission to publish it here.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Gilligan, Carol (1982), In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.



Kant, Immanuel (1956), Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Lewis White Beck. New York: Macmillan. Kant, Immanuel (1996), The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Mary Gregor. New York: Cambridge University Press. Lau, D. C. (trans.) (1970), Mencius. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books. Li, Chenyang (1994), “The Confucian Concept of Jen and the Feminist Ethics of Care: A Comparative Study,” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, 9 (1): 70–89. Li, Chenyang (2000), “Introduction: Can Confucianism Come to Terms with Feminism?” in Chenyang Li (ed.), The Sage and the Second Sex: Confucianism, Ethics, and Gender. Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court, pp. 1–21. Li, Chenyang (2008), “Cultural Configurations of Values,” World Affairs: the Journal of International Issues, 12 (2): 28–49. Li, Cunshan 李存山 (2007), “The 3rd Essay on ‘weifu juejun’ (San shuo ‘weifu juejun’ 三说 ‘为父绝君’),” in Cai Delin 蔡德麟 and Jing Haifeng 景海峰 (eds.), Confucian Ethics in the Era of Globalization (Quanqiu Hua Shidai De Rujia Lunli《全球化时代的 儒家伦理》). Beijing: Qinghua University Press, pp. 159–76. Li, Zhuo 李卓 (2004), A Comparative Study of Chinese and Japanese Family System (Zhongri Jiazu Zhidu Bijian Yanjiu 《中日家族制度比较研究》). Beijing: People’s Press. Liu, Qingping 刘清平 (2004), “Virtue or Corruption?—Two Cases on Shun in the Mencius (Meide haishi fubai? Yixi Mengzi zhong youguan Shun de liangge anli 美德还 是腐败?-析《孟子》中有关舜的两个案例),” in Guo Qiyong 郭齐勇 (ed.), Debates on Confucian Ethics (Rujia Lunli Zhengming Ji—Yi “Qinqin HuYin” Wei Zhongxin 《儒家伦理争鸣集-以“亲亲相隐”为中心》). Wuhan, China: Hubei Education Press, pp. 888–96. Star, Daniel (2002), “Do Confucians Really Care? a Defense of the Distinctiveness of Care Ethics: A Reply To Chenyang Li,” Hypatia, 17 (1): 77–106. Tao, Julia (2000), “Two Perspectives of Care: Confucian Ren and Feminist Care,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 27 (2): 215–40. Wee, Cecilia (2003). “Mencius, the Feminist Perspective and Impartiality,” Asian Philosophy, 13 (1): 3–13. Yang, Shi 楊時 (1973), 《龜山集》卷 9 (Guishanji, Vol. 9). Taipei: Taiwan Shangwun Yinshuguan.

Chapter Seven

Moral Reasoning: The Female Way and the Xunzian Way ellie hua wang

An important feminist criticism of the dominant Western ethical theories is that they presume moral reasoning to be dispassionate, detached, impartial, and rule based.1 In this model of moral reasoning, affect (such as emotions and desires) and contextual details (such as the relationships involved) at best play only minor roles, and they often are considered as mere distractions that bias one’s otherwise cool and deliberate moral reasoning. It is argued that such a “male” style of moral reasoning is too narrow for moral rationality and does not present an accurate picture of moral psychology. In contrast, affect and the context play crucial roles in the “female” way of moral reasoning. Moreover, it is argued that such reasoning is not only unmediated by rules,2 but under some circumstances one may violate moral principles to preserve relationships.3 The critics suggest: a more accurate depiction of moral reasoning should include this “female” way of moral reasoning, and in many cases it may even be considered to be the better way. Valuable work has been done to defend Confucius’ and Mencius’ ethics against this criticism.4 However, I know of less work in this vein regarding Xunzi’s theories. Work along this line faces at least three challenges: 1. Xunzi seems to express a bleak view of women’s moral reasoning in his work. 2. Some have interpreted Xunzi to presume a view of moral reasoning that is similar to the “male” way, treating the ideal moral reasoning as one that is abstract and detached from our affect.5 If Xunzi indeed presumed this highly deliberative and dispassionate model of moral reasoning (which some have termed the “cognitive control” model),6 his moral psychology becomes vulnerable to the feminist criticism. 3. Confucianism is often described as a form of role ethics; Xunzi’s theory is no exception, given that, along with Confucius and Mencius, his central ideals such as humaneness (ren 仁), rightness (yi 義), and ritual (li 禮) are particular to, and primarily manifested in, different kinds of role relationships. However,


it has been argued that role ethics is vulnerable to the feminist criticism in a different but related way: Confucians so understood do not “really care.”7 In this chapter I defend Xunzi’s theory against these three challenges. Before I start, a cautionary note is in order. It has been argued convincingly that the distinction between the “male” way and the “female” way of moral reasoning in question here is not based on (and does not presume) any innate (biological or psychological) difference.8 In the literature, some have argued that the observed difference between these two ways results from contingent social differences;9 some even argue that there is no such distinction between males and females, but the distinction results more from an association between thinking style and gender, which possibly developed during the Enlightenment.10 In this chapter, I presume this understanding of the distinction, without going in detail about what may have caused this distinction.

I.  XUNZI’S VIEW OF WOMEN’S MORAL REASONING Even though (as I will argue in the next section) there is significant similarity between Xunzi’s conception of ideal moral reasoning and the “female” way—that affect and context play crucial roles in moral reasoning—it does not follow that Xunzi thinks women at his time indeed adopted the ideal way of moral reasoning. In fact, even though (as far as I know) Xunzi does not directly discuss how women in general reason in the texts attributed to him, several of his passages reveal a bleak view of female moral reasoning in practice. For example, when talking about the importance of having a proper perspective for sound judgments, Xunzi gives an example where women easily fall prey to attractive appearances of young men and thus make wrong decisions accordingly, while men do not. (K 5.7)11 Also, in several places (e.g., K 11.23 and K 27.71) Xunzi lists women of the harem, along with those usually considered as lacking in virtue (such as court jesters, buffoons, dwarfs, and fools), as people who ask kings for personal favors and disturb their sound judgment (and thus cause disasters). One may take these passages to suggest that Xunzi thinks women are inferior at moral reasoning. However, given that Xunzi offers a view of human nature (xing 性) in general, it is doubtful that he presumes an innate biological or psychological difference between male and female in reasoning and decision making. Indeed, even though the passages above may suggest that, at his time, Xunzi observes some difference between women and men in their moral reasoning, arguably he attributes this difference to the difference in their acquired knowledge and experience. For example, in K 5.7, he clearly states that the reason that women think in this problematic way is because, with very limited experience, they do not have proper perspective, and thus what they are concerned with is worthless. In Xunzi’s view, a lack of perspective (lou 陋) is common among people, and this brings about a great deal of harm to them.12 This lack of perspective is not due to innate inability, but due to lack of experience, good habits, and knowledge, and thus proper judgment.13 The way to gain a proper perspective is by accumulated effort



in moral cultivation. Broadening experience helps one gain perspective, but moral cultivation requires more than this. Xunzi thinks that nurturing and guiding one’s heart-mind (xin 心) as well as one’s affective dispositions (qing 情) is crucial to moral cultivation. This reasonably follows from his view of human nature: he thinks that affective dispositions such as desires form naturally from our innate dispositions and our experiences, and these naturally formed desires are often petty and self-serving. Even though, according to Xunzi, this does not mean that one will necessarily decide and act to fulfill these desires—since such decision and action still requires the heart-mind to make a judgment regarding the approval of the pursuit in light of the affect14—it is very natural for the heart-mind to judge the desired to be permissible for pursuit.15 Therefore, without the intervention of moral cultivation, following human nature leads to contention and ultimately disorder. The goal of moral cultivation and the essential way to achieve order is to nurture one’s affect and render one’s heart-mind to know the Way, and be able to issue judgments in accordance with good order (li 理).16 Through cultivation, the heart-mind is “[guided] with good order, [nourished] with clarity, and nothing can make it deviate” (H 21: 266–67). The heart-mind then is able to tell right from wrong and make good judgments. In this way, one, be they woman or man, may avoid the problem created by the lack of perspective (lou 陋) and achieve ideal moral reasoning. Indeed, Xunzi thinks that this ideal is possible for everyone to attain—the sages and people on the streets all have the same nature and the capacity to know and practice moral ideals such as ren, yi, lawfulness (fa 法), and correctness (jeng 正).17

II.  THE ROLES THAT AFFECT AND CONTEXT PLAY IN XUNZI’S CONCEPTION OF MORAL REASONING Now we move to the next question: What is the nature of Xunzi’s ideal moral reasoning? Does affect and context play any role in moral reasoning? I see three possible reasons for one to take Xunzi as assuming ideal moral reasoning to be the “male” way, that is, dispassionate and calm, impartial, and rule based. To start with, Xunzi’s emphasis on the abilities of the heart-mind—such as thinking,18 the ability to know the Way, being aware of the defining characteristics and make distinctions,19 making inferences (especially analogical inferences),20 evaluating whether a pursuit is possible/permissible and issuing approvals21—may lead one to think that the heartmind as Xunzi understands it only possesses narrowly defined “rational” abilities such as cognitive, deliberative, and inferential abilities, whereas affective faculties and bodily functions such as emotions, implicit skills, or unconscious habits do not play any role in moral reasoning. Moreover, Xunzi does urge one to deliberate carefully when one sees something desirable and to maturely calculate the relative merits of alternative courses of action before one makes a decision.22 This may suggest that, according to Xunzi, conscious deliberation in a form close to a cost-benefit analysis is the ideal form of moral reasoning, and that, during the reasoning process, it is this cool deliberation that should suppress and override one’s emotional responses. Last but not least, Xunzi’s emphasis on emptiness (xu 虛) and stillness (jing 靜) as features


of the ideal mental state to know the Way—the great clarity and brilliance23—may also reinforce the idea that ideal moral reasoning should be dispassionate and calm, where affect plays no role. So understood, in Xunzi’s view one aims at arriving at a rational objective decision through this reasoning process. Cognitive embodiment and emotional faculties play no role in this ideal process. The idea that Xunzi prioritizes dispassionate and rule-based moral reasoning may also give rise to the criticism that rituals in this account lose their significance in Confucianism. Ritual practices are supposedly one crucial aspect of learning and manifestation of virtues, and thus should be deeply connected to people and their lives. However, critics argue, in Xunzi’s account rituals are simply artificial arrangements or performances independent of people’s actual lives and natural affective dispositions.24 However, the interpretation above does not sit well with either Xunzi’s depiction of the ideal moral reasoning—the reasoning of a person of ren (仁者之思)—or his attention to affective dispositions in his theory of moral cultivation and action. To start with, Xunzi does not think that natural affective dispositions are distractions for ideal moral reasoning. Some philosophers before his time adopt a cautious attitude toward affective disposition and bodily reactions, thinking that they would ruin moral reasoning, and thus argued that one should resist or control them. Xunzi points out that the view of moral reasoning presumed by these philosophers involves “forcing oneself and striving” and criticizes these philosophers for not knowing ideal moral reasoning. He then points out that “the sage follows his desires and embraces all his dispositions, and the things dependent on these simply turn out well-ordered,” and that “the person of ren carries out the Way without striving” (H 21: 288–311). This, Xunzi thinks, is the goal of moral cultivation. Once we see that, for Xunzi, the ideal moral reasoning is the reasoning of a person of ren, it becomes clear that such reasoning is not dispassionate, impartial, abstract rule application. This is because, for Xunzi, the reasoning of the person of ren necessarily involves certain attitudes, care, and affection. Along with Confucius and Mencius, Xunzi also understands ren to arise from love and care, and thus affection for people. He further explains the idea of ren as care with distinction: “to treat relatives in a manner befitting their relation, old friends as is appropriate to their friendship, the meritorious in terms of their accomplishment, and laborers in terms of their toil” (H 27: 105–7). Here we see that contextual details, such as the affection and the relationship involved as well as the work accomplished, factor in ideal reasoning and action. Also, Xunzi notes that a person of ren not only maintains certain attitudes such as respectfulness in his reasoning and behavior,25 but this attitude can be expressed in different ways depending on the context, for example, the virtue of the person involved.26 Affect also factors in a person of ren’s decision making in a different way: it may present an option in a certain way, or give it a certain weight. For example, a person of ren may feel some option is shameful and thus choose not to do it.27 (This last point is worth further exploration. I will come back to it soon.) I have pointed out that contextual details and affect play important roles in this ideal reasoning; attention to Xunzi’s idea of how this ideal is attained further sheds



light on the nature of the roles that contextual details and affect play in the reasoning and action processes. Xunzi thinks that studying with teachers and learning and practicing rituals are the most important and effective ways to nurture and guide one’s heart-mind as well as one’s affective dispositions. It is worth noting that self-cultivation is achieved not only through studying and clear thinking, but also, and more importantly, achieved through following proper ritual practices and achieving a kind of internal harmony.28 Xunzi points out that the point of ritual practices is to express and cultivate proper affective attitudes toward people and affairs.29 He argues that moral cultivation is not achieved through controlling and resisting one’s natural affect, but through nourishing and guiding them with ritual practices and music.30 He thinks that the cultivation of affect can help change people’s behavior and eventually help restore order.31 It should thus be clear that, on Xunzi’s account, affect not only may be nurtured and guided so that it at some point can match the heart-mind’s judgment, but this cultivation actually helps to change people’s decisions and actions. This suggests that, echoing the point I made considering the ideal reasoning, affect actively plays certain roles in the ideal reasoning. Now we naturally ask: On Xunzi’s account, what roles do “affect” and “attention to contextual details” play in the ideal moral reasoning and action processes? I argue, similar to the “female” way, they both play crucial cognitive roles in the Xunzian conception of moral reason: they play cognitive roles by presenting options of choice in moral reasoning and epistemic roles in helping to attain moral knowledge. Given the limited space here, I will discuss only Xunzi’s comments about funeral and mourning rites to illustrate this point.32 Xunzi especially emphasizes the importance of funeral and mourning rites in ritual practices and devotes extensive detailed discussion to them.33 The point worth noting here is that, according to Xunzi, the purpose of these rites is not just helping to put people in the proper mood to accept death, to send the deceased off with grief and reverence, and to gradually return to everyday life; more importantly, it is to make the significance of life and death clear.34 This is important since, according to Xunzi, appreciation of the significance of life and death is crucial to wisdom.35 Moreover, the way this significance is made clear is not by means of studying classics or abstract deliberation, but through ritual practices, where one, by following the rites, is immersed emotionally in the process. How does this emotional immersion make the significance of life and death clear? Conceivably, when the rituals are properly practiced, this emotional immersion not only helps one feel sorrow, seriousness, and respect for the deceased in particular, but (especially after several such practices) one may also transcend the felt emotions for the particular persons who passed away and feel these emotions for death itself as well. In this way, one may extend the felt emotions and attach them to the idea of death—seeing the sorrow, seriousness, and respect-worthy aspects of death—and thus truly understand the significance of life and death. Emotions plausibly shape one’s cognitive and evaluative structure by assigning certain options (concerning life or death) more weights or regulating the way they may be presented and even therefore silencing other options (e.g., the agent cannot even entertain them as options, or they simply get filtered out from


the beginning) and thus influence one’s later judgments and choices concerning life and death. In this way, we see how affect plays a cognitive role in one’s ideal reasoning process in general.36 In this account, a sage’s reasoning is guided by his cultivated affective disposition in the sense that his affect would direct his attention and have an effect on the way options are presented and weighed in his judgment (so that certain options are considered, certain options are slightly considered but quickly dropped, and certain options are not even entertained at all by the mind in the first place). The cognition/affect (or reason/emotion) divide has been dominant in the literature, and reason has traditionally been understood as pure and totally detached from bodily and affective responses. However, more and more scholars point out that our affect and implicit skills actually make important contributions to wellfunctioning cognitive and evaluative structures. For example, Slingerland cites recent studies and points out that automatic processes involving affective dispositions, bodily functions, implicit skills and heuristics in fact pervade our everyday decision making and action, and that these processes are fast, computationally frugal, and reliable (cf. Baumeister, 1998, 1984; Slingerland, 2010, pp.  251–52, 265). Little, on the other hand, emphasizes the role that the motive of care plays in forming moral knowledge (Little, 1995). She argues that, when we care, we become more receptive to the difference in contexts and in the needs involved, and thus caring is helpful for our response to be more tailored to other’s needs. Moreover, she argues that proper apprehension and application of moral properties itself already requires appropriate affect—feeling the responsive emotion and motivation; and thus, affect plays a crucial role in one’s ideal moral judgment and attaining moral knowledge. I follow these views and push them further in my account. I argue that affect not only plays a cognitive role in presenting and weighing options of choice in moral reasoning, but it also plays an epistemic role in helping one attain moral knowledge. To start, I agree with Slingerland’s view that proper affect (and other skills) contributes to fast and reliable decision making. I also would like to argue further that, when appropriately cultivated, affect may even help track moral truth. Based on my discussion of Xunzi’s ideal moral reasoning, the cultivated affect helps focus one’s attention and present options for one’s consideration. Clearly, before completing moral cultivation, we may still have uncultivated affect that initiates the heart-mind’s thinking and presents the heart-mind with the option to pursue the object of one’s uncultivated desires. However, in the process of cultivation, not only does the heart-mind develop abilities to entertain options other than the ones presented by the uncultivated affect, but it is also important to note that the cultivated affective dispositions may also present and weigh options that compete with the options presented by uncultivated affect. In this way, we may say that the cultivated affect helps “track the moral truth,” or the Way. I also follow Little’s view that apprehension of moral properties requires affective abilities and dispositions such as care. This is especially pertinent in understanding Confucian ethics, since the moral properties introduced in Confucianism such as ren and li, as we have seen, all have their affective constitutive element. I also would



like to argue further that, following Xunzi’s view, apprehending moral properties, knowing moral truth, not only requires affect such as care (as Little points out), but the expansion of experience (and thus the broadening of one’s perspective) in a deep and proper way is also important. Indeed, ritual practices are designed to help people in exactly this way: they aim to help people experience, express, and cultivate appropriate relationships. Through such practices (along with careful studying and reasoning), one’s cognitive and evaluative structures may be reformed, and one’s care is deepened and broadened. In the beginning of this section I mentioned three possible reasons for assuming Xunzi’s ideal moral reasoning to be the “male” way. Here I briefly refute each of them. It should be clear that the first reason dissipates if we do not presume the cognitive/affective divide in our interpretation of Xunzi. In Xunzi’s view (as it is defended in this paper), moral cultivation works to change the way the heart-mind reasons (thinks, deliberates, infers, approves, etc.), and renders it able to make decisions in accordance with good order. However, in this account, the heart-mind does not reason in the “male” way. Rather, it deliberates in light of one’s affect in the sense that it is guided by cultivated affect and issues actions accordingly. The second reason is that Xunzi himself urges conscious and careful deliberation, and this may suggest that, for him, conscious deliberation in a form close to a costbenefit analysis is the ideal form of moral reasoning, and that, during the reasoning process, it is this cool deliberation that should suppress and override one’s emotional responses. Now, based on my discussion of ritual practice, I have provided an account in which affect plays a cognitive role in the ideal reasoning process. Conceivably, emotions impinge on people’s reasoning in similar ways before they attain sagehood, and these weights will significantly influence the reasoning process, especially when it is not a conscious cost-benefit deliberation. This explains why Xunzi urges people to deliberate carefully when they see something desirable—in an uncultivated mind, uncultivated affect may be the most intense and thus the option it presents most weighted. On the other hand, when in an urgent situation or when emotion is stirred up and becomes overly intense, the possible options the heart-mind can present to itself are significantly limited, because in these situations, xin may not have the cognitive resources or time to consider carefully, or may be blinded by the option weighted by the overly intense emotion. Considering this, it should be clear that a well-cultivated affective structure is crucial for correct judgment. Indeed, Xunzi treats fast and accurate responses (especially at the time of changes) as ideal. For example, he said, “In his responses to evolving phenomena, [the gentleman] is quick and alert, prompt and agile, but is not deluded” (K 12.3), and the son of heaven “does not think yet knows” (K 12.8). Now I come to refute the third reason, which is that Xunzi considers the ideal state for the heart-mind to know the Way is to be “empty” and “still,” which may suggest that the ideal moral reasoning should be dispassionate and calm, where the heart-mind is empty like a blank slate and thus any affect, including cultivated affect, plays no role. However, for Xunzi, “empty” does not mean empty like a blank slate; rather, he notes that our mind has the natural ability to hold something—this is how


we can have knowledge—and “not to let what one is already holding harm what one is about to receive is called being ‘empty’” (H 21: 175–76).37 It becomes clear that Xunzi does not presume that the ideal moral reasoning lacks any affect, since cultivated affect will not harm what one is about to receive; rather, it is helpful for what one is about to receive. Moreover, “still” also does not mean no affect involved; rather, it just means “not to let dreams and worries disorder one’s understanding” (H 21: 184–85). Unlike dreams or distracting worries (or uncultivated, distracting affect), cultivated affect will not disorder one’s understanding. Indeed, if my argument holds, cultivated affect is part of the proper understanding.

III.  DO CONFUCIANS REALLY CARE? In a pioneering paper discussing the relation between Confucian ethics and feminist care ethics, Chenyang Li points out certain similarities between the respective ideals of the two theories, ren and care, and argues that Confucianism and feminism share important common ground.38 In response, Ranjoo Seodu Herr discusses these two concepts in further details. Herr agrees that there are indeed similarities between them, but considering the close connection between ren and li (禮) in Confucian ethics, she argues that ren and care are not equivalent.39 Herr emphasizes that ren must be expressed through li, which is essentially “a body of intersubjective prescriptions based on communal consensus,” and thus there is not much room for individual spontaneity (Herr, 2003, pp.  477–78). This renders the practical requirements of ren and care very different. Daniel Star makes a further criticism. He argues that Confucian ethics is a virtue ethic that puts a strong emphasis on social roles; Confucians understand relationships through role-based categories and understand persons through the social roles they play. Because of this, Star argues, Confucians do not see persons as “unique concrete individuals,” having “strong particularity,” and do not approach relationships in the “concrete particularistic way” as feminist care ethicists do (Star, 2002, p. 90). The worry, then, is that if we assume, as feminist care ethicists do, that “in order to care well for others it is necessary to pay closer attention to the diverse and particular needs of the people one cares about than to the needs that are perceived to follow from the requirements of relevant social roles” (ibid., p. 97), then Confucians will oftentimes not really care, since their care is not according to concrete relationships, but “more according to the particular requirements of the kind of role relationship that is judged to be of most relevance in the particular instance” (ibid., p. 93). Li does, however, see that there are differences between the ideas of Confucian ren and feminist care (Li, 1994; 2002). Li also admits that conceptually, Confucian ren ethics and feminist care ethics have different foci—the former on people in role relationships and the latter on people in concrete relationships. However, he disagrees with Star in that he sees “a possibility of the convergence of the two foci” (Li, 2002, p. 134). My discussion in this section addresses this part of the debate between Star and Li.



Li suggests that these two different foci may be united in practice. He mentions the example of Confucius to show that one may pay attention to the particularities of individuals while emphasizing people’s roles. He also points out that, even for a caring person whose emphasis is on concrete relationships, she/he can only care well if she/he takes into consideration the difference in the role relationships involved. For example, the way a parent takes care of a child is different from the way a friend takes care of another friend. Li’s reply, while reasonable, does not fully address Star’s worry. To start with, Star makes his point clear that, examples of Confucians who happen to really care does not show that Confucians qua Confucians need to really care. In this case, the force of the example of Confucius is undermined. Moreover, feminist care ethicists might not agree with the idea that a consideration of roles play a significant role in caring. In fact, Herr points out that the Analects requires children to serve their parents according to li. However, she argues that such expressions imply a certain deferential distance between parents and children, which constitutes the emotional barrier which care ethics aims to dismantle, and is against its ideal to let the carer and the cared-for “become friends on equal terms” (Herr, 2003, pp. 481–82). This different conception of ideal relationships between Confucian ethics and feminist care ethics seems to be one that cannot converge in practice. Li also does not address Star’s worry about the lack of “strong particularity” of persons. This worry, I think, results from a more important and fundamental difference between Confucian ethics and care ethics. Star understands “strong particularity” to involve “an understanding that persons are not reducible to even a very complex and unique set of general values or qualities . . . it is in the person herself [rather than in the qualities of the person] in which particularity truly adheres” (Star, 2002, p. 96). In the context of feminist care ethics, moreover, the idea of strong particularity here does not refer to some soul independent of others, but is constitutive of and manifested in actual, concrete, particular relationships. According to feminist care ethics, a person has a strong particularity and is shaped by concrete relationships with actual people around them.40 Thus, the practical requirement of feminist care ethics is that a person should be seen “thickly,” that is, to understand a person we need to attend to their “emotional states, idiosyncrasies, and particular features . . . for these characteristics as a whole make the person the unique individual that he or she is” (cf. Gilligan, 1982, pp. 29–31; Herr, 2003, p. 479). Similarly, we also come to know who we are through concrete interactions with others. Notice that this idea of personhood presumes that there is something about us, something in us, that is unique, essential to us, and it is strongly particular and irreducible to any type. Moreover, this particularity is primarily constituted by actual, concrete relationships. However, this presumption is not shared by Confucian ethics. To start with, it is not clear that Confucianism accepts there being such a particular self. The Confucian self is always in the process of becoming and self-formation, and it is through moral cultivation by means of ritual practice and role relationship that one becomes truly human.41 It is thus doubtful that in the becoming process one indeed has something that is strongly particular. Moreover, it is not the actual, concrete relationships that are constitutive of the becoming self. Even though in


Confucianism social relationships play a crucial constitutive role in self-formation, given the importance of ritual practices in self-formation, the relationships that constitute the ultimately formed self are prescribed ideal relationships, depicted and cultivated through ritual practices rather than just any actual concrete relationship. A better way to look at the Confucian self is thus: unlike feminist care ethics, individuality is neither a given nor constituted by actual relationships; rather, it is an accomplishment through moral cultivation and proper social relationships.42 It is thus doubtful that Confucianism presumes persons to have strong particularity in the sense that feminist care ethics presumes. Noting this difference in presumptions about personhood and the difference in the conception of ideal relationships (as I pointed out above), we can foresee that Confucian sages and the caring person in feminist ethics will care differently. However, can we then, like Star, infer from this that Confucians do not really care? My answer is no. In what follows, I will argue that a Confucian sage (qua Confucian) really cares for others, but in ways different from that of a caring person in feminist care ethics. I will also point out reasons why a Confucian sage’s care may in fact be deeper and more helpful in a certain sense. One obvious reason why the Confucian sage will show a different way of caring is because of his or her core commitment: the caring person commits to maintain the actual relationships, while the sage commits to enact the Way. Clearly these two commitments may lead to different choices in cases of conflict. However, this does not show that the sage does not really care. The crux of the question then is: What does it mean to really care? Star’s argument is this: the feminists assume that, to really care for others, one has to closely attend to the diverse and particular needs of the people that one cares about rather than to “the needs that are perceived to follow from the requirements of relevant social roles.” But, he argues, Confucians focus is on the latter, and thus they oftentimes do not really care. This argument, however, is not convincing. It conflates the distinction between core commitment and actual motivation and action. It is true that a Confucian cares most deeply about enacting the Way; because of this, she may check (actively or only when there is a worry) if her actions are manifestations of li, and whether they satisfy the requirements of relevant social roles. However, this need not mean that she does not “really” care for people or that she does not attend to their diverse and particular needs. After all, for Confucians the ideal state is the reasoning of a person of ren, in whom, as I argued in the last section, affective dispositions play central roles. A person of ren loves all and everyone. This love is his actual motivation to care, and he acts on this motivation. With sincere love, one naturally becomes sensitive to the beloved’s particular needs and desires to attend to them. With this motivation, one endeavors to help fulfill those needs. Obviously, given the core commitment of the sage, he cannot really fulfill all such needs, as in some cases fulfilling them is against the Way. In these cases he may also not want to fulfill them. But I take this to be, to an important extent, a common problem for all caring persons. Indeed, caring persons in feminist care ethics also need to balance their commitments to different concrete relationships and a commitment to self-love.



A worry some may have is that, even though ren provides the motivation to care for particular people in particular ways, befitting to their relationship and the particular condition of the cared-for, ren still needs to be expressed in a way that is in accordance with li. Doesn’t this limit the ways that a sage can care? Following Cua, Herr notes several functions of li: it sets boundaries to the expression of ren, it provides legitimate channels through which desires can be satisfied, and li also serves as the moral and aesthetic ideal to be emulated.43 It is clear that rituals serve as guidance and constraints of our natural affect and action, and ritual practices play a crucial role in moral cultivation. However, guidance and constraints of natural affect and action should not be understood as what defines motivation and action. A Confucian aims to be a person of ren, who genuinely cares for people. This genuine care naturally motivates attention to people’s particular needs and concrete actions to fulfill those needs. Indeed, such attention and action and the affect involved are guided and constrained by li. So given the role of a Confucian, there are certain things a person of ren would not do; there are certain things a person of ren is led by rituals to do and to do so in a certain manner; and there are certain emotions he is to be immersed in, and certain emotions he should avoid. Such guidance and constraints do not dictate his actions or feelings, but they serve more as a refinement and reminder. We should further note that, rather than limiting care, such refinement and reminder is in fact beneficial for caring. This is because, to Confucians, sometimes our natural affect and our actions are not ideal. Take Xunzi’s discussion of funeral rites as an example: The standard practice of funeral rites is that one changes the appearance of the corpse by gradually adding more ornamentation, one moves the corpse gradually further away, and over a long time one gradually returns to one’s regular routine. Thus, the way that death works is that if one does not ornament the dead, then one will come to feel disgust at them, and if one feels disgust, then one will not feel sad. If one keeps them close, then one will become casual with them, and if one becomes casual with them, then one will grow tired of them. If one grows tired of them, then one will forget one’s place, and if one forgets one’s place, then one will not be respectful. If one day a person loses his lord or father, but his manner in sending them off to be buried is neither sad nor respectful, then he is close to being a beast. (H 19: 286–98) If we care about the deceased, we should feel sad and respectful, and we should behave accordingly. However, our natural affect (and thus our actions) sometimes does not work in this way. The rites to ornament the dead and to move the corpse gradually away are instituted to refine our affect toward the dead and to guide our actions. Furthermore, sometimes, we are naturally immersed in sadness for too long to the extent that it destroys our life. Funeral rites also help us slowly return to our everyday life. Moreover, we are easily blinded by our own attachments and perspective. Recall Xunzi’s warning that limited experience and lack of cultivation result in a lack of perspective, and ritual practices (along with studying and careful reasoning) are his


solution to this problem. Notice that broadening one’s perspective is not only a way of self-care, but it is helpful in caring for others. By broadening one’s perspective, one will not only see other’s needs more deeply and take in the cared-for’s point of view more easily, but will be able to see more ways to help fulfill or even transform the cared-for’s needs. In addition, without being limited to the concrete relationships and attachments, one may not only care for the cared-for through their actual relationships but also see the cared-for’s potential for self-transformation, and the potential transformation of their relationships. Moreover, with a cultivated cognitive and affective structure, one may express one’s care more pertinently and carry out her caring actions more effectively. It should thus be clear that, even though Confucians may care differently from a feminist caring person, they still really care, and they may care in a way that is deeper and more helpful in some cases. Let me also briefly address Herr’s worry about ren being expressed through li. Herr’s worry about li is that, it is, after all, “a body of intersubjective prescriptions based on communal consensus,” and conforming to li risks compromising individual spontaneity. The close connection between ren and li and the social aspect of li indeed render the concept of ren not equivalent to feminist care. However, this social aspect need not be considered completely arbitrary and thus harmful to our genuine relationships. Indeed, Xunzi thinks that the spirit of li is nothing arbitrary, but is about to follow the heart-mind of man: “Ritual has making people’s hearts agreeable as its root. And so, those things that are not in the Classic of Rituals yet make people’s hearts agreeable are still things that carry ritual propriety” (H 27: 97–99). The point of ritual (such as the three-year mourning) is to “[take] measure of people’s affective dispositions and [establish] a proper form for them” (H 19: 448–50).

IV.  CONCLUSION In this chapter I defend Xunzi’s theory against three challenges that feminist ethicists raise. First, I argue that we need not interpret Xunzi as seeing women’s moral reasoning to be essentially inferior to men’s; rather, his emphasis is on the importance of moral cultivation, transforming one’s nature and heart-mind to issue judgments in accordance with good order.44 This is the ideal for everyone, including women. Attention to the importance of moral cultivation—and thus to that of ritual practices—helps address the second challenge. I argue against the “cognitive control” interpretation of Xunzi’s view of moral reasoning, and explore the similarities between the “female” way of moral reasoning and the Xunzian way—the reasoning of a person of ren. I argue that even though the heart-mind assumes the master role in Xunzi’s account, the often presumed cognition/affect divide commonly seen in Western theories of moral psychology (and the dominance of the former over the latter) does not apply here. In fact, similar to the “female” way, affect and contextual details both play crucial cognitive roles in the Xunzian conception of moral reason: they play both cognitive roles in presenting and weighing options of choice in one’s



moral reasoning and epistemic roles in helping one attain moral knowledge. Indeed, we have reasons to understand Xunzi’s ideal moral reasoning, the reasoning of a person of ren, to be both embodied and embedded. Last, I address the third challenge. Star describes Confucian ethics as a virtue ethic that puts strong emphasis on social role relationships. He argues that, so understood, Confucians are more interested in understanding relationships through role-based categories, and this prevents them from caring for others “in strongly particularistic ways” as the caring persons in feminist care ethics do. He concludes, feminist care is thus significantly different from the Confucian ideal, ren, and Confucians oftentimes do not really care. Even though I see a conceptual difference between feminist care and Confucian ren, and I agree that, in practice, Confucians qua Confucians will not care for others in the same way as depicted by feminist care ethics, I argue that this difference results from a basic difference in presumptions: in Confucianism, persons are always in the processes of becoming, where there is no presumed strong particularity to them, while in feminist care ethics, there is. Keeping this difference in mind, I elaborate on the function of rituals and argue that a sage may really care for others, only in ways different from that of a caring person in feminist care ethics. Moreover, there are reasons to think that, in some ways, a Confucian sage’s care may in fact be deeper and more helpful than the feminist conception of care.

NOTES 1. For example, see Gilligan (1982, 1987); Ivanhoe (2000); and Jaggar (1992). 2. For example, see Jaggar (1992); Benhabib (1992). 3. For example, see Li (1994). 4. For example, see Li (1994); Slingerland (2010); and Seok (2013). 5. Slingerland (2010) reads Xunzi in this way. Chinese philosophers such as Mou Zongsan in Xunxue Dalue (《荀學大略》) also understands Xunzi’s conception of heart-mind in this way. 6. For example, the term “cognitive control model” can be found in Slingerland (2010). Damasio calls this model the “high reason model” in his book in 1994, Descartes’ Error. Following Damasio, Slingerland sometimes uses the terms the “high reason model” and the “cognitive control model” interchangeably. 7. This criticism can be found in Star (2002). 8. For example, see Gilligan (1987); Little (1995); Jaggar (1992); Ivanhoe (2000). 9. For example, see Jaggar (1992); Ivanhoe (2000). 10. Little (1995). 11. The translations of Xunzi used in this chapter are from Knoblock (2003) (Library of Great Chinese Classics Bi-lingual Version in Both Chinese and English: Xunzi) and Hutton, (2014) (Xunzi: The Complete Text by Xunzi). I use “K” for Knoblock’s translation and provide the chapter and section numbers for the reference. I use “H” for Hutton’s translation followed by chapter and line numbers for the reference.


12. For example, see K 4.12. 13. For example, see K 4.9. 14. My view is that the heart-mind plays a necessary and sufficient role in Xunzi’s view of decision and action. Xunzi thinks that “the occurrence of desires does not wait upon the permissibility of fulfilling them, but those who seek to fulfill them follow what they approve of,” and the approval is issued from the heart-mind (H 22: 275–80). It is also worth noting that the heart-mind’s judgment also plays a sufficient role: Xunzi thinks that the heart-mind can compel an action when the desire is lacking (H 22: 292–93). 15. See K 22.12. 16. See H 21: 157–67, H 22: 275–80. 17. See H 23: 252–58. 18. For example, see K 22.1. 19. For example, see K 22.5, 22.8. 20. See K 22.8, H 22: 194–95, and A. C. Cua. For Xunzi, ethical reasoning involves backward-looking analogical projection. 21. For example, see K 22.11. 22. See K 3.13. 23. See H 21:167–85. Xunzi thinks that how the heart-mind knows the Way is through emptiness, single-mindedness, and stillness. I focus on “emptiness” and “stillness” as they are more pertinent to the discussion. 24. For example, Dai Zhen in Evidential Commentary on the Meanings of Terms in the Mengzi criticizes Xunzi’s view of rituals to be treating li-yi ( 禮義 ) as separate from and independent of human nature. Herr (2003) also seems to have a similar worry. I address this criticism at the end of this chapter. 25. See K 13.8, and also K 21. 26. See K 13.9. 27. H 16: 213–17. 28. H 2: 89–94 29. This point is emphasized in many passages, e.g., H 27: 83–88, H 12:115–41. 30. Xunzi’s emphasis on ritual and music follows from Confucius’s view of the importance of poetry, ritual, and music in cultivation of moral and aesthetic character. Also, the nurturing of qing, ultimately, is to achieve the qing of the sages, whose desires can be followed and emotions be fulfilled (K 21.12). 31. For example, K 20.6: ‘Music was enjoyed by the sage kings; it can make the hearts of the people good; it deeply stirs men, and it alters their manners and changes their customs. Thus, the ancient kings guided the people with ritual and music, and the people became harmonious and friendly.” 32. I discuss the complex role affect plays in Xunzi’s ideal reasoning in further details in my forthcoming journal paper “The Epistemic Roles of Emotions: What We May Learn from Xunzi’s View of Ritual Transformation (禮樂化性: 從 《荀子》談情感 在道德認知與判斷中扮演的角色,中國哲學與文化)”.



33. See K 19.10–19.12. 34. See K 19.16. 35. See K 19.10. Xunzi also considers the matter of life and death of great importance in decisions, and people who does not put proper weight on it foolish. For example, see K 4.5. 36. This association of emotion may also change what one cares about. After understanding the significance of life and death, one’s motivational structure may change as well because what one cares about has changed. I discuss this point in more detail in my article “The Epistemic Roles of Emotions: What We May Learn from Xunzi’s View of Ritual Transformation (禮樂化性: 從 《荀子》談情感在道德認知與 判斷中扮演的角色).” 37. Both Hutton and Knoblock translate xu (虛) to be “empty” or “emptiness.” However, given that xu (虛) does not mean “empty” in English, and it also has a different meaning from the ideal of xu (虛) in Daoism, which does have the meaning of emptiness, I think this translation is misleading. Xunzi’s xu (虛), I think, should be translated to be “open” to reflect its meaning. 38. Li (1994) and (2002); Rosemont (1997) also argued along a similar line. 39. Herr (2003). 40. Herr (2003, p. 484); cf. Held (1993, p. 58). 41. Herr (2003, p. 472); cf. Tu (1993, p. 30); Ames (2011, pp. 42 and 74), express similar ideas. 42. This idea echoes Ames’s view that “individuality is not a given; it is the accomplishment of becoming distinctive and distinguished in one’s relations with others” (Ames, 2011, p. 74). 43. Herr (2003, p. 477); cf. Cua (1996, p. 164). 44. H 21: 157–67.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Ames, Roger T. (2011), Confucian Role Ethics: A Vocabulary. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press. Baumeister, R. (1984), “Choking Under Pressure: Self-Consciousness and Paradoxical Effects of Incentives on Skillful Performance,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46 (3): 610–20. Baumeister, R., E. Bratslavsky, M. Muraven, and D. Tice (1998), “Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource?,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74 (5):1252–65. Benhabib, Seyla (1992), Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics. New York: Routledge. Gilligan, Carol (1982), In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gilligan, Carol (1987), “Moral Orientation and Moral Development,” in E. Kittay and D. Meyers (eds.), Women and Moral Theory. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, pp. 19–33.


Herr, Ranjoo Seodu (2003), “Is Confucianism Compatible with Care Ethics? A Critique,” Philosophy East & West, 53 (4): 471–89. Hutton, Eric L. (2014), Xunzi: The Complete Text by Xunzi. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Ivanhoe, Philip J. (2000), “Mengzi, Xunzi, and Modern Feminist Ethics,” in Li Chenyang (ed.), The Sage and the Second Sex. Chicago, IL: Open Court, pp. 57–74. Jaggar, A. M. (1992), “Feminist Ethics,” in L. Becker and C. Becker (eds.), Encyclopedia of Ethics. New York: Garland Press, pp. 363–64. Knoblock, J. (2003), Library of Great Chinese Classics Bi-lingual Version in Both Chinese and English: Xunzi (《大中華文庫漢英對照—荀子》). Hunan, China: Hunan Renmin 湖南人民出版. Li, Chenyang (1994), “The Confucian Concept of Jen and Feminist Ethics of Care: A Comparative Study,” Hypatia, 9 (1): 70–89. Li, Chenyang (2002), “Revisiting Confucian Jen Ethics and Feminist Care Ethics: A Reply to Daniel Star and Lijun Yuan,” Hypatia 17 (1): 130–40. Little, Margaret Olivia (2007), “Seeing and Caring: The Role of Affect in Feminist Moral Epistemology,” in Russ Shafer-Landau and Terence Cuneo (eds.), Foundations of Ethics: An Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp. 420–32. Reprinted from Hypatia (1995), 10 (3): 117–37. Seok, Bongrae (2013), Embodied Moral Psychology and Confucian Philosophy. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. Slingerland, E. (2010), “Toward an Empirically Responsible Ethics: Cognitive Science, Virtue Ethics, and Effortless Attention in Early Chinese Thought,” in Brian Bruya (ed.), Effortless Attention: A New Perspective in the Cognitive Science of Attention and Action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 247–86 Star, Daniel (2002), “Do Confucians Really Care? A Defense of the Distinctiveness of Care Ethics: A Reply to Chenyang Li,” Hypatia, 17 (1): 77–106. Xunzi (1973), Collected Explanations on Xunzi (《荀子集解》), ed. Wang Xianqian 王先謙. Taipei: Yee Wen.

Chapter Eight

Multiculturalism and Feminism Revisited: A Hybridized Confucian Care Ethic li-hsiang lisa rosenlee

Confucianism and feminism often have been regarded as incompatible. The present revival of Confucian traditions raises the question of whether and how Confucian values can contribute to the contemporary Chinese cultural conversation about the development of Chinese forms of feminist ethics. Can one be a Confucian and a feminist at the same time? This chapter intends to reconstitute a bi-directional theoretical exchange in the feminist space where both feminism and Confucianism are mutually hybridized, expanded, and ultimately enriched. By situating Chinese Confucian ethics and feminism in a context of multiple cultural intersections, I hope to show how changes taking place in China today can be seen as part of larger global transformations as well as being part of their particular cultural locations. Before engaging specifically with developments in contemporary China, I want to establish a theoretical framework for the dynamic interaction of feminism and Confucianism as one instance of a broader cultural phenomenon. I take the concept of “hybridity” and “interculturality” as my starting point, where complex theoretical transactions between feminism and Confucianism are not conceptualized unilaterally in an impact-response model, but, instead, are seen as mutually enriching. Yet, so far, feminist ethics by and large are unilaterally dominated by Western theories. There is very little interaction, if any at all, between the West and the rest of the world in the field of feminist ethics. So one might say that the contemporary flow of feminist ideas has been unidirectional in the theoretical space. The West is then presumed to be the sole supplier of feminist ethics and the rest of the world a passive recipient. As I see it, this sort of unidirectionality is just a colonial discourse in a feminist guise. If one sees all non-Western traditions as parochial, oppressive, and patriarchal, then any bidirectional interaction with non-Western traditions would be unnecessary or even harmful. However if one sees a non-Western tradition such as Confucianism as a thriving tradition that is constantly adapting to changing



conditions both spatially and temporally, then there is no reason why Confucianism and feminism should not intersect. But this sort of intercultural exchange should never be unidirectional, as it has been practiced in feminist space thus far. In my view, there are non-Western alternatives regarding women’s liberation that feminist communities should consider. The phenomenon of intercultural exchange, of course, is not a modern one. For instance, the introduction of Indian Buddhism en route from Central Asia to China and its hybridized form of Buddhism in Chan Buddhism is itself a fascinating intercultural phenomenon where cultural encounters begin with rigorous intellectual debates and result in hybridization and adaptation. Although it is Indian in its origins, Buddhism, through its hybridized form of Chan Buddhism, has become intractably intertwined with Chinese intellectual history and culture. Buddhist worldview and sensibility form one of the three teachings in China, in addition to Daoism and Confucianism. Culture, if viewed in this light is, paradoxically and essentially, a process of interaction and hybridity. In other words, culture is constantly negotiating fluid boundaries and inventive adaptations in the flux of intercultural encounters. But what is new after the age of Enlightenment is that the West, through its military expansion, has represented itself as irreversibly equivalent to progressive humanity. Cultural encounters and contestations then become decisively one-sided: the West assesses the worth of the rest of non-Western cultures in accordance with its idealized self-image. The only task left in intercultural exchange is for the West to bring the rest of world up to the mark—to uphold the West as the ideal or to perish. In short, the West is no longer just one culture among many, but instead it occupies the unique vantage point of meta-culture, against which all other, particular cultures must be measured. The hierarchical ranking of cultures/races prevalent in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ political discourse is one with which we all are familiar. Even critical philosophers such as Hume, Kant, and Hegel all contributed to, as well as consolidated, the imperialistic and colonial practices of their time, when the civilized, the rational, becomes synonymous with “whites,” and the unreasonable, the barbaric, with non-whites (Eze, 1997; Bernasconi and Lott, 2000). Though the practice of colonialism might have ended formally with the emergence of new nationstates in formerly colonized regions after WWII, the effects of colonialism have not. More specifically, the colonial worldview that divides the world into two mutually exclusive categories—Western and non-Western—with the West representing the liberal future of humanity contrasting with the patriarchal, oppressive nature of the non-Western world, continues to find its way into feminist discourse on women’s rights in developing nations and minority cultures within Western nations. Susan Moller Okin’s “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” discussing the rights of women in the context of group rights for minority cultures, is a case in point where the liberal West is said to be far less patriarchal than all the rest. As she writes, “While virtually all of the world’s cultures have distinctly patriarchal pasts, some—mostly, though by no means exclusively, Western liberal cultures—have departed far further from them than others” (Okin, 1999, p. 16). It is clear that in Okin’s view some cultures (mostly Western liberal ones) are plainly and simply better than others, and the worth of all cultures should be assessed



according to liberal principles and values. Minority cultures (and most of them in Okin’s view are antithetical to liberal values and principles) do not have any intrinsic values of their own. In other words, Okin’s world is neatly divided into liberal and illiberal, Western and non-Western, feminist and patriarchal. With the West representing the pinnacle of human achievement, what the non-Western world has left to offer is compliance and conformity to Western liberal values and principles. This sort of worldview mirrors its colonial predecessor, which sees the world as merely composed of “Europe and the People without History” as theorized in Eric Wolf ’s anthropological study (1982/1997), where Europe dictates not just the future trajectory of the world, but also the way in which the human past is understood. History is then written in a language of segregation, where the culture of the inferior other must be first assessed and then reconstituted in accordance with the image of the superior West. This sort of colonial representation of the colonized continues to define the theoretical landscape of feminism, where feminist consciousness and women’s liberation are defined as synonymous with the West, if not strictly with liberal values and principles. Non-Western cultures and traditions, since in Okin’s view they are far more patriarchal than the mostly liberal ones, cannot possibly have anything of value to offer to feminism. In fact, the preservation of minority cultures in the discourse of multiculturalism within the liberal theoretical community advocated by scholars such as Will Kymlicka (1995), in Okin’s view, might actually exacerbate the problem of women’s oppression, and women from minority cultures might be better off if their native cultures, in Okin’s own words, were to “become extinct” (Okin, 1999, p. 23). Cultural extermination and coerced assimilation into the dominant culture based on the assumption of the inferior nature of the colonized was routinely practiced during the colonial era; even John Stuart Mill, a self-proclaimed defender of women’s rights, uses liberal values and principles to justify British colonialism in India and around the globe (Sullivan 1983; Parekh 1999). It is indeed nothing short of astonishing that contemporary liberal feminists, such as Susan Okin, should arrive at the same conclusions regarding non-Western cultures some 150 years later. Ironically, feminism, in its self-conscious fight against oppression and domination, now instead finds itself converging with the old colonial humanism and, worse yet, lending support to the ongoing movement of neo-nationalism as a response to the “crisis” of minority integration into the “liberal cultures.” Take the ban on the headscarf in France as an example; although the law is framed in a neutral way, since it bans religious expressions including the Muslim headscarf, Sikh turbans, Jewish skullcaps, and large Christian crucifixes, in practice it is obviously intended to target Muslim women (BBC News, 2004). The rising discourse on terrorism and the Western liberal states’ own anxiety toward their internal Muslim population has framed the larger background of and motivation for this ban. In order to “assimilate” the minority Muslim population into the “liberal” culture, a unilateral ban on Muslim women’s headscarves is thereby justified. This neo-nationalist movement, since it targets Muslim women, also receives support from some liberal feminists such as Susan Okin and Katha Pollitt, who argue that veiling is a means to control especially young women, and those older women who willingly adhere to it do so



under a sense of false consciousness (Okin, 1999; Pollitt 1999). In other words, minority cultures that are viewed as essentially antiliberal and patriarchal must be coerced into conformity, and that coercion is necessary for minority women for their feminist consciousness to first emerge. Under the dictates of liberal interventionism, we have indeed arrived at the “end of history.” In the theoretical space, the end of history is defined by Western liberalism and no other non-Western alternatives, liberal or otherwise, should be possible; all cultures are empty of any intrinsic values, except in their proximity and adaptability to liberal values and principles. The flow of cultural exchanges and contestations has now decisively become one-sided: from the West to the rest of the world. Third World women viewed as victims of their own patriarchal cultures hence are forced to choose between their gender and their native cultures. It is clear that global sisterhood is impossible, if feminist consciousness is only and exclusively premised based on the hegemony of the West, according to which all other cultures are hierarchically ranked. But if feminism is to be relevant to women on the ground, I would argue that culture must be prima facie valuable in its own right. In other words, a sense of formal respect that Kant articulates as owing to persons must be extended to cultures as well; no culture deserves to become extinct, even if some of its practices are less than ideal. Culture thus conceived is neither static nor monolithic, but is capable of modifying its practices through ongoing intercultural exchanges and intracultural contestations. Any discussion involving “Third World Feminism,” as Chandra Talpade Mohanty writes, must address these two simultaneous projects: “the internal critique of hegemonic ‘Western’ feminisms and the formation of autonomous feminist concerns and strategies that are geographically, historically, and culturally grounded” (Mohanty, 2003, p. 17). In other words, if feminism is to be truly without borders, it must, among other things, also be culturally grounded as well. Rejection of non-Western cultures cannot form the basis of feminism, since practically what it amounts to is the affirmation of the idealized image of the West at the expense of all other cultures. As many have noted, condemnation of other cultural practices in fact accomplishes nothing other than to give validation to the West’s self-congratulatory attitude regarding its moral superiority (Mohanty, 1984; Kaufman, 2002). Culture, if seen thickly and pervasively, offers a distinct pattern of ways of life encompassing both public and private, ranging from political, social, economical, educational, to aesthetic. In short, culture is that through which one first becomes conscious of one’s being as a particular. Culture, as the shared worldhood in which our particular being is always a being-with-one-another, maps the boundaries of the possible. Or as Avisha Margalit and Joseph Raz put it, “familiarity with a culture determines the boundaries of the imaginable” (Margalit and Raz, 1995, p. 86). Hence to discard non-Western cultures in a transnational feminist discourse, for one thing, is to diminish the self-worth of others whose self-identity and a sense of well-being are first and foremost culturally constituted. Culture permeates all areas of life and it provides an all-encompassing framework for individuals to seek their own unique identity. Culture functions as the basic organizing principle that informs the meaning of one’s individual identity. And



hence to discard the whole of one’s culture is not only undesirable but, even more so, impossible. To reorganize one’s culture by integrating new patterns of practice is always possible, but to strip one’s culture all away is simply unthinkable. Under this light, the liberal “exit” strategy as the generally accepted approach to resolve morally questionable cultural practices is not only ineffective, but more so harmful to the individual in question, since it requires the individual’s self-identity to be entirely unraveled and then to be reconstituted in a cultural vacuum structured by the supposed neutrality of liberalism. But in reality what that amounts to is a reinstatement of the moral superiority of the liberal West. Without granting all cultures equal dignity as the absolute starting point, a transcultural dialogue simply cannot get off the ground, since being a bearer of a non-Western culture in its face value automatically relegates oneself to the realm of the inferior. In the context of feminism, transnational feminism cannot be formed based on the assumption that women in the non-Western world are bearers of inferior cultures and hence whose feminist consciousness must be purged of any cultural remnants, as implied in the so-called exit strategy. The choice thus framed for transnational feminism would seem to be a discrete, yet morally unambiguous either/or: either one is liberal/ Western, or one is patriarchal/non-Western. And surely under this purview, no one is capable of being a bearer of a non-Western culture and being a feminist of some sort at the same time. It is indeed ironic to say that women in the non-Western world can only be saved if their inferior culture identity is beaten out of them. If we find such liberal pretensions and complacencies unbearable, then what we need instead is culturally informed, contextualized feminist theories that enable women to give new and viable meanings to their lived individual identity. In the context of China, what follows is a proposed localized feminism infused with Confucian ethics. The hope is that through cultural appropriation and hybridization, bidirectionality in the feminist space can be reconstituted and as a result, both transnational feminism and Confucianism are mutually expanded and enriched. Once again the transmission of Indian Buddhism to the Far East Asia is a perfect example. Through cultural appropriation and hybridization, Chan Buddhism emerged in China as one of the three pillars in Chinese cultural history and Tibetan Buddhism in turn also is markedly different from Chan Buddhism, but both owe their origins to Indian Buddhism. In other words, proper cultural hybridization and appropriation bring positive results that change both the host as well as the recipient cultures. In the same way, feminist movement as owing its historical origin to the West must also be properly hybridized in its cultural migration to the non-Western world, so that both are expanded and enriched. The scope of this hybridized project, more specifically, will narrow the intersectionality of Confucianism and feminism to the contemporary debate over the compatibility between care ethics and Confucianism. To begin with, as noted earlier, the tension between feminism and multiculturalism is well brought to the surface by Okin’s much talked about piece “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?,” in a sense that multiculturalism demands respect for culture qua culture whereas feminism oftentimes dismisses it (Okin, 1998 and 1999). Coupling feminists’ suspicion of non-Western culture with the West’s prevalent



sense of moral superiority, there is very little, if any, conscious integration of nonWestern intellectual traditions into feminist theorizing, as if feminist consciousness is an exclusively Western prerogative. The interaction between Confucianism and feminism, as Terry Woo observes, has been a largely one-sided affair: feminism criticizes Confucianism for victimizing Chinese women (Woo, 1999, p.  110). However, interestingly enough, in contrast to this sort of one-sidedness in the feminist community, constructive comparative feminist studies have in fact been quite vibrant in the Asian and comparative philosophical community (Li, 1994; Rosemont, 1996; Tu, 2001; Rosenlee, 2006; Luo, 2007; Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 2009). But despite the vitality of comparative feminist studies within the circle of Sinologists, feminists’ assessment of Confucianism as anti-feminist continues to persist to this day. For instance, in a rare engagement between a contemporary Western feminist and Confucianism in The Ethics of Care, Virginia Held briefly but decisively rejects the compatibility between care ethics (as well as feminism) and Confucianism (Held, 2006, pp. 21–22). It is indeed quite curious to note that despite numerous similarities between care ethics and Confucian ethics pointed out by Sinologists, by and large care ethicists ignore or reject the viability of a collaborative project between these two ethical theories. Intercultural transaction remains one of impositions from the West to the rest of the world. But if we are willing to discard unilateralism in the feminist space, it must be possible to culturally appropriate the care ethics of Confucianism. What then would a Confucian care ethic infused with feminism, or care ethics infused with Confucian ethics, look like? First of all, a Confucian care ethic will begin with a richly contextualized notion of personhood, not as a contrasting notion to the liberal autonomous self, as if one is either in completely possession of one’s core self, or hopelessly enmeshed in externally imposed social roles to the detriment of one’s well-being. Instead it serves as an alternative model to conceptualize the self as an open-ended process of moral perfection through the embodiment of inclusive social roles and mutual obligations. In other words, the uniqueness of the individual is manifested not through her ability to shed all external attachment and relationality down to the bare core self, but through her ability to respond productively to the existential demands of human attachment and relationality that grows ever more inclusively. It is a worldview that accords moral values to an inclusive progression of human attachments and relationships and hence a Confucian self, just as a care ethicist, cares naturally, starting with an attentive and productive response to the needs of one’s loved ones. Confucian xiao or filial affection and familial reverence captures the essence of a Confucian care ethic at home, where the young are raised by the old with affection and the old in turn lean on the young to move forward, as the etymology of xiao indicates (Holzman, 1998, p.  186; Rosemont and Ames, 2009, p.  1). A Confucian self, just as advocated by care ethicist Eva Feder Kittay, in short, recognizes that vulnerability and interdependency characterize human existence (Kittay, 1999 and 2002). And hence to productively meet the needs of others as the way we would want our needs to be met constitutes the starting point of the moral self that owes its beginning to the care of others.



Second, a Confucian care ethic will then extend the demand of familial reciprocal care to the wider social circle. Confucian moral cultivation of oneself, although it begins at home, is obliged to extend outward to encompass both familial and nonfamilial social relations as indicated in the five Confucian core social relations: parent-child (familial), ruler-subject (political), husband-wife (spousal), olderyounger (communal), friends (social). For the self is conceived of not as a socially detached one that is free to form and to discard external relationships; instead the self is conceived of as a moral self that grows only in the web of relationships both familial and nonfamilial. A self structured by liberal principles of freedom and equality is a self that is unattached to anyone; it is a self that owes its dependency to no one and is not morally obliged to reciprocate either. By contrast, a Confucian self, infused with care ethics, not only recognizes the intergenerational dependency and vulnerability of human existence, but also is morally obliged to extend its sphere of concern from the personal, the social, the political, to the global, beginning with the personal. In other words, the personal must be granted a moral claim over oneself by virtue of the fact that one owes one’s self to that very attachment. It is indeed “one thought too many,” as Bernard Williams puts it, if one has to deliberate whether or not it is morally justified to save one’s wife over a stranger in case of emergency (Williams, 1981, p. 18). However a Confucian care ethic does not stop at the door of one’s home. Confucian ethics is not a familial ethics, neither is care ethics. A care ethics infused with Confucianism seeks expanded care for all by, on the one hand, expanding one’s sphere of concern motivated by one’s recognition of the interdependency and vulnerability of human existence, and, on the other, expanding the social capacity to care for all. This expanded care is both delineated in the Confucian ideal society of Datong where harmony is measured by its capacity to care for the socially vulnerable, and demanded by the triadic concept of “doulia” theorized by Kittay, where society must assume commitment to preserve the well-being of the dependent relation between the caregiver and the dependent (Lai Tao, 2000, pp. 226–27; Kittay, 1999 and 2002). In other words, maintaining caring relations is seen as a moral good for both the interdependent self as well as society at large, and hence the caring labor performed at home must be supported by society, so that both the caregiver and cared-for can thrive. The greatness of society is in turn measured by the sort of commitment it makes to sustain that caring network at home and abroad. Third, in order to facilitate the broadening of the scope of one’s concern, all human relationships are viewed as being different only in degree, but not in kind. As is evident in all five Confucian social relations, all relationships are characterized by reciprocity and mutuality. In other words, a Confucian-care ethic views human relationships as a continuous spectrum with strangers on the one end and intimate loved ones on the other. The difference between strangers and family however is only one of degree, since strangers have a potential to be made intimate through marriage or friendship, for instance. The point is that strangers are not completely outside the purview of one’s moral compass for a Confucian care ethic; instead, precisely because strangers are defined by a lack of intimate relationship with oneself, a Confucian self that grows in the web of relationships seeks to extend intimacy



to strangers as well, so as to transition strangers to acquaintance, to friends, and ultimately to family. The centrality of family, as Henry Rosemont and Roger Ames point out, permeates all areas of Chinese history including the sociopolitical, economic, metaphysical, moral, and religious (Rosemont and Ames, 2009, p. xi). Family, for a Confucian self, is an inclusive metaphor that exerts a moral pull to incorporate distant others into the intimate circle of mutual trust and care either by direct interaction or by moral extension through sympathy. Just as Confucian ethics emphasizes the moral nature of human heart in its encounter with or in its anticipation of human suffering in the Mencian example of seeing a child about to fall into a well (Lau, 1970; Mencius, 2A:6 and 3A:5), care ethics also emphasizes the imperative to care extending from the understanding that infants’ survival depends on our willingness to respond to their needs. As Held puts it, we all start out as “human children” (Held, 2006, p. 66), or as Kittay writes, “we are all some mother’s child” (Kittay, 1999, p. 19). In other words, a Confucian care ethic sees caring for others as a spontaneous act of the moral heart that internalizes the needs of dependent and vulnerable others and hence are able to respond to it with utmost sincerity. There are various degrees of intimacy in one’s existential relationships ranging from strangers to intimate loved ones, but the ultimate moral aim for a Confucian care ethic is to incorporate others into one’s inclusive metaphor of family where xiao (family reverence and intergenerational dependency) in the nonvoluntary familial relationship is the moral origin for all voluntary relationships. Lastly, beyond the personal and the communal, a Confucian care ethic provides a care-oriented analysis of political authority in which politics is nothing but an extension of familial care to distant others. Familial care and reciprocal affection is not only the foundation of a harmonious household and a caring community, but also the very foundation of good governance for world citizens. Once again the Confucian vision of Datong (Great Community) where one does not just raise and love one’s own, but care for all resonates well with the feminist vision of a world built based on caring for the needs of the deprived and the vulnerable. As it says in the classical text of Liji (The Book of Rituals): When the great Dao prevailed, the world belonged to the general public. They chose the worthy and capable, were trustworthy in what they said, and cultivated harmony. Therefore, people did not love only their own parents and did not treat only their own, rear their own children. Thus the aged could live out their lives, the strong have their function, the young have their growth, and the widowed, the lonely, the orphans, the disabled and the sick all find their care. Men have their roles and women have their homes. They hated casting away goods, but not necessarily to keep them for themselves. They hated leaving their strength unemployed, but not necessarily to employ it for themselves. Therefore, scheming had no outlet, and theft, rebellion, and robbery did not arise, so that the outer doors were left unlocked. This is called the Great Community. (Lai Tao, 2000, pp. 226–27, with minor modifications) But obviously, gender-based roles in Confucian ethics will have to change in its intersection with feminism, which aims at abolishing all forms of gender-based



oppression. The spousal relationship, as one of the five cardinal social relations, governed by bie (division of labor) will have to give way to a genuine sense of cooperation based on mutually beneficial division of labor, a sort of task sharing that enhances both partners’ long-term capacities instead of diminishing them. Feminism brings gender into a sharp focus in any intercultural dialogue, and the way women are fashioned into particular genderized beings oftentimes significantly limits their practical abilities to experience the world, to share in cultural capitals, and to fully thrive and flourish beyond the dictates of gender roles. And care ethics in particular sheds light not only on the importance of caring labor, but also on the disproportional amount of burden that women shoulder in caring for others at home as well as in the workplace. Confucian ethics, if it is to be relevant to women, will have to come to terms with that. As mentioned earlier, Kittay’s triadic concept of doulia is helpful here to alleviate the burden placed on women by making caring for the caregiver a societal commitment. And Confucian’s contribution of xiao further normalizes the existential facts of interdependency and vulnerability in human lives where the young are cared for by the old, who in turn when they become infirm lean on the young for support. But none of those caring tasks should be gender specific; that is to say, women should not be the only ones who care for the young, the old, the widowed, the lonely, the orphans, the disabled, and the sick, while men are free to choose whether to care or not to care. There has to be a better solution and both Confucian ethics and care ethics must go beyond the emphasis on the importance of caring for others by dealing directly with the inequity between men and women in performing actual caring labor. However to urge women to abandon their caring tasks is not the solution. As Kittay who has a disabled child writes passionately, Someone must care for dependents. If men do not take up the role, women will not simply abandon it. Feminists may persuade women that liberation and equality demands refusing nonreciprocated affective labor directed at fully functioning adults . . . But no feminist movement would, could, or should urge women to neglect the needs of their dependent children, or those of their disabled, ill, or ailing family members and friends. (Kittay, 2002, p. 238) No ethical theory, let it be feminist or otherwise, should advocate voluntary abandonment of meeting the caring needs of the vulnerable simply because equally capable others will not take up the task of caring labor. Just as care ethics, Confucian xiao is a lifelong commitment that one has toward one’s family, both living and dead. This different perception on the inevitable dependency that comes with old age, according to early twentieth-century Chinese writer Lin Yutang, is what separates the East from the West where the old in the West due to their love of independence and their shame of being dependent on others prefer living alone (Lin, 1937/1998, p. 679). But there is no greater joy than being cared for by one’s own children when one is infirm. To love and care for one’s parents for Confucians is a mark of cultural maturity, as the saying goes, “A natural man loves his children, but a cultured man loves his parents” (Lin, 1937/1998,



p. 677). And in China one lives for nothing else but growing old gracefully and being loved and cared for by one’s family (Lin, 1937/1998, p.  679). In fact, according to Elisabeth J. Croll’s 2006 ethnographic study, the youth support for filial care is still quite prevalent across Asia, despite the change in urbanization, the increase in mobility, and the introduction of Western emphasis on individualism. For instance, in East Asia, 85–90 percent of the youth expressed their support for filial care and on average two-thirds to three-fourths of all elderly parents live with their adult children in East and Southeast Asia, with a 80 percent rate in China (Croll, 2006, pp. 482–84). “Care by family first” is not only a governmental policy in many of the Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, and Singapore, it is also a shared practice for many, including Western societies such as England and America. For instance, a 2004 study shows that 60 percent of all the elderly in England live with their adult children, and a 2009 study showed that some 42 million Americans perform some form of consistent care for their frail loved ones (Croll, 2006, p. 484; Honolulu Star Advertiser, 2012). However unlike most Asian countries that take intergenerational care as the ideal, Western societies by and large still see aging and interdependency as a weakness or a reversible condition and hence caring for the frail loved ones is relegated to the personal, but not the ethical. As is clear in the Western discourse on ethics, one’s moral obligations toward one’s family is rarely articulated, if any at all. As Christian Sommers observed, back in 1989, The contemporary philosopher is, on the whole, actively unsympathetic to the idea that we have any duties defined by relationships to which we have not voluntarily entered . . . Because the special relationships that constitute the family as a social arrangement are, in this sense, not voluntarily assumed, many moralists feel bound in principle to dismiss them altogether. (Sommers, 1989, p. 730) In other words, in the Western discourse, familial care falls outside of the realm of ethics that deals strictly with voluntary relationships that one forms in the public domain. Feminist movements in part have challenged that public/private dichotomy in the Western canonical literature, and care ethics in particular brings the ethics of care in personal relationships to light. Just as care ethics, Confucian xiao recognizes not only the ethics of care, but more importantly, the interdependent nature of human existence where one is first cared for by one’s parents who in turn are cared for when they are infirm. In short, the Confucian xiao is an intergenerational labor of love, or as Kittay reflects on her care for her chronic dependent daughter, it is love’s labor (Kittay, 1999). And no one should walk away from that. Life is based on mutual help starting at home. Men no less than women should cultivate that sense of care for the young, the old, the widowed, the lonely, the orphans, the disabled, and the sick. But here lies the difficulty, as Kittay writes, “It seems to me that the difficulty is, first, to cultivate in men a sense of care as deep and extensive as we find today in women . . ., and second, to join the sense of care with the sense of justice” (Kittay, 2002, p. 245). Leaving aside the question of whether Kittay genderizes care and justice, the inequity between men and women in performing actual caring labor is a practical



problem. On what grounds can men be mandated to be caring, and in a sense be “coerced” into performing caring labor? Just as in most traditions, Confucian tradition also relies on women to perform most caring labor, as delineated in the classical text of Liji regarding the two different sets of educational curricula for boys and girls, where boys are to receive extensive literary education while girls are instructed on domestic skills and household management (Legge, 1967, vol. I, pp. 471–79; Liji, “Neize”). This sort of gender-based division of labor hence is the beginning of the inequity of caring labor. And nothing is more pronounced than the caring labor performed by mothers and wives. As a 2005 ethnographic study in Hong Kong shows, wives are still the primary caregivers to their chronically ill husbands and the study attributes the phenomenon to “the Confucian ethos that the family, in particular women, should and would care for their elderly members” (Holroyd, 2005, p. 439). The emphasis on the wifely role as a natural caregiver will have to give way to a more equable sharing of caring task among extended family members, sons as well as daughters. As stated earlier, gender-based division of labor in the spousal relationship will have to give way to a genuine sense of cooperation that mutually benefits both partners in enhancing their long-term capacities instead of diminishing them. In my estimation, spousal relationship will have to give way to friendship in order to address the problem of inequity in caring labor. Such a substitute is not altogether unjustified. If one takes away biological reproduction as the sole basis for marriage, then what is left is companionship between two mature adults in search of a shared sense of the good life. Friendship and spousal relationship converge even more so in modern times, since marriage is nothing but two strangers coming together to form voluntary friendship and then through a mutual commitment into a cohesive family. Gender-based division of labor will have no role to play in mutual friendship, since a shared sense of the good life is its only raison d’etre. As we do what is reasonable for the sake of the well-being of our friends, we do what is reasonable for the sake of the well-being of the family unit. For some feminists such as Okin, a complete “equal split” in every task might be the vision of gender equality (Okin, 1989). But others such as Richard Arneson have criticized the inefficiency of this “equal split” scenario and even for sympathetic theorists such as Anne Phillips to mandate an equal split is not practical (Arneson, 1997; Phillips, 2007). At one point or another, we all have done more than our fair share for our friends; friendship is not about an equal amount of take-and-give contractual transaction. Rather, it is a commitment to each other’s well-being. Such type of friendship built based on virtue obviously is different from the sort of friendship built based on utility or pleasure, as shown in various kinds of friendship delineated by Aristotle as well as by Confucius (Sim, 2007, p.  199). In particular, from the standpoint of a Confucian self, friends demand goodness from each other in addition to mutual affection and trust. As said in the quintessential Confucian text of the Analects with regard to the moral cultivation of junzi (exemplar person), “Take doing your utmost and making good on your word (xin) as your mainstay. Do not have as a friend anyone who is not as good as you are. And where you have erred, do not hesitate to mend your ways” (Ames and Rosemont, 1998; Analects 1.8). In



short, in taking care of one’s friends and one’s family, one doesn’t lose sight of what is good, and a relationship that demands a unreasonable amount of self-abnegation that significantly diminishes one’s capacity to experience the world, to share in cultural capitals, and to thrive and to flourish falls below the minimal threshold of what is reasonable. One cannot walk away from caring for the vulnerable, but one can definitely demand help from other equally capable adults to contribute to the growth of a productive web of human relationships. The Confucian concept of ritual and shame can definitely play an effective role in “coercing” freeloaders to do their reasonable share. And if all things fail, the less effective means of laws and social policies can then serve as the last corrective measure for a short-term gain. As Confucius says in regard to effective governance, Lead the people with administrative injunction (zheng) and keep them orderly with penal law (xing), and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence (de) and keep them orderly through observing ritual propriety (li) and they will develop a sense of shame, and moreover, will order themselves. (Ames and Rosemont, 1998; Analects 2.3) In other words, Kittay’s doulia that mandates social policies to care for the caregiver is only part of the solution; to form a culture of care in which to care for dependent others and to be cared for as the circumstances demand is no longer seen as contrary to one’s autonomous self should be the main task at hand. To cultivate a sense of Confucian xiao as an intergenerational dependency and care at home should then be the starting point, as is recognized by Confucius in xiao as the foundation of all moral education (Ames and Rosemont, 1998; Analects 1.2). And only by being so, one is fashioned into a caring being with a proper sense of shame that instills selfcorrections according to what is appropriate and reasonable in case of one’s moral failure to respond to the needs of the vulnerable starting with one’s loved ones. In the end, what I envision is not so much a sort of care ethics completely absorbed by Confucianism, nor a sort of nationalistic response to counter all feminist critiques of gender relations in Confucianism. What I offer here is a hybridized version of feminist care ethics infused with Confucianism so that both feminism and Confucianism are mutually enriched and expanded. A hybridized Confucian care is a properly localized feminist theory that is able to address the issue of gender without imposing an abstract, transcendent viewpoint from nowhere; it is intended to offer women around the globe alternative ways to reorganize their lives without having to first accept the sort of cultural hierarchy imposed by liberalism. Women don’t need to completely “exit” their own supposedly inferior culture in order to be a feminist of some sort; neither is feminist consciousness an exclusive prerogative of the West. Indeed, one can be a Confucian, a bearer of a non-Western culture, and be a feminist at the same time. The problem of gender equity can be addressed through the lens of multiculturalism. And by doing so, a transnational feminist discourse is also expanded beyond the narrow dictates of liberalism—global sisterhood might then be within our reach.



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Chapter Nine

Would Confucianism Allow Two Men to Share a Peach? Compatibility between Ancient Confucianism and Homosexuality sin-yee chan

Another day Mi Zixia was strolling with the ruler in an orchard and, biting into a peach and finding it sweet, he stopped eating and gave the remaining half to the ruler to enjoy. “How sincere is your love for me!” exclaimed the ruler. “You forgot your own appetite and think only of giving me good things to eat!” (Han Fei Tzu; Watson, 1964, p.78)

I.  INTRODUCTION The above is a locus classicus relating to male homosexuality in traditional China. The story appears in the Han Feizi, one of the most important philosophical classics in ancient China. Han Fei used the anecdote to illustrate the fickleness of a ruler’s affection, but did not condemn the homosexual relationship. It is a common observation that the practice of homosexuality had been tolerated and not stigmatized in traditional China before the Western denouncement of homosexuality began to influence the Chinese minds (Xiong, 1997). Since Confucianism was the revered orthodoxy, this de facto toleration of homosexuality by the traditional Chinese society might evidence the acceptance of homosexuality by Confucianism.



While I agree with this conclusion about the Confucian acceptance, I think it does require some explanation. For, at first glance, homosexuality seems to be inconsistent with many primary Confucian values such as the integrity of a gendered family, the importance of having an heir, and the required complementarity of yin and yang, which have often been associated respectively with the female and the male. In what follows, I will argue that Confucianism is compatible with homosexuality by showing that, first of all, Confucianism does not judge homosexuality as inherently evil. In addition, given shu (the Confucian Golden Rule) and Confucianism’s general acceptance of people pursuing their natural needs, wants, and pleasure, homosexuality is prima facie acceptable and should be dismissed only if it violates the li (ritual) and/ or disrupts social order. I then examine the worries that homosexuality poses threats to the three pillars of Confucian social order: the yin-yang dichotomy, the gender distinction, and the family. The aim of my analysis is not to identify the historical position of Ancient Confucianism on the issue but to reconstruct its stance based on the consideration of its central values. Hopefully, this reconstruction will help to demonstrate how Confucianism can engage with some severely contested topics relating to homosexuality in our contemporary society. I shall rely primarily on the ancient Confucian texts such as the Analects, the Mencius, the Xunzi, and the Liji (Book of Rites). A few things should be put in order first.

II.  THE TERM “HOMOSEXUALITY” The term “homosexuality” needs to be clarified. “Homosexuality” is a modern term that was first introduced into the English language in 1892 (Halperin, 1999, p. 204). This new term marks the shifting of focus from deviant gender behaviors to the anatomical sex of the persons engaged in a sexual act, thus reflecting “a major reconceptualization of the nature of human sexuality, its relation to gender, and its role in one’s social definition” (Chauncey, 1982–1983, p. 116). The notion of homosexuality in the Western contemporary society relates to both homosexual orientation and activity. The former refers to the tendency to be sexually and romantically attracted predominantly to members of one’s own sex. The latter includes sexual activity involving genitals as well as sexual behaviors such as kissing. Homosexuality is also often seen as forming an opposite binary with heterosexuality. Given these loaded associations of the term, it is not entirely accurate to understand the same-sex sexual activities in traditional China as homosexuality. And I have no intention to do so. The use of the term “homosexuality” in this chapter is done merely for the sake of convenience and I shall use it loosely to refer to any samesex sexual orientations, desires, and behaviors. And I shall use heterosexuality in a similar manner regarding the sexual interactions between people of opposite sex. My focus will be on male homosexuality as it was the mostly documented form of homosexuality in the official history. There was clear evidence for the existence of lesbianism in traditional China, which perhaps was even more rampant than male homosexuality given the multitudes of neglected females in the harem. Hopefully what I shall say about male homosexuality can apply to lesbianism as well.



III.  HOMOSEXUALITY IN ANCIENT CHINA A better grasp of the practice of homosexuality in traditional China helps to contextualize our philosophical analysis. For this purpose, I will only focus on the classical period up until around the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). The account below is meant to provide a gist of the phenomenon only. References to homosexuality in the Chinese official histories are generally allusive. The terms “peach sharing,” “passions of cut sleeve”1 and “passions of Longyang”2 were the standard stand-in for homosexuality before “tongxinglian” (same-sex-love), a direct translation of the Western term “homosexuality” was introduced in the 1920s (Ho, 2011, p.  86).3 Historical references to same sex activities started early.4 The mythical figure the Yellow Emperor was alleged to have a male bedmate (Ruan and Tsai, 1987). In the Book of Odes, a collection of poems compiled between seventh- and eleventh-century BC that was highly praised and referenced by Confucians, there are poems expressing explicitly the mutual affection between two males.5 The pre-Chin (before 221 BC) classics, the Mozi, the Xunzi, the Han Feizi, and the Yanzi Chunqiu all contained references to homosexuality. Mozi warned, “Why do the rulers do this? He will receive an exalted title and a generous stipend. Hence they employ the man simply because they love his appearance” (Hinsch, 1992, p. 31). “It is the custom of the anarchic masses of the present day that the ‘smart’ youth of every village are all beautifully elegant and seductively fascinating. They wear striking clothing with effeminate decorations and exhibit the physical desires and bearing of a young girl. Married women once all hoped to get such a man for their husband” (Xunzi 5:7).6 These youths attracted both males and females. The “shared peach” anecdote quoted above came from the Han Feizi. The authoritative historical works on ancient China such as Shiji (finished in 109 BC), Zhanquo Ce (finished around first century BC), and Han Shu (finished in AD 111) contained numerous anecdotes relating to homosexuality. According to the record, homosexuality was in high fashion in the Han dynasty. The first ten Han emperors, including Emperor Wu who adopted Confucianism as the state orthodoxy and was one of the greatest emperors in the Chinese history, all had male lovers. Male lover of the ruler is called variously as chong (favorites 寵), pi (favorites 嬖), luantong (catamites 孌童) and ning xing (flattering favorite 倿倖).7 But not all male favorites were mere pretty face; some were distinguished musicians and prominent generals such as Waiqing (衛青). Shiji even has a section titled “Biographies of the Emperors’ Male Favorites.” Its author, the Grand Historian Sima Qian, wrote in the introduction of this section, “Those who served the ruler and succeeded in delighting his ears and eyes, those who caught their lord’s fancy and won his favor and intimacy, did so not only through the power of lust and love; each had certain abilities in which he excelled” (Watson, 1993, p. 419). Sometimes gifting a ruler with a beautiful young boy could be an effective ploy to ruin a state, hence the saying, “A beautiful lad can ruin an older head” (Crump, 1996, p. 62). Homosexuality was also common among aristocrats, officials, and the affluent who often kept young boys (and young girls) for sexual purposes in the pre-Chin period (222 BC) (Xiong, 1997, p. 36).



A few things are noteworthy. First, in most cases, homosexuality practiced in this period is more accurately described as bisexuality. Second, most homosexual relationships were hierarchical—an emperor and his male favorites, a master of a household and his young boy servant.8 But unlike the other relationships such as the father-son relationship, where the hierarchy was normatively defined and ascribed with specific social duties, the hierarchy in the homosexual relationships just reflected differences in power and status of the involved parties. For the social elites, homosexuality was often an elegant sexual diversion, a relief from the stress and burdens of spousal relationships, and a sign of power and privilege (Song, 2004, p. 173). Third, as the saying “A beautiful lad can ruin an older head” suggests, homosexuality had some negative connotation. It was often perceived to be associated with licentiousness and political corruption. Mozi’s quotation above shows that male favorites, unlike female favorites who could not but be confined to the harem, sometimes gained official positions and exerted political influence.9 Yet we should clearly identify the target of the negativity. It seems that homosexuality itself is not the problem. The same-sex aspect was not decried as sinful, degrading, or perverted. In the saying, “lovely women and charming boys, by all those who can favor and play at love” (Han Feizi; Watson, 1964, p. 46), no discrimination is made between a temptress and a tempter, both are equally condemned. In the same vein, the Grand Historian claimed to judge the male favorites on their own merits,10 implying that they were treated on the same basis as everyone else. Perhaps sexuality per se is not the issue either. All social elites had multitudes of sexual partners. According to the Liji (Book of Rites), the Son of Heaven had his queen and numerous concubines including three ladies called furen, nine bin, twenty seven shifu, and eighty one yuqi (Liji 44:8).11 A duke has a wife (furen) and concubines including the shifu (Liji 2:26). Polygamy was an established institution. Even a commoner who begged for sacrifice food had a wife and a concubine (Mencius 4B:33).12 Perhaps the real target of condemnation was lust (yin淫), in the sense of excessive sexuality. Since homosexuality was often a trivial sexual diversion, it could, or at least was perceived as, easily degenerating into lust, hence, accruing the negative connotation. Still, homosexuality was not equated with lust or sexuality because often it was the relationship aspect, rather than the sexuality aspect, that was emphasized in the historical documents. The male favorites were often portrayed as close companions instead of sexual partners. Certainly, ancient Chinese documents in general shied away from making overt reference to sexuality. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that depiction of care and tenderness in a homosexual relationship was not infrequent, as the “shared peach” anecdote evidenced. The male favorites were well taken care of materially and spoiled when they enjoyed the rulers’ favor, which, unfortunately, was extremely fickle. They were rarely humiliated as mere sexual objects. So the ancient documents in general did not contain any condemnation on the intrinsic nature of homosexuality. As for the Confucian classics, they were almost silent on the subject. The Analects referenced to the notorious beauty of Song Zhao 宋朝, who was infamous for his licentiousness and his sexual relationships with the Duke Ling of Wei, but it did not pass any comment on Song Zhao’s character or behavior (Analects 6:16).13 For the alluring young men who had the sad fate of



facing public execution, Xunzi did not blame them for their homosexuality or their beauty, but for their lack of knowledge and critical judgment (Xunzi 5:7). In brief, no inherent evil was attributed to homosexuality in the classical Confucian texts even though the early Confucians obviously were well aware of its practice.

IV.  CONFUCIAN REASONS SUPPORTING THE PERMISSIBILITY OF HOMOSEXUALITY Even though Confucianism was explicitly silent on the subject of homosexuality, it is reasonable for us to believe that Confucianism would accept homosexuality as morally permissible. I shall explain below that the supporting reasons include the absence of divine command, an acceptance of people’s natural bodily needs/desires, the legitimacy of sexual pleasure, and the Confucian idea of shu.

IV.1. No Divine Command to Condemn Homosexuality In the West, the strongest objection against homosexuality stems from the Christian notion of the divine command of God. Hence given the belief that the Christian God judges homosexuality as sinful, Christians deem that they should abstain from and condemn homosexuality.14 In the Christian faith, homosexuality is therefore considered a sui generis evil, needing no other reason to explain its “evilness.”15 For many non-Christian cultures, on the other hand, homosexuality was acceptable and widely practiced. For example, the ancient Greek were famous for celebrating homosexuality between an older and a younger man as an educational and ennobling experience. The Romans accepted homosexuality as testifying to the reality of unequal power (the penetrator was seen as the powerful and the penetrated person as the weak party) (Crompton, 2006). The Hindu god, Samba, son of Krishna, was famous for his homosexuality (ibid., p. 93). The Egyptian god Seth was known to be sexually aggressive toward his brother (Greenberg, 1990, pp. 93 and 135). Similar to these cultures, Confucianism does not subscribe to the notion of divine command. Confucius comments that Heaven does not speak (Analects 17:19). Similarly, Mencius sees morality as inherent in human nature, which is endowed by Heaven and should be seen as the manifestation of Heaven, “For a man to give full realization to his heart is for him to understand his own nature, and a man who knows his own nature will know Heaven” (Mencius 7A:1). The innate heart-mind, not a transcendental authority, is the moral compass. There is no divine command to ascribe sui generis evilness to homosexuality in Confucianism. Another Christian reason for rejecting homosexuality is to see homosexuality as violating God’s design. According to Augustine and Aquinas, homosexuality counters the natural purpose of sexuality designed by God—to procreate. Engagement in homosexuality, therefore, is immoral.16 It is also degrading because a homosexual person uses his/her body as an instrument to seek satisfaction of desire instead of respecting the body as an inseparable part of the self, thereby demeaning the person in his/her bodily aspect (George, 2001, p. 148).



This appeal to divine design, however, will be lost to the Confucians. Confucianism pays little attention to the idea of a Creator or a world of designed objects. Xunzi ridicules the view of a purposeful nature: “The course of Nature is constant: it does not survive because of the actions of a Yao” (Xunzi 17:1). Confucians do care about what is natural and debate about the content of human nature. This concern has implications on Confucianism’s position on homosexuality.

IV.2. Food and Sex: The Natural Desires Confucianism would accept homosexuality because of its sympathy for people’s natural needs and desires. The “self ” in Confucianism refers to an embodied self.17 Moral cultivation includes cultivating the physical aspect—a person’s qi, and one needs to follow regiments about one’s diet, posture, resting time, etc. A sage is someone who fully realizes his physical body (jianxing 踐形) (Mencius 7A:38). Thus Confucianism accepts one’s physical needs, whose fulfillment is essential for the well-functioning of the body. Sexual desire is considered one of those needs. Sex is often referred to by the word “se 色.” “Se” literary means “color” or “colorful.” By extension, it means something “beautiful.” The eyes are often attracted to the “five colors” (wu se) (Xunzi 1:15). As beauty often arouses sexual desire, “se” refers to “sex” as well. The fondness/desire for sex (hao se 好色) is seen as pervasive. Confucius laments that few would be as fond of virtue as they would be of sex (Analects 9:18). Mencius comments that “When a person is young he yearns for his parents; when he begins to know about desire for sex, he yearns for the young and beautiful” (Mencius 5A:1).18 In the texts, desire for sex is often paired with desire for food. Both are important desires. “Food, drink and sexual pleasure, these are human’s major desires” (Liji 9:19). Mencius seems to accept Gaozi’s statement, “Food and sex (se) belong to one’s nature (xing)” (Mencius 6A:4), but disagrees that the two exhaust human nature. Michael Nylan observes that food and sex represent the entire range of possible desires and dispositions for Xunzi (Nylan, 2001). To Xunzi, our natural desires cannot be eliminated. “When what is desired is judged to be obtainable, it will be pursued. That is a necessary and inescapable part of our essential nature” (Xunzi 22.12). Important and inescapable though these two natural desires are, they need to be regulated by the li (ritual). When asked whether the desires for food and sex or the li is more important, Mencius leaves no doubt about his stance. One should not twist one’s brother’s arm to get food, one should not kidnap a woman to have a wife (Mencius 7B:1). Xunzi accords supreme importance to the li, for he believes that only the li can regulate and help people attain their desires in a harmonious way. “The Ancient Kings abhorred such disorder; so they established the regulations contained within ritual and moral principles in order to apportion things, to nurture the desires of men, and to supply the means for their satisfaction” (Xunzi 19:1). So long as the li is followed, satisfaction of sexual desire is respectable: “Of the eroticism of the Airs of the States, the Commentary says: ‘They give satisfaction to the desires men have but do not err in their stopping point. Their sincerity can



be compared to metal and stone whose sounds are permitted within the ancestral temple’” (Xunzi 27:96). Many contemporary studies of homosexuality contend that sexual orientation is innate.19 This claim is, admittedly, controversial. However, if this innateness claim is true, it is easy to see that Confucianism, given its ready recognition of one’s natural needs and wants, will accept homosexuality on the provision that it does not violate the li or/and cause social discord. While there is no textual evidence showing that Confucianism subscribes to the innateness claim about sexual orientation, Chinese historical documents showed that there were people, albeit a minority, who preferred exclusive homosexuality. For example, Emperor Ai of the cut-sleeve anecdote did not care for women (Crompton, 2006, p.  220). Since the prevalent modes of sexuality were heterosexuality and bisexuality and there was no evidence that people were consciously taught or pressurized to prefer homosexuality exclusively, these cases of exclusive homosexuality might provide some, though not conclusive, evidence for the innateness claim. And given the social pressure to pass on the family line, one might expect that some participants in bisexuality actually might have preferred exclusive homosexuality if given the chance, thus further supporting the innateness claim. Actually, for the purpose of this chapter, evidence of innate preference for bisexuality is as good as evidence of innate preference for exclusive homosexuality if our aim is to support the innateness claim of preference for homosexuality. The prevalence of bisexuality in ancient China and many other ancient cultures perhaps lends some support to the innateness claim of prevalence of homosexuality (Corvino and Bem, 1999, p. 192). Anyway, innate or not, the desire to practice homosexuality qua a desire could present a claim on its own, given Xunzi’s view about the inescapability of desire and its attainability if we follow the li properly.

IV.3. Pleasure and Sex Pleasure (le 樂) can be another basis for the Confucian acceptance of homosexuality. Pleasures, however, are not of equal weight according to Confucianism. Pleasures in moral virtues, learning, and proper behavior are of a higher order than sensual and material pleasures. Confucius praises his student Yen Hui for taking pleasure in learning and not caring about his own poverty (Analects 6:11). According to Xunzi, pleasure and well-governing are compatible. “The intelligent lord will certainly proceed first to put his country in a state of good order, for only then will the Hundred Pleasures obtain their mean” (Xunzi 11:11). Michael Nylan suggests that in most classical theories, Confucianism included, “the chief task of the ruler and his ministers is to devise appropriate policies on pleasure, since the pursuit of a given pleasure could increase or diminish the health of the body and the body politic” (Nylan, 2001, p. 73). We may or may not agree with Nylan’s assessment that pleasure management is the chief political task of Confucianism, yet it cannot be denied that Confucianism does recognize the social and political significance of enabling people to attain pleasure.



Pleasure derived from the physical aspect of sexual activity can be understood as a kind of sensual pleasure. As such, it does not have much worth, though it can still be permissible and not inherently corrupt.20 Mencius allows the pursuit of sensual pleasures such as pleasures in music, hunting, and beautiful buildings (Mencius 1B:1, 3, and 4). Sexual pleasure is similar to these other sensual pleasures: “In antiquity, Tai Wang was fond of women, and loved his concubines .  .  . At that time, there were neither girls pining for a husband nor men without a wife. You may be fond of women, but so long as you share this fondness with the people, how can it interfere with your becoming a true King?” (Mencius 1B:5). Mencius shows that illustrious figures such as Tai Wang, the great ancestor of the Zhou dynasty, were also driven by their sexual desires. What is important is that these great rulers sought to help people fulfill their sexual desires while seeking their own. Everyone, regardless of his/her social status, shares the same desire for sexual pleasure that deserves to be fulfilled. “If you shared your pleasure with the people, you would be a true king” (Mencius 1B:1).21

IV.4. Shu (恕) and Homosexuality This Mencian idea of sharing one’s pleasure with others in the sense of enabling others to enjoy pleasure as one does is kindred in spirit to the Confucian notion of shu. Confucius describes shu as the one word that can serve as the guiding principle of conduct throughout life. Shu consists in “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire” (Analects 15:24). We can apply shu to the issue of homosexuality. As I have argued previously, shu is a kind of analogical thinking that is not much different than the Christian Golden Rule (Chan, 2000a). The gist of it is to imagine oneself in the shoes of others, the recipients of one’s action, so as to attain a vicarious and contextual understanding of their views and feelings. However, when others’ values/ desires/judgments conflict with one’s own, one should follow one’s own, provided that one’s values/desires/judgments are those that one identifies with, and that there are genuine conflicts (in the sense of logical inconsistence) and not mere differences between these two sets of values/desires/judgments. In the absence of a conflict, one should go along with others’ preference so as to respect their autonomy and not cause them the pain of frustrated desire. Before we apply shu to the issue of homosexuality, we need to be aware of some limitations of this application. First, shu is meant to encourage one’s efforts to have a contextual understanding of how one’s action affects specific others and carefully re-examine one’s own judgments/values/desires in the process. Its best use is to apply to individual cases rather than yield to a general principle, such as whether something is generally permissible. Second, when we apply shu to test the permissibility of homosexuality, we can only speak of social permissibility and not moral permissibility because only the former is subject to our decision to grant. However, the credibility of the test of shu should bear some weight, though not determinative, on the issue of moral permissibility if it yields the judgment of social permissibility. Third, shu allows one’s problematic desires/judgments/values to be the guide if one genuinely identifies with them. With this flaw, shu cannot be relied



on entirely to determine the moral rightness/permissibility of an action. Despite these limitations, applying shu to the issue of the permissibility of homosexuality can still help make salient certain important considerations concerning the people most affected by the decision. It also requires us to assume a more personally engaged perspective in examining the issue. So when we follow shu and vicariously imagine the views and values of a person who wishes to have the social permission to engage in homosexuality with a consenting adult, how should we decide? First of all, we would try to understand the various types of pleasures, sexual and otherwise, that would be available to the person if she has the opportunity to pursue her sexual desires in a socially acceptable way. More importantly, the lens of shu will throw into sharp relief the pain that the denial would bring to the person: fear of social ostracization, sexual frustration, and, possibly, guilt, self-deception, self-loathing, low self-esteem, loneliness, resentment toward the society, and so on. We then have to determine if there is any conflict between one’s set of desires/ judgments/values and those of the person requesting the permission. If there is none, we are required to go along with the wishes of the person. Assuming that one would take up the Confucian judgment that homosexuality is not inherently evil, and if one just focuses on the intrinsic nature of homosexuality and sets aside for the time being the extrinsic problems that might associate with it, such as violation of the li, it seems that there is no conflict in the sense of logical inconsistence between one’s perspective and that of the requesting person. There is no conflict even if one does not prefer or one even loathes homosexuality. For, the statements “X prefers homosexuality and its social permission” and “Y does not prefer or even loathes homosexuality” are logically compatible. Both can be true at the same time. Similarly, one’s loathing something is not logically contradictory to one’s allowing others to pursue what one loathes. To so allow is neither unreasonable nor a need to be psychologically difficult. A simpler example can illustrate this point clearly. No one would argue that one’s hatred of chocolate ice-cream conflicts with others’ preferring it, or that it is not in the spirit of shu to allow, help, or even delight in seeing a friend enjoying her favorite chocolate ice-cream despite one’s loathing that flavor oneself. Consequently, following shu we should deem homosexuality as socially permissible. I have argued above that having no deference to a transcendental authority that condemns homosexuality as evil, recognizing people’s natural needs/wants, accepting people’s pursuit of pleasure, and following shu, all help to support the moral permissibility of homosexuality. However, the validity of these reasons is premised on the provision that homosexuality does not cause extrinsic problems such as violation of the li and/or lead to social chaos. To fully justify homosexuality, we need to examine these other factors. To them I turn now.

V.  EXTRINSIC PROBLEMS OF HOMOSEXUALITY At first glance, homosexuality disrupts three important pillars of the Confucian social order: the yin-yang dichotomy, the gender structure, and the family. However,



I believe that these worries can be dismissed. I shall first elucidate and then offer solutions to these problems.

V.1. Yin-Yang According to the yin-yang theory, yin and yang refer respectively to two opposite but mutually dependent cosmic forces. Yin is often associated with what is dark, soft, wet, negative, night, and the earth; and yang with what is bright, hard, dry, positive, day, and the Heaven. More pertaining to our purpose, yin and yang are also explicitly associated with man and woman. “Therefore, yin-yang can be called man and woman, and man and woman can be called yin-yang” (Wang, 2012, p. 100).22 Though not so at the beginning, yin has come to stand for the weak and the inferior, and yang the strong and the superior over time. These two forces of yin and yang, ebb and flow, take turn to become dominant. Their interaction affects everything in this universe, spanning from the weather condition, to social and individual affairs. Often these two forces are also conceived of as two different forms of qi (vapor energy), which make up everything in this universe. The functioning and interaction of the yin-yang qi constitute the transformation of qi from one form into another. As qi has both cosmic and individual dimensions, so do yin and yang. Partaking in the yin-yang qi therefore makes one become connected directly to the cosmic whole. When the two forces of yin and yang function properly and are in balance, presumably cosmic, social, and individual harmony will be attained and an individual person will be able to conserve and develop his/her essence (jing), the most concentrated, the best, form, of qi.23 Homosexuality apparently causes a problem given this identification of yin and yang with the female and the male. For, homosexuality implies a lack of sexual interaction between female (yin) and male (yang), presumably upsetting the balance of these two cosmic forces. “If there are so many males but no females, how can anything be transformed and be able to produce?” (Huainanzi; Major et al., 2010, p. 190). This worry about the lack of interaction between yin and yang in homosexuality can be discounted. In what follows, I shall argue for this conclusion by challenging the following assumptions: the necessity to have the male and female interaction in the sexual domain, the lack of yin-yang interaction in homosexuality, and the incompatibility between homosexuality and the goals of the yin-yang sexual interaction. One reason for worrying about the incompatibility between homosexuality and the yin-yang theory is the lack of sexual interaction between male and female in homosexuality. However, requiring male and female interaction in every domain is not a Confucian idea; otherwise, there would not have been the inner-outer dichotomy (nei-wai),24 an important foundation of the Confucian social order. The distinction confines women to the domestic sphere and allows only men in the public arena. Thus, the government—a very important sphere of human interaction—was monopolized by the males and every measure was made to prevent female participation in politics, which was ridiculed as “the crowing of a hen in the morning.” Yet no Confucian thought that cosmic balance was upset because of this



separation. So why is sexual interaction between male and female necessary but not political interaction? If it is said that sexuality is one of the most basic forms of human interaction, as evidenced in the incorporation of husband-wife relationship into the Five Relationships, it can be quickly replied that the remaining four of the relationships are all cast in male-male terms: ruler-minister, father-son, elderyounger brother, friend-friend. Moreover, since heterosexuality was the most prevalent form of sexual intercourse in ancient China (as most participants in homosexuality at that time engaged in bisexuality and the majority of people were heterosexuals), there was already ample room for the manifestation of the yin-yang interaction in the sexual domain. Some space, though much smaller, should indeed remain for homosexuality because homosexuality can be understood as the manifestation of the peaking of either the yang or the yin force. Admittedly, when one force is at its peak, its opposing force is not entirely absent, albeit much diminished. Similarly, we can say that some form of the opposite sex is also present in homosexuality. For example, some “female traits” such as passivity, softness, feminine beauty, might be present in male homosexuality. Alternatively, homosexuality can involve the yin-yang interaction in the absence of heterosexual intercourse. As observed by many scholars, the yin-yang dichotomy is extremely fluid because, yin-yang expresses a relation, rather than denoting two absolutely independent entities (Wang, 2012, p. 7). The following example nicely illustrates the relational nature of yin-yang. A left hand is yang in relation to the right hand; both hands when raised are yang compared with hands at rest; a hot hand at rest is yang while a cold hand at rest is yin (Forke, 1925, p. 215). The yin and yang determination is entirely contextual, depending on the terms of reference. Consequently, yin-yang is not essentially tied to woman-man. A woman who occupies a superior social position is yang in relation to a socially inferior male. Thus, “A ruler is yang, a minister yin; a father is yang, a son yin; a husband is yang, a wife yin.”25 The yin-yang elements then get incorporated into a homosexual relationship in virtue of its hierarchical nature. A ruler is yang, his ministers are yin.26 One might protest that a major worry still remains: in the texts there are explicit requirement of sexual intercourse between a male and a female. For example, “Yang endows and yin embraces; male and female are mutually necessary. This mutual need brings creation and transformation” (Chen, 2004, p. 70). As individuals partake in the cosmic qi, individual heterosexual intercourse has cosmic significance and even sanctity as it is the fundamental of universal life. Hence, the sexual union of a ruler and his queen, the exemplars of male and female, is a highly ritualized and regimented event. And to ensure the proper interaction of the yang and yin qi, sex manuals were developed from early on. The bibliographical section of the Former Han Dynasty History included the category “Art of the bedchamber” (fangzhong shu房中術), which listed eight instructional works on sex. The following quotation from Sunu Jing, another sex manual not included in the bibliographical section (Van Gulick, 2003, p. 70), discusses how heterosexuality is related to the yin-yang functioning: When yang unites with yin, yang is transformed; when yin unites with yang, yin becomes open. Yin and yang are mutually dependent in their operations.



Therefore when man is roused, (his penis) becomes hard and strong, and when woman is moved, (her vagina) is open and enlarged. When the two ch’i (qi) yin and yang mingle their ching (jing), then their fluids are exchanged. (Wile, 1992, p. 86) In these sex manuals, the well-functioning of yin-yang is reduced to the proper exchange of fluids produced during heterosexual intercourse. There were two main goals of the art: individual longevity for males and eugenics. The goal of individual longevity for males is achieved through “the art of collecting yin.” In a gist, the art focuses on the man collecting the bodily fluid from his female partner while withholding his own. To achieve this, a man aims at the triple tasks of prolonging his erection, refraining from ejaculation, and inducing multiple orgasms in the woman. It is even better if a man could have in one night more than ten female partners who should be ideally between fourteen and nineteen, and never have children (Van Gulik, 2003, p. xxi). The goal of eugenics can be seen from the regimentation of the sexual intercourse between a ruler and his queen. The frequency and the partner of his intercourse need to be registered, the intercourse witnessed, with its result recorded by a female historian. He can only have intercourse with his queen once a month when his potency reaches its peak, after the constant nurturing he has received from frequent copulating with his numerous concubines (Van Gulik, 2003, p.  16). Even for commoners, the sexual intercourse has to be timely and follow the cosmic rhythm of yin and yang. In Chunqiu Fanlu, the first Confucian work that incorporates an elaborate yin-yang based cosmology, it is said that, A man should not start a family until he has developed a strong male sexual organ (mu牡). There should not be any (sexual) contact until the yin becomes abundant . . . The heaven qi first makes the male sexual organ strong and then emit semen, hence its semen is solid. The earth qi first makes the female sexual organ strong and then transform, hence its transformation is of good quality.27 However, these two grounds for mandating heterosexuality are insufficient to rule out homosexuality. As for the first ground of longevity, Confucianism would reject the practice of “collecting the yin” for its objectification and exploitation of female sexuality as mere tools to serve the purpose of longevity for males. Instead, reciprocal duty is always emphasized between the related, though unequal, parties. Reciprocal duty underpins the notion of mutual recognition. According to Liji, a husband has the duty to copulate with his concubine at least once every five days until the latter reach fifty (Liji 12:41).28 The rationale behind this duty is not explained in the texts but most probably it is not related to procreation as women’s fertility in general declines sharply after age forty. Is it a means to avoid familial strife, eliminate favoritism of the husband, prevent adultery, or promote spousal affection and bond? We may not know. What is clear is that even a concubine has a sexual claim that a husband needs to respect. She is not a mere vessel of nourishing fluid. Moreover, Mencius warns against having many desires, “There is nothing better for nurturing of the heart than to reduce the number of one’s desires” (Mencius 7B:35). This warning



should also apply to sexuality and dissuade one to engage in the sexual carnival of “collecting the yin.” Above all, one wonders why longevity is a Confucian concern. Unlike the Daoists who care about bodily longevity, a Confucian would seek human immortality by means of establishing one’s virtues (de), accomplishments (gong), and words (yen).29 Mandating heterosexuality for the sake of longevity would not appeal to the Confucians. Even if we grant the requirement of heterosexuality, it still does not imply rejecting homosexuality. People can be bisexuals and “collecting the yin” theory allows homosexuality as a neutral activity. Contact between two yang elements does not result in a loss or gain of essence (jing) for either male. Since women’s yin supply is believed to be unlimited in quantity, lesbianism is also tolerated (Van Gulik, 2003, p. 48). As for the eugenics of requiring heterosexuality, it cannot be denied that procreation is a major Confucian concern. “There are three ways of being a bad son. The most serious is to have no heir” (Mencius 4A:26). But again, bisexuality can provide the solution unless there is evidence that engagement in homosexuality will undermine one’s procreative capacity. Even though homosexuality might impact the frequency of heterosexual intercourse and, as shown above, frequent heterosexual copulation is believed to benefit a male’s potency, homosexual companionship can contribute by functioning as a stress relief activity. Recall that heterosexual intercourse is stressful as it requires a male to be constantly vigilant about his triple tasks. Stress relief might be helpful for sexual and psychological health, hence enhancing the procreative capacity. Alternatively, what is essential in eugenics, according to the Chunqiu Fanlu quotation given above, is not the frequency of intercourse but the timing—the ability to synchronize with the rhythm of yin-yang. It is not obvious how homosexuality must hamper the timing aspect. As for those homosexuals who can/do not prefer bisexuality, they might be put in the same category of infertile couples. Perhaps they would be judged as defective since they are incapable of participating in the valuable cosmic activity of procreation and regeneration. Yet just as an infertile wife might, but need not, be expelled, or that an infertile husband is still allowed to copulate with his wife, there seems no reason not to allow homosexuality between those who prefer homosexuality exclusively. With these considerations, the eugenics reason for rejecting homosexuality can be dismissed.

V.2. Gender Gender distinction is a significant pillar supporting the Confucian social order. Distinction (bian 辨) is the cardinal value for the husband-wife relationship (Mencius 3A:4). Xunzi believes that the ability to draw and respect distinction is innate (Xunzi 5:9). To him, distinction is of paramount importance as it ensures social harmony by marking out everyone’s allotment (fen 分) with respect to social resources and status (Xunzi 5:10). Each distinction is associated with a set of expectations and duties. The gender distinction is based primarily on the inner-outer (nei-wai) and the yinyang dichotomies. The relationship between yin-yang and gender has been explained



above. The inner-outer dichotomy basically connotes a functional distinction with the male taking responsibility for affairs in the public sphere and the female for the domestic sphere. With this division of labor, women perform work such as taking care of the elderly and the young in the family and running the household; men work as officials, farmers, or merchants and they are the head of the household (Mencius 3B:3,4; 5A:8; 5B:5; 7A:22, 3B:3). Often the inner-outer distinction also means physically confining women to their homes as well as requiring physical separation between the two genders even within the household. Physical separation presumably helps to prevent licentiousness (Xunzi 17:12). The gender distinction is both complementary and hierarchical (Mencius 3B:2).30 It contributes to secure familial and social harmony by ensuring that wife is subservient to husband and woman to man, that each gender knows his/her own allotment and duty, and that physical distances are kept between the two genders. Geng Song suggests that homosexuality does not pose any threat to the gender structure in Confucianism. Instead “the one-sided hierarchical relations between powerful people and their catamites or actors even helped to reinforce the yinyang or masculine/feminine gender paradigm.”31 Song’s conclusion, however, is unjustified. He is too quick to assume that just because hierarchical homosexual relationship involves yin and yang, it must involve a male and a female role. Not all yin elements are females. The hierarchical father-son relationship also involves yin and yang, but none of the party is reduced to a female role. So is there any reason supporting the worry that homosexuality threatens the Confucian gender structure in the sense that it blurs the strict gender distinction? One reason is to think that homosexuality causes gender confusion because it involves feminization of the male in aspects of psychology, appearance, and sexuality. I shall argue that this view is unjustified. Furthermore, it will be argued that gender distinction is not hegemonic in Confucianism. Androgyny also plays a vital role. Let us look at the idea that homosexuality involves feminization of male in the aspects of psychology and appearance first. Beautiful young men that attracted both men and women were sometimes described as wearing female accessories and assuming female mannerisms (Xunzi 5:3). “The Evidence of a Chaotic Age: Men wearing brightly colored clothing; their demeanor is softly feminine” (Xunzi 20:11). People who have this worry may even appeal to support outside the Chinese tradition, such as the “inversion theory” proposed by Freud.32 According to this theory, a person identifies strongly with the opposite-sex parent and subsequently adopts his/her mannerism, characteristics, and becomes sexually attracted to people of the same sex. Hence there is the stereotype of effeminate gay man and macho lesbian woman (Taylor, 1983). Supporters of this stereotype can also point to science. Brain scans show that the brains of homosexual men are more similar to those of heterosexual women. Both categories have more symmetrical halves of the brains than heterosexual men or homosexual women and they also have similar number of nerves connecting the two halves (Savic and Lindstrom, 2008). However, neither the brain study cited nor the inversion theory supports the alleged connection between male homosexuals and femininity. To think otherwise is to confuse femininity—a cultural construct with female sex—a biological fact. What



counts as feminine varies from culture to culture. A modest and passive woman was feminine in Victorian England, the sexually liberated Beyonce is the icon of femininity in Contemporary America. Which feminine traits does the referred brain structure dispose one to or express? Furthermore, not all biological females possess the same degree of femininity and some may possess none at all. The biological fact of female sex implies nothing about femininity. A biological commonality between homosexual male and heterosexual women may just mean a shared susceptibility to male sexual attraction. The brain scan study cannot be used to support femininity in homosexual males. The inversion theory commits a similar mistake as it makes an invalid inference from a boy’s taking up characteristics of his mother to his taking up femininity, assuming falsely that the personal characteristics of a woman can be entirely reduced to feminine qualities. Apart from the invalid inference, the inversion theory as an explanatory theory cannot by itself prove the empirical fact of femininity in homosexual males. Indeed, the stereotype of effeminate gay man and macho lesbian itself has been subject to much skepticism.33 More importantly, when we look at the two passages from Xunzi cited above more closely, there is no evidence that Confucians believe in the connection between homosexuality and feminization of men. In those passages, what is criticized is a particular male beauty trend. Perhaps a feminized male beauty trend does threaten the strict gender distinction but a feminized male beauty trend is not necessarily associated with homosexuality. For example, in seventeenth-century England, men and women of the court both wore make-up, and both sexes powdered their hair or wig in seventeenth-century France. But there was no evidence that homosexuality was more rampant in those societies. Xunzi himself also did not pinpoint homosexuality when he criticized the feminine male beauty trend. Does homosexuality cause a sexual feminization of male? It might be thought that homosexuality often involves sodomy. And sodomy means that one party will assume the role of “being penetrated,” which is a female sexual role. In addition, one might point to a conception of masculinity such as the current one in the American society which includes, among other things, the elements of being homophobic, sexually predatory toward women, and making many sexual conquests of women.34 A male will be considered feminine if he lacks these sexual traits.A homosexual, then, is feminine by definition. If Confucianism shares similar views about masculinity and sodomy, it would perceive homosexuality as causing sexual feminization of male. However, in ancient China there was no articulated view about the connection between sexual feminization and sodomy in either the official documents or the sex manuals. The silence of Confucianism on explicit sexual matters means that there is no basis to attribute to it any view about this connection.35 Moreover, conceptually, it is controversial whether sodomy means sexual feminization of male. As the practice in the Roman Empire suggests, while the role of “being penetrated” seems passive, inferior, and can be taken as a female role, the role of the “penetrator” is macho and confers enhanced masculinity as it implies the subordination of another male. How should we calculate this sodomy bill of plus and minus in masculinity then? In the case of equalitarian male homosexual relationships where the partners reciprocate



the roles of “being penetrated” and “penetrator,” should we consider both parties to be immune to the feminization of sodomy? There seems to be no clear answer to these questions. If one insists that at least some males were sexually feminized because of their role of “being penetrated,” it should be pointed out that in ancient China these men did not merely retain their male privileged access to the public world, many of them even gained elevated social and political status because of their sexual roles. If they were indeed feminized, their feminization did not seem to affect the innerouter distinction at all or their status as males in the world outside the bedroom. Compartmentalization of the feminization of males in the bedroom did not disrupt the Confucian social order. And the Confucian conception of masculinity does not require a male to be homophobic or sexually predatory toward women (Hinsch, 2013). Indeed, the concept does not have a sexual dimension. According to Bret Hinsch, Confucian manhood involves a “long-term public performance critically assessed by the community” (Hinsch, 1992, p.  31). To be a true man requires one to be a true Confucian, that is, one has to follow the rituals, perform one’s various duties, and engage in moral cultivation. With the Confucian ideal of “inner-sage, outer-king,” or the ideal to strive to bring peace to the world through serving in the government, one’s degree of manhood is a function of the extent of one’s success as a pivotal political figure effecting peace and benefit to the people. Whether this is achieved through the means of the civil (wen) or the military (wu) is of no importance. As the pen could be mightier than the sword, a prime minister who could not lift up a sword can be considered as masculine as a general who subdued a tiger. Since masculinity defined in this way is totally abstracted from sexuality and pertains only to the social, political, and personal aspects, masculinity is indubitably compatible with homosexuality. Thus when rulers, generals, ministers—all icons of male masculinity in ancient China—participated in homosexuality, it would be extremely difficult to insist that homosexuality implies feminization of its participants. Homosexuality therefore would not create gender confusion as it does not imply feminization of male in aspects of his appearance, psychology, or sexuality. Anyway, gender distinction is not ubiquitous in Confucianism. To assess its influence accurately, we also need to consider the notion of androgyny in Confucianism. The two, androgyny and gender distinction, need not be incompatible if there’s a clear compartmentalization separating the two domains. Depending on the context, a person can be understood variously qua a person, qua a male or a female, or qua other distinct identities. Many Confucian virtues can be understood as androgynous in the sense that they apply to everyone alike, regardless of the person’s gender. For example, in contrast to the courage of returning insults with violence, which is something more like male virtue, the highest kind of courage—the courage to do what is morally right—applies to both men and women (Mencius 2A:2). The cardinal Confucian virtues of benevolence, moral rightness, propriety, and wisdom are all androgynous. It is not an exaggeration to say that the ideal Confucian personhood has an important androgynous component.36



Besides morality, Confucianism also subscribes to many other universal or androgynous standards. Given his theory of universal human nature, Mencius also believes that men and women all have the same taste in food, music and beauty. He points to the renowned male beauty Zidou as the paradigm of human beauty. The word “mei” (美 beautiful) was often applied to male as well as female. Beautiful men were praised for the same traits found in beautiful women: having skin light and being as tender as jade (Song, 2004, p. 145), being “sleek and shining as the willow in the months of spring,” with face “like congealed ointment and his eyes like dotted lacquer” (Mather, 2002, pp.  324 and 320). These traits might look effeminate according to contemporary standards, but may not be so for ancient China. Effeminacy or not is culturally specific. Given that beauty is a common basis of sexual attraction, perhaps the wide acceptance of the androgynous standard of beauty provides a logical, if not also an empirical, explanation for the prevalence of bisexuality in ancient China.37

V.3. Family Family is of utmost importance in Confucianism. Marriage marks the beginning of a new family and the continuation of the family line, wedding ritual is revered as the basis of all rituals (Liji 44:3) and the embodiment of the utmost respect (Liji 27:2). Wedding is the good of combining (persons of) two surnames so as to (enable them to) serve the ancestral temple up above and to continue the family line down below. (Liji 44:1) There is the distinction between man and woman, the moral rightness (yi) between husband and wife then follows. There is the moral rightness between husband and wife, the affection between father and son then follows. There is the affection between father and son, the rectitude between ruler and minister then follows. Therefore, it is said, “wedding is the basis of (all) rituals.” (Liji 44:3) According to these passages, wedding is the cornerstone of li because of the importance given to marriage. Marriage enables the proper functioning of a family through the cooperation between husband and wife in accordance with the gender distinction: offering sacrifices to ancestors, passing down the family line, raising and teaching children various virtues. Family is the basis of social and political harmony. Does homosexuality pose a threat to the functioning of a Confucian family? At first glance, it obviously seems so. Homosexuality cannot lead to procreation and, according to the Liji, all the other functions of family are premised on the joint efforts of the two genders acting in accordance with the Confucian gender scripts. Homosexual couples, on the other hand, do not follow that script. However, as we have seen above, bisexuality can solve the problem of procreation. In fact, bisexuality together with the practice of polygamy in ancient China could provide solutions to all the problems mentioned above. As long as heterosexual marriage serves as the bedrock of a Confucian family, homosexual relationship can be assimilated into concubinage or sexual liaisons, both of which are permissible in ancient Confucianism.



Bisexuality offers an easy solution, but it might be too easy. The problems are solved, but at the costly price of marginalizing homosexual relationships, sacrificing their respectability and legitimacy. The solution concedes that homosexuality does not fit into the paradigm of Confucian marriage and therefore a homosexual relationship can never form the core of a Confucian family. But a Confucian family is not only a basis of the Confucian social and political order, it is also a sanctuary of our deepest bonds and self-defining attachments, a shelter where people receive physical and psychological nurturance, care, and sustenance through mutual support and sacrifice. For homosexuals, it is too important a citadel to concede. I shall argue below that the idea of a Confucian same-sex family is defensible because Confucian gender distinction is dispensable in Confucian family; homosexual couples can follow Confucian marital values; procreation can be achieved via nonsexual means; and same-sex parenting is acceptable on the provision that it is supported by empirical findings. One big hurdle of fitting homosexuality into Confucian marriage is the Confucian gender distinction, which the texts emphasize as the foundation of spousal and familial harmony, “There is the distinction between man and woman, the moral rightness (yi) between husband and wife then follows (Liji 44:3).”38 Presumably, it is the labor division and the hierarchical power structure embedded in the gender distinction that account for the harmony of Confucian family. But this assumption about the contribution of Confucian gender distinction needs to be challenged. That labor division is conducive to smooth familial functioning is a reasonable claim, but there seems no necessity to map labor division onto the innerouter distinction that requires one spouse to stay home and another to work outside home. Indeed if the inner-outer distinction is a necessary part of Confucian family, it means that no modern family where both husband and wife have employment in the public sphere can be considered a Confucian family. But that is absurd! Discarding the inner-outer distinction, homosexual couples can instead divide familial tasks among themselves according to each other’s aptitudes, interests, and circumstances. Nor is a hierarchical power structure required for familial harmony. Even though it is the ancient Confucians’ judgment, especially Xunzi’s, that hierarchy and distinction are the means to attaining harmony in all aspects of life—individual, familial, social, and political, history has challenged that assumption. When contemporary Confucian scholars strive to argue that Confucianism is compatible with universal human rights, democracy, and equal respect for each person,39 there is no reason why hierarchy should remain the ruling principle in family if it is not so in the political and social realms (Chan, 2000b). If we remove this hierarchical element, it seems like we can abstract the husband-wife relationship from the gender-distinction requirement altogether and consider the other values governing the Confucian marriage. Confucian marital values are rich and various. First of all, the Confucian marriage must have legitimacy. It has to comply with the ritual, and perhaps in our contemporary society, legal requirements for it to be legitimate. “A wife is someone who is bestowed with wedding ritual gifts. Someone who elopes is a concubine” (Liji, 12:59). Legitimacy enables the marriage to have a proper place in the



Confucian social order. “A man and a woman living together is the most important of relationships” (Mencius 5A:2). As one of the Five Relationships, the husband-wife relationship is an essential part of the social fabric. It contributes to and is affected by the functioning of the other four relationships, especially the father-son relationship. Wedding ritual, for example, reflects parental affection and filial piety: “The family that has just married a daughter away does not extinguish candles for three nights, thinking about the separation. The family that has received a new bride does not play music for three days, thinking about how descendants will follow the ancestors” (Liji 7:9). Parental approval is necessary for the sustenance of marriage and familial harmony: “The son likes his wife very much. But he will divorce her if his parents do not like her. If the son does not like his wife, but his parents say, ‘she treats us very well.’ The son will treat his wife in accordance with the husband-wife ritual until death” (Liji 12:16). Love and affection are essential to a Confucian marriage, as they are in many other cultures. One adores/longs for (mu 慕) one’s wife (Mencius 5A:1). The marriage ritual symbolizes the bridegroom’s affection (qin 親) for the bride: “When it was wedding time, the bridegroom, wearing his ritual cap, went in person to receive his wife. Going in person is a symbol of affection” (Liji 27: 2). Despite the fact that one also uses these two words qin and mu to describe one’s affection towards one’s parents or other family members (Mencius 6B:3, 5A:1, 5A:3), the husbandly affection still differs from other kinds of familial affection. While father, elder brother, and husband are all social superiors in relation to their correlates, for the first two, what is emphasized is benevolence. For husband, on the other hand, it is about being congenial and close, something more related to companionship and intimacy: “What makes a person a husband? I reply: To be completely harmonious but not to the extent of compromising principles, to be grave with utter condescension, and to maintain the distinction” (Xunzi 12: 3). Spousal love in Confucianism has to be based on respect. The wedding ritual embodies both respect and love. When one is not treated with respect, there cannot be love and affection. “Therefore the gentleman emphasizes respect to bring about affection. To abandon respect is to lose affection” (Liji 27:2). A wife deserves respect as an indispensable partner, as symbolized in her role as a co-host in the sacrificial ritual to one’s ancestors (Liji 27:2). One’s love and respect for one’s wife has to comply with the li in order to achieve moral rightness (yi). As the head of family, a husband is to serve as a role model and ensure that the family, including the wife, aligns with the yi. “Book of Odes says, ‘He set an example for his consort, And also for his brothers, And so ruled over the family and the state’” (Mencius 1A:7). The role duty of husband is to be yi, and that of wife is to comply (Liji 9:13). To accomplish this, one should gently influence and move (gan 感 ) one’s wife rather than exercise harsh discipline and force: “The hexagram Xian ‘All,’ of the Changes shows the relation of husband to wife . . . The hexagram Xian means ‘influence.’” It uses the high to descend to the low, the male to descend to the female. It is weak and pliant above and strong and hard below (Xunzi 27:40).



Harmony is the Confucian mark of a good marriage. “Book of Odes says, “Happy union with the wife is like the music of lutes and harp”’ (Liji 31:11). Taking the analogy of music, marital harmony consists in a positive interplay of different elements between husband and wife.40 Marital harmony brings joy (Xunzi 27:33) and appropriate channeling of sexual drives, without which licentiousness will result: “Therefore when the wedding ritual was in disuse, the way of husband-wife suffers. Licentious misconduct will increase” (Liji 26:4). Finally, the affirmation of veracity/faithfulness (xin 信) is indispensable. “Faithfulness is the way of a wife. Once married to her husband, the wife will never change her feelings” (Liji 11:31). And a wife might give financial support to her husband if needed (Mencius 5B:5). The Confucian marital virtues might look lopsided as most virtues pertain solely to husband and wifely virtue is just about obedience and faithfulness. Removing the hierarchical element, as suggested above, requires both husband and wife to strive to acquire values of love, respect, faithfulness, moral rightness, gentle influence, caring, and harmony. And there is nothing in these values that would exclude homosexual couples to partake in their cultivation. There is, however, one important Confucian value that homosexual couples could not partake—procreation. To the ancient Confucians, passing the family line is one important filial pious duty, failure to perform which constitutes a justified reason to expel a wife. It is an unpardonable sin to deliberately choose to be celibate or childless. Moreover, many Confucians would consider raising children an important component of the meaning of family. There are many means to address the problem. Adoption was a common means in traditional China, preferably children of the husband’s brothers or other close relatives if the first option is not available. In contemporary society, homosexual couples can try in vitro fertilization and male homosexual couples can also resort to commercial surrogacy. Are these practices acceptable to Confucianism?41 These practices are complicated issues that deserve detailed examination. Unfortunately, to do so is beyond the scope of this chapter. I would just examine one problem that is common to these practices: the worry that these practices sever the biological connection between parents and child.42 This severance, it is feared, would undermine a Confucian family and harm the best interests of the child by depriving him/her of things of immense import such as close ties to and care by his/her biological parent(s). Same-sex parenting would also mean the lack of exposure to diverse nurturing influences coming from parents of two different genders, or a role model of his/her own sex. The Confucian texts contain no discussion on these worries since there was almost no practice of samesex parenting in traditional China.43 These concerns, however, are not ungrounded. How grave they are is yet to be seen. Let’s take a closer look. Confucian texts do not take biological connections lightly. The opening passage of the Book of Filial Piety comments, “Our bodies, our hair and skin, we receive them from our parents and we do not dare to injure them. This is the beginning of filial piety” (Xiaojing 1:1; Xing, 2011). Life is a precious gift from biological parents to whom we owe utmost respect. Mencius also talks about innate love for parents: “When a man is able to do without having to learn it is what he



can truly do; what he knows without having to reflect on it is what he truly knows. There are no young children who do not know loving their parents” (Mencius 7A:15). It is not specified whether the innate love is toward the biological parents or nonbiological parents. For the sake of argument, let us grant that it is toward biological parents. This love, however, will be frustrated if the child is removed from the care of the biological parents. Even if we set aside the sociobiological theory that posits innate parental instincts to protect and nurture one’s biological child, it is still reasonable to assume that, all things being equal, a biological parent, especially the mother, who is the first to know about the conception and has undergone/witnessed the various stages of the pregnancy and the ultimate birth of a child, will be more inclined to pursue the best interests of a child than an adoptive parent. A child’s interests therefore are negatively affected when he/she is separated from his/her biological parent. On the other hand, besides the gift of life, the gift of nurturing is also judged to be extremely significant in Confucianism. Confucius justifies the rite of three years mourning for deceased parents by appealing to three years’ nurturing a person has received from his/her parents since birth (Analects 17:21). An adopted parent can offer this valuable gift of nurturing. Moreover, that biological connection provides stronger parental motivation is only a ceteris paribus assumption. In our complicated world, all things are never equal. Other factors such as marital harmony, maturity, better economic and psychological resources, commitment to children, etc., can reverse the biological connection advantage and allow adoptive parents to provide superior attachment bonding, care, and support than biological parents. Moreover, in Confucianism innate affection is not the ruling consideration in parent-child relationship anyway. The mu (mother) of a child is the wife of the child’s father. A child does not address his/her biological mother as mu if she is a concubine or has been expelled (Liji 3:4). And it is to mu, rather than the biological mother, that he/she owes the highest degree of mourning and other filial obligations. Biological connection is not considered the only or even the determining factor for the proper functioning of a family or a parent-child relationship in Confucianism. Above all, biological connection need not be totally lost in same-sex parenting. In recent times, homosexual couples can deploy means that enable one of them to be their child’s biological parent. In the near future, it is very likely that both homosexual parents can be genetically related to the child.44 They can also strive to involve the other biological parent of the child in matters concerning the child and encourage bonding between the two so as to respect the biological connection. Would lacking exposure to diverse nurturing influences by parents of different gender hamper a child’s development, especially the development of his/her sexual identity?45 First of all, as seen above, universal, androgynous moral values constitute the most important part of Confucian personhood and a Confucian family needs to be guided by moral rightness, yi. Same-sex parenting will not undermine these values. Confucian parents, male or female, need to have moral courage, should be patient and loving toward their parents, and be humble and steadfast in pursuing moral rightness. A child in a same-sex family can be exposed to these diverse values.



Even if we assume that the yin-yang dichotomy is influential in shaping Confucian genders, it does not necessarily imply lopsided influence of the yin or the yang in same-sex parenting. For, yin and yang, as seen above, is a relative term. Because of differences in age, status, or the particular roles they assume in a family, such as being a leader or a follower, a homosexual couple can assume respectively the yin or the yang position. If it is insisted that essentialism is true about yin-yang when applied to male and female characters, that is, males and females possess certain innate character traits such as males being more firm and decisive and females more mellow and pliant, it can be countered by saying that individual temperaments, life experiences, and personal ambitions, etc., necessarily moderate the realization of the innate yin or the yang traits of each gender. Hence same-sex couples, more often than not, will embody different degrees of their gender traits. Their child will still be exposed to diverse perspectives. As for the development of a child’s gender identity in a same-sex family, if essentialism is true about yin-yang, children will develop their respective inborn gender traits naturally so long as the environment is not prohibitive of their development. If essentialism is not true, we do not need to worry about inculcation of the gender traits, so the worry is moot. Furthermore, a child in a same-sex family can still be exposed to gender models outside the family, such as in schools, playgrounds, media, and so on. On this issue, Confucian homosexuals perhaps have a further advantage of having tight extended family connections. In Confucian cultures extended family gatherings are frequent, a child can be exposed to the gender interactions in a close, private family setting, and perhaps an uncle, an aunt, or an elder cousin may even play the role of his/her social “surrogate” parent. Or if there is a bonding between the child and the biological parent (outside the family), the problems can be addressed even more easily. Whether the above discussion sounds reasonable or not, we should agree that any conclusion about the effects of same-sex parenting on a child’s well-being has to be firmly grounded in empirical data and not to be decided from an armchair. On this regard, we should note The American Psychological Association’s brief on lesbian and gay parenting: On the basis of a remarkably consistent body of research on lesbian and gay parents and their children, the American Psychological Association (APA) and other health professional and scientific organizations have concluded that there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation. That is, lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children. This body of research has shown that the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children are unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish.46 Some studies even claim that children from same-sex families are happier and healthier than children from heterosexual families and that the negative effects on children of same-sex family are due more to society and people’s stigmatization



of homosexuality than the quality of same-sex parenting.47 All these conclusions may still be debated among social scientists. A Confucian with her emphasis on the importance of family, the duty of parents to be their children’s role models, and the vital role of economic stability to moral development (Mencius 1A:7), perhaps will find the following observation by Benjamin Siegel, a professor in pediatrics, persuasive: “Many studies have demonstrated that children’s well-being is affected much more by their relationships with their parents, their parents’ sense of competence and security, and the presence of social and economic support for the family than by the gender or the sexual orientation of their parents” (Perrin et al., 2013, p. 1374).

VI.  CONCLUSION My analysis shows that Confucianism would not consider homosexuality as intrinsically or extrinsically problematic. There is no transcendental deity in Confucianism that proclaims the sinfulness of homosexuality, nor would Confucianism defer to such authority for moral guidance if there were one. Confucianism’s recognition of people’s pursuit for pleasure and fulfillment of their natural needs/wants explains its sympathy to homosexuality. The Confucian Golden Rule would also allow homosexuality to be permissible. Three major worries were addressed. I have shown that the yin-yang dichotomy allows a fluid interpretation that makes it compatible with homosexuality. The use of heterosexuality for the purpose of longevity does follow the yin-yang thinking, but Confucianism need not endorse it because longevity is not a Confucian goal. Another goal achieved by yinyang interaction—procreation—can be accommodated by adoption or bisexuality. I have also discounted the worry that homosexuality causes gender confusion by arguing that homosexuality does not imply the feminization of male in the aspects of appearance, psychology, or sexuality. As for the threat of homosexuality to family, I have shown how homosexual couples can adhere to the Confucian marital values and discard the traditional inner-outer distinction. One important consideration, however, is the effect of same-sex parenting on the well-being of children. Since this last issue has to be decided by empirical evidence, no firm conclusion can be drawn based on philosophical considerations alone. Yet, there is promising empirical evidence that same-sex family can be a viable family structure supporting the flourishing of children. So perhaps we can draw a tentative conclusion about the compatibility between homosexuality and Confucianism while awaiting further empirical confirmation for that issue. There is one last note. My analysis suggests that Confucianism would accept homosexuality as permissible, but not that it deserves to be protected or promoted. The Confucian reasons allowing it, which I have examined, do not accord moral import to it. When homosexuality is justified merely as a form of sensual pleasure or natural preference on par with consumption of specific kinds of food, homosexuality may be a part of life, but definitely not a part of an ideal Confucian order. The low moral priority given to homosexuality is perhaps explained by Confucianism’s



silence on the meaning and significance of sexuality besides its effects on natural need satisfaction, pleasure, and procreation. Homosexuality becomes a serious matter when sex activity is seen as a constituent of one’s identity, a means of communicating and expressing one’s affection, forging a bond of intimacy, celebrating and renewing love, an indispensable component of a total union with another person, an aid to attain self-discovery, self-expression, authenticity, or even spiritual elevation (Soble, 2008). Given Confucianism’s valuing of human relationships, perhaps it needs to take a second look at sex; we can then have a deeper look at the issue of homosexuality.

NOTES 1. Cut sleeve refers to the anecdote involving Emperor Ai of Han Dynasty (27–1 BC) and his male favorite. Not wanting to wake up the male favorite who slept on his sleeve, the emperor cut his sleeve to get up. For references to this and other anecdotes relating to homosexuality in traditional China, see Xiaoming Xiong (1997). For English versions, see Bret Hinsch (1992). 2. Longyang was the famous male favorite of King of Wei. Other common terms referring to male homosexuality include Nanfeng (Southern wind) and Xianghuo Xiongdi (Incense brothers). For lesbianism, terms include “Jinnan Zimei” (Golden orchid sisters) and “Shoupa Jiao” (Handkerchief friends). 3. Ho refers to the unpublished work of Ying Ying Huang, “Chinese Key Words on Gender and Sexuality” (Institute of Sexuality and Gender, Remin University of China). Huang credited the translation of the term to the famous writer, Zhou Zouren. 4. I rely heavily on Bret Hinsch and Xiaoming Xiong’s works for the historical account I give here. Bret Hinsch (1992) and Xiaoming Xiong (1997). 5. See, for example, the poems #97 (Splendid) and #133 (No Wraps) from “the Air of the States,” in Arthur Waley (1996, p. 76 and p. 105). 6. The translation is adopted from John Knoblock’s Xunzi (1999). 7. “Chong,” “pi” can refer to female favorites as well. These two terms and “ning xing” do not necessarily have sexual connotations. 8. The tale of a “shared pillow tree” featuring two male lovers who were peer members of the literati in the Zhou dynasty illustrated an exception. Wuxia Ameng (ed.), Duanxiu Pian 9:2A. See Hinsch (1992, pp. 24–25). 9. Emperor Ai of Han dynasty (the cut sleeve anecdote) even proposed to abdicate the throne in favor of his male favorite. Hinsch (1992, p. 46). 10. Ibid. 11. See Tianyu Yang (1997). Henceforth, the English translation of passages cited from Liji in this chapter comes from me. 12. I shall adopt D. C. Lau’s translation (1970) for passages from Mencius. 13. The translation from the Analects were adopted from D. C. Lau’s The Analects (1979).



14. According to Judaism, God also condemns homosexuality. 15. There are theological debates on the compatibility between Christianity and homosexuality. See, for example, Helminiak (1999) and Schmidt (1999). 16. Augustine of Hippo (2013), On Marriage and Concupiscence, Kindle version. 17. See, for example, A. Chan (2002). 18. I change Lau’s translation of “hao se (好色)” as “interest in women” to “desire for sex.” 19. See, for example, Bailey (2002). 20. I disagree with Paul Goldin’s view that in ancient China all nonprocreative sex is corrupting and that sexual pleasures are continuously feared. See Goldin (2001, p. 64). Jeffrey Riegel’s position is similar to mine. See Riegel (1997). 21. I substituted “pleasure” for “enjoyment” for the translation of the word le(樂) in the passage. 22. See Dong Chong-shu, Chunqiu Fanlu, Chapter Following Dao. 23. For a penetrating discussion of yin-yang, see Robin R. Wang (2012). 24. I shall examine this nei-wai distinction in more detail later when I discuss the issue of gender. 25. Chunqiu Fanlu, Chapter Ji Yi, 1. (accessed December 26, 2014). 26. The famous poem li Sao by Qu Yuan was one classic example of allegorical poems written by frustrated ministers in which the minister assumed the persona of a beautiful and forlorn female who was jilted by her deluded male lover. These poems analogized the rejection of a loyal minister by his ruler. 27. Chunqiu Fanlu, Chapter Xuntian Zhidao, 1 (accessed December 12, 2014), the translation is mine. 28. Here I follow Van Gulik’s interpretation of the passage (Van Gulik, 2003, p. 60). An alternative interpretation (provided by Yang Tianyu, 1997) is to say that a concubine not reaching fifty needs to share the duty of copulation with the husband once every five days. The latter interpretation would not imply the sexual claim of a concubine. Whichever the interpretation, it is clear that women’s sexuality is not reduced to a mere instrument used for nourishing the male’s yang qi, otherwise a younger woman would be preferred. 29. The connection of immortality with one’s virtues, deeds, and words was first made by Shu Sunpao of the Spring-and-Autumn Period. 30. For a detailed discussion of the inner-outer distinction, see my paper (2000). 31. Geng Song (2004, p. 137). Song also cited Bret Hinsch’s idea that the institutionalization of male prostitution by males from lower social class helped to “solidify social roles.” Hinsch (1992, p. 11). In a similar vein, Paul Goldin comments that sexuality is a power relationship in traditional China. Goldin (2001, pp. 75–110). 32. See, for example, Mary Kite and Kay Deaux (1987). 33. See, for example, M. D. Storms (1978).



34. See, for example, Kimmel (1994) and Araine Prohaskaa and Jeannine Gailey (2010) This conception of masculinity is under heavy fire from feminists and blamed for engendering the rape culture in the American society. See, Susan Brownmiller (1993). 35. Xiaoming Xiong argues that male actor who assumed a female role on stage in late imperial China and who often became the plaything of the wealthy indeed experienced humiliating feminization (Xiong, 1997, p. 20). 36. Roger Ames and David Hall even go further and claim that the Confucian male “has been free to pursue the task of realizing his personhood through the creation of an androgynous personality” (Ames and Hall, 1998, p. 81). 37. We need to distinguish the nongendered, androgynous standards from sexist practices. The Confucian exclusion of women from the signifying system and the casting of four of the Five Relationships in terms of males only are sexist practices. The Confucian discourse of human nature that includes both males and females is not. I disagree with Song’s characterization of the former as nongendered or androgynous. Song (2004, p. 12). 38. Since the text focuses on the element of distinction (bian), I take it to be about the inner-outer distinction rather than the yin-yang dichotomy. 39. See, for example, Kim (2014); J. Chan (2014). 40. Alan Chan discusses two conceptions of harmony in Confucianism—one is about using hierarchy to secure compliance, the other about blending and coordinating differences. See A. Chan (2011). 41. Sam Crane thinks that Confucianism would accept in vitro fertilization in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Dao: Ancient Chinese Thought in Modern American Life (2013, pp. 55–57). See also Lisa Handwerker (1995). 42. I am grateful to my sister Catalina Chan for pressing me on this point. 43. There was a small-scale practice of male homosexual marriages in the Fujian province in traditional China. Some couples even adopted children. However, with a few exceptions, the marriages were eventually dissolved when the men involved were pressured to have heterosexual family and procreate. See Hinsch (1992, pp. 131–32). 44. Deng et al. (2011). See also Douglas et al. (2012). I am grateful to my student David Travis for alerting me to this new scientific development. 45. For discussion of this issue, see Bos and Sandfort (2010) 46. (accessed December 26, 2014). Sociologists Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz argue for a similar view in Stacey and Biblarz (2010). The same journal issue contains critiques of their views. 47. Perrin et al. (2013). See, Marks (2012), for example, for the opposite view.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Ames, Roger and David Hall (1998), Thinking from the Han. Albany: State University of New York Press.



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Helminiak, Daniel (1999), “The Bible on Homosexuality,” in John Corvino and Daryl Bem (eds.), Same Sex: Debating the Ethics, Science, and Culture of Homosexuality. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 81–92. Hinsch, Bret (1992), Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Traditon in China. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 1992. Hinsch, Bret (2013), Masculinities in Chinese Histories. New York: Rowman & Littlefield. Ho, Loretta Wing Wah (2011), Gay and Lesbian Subculture in Urban China. New York: Routledge. Kim, Sungmoon (2014), Confucian Democracy in East Asia. New York: Cambridge University Press. Kimmel, Michael (1994), “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity,” in Peter F. Murphy (ed.), Feminism and Masculinities. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 182–99. Kite, Mary and Kay Deaux (1987), “Gender Belief Systems: Homosexuality and the Implicit Inversion Theory,” Psychology of Women Quarterly: 83–96. Knoblock, John (1999), Xunzi. Hunan, China: Hunan People’s Publishing House. Lau, D. C. (trans.) (1970), Mencius. New York: Penguin Classics. Lau, D. C. (trans.) (1979), Analects. New York: Penguin Classics. Major, J., S. Queen, A. Meyer, and H. Roth (trans.) (2010), Huainanzi: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Government in Early Han China. New York: Columbia University. Marks, Loren (2012), “Same-Sex Parenting and Children’s Outcomes,” Social Science Research, 41: 735–51. Mather, Richard B. (trans.) (2002), Shih-shuo Hsin-yu (A New Account of Tales of the World). Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan Press. Nylan, Michael (2001), “On the Politics of Pleasure,” Asia Major, 14 (1): 73–124. Perrin, E., B. Siegel, and the Committee on Psychological Aspects on Child and Family Health (2013), “Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents Are Gay or Lesbians,” The American Academy of Pediatrics, 131 (4): 1374–83. Prohaskaa, Araine and Jeannine Gailey (2010), “Achieving Masculinity through Sexual Predation: The Case of Hogging,” Journal of Gender Studies, 19 (1): 13–25. Riegel, Jeffrey (1997), “Eros, Introversion and the Beginnings of the Shijing Commentary,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 57 (1): 143–77. Ruan, Fang-fu and Yung-mei Tsai (1987), “Male Homosexuality in the Traditional Chinese Literature,” Journal of Homosexuality, 14 (3–4): 21–33. Savic, Ivanka and Per Lindstrom (2008), “PET and MRI Show Differences in Cerebral Asymmetry and Functional Connectivity between Homo-and Heterosexual Subjects,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 (27): 9403–8. Schmidt, Thomas (1999), “Romans 1:26–27 and Biblical Sexuality,” in John Corvino and Daryl Bem (eds.), Same Sex: Debating the Ethics, Science, and Culture of Homosexuality. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 93–104. Soble, Alan (2008), The Philosophy of Sex and Love. St. Paul: Paragon House. Song, Geng (2004), The Fragile Scholar. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Stacey, Judith and Timothy Biblarz (2010), “How Does the Gender of Parents Matter?,” Journal of Marriage and Family, 72 (1): 3–22.



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Part III

Daoist Approaches Part III considers the Daoist approaches to gender, nature, motherhood, and the LGBT community. In comparison to Confucianism, Daoism is much more open to the fluidity of gender distinctions and the value and power of the feminine (particularly in the Daodejing 道德經), while at the same time the Daoist philosophy equally emphasizes relativity, opposition, complementarity, mutual generation, and the reversal of yin and yang, femininity, and masculinity. In Chapter 10, “Yinyang Gender Dynamics: Lived Bodies, Rhythmical Changes, and Cultural Performances,” Robin R. Wang identifies the problem of gender in the Chinese context with the issue of yin-yang dynamics. Based on the early Chinese medical text Huangdi Neijing, Wang demonstrates how yin-yang is a way to grasp the sex/gender dynamics as performativity-based. She argues that yin-yang can be considered as an internal space-time structure in a lived body, in which yin and yang mark points in relations across a spectrum. Huangdi Neijing identifies at least four aspects of this yin-yang spectrum. Yin-yang becomes a link leading to a pervasive scheme for a better understanding of gender issues in Chinese culture. In Chapter 11, “On the Dao of Ci 雌 (Feminine/Female) in the Daodejing《道德經》,” Lin Ma examines three interpretations of Daodejing: (1) Joseph Needham’s “quasifeminist historical reading”; (2) Roger T. Ames’s “correlative [androgynous] reading”; and (3) Liu Xiaogan’s “political reading.” Diverging from Ames’s and Liu’s interpretations, Ma argues that the feminine occupies a central place in the Daodejing. Agreeing with D. C. Lau, Ma opposes the idea of circular process between the lower term and the higher term. The primordiality of the feminine is an irreducible metaphysical principle. In Chapter 12, “To Beget and to Forget: On the Transformative Power of the Two Feminine Images of Dao in the Laozi,” Galia Patt-Shamir argues that “motherhood” challenges the definition of self-identity. We normally connect self-identity with one’s self-actualization and self-fulfillment. Yet, thinking of mothers, we encounter a philosophical challenge: a mother “actualizes” herself by sacrificing her very self. A solution to the “paradox of motherhood” can be found in the Laozi’s motherly aspect of Dao as connected to idea of the mysterious female. Shimar further employs



a psychoanalytic perspective based on Wilfred Bion’s theory to draw attention to the Laozi’s universal appeal and contemporary relevance in resolving the paradox. In Chapter 13, “The Yijing, Gender, and the Ethics of Nature,” Eric Nelson and Liu Yang explore the gendered logic of nature in the Daodejing and the Yijing in the context of contemporary environmental and ecological issues. They draw on current ecofeminist thinking that stresses the links between questions of gender and the environment to shed light on the significance of the feminine in the Daodejing and the Yijing in order to assess their current potential ecological import. Nelson and Yang conclude that the Yijing presents a more extensive basis for reflecting on the contemporary ecological crisis insofar as it encourages creatively restoring the balance among humans and between humans and nature, by means of appropriate models of activity. Susan Scheibler, in Chapter  14, “Daoism and the LGBT Community,” delves into the influence of the emerging field of transnational queer studies on scholarly and popular interpretations of Daoist philosophy, especially as it is encapsulated in the canonical texts—the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi. It locates the discussion within the deconstruction and reconstruction of classical texts that has been shaped and informed by recent Chinese and non-Chinese scholarship on Chinese attitudes toward homosexuality.

Chapter Ten

Yinyang Gender Dynamics: Lived Bodies, Rhythmical Changes, and Cultural Performances1 robin r. wang

Health of body and tranquility of mind are the twin goals of philosophy’s quest for a blessed life. Epicurus The subtlety of nature is greater many times over than the subtlety of the senses and understanding. Sir Francis Bacon The human species is composed of two genders. Originally, the Greek word genos signified both gender and generation. Luce Irigaray In traditional Chinese philosophy, pondering the ultimate questions about existence has always been intertwined with thinking through the body. Many early Chinese texts have illustrated that the natural world itself is conceived of primarily as an organic human body. The human body partakes in the shape and logic of the cosmos and the body can express the entirety of cosmic generations and changes. Thus human beings should act in ways that will bring about their alignment with the cosmos (Kohn, 2000). This cosmic link partly justifies the kind of thinking that is related to human body and the gender dynamics between man and woman. The Huangdi Neijing (黃帝內經) known as The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic (AD 111) is the first systematization of Chinese medicine and the human body through a yinyang paradigm. It records: “Human beings are born and have a bodily form, and this cannot be separated from yinyang” (Yingan Zhang, 2002, p. 241). Like all phenomena in nature and all things under heaven, humans and the human body can be classified according to their characteristics as either the yin or


the yang (Wang, 2012). The man/male/masculinity and woman/female/femininity are naturally identified within this yinyang matrix. The problem of gender in the Chinese context is thus interpreted through the yinyang lens. In fact yinyang has been a conceptual, cultural, and historical way to construct gender relationships throughout Chinese history. The intrinsic connection between yinyang and females and males appears in many early texts. The Taipingjing (太平經 The Scriptures of the Great Peace, 32 BC) says simply: “The male and the female are the root of yinyang.”2 The “Following Dao” chapter by Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (179–104 BC) identifies yinyang and gender just as explicitly: “The yinyang of heaven and earth should be man and woman; man and woman should be yinyang. Therefore, yinyang can be called man and woman, and man and woman can be called yinyang” (Dong, 1996, p. 124). The “Distinction of Things” chapter of the Shuoyuan (說苑 Garden of Persuasions, 206 BC) plays out the same connection in terms of gender as the way of heaven and earth (Xiang, 1931, p. 619). In the West, yinyang gender construction has been considered a part of Chinese correlative cosmology (Schwartz, 1985, pp.  351–82; Black, 1989). It locates human flourishing within a rich context, involving a deep understanding of the interrelatedness of the cosmos and human nature. Scholars have argued that while Western sexism tends to be dualistic, with gender construction reflecting institutional male dominance, sexism in traditional China was “correlative” with interdependent, complementary aspects like yin and yang, earth and heaven, inner and outer. This, in turn, provided a discursive space that allowed women a great range of opportunity (Hall et al., 2000, p. 84). This view implies that the yinyang gender outlook might offer a conceptual foundation for the equality of men and women. However, in Chinese practice and in ancient Chinese thought, we encounter a much deeper and more practical puzzle: on one hand, there are intriguing and valuable conceptual resources for balanced gender equality, in particular based on the yinyang structure; on the other hand, no one can deny the fact that the inhuman treatment of women throughout Chinese history was exercised under the notion of yinyang. These two conflicting empirical observations have also been reflected in divisions in the scholarship. Some scholars claim that the concept of yinyang can be the primary source for understanding Chinese gender identity and that it has much to offer contemporary feminist thought (Rosemont, 1997). Others argue that the denigration and abuse of women in traditional China is a direct result of the yinyang idea (Woo, 1999).3 A historically nuanced and philosophically acute treatment of this issue shows that there is rich evidence for both sides of the debate. To embrace the complexity of theory and practice, this chapter calls for a careful investigation of the yinyang gender dynamics located within textual resources, explained in their respective conceptual contexts. The following question will be addressed: Can we construct the notions of man/male/masculinity and woman/ female/femininity in yinyang terms? Will yinyang gender construction bid a promising result in terms of gender equality? Based on The Huangdi Neijing, this chapter will focus mainly on how yinyang theory can offer a way to grasp gender dynamics and raise caution against the misuse of the yinyang theory. It explains that Chinese medicine and traditional understandings of a lived human body are helpful



vehicles through which to articulate that most elusive of ancient yinyang practices and explore its application in contemporary gender issues. The original yinyang theory was enunciated to capture the dynamic rhythm of nature, the world, and the human body (Wang, 2012). Yinyang has been perceived as a natural, internal space-time structure, expressed in all things. The Huangdi Neijing identifies different aspects of this yinyang spectrum. However, when it is applied to the social male and female and gender relations, it should uphold and continue that dynamic process in which yin and yang mark a range of cultural performances. This chapter will examine three points in connection with gender dynamics. In other words, there are three issues at hand in yinyang gender dynamics: (1) the sex and gender debate; (2) the integration and transformation of the boundary of man and woman; (3) the tension between diversity and creativity of the individual and the social structure. Thus yinyang theory becomes a link for the cross-fertilization between the more abstract fields of philosophy and cosmology and the concrete struggle of gender dynamics, leading to a pervasive scheme for a better understanding of gender issues in a global setting.

I.  EMBODYING YIN AND EMBRACING YANG: BEYOND THE SEX AND GENDER BINARY The translation of the English term “gender” into Chinese is a well-known linguistic problem. It is difficult to find a word that matches “gender” in Chinese because no clear distinction is made in Chinese between sex and gender. The Chinese root word that comes closest is xing 性, which can indicate both sex and gender. Xing can be a noun meaning biological sex, the verb of sexual activity, a modifier of sexual organs, sexual feelings, or even inborn human nature or tendency. The term “gender” in Chinese is then often rendered as “xingbie 性別,” the combination of two terms: xing (sex) and bie 別 (difference, distinction). The distinction or difference of this xing is taken as gender. This intricacy of Chinese translation provides a good case for the intrinsic connection between sex and gender and the performativity of gender. More importantly, the “nature versus nurture” debate, such as “nature wins over culture” or “culture trumps nature” in the West has little relevance in classical Chinese texts (in terms of sex vs. gender). Sex and gender are not two separate realities or isolated entities. Unlike the historically influential Western distinctions between the spiritual soul and material body, or between the austere, rational mind and lowly, emotional body, early Chinese thought depicts the human being as a unity of xing and ming 命 (circumstantial trajectories). The concept of xing, being sex, identifies those features and behaviors that make something what it is, or the inherent tendencies of a thing. However the word xing 性 is a derivative of the word for life (sheng 生); so it has an intrinsic connection with life. In fact, the word and concept of xing has two component parts: sheng (life, generation) and xin 心 (the heart/mind). Ming can be loosely translated as circumstantial trajectories. It instantiates a recognition of the limitations we have in life. These restrictions are naturally


imposed on one by one’s own physical capacities, health, temperament, emotional range, talents, society, culture, and historical circumstances. Ban Zhao 班昭 (AD 45–116), a female literati in the Han dynasty, states that it is one’s ming that one is born as a woman. This is to say, that one’s biological sex, whether female or male, is a given natural fact and is similar to being born as Chinese or American. Yet this ming does not necessarily contain a good or bad normative or evaluative assessment. It is different from Aristotle’s male-female distinction that marks an operation of the masculine upon the feminine, the active upon the passive (Bianch, 2014, p. 2). In Aristotle’s teaching, the material body or the female body is understood under the guise of mute passivity or essence and is waiting for being activated by a positive form or intelligence. In another sense, woman is a sign of what is lacking. There is no such connotation in Chinese context. Everyone has been given a ming or a “lot” from heaven or nature. Moreover one’s own small ming is also a part of greater natural ming or heavenly ming. Through this ming we understand ourselves as persons living in the circumstances of the conditions of our birth and family, linguistic frameworks, cultural and gender identities, along with our choices and life story. It accepts, not rejects, the reality with grace that human life is governed by certain biological, psychological, historical, and cultural facts. These facts constrain the minimally necessary conditions for living a fulfilling human life. One, be it woman or man, will need to work with these factors in order to lead a meaningful, productive, and good life. This assumption that individual nature is largely influenced and to some extent even generated by one’s cultural surroundings accords well with many Western feminists thinkers. Notable feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, and Luce Irigaray have argued that gender is not “natural” and there is no “essential human element” that determines gender (Warnke, 2011, p. 15). Gender is therefore primarily performative and is culturally taught, cognitively framed, and implemented by the individual. But from a yinyang gender perspective this performativity should not be grounded in dualistic binaries and splits, such as those between reason and emotion, rationality and irrationality, mind and body, and so on. The sex and gender distinction is rather rooted in the wholeness of a person. From Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories to Friedrich Engels’ historical materialism, or from Beauvoir’s The Second Sex to Irigaray’s In the Beginning, She Was, these thinkers all confirm that women are a man-made-other or alterity beyond male projections. However, in the Chinese context, for instance, in the Zhuangzi, otherness is also oneness. “That” entails or is also “this” and “this” entails or is also “that.” There is no dualist division or unitary rapture. Women and men are both oneness and otherness. This view does not imply that everyone is the same; each person has his or her own ming, which cannot be a basis for the subornation of one to the other. Feminist Luce Irigaray, In the Beginning, She Was, claims that she vanishes in a Western culture based on sameness: Instead of saying: the world is born from her, and from my relation with her, Western philosopher says: there is Being, there are beings, which is, or are given without anyone who gives. There is, there are, without being born in a way,



without any origin. There is, there are, mysteriously there. With the neutralization of his own being and of the whole of the universe, the Presocratic philosopher somewhat prepares our tradition for nihilism. (Irigaray, 2013, p. 4) According to Irigaray, in Western culture man excludes the other: he split from his origin, or from his natural belonging, to his logos for being in control or being a master of things. To solve this problem, Irigaray calls for respect for sexual differentiation where one recognizes the natural difference between a man and a woman and yet goes beyond this genealogy into a relational world (Irigaray, 2013, p. 5). As a result of the yinyang thinking paradigm, there is no such exclusion or separation of nature in early Chinese thought. In the Chinese tradition there has been woman, female, and femininity as long as there has been man, male, and masculinity. The two notions constitute the beginning of human understanding. Man and woman live in the same space and form a unified horizon. An example from the Huangdi Neijing exemplifies this point. The text applies yin and yang to all aspects of the body, from the smallest things such as a drop of sweat to the most vital internal organs like the heart/mind. Since the human body is a network of yinyang interactions and operations, yinyang structures all aspects of medical practice. The cause of disease is the imbalance of yinyang; the diagnostic method distinguishes yinyang; and the consumption of herbs and other types of treatments all manipulate the qi 氣 (vital energy) of yinyang. Yinyang is seen not as a simple proposition or formula, it is the ultimate key to a flourishing living human organism. The most important aspect of yinyang is a pervasive spectrum of differences within relatedness, connection, and mutual influence. Yinyang can be applied to all things that can be seen as opposites, contraries, or poles. We pass from natural immediacy to cultural transcendence in relating male and female. The Huangdi Neijing claims “Yinyang is the male and female, blood and qi. Left and right are the paths of yinyang. Water and fire are the representations of yinyang. Yinyang is the beginning and capability of the myriad things” (Yingan Zhang, 2002, p. 58). According to the yinyang construction of sex and gender we could say that sex is yang because it is evident, obvious, and at the foreground, while gender is yin because it is the background, implied, and foundational. This can be perceived as a meta-level application of yinyang. It is applying the yinyang structure to the social construction of yinyang itself: all the explicit yinyang designations are themselves merely yang against an implied yin. Interpreting sex and gender this way demonstrates the depth and versatility of the yinyang, and how it is a dynamic structure that necessarily undermines any static or hegemonic application, even of itself. Sex (either male or female) as yang is significant only in the context of the yin of specific economic, cultural, and social developments. Merely biological conditions of yang cannot be an isolated independent entity. It needs or requires yin to come into being or to make it meaningful. For example, a human being is born with a biological sex or yang: man or woman. Yet this sex is situated in yin: family, linguistic frameworks, specific societies, history, cultural traditions along with the individual’s own particular choices and life story. According to yinyang


theory there are six aspects of any given yinyang relation: such as Maodun 矛盾: Contradiction and opposition; Xiangyi 相依: Interdependence; Huhan 互含: Mutual inclusion; Jiaogan 交感: Interaction or resonance; Hubu 互補: Complementary or mutual support; and Zhuanhua 轉化: Change and transformation (Wang, 2012, pp. 10–12). While yin emphasizes background and hidden structures, yang specifies what is prevailing, exposed, and up front. An early reference to this mindfulness of the background is found in the Daodejing’s (道德經 The Classic of the Way and Virtuosity) statement in chapter  42: “All the myriad things fu yin bao yang (負 陰抱陽) [embody yin and embrace yang].” Bao (抱) means to embrace, and literally refers to putting your arms around something, often in a sense of holding something valuable, as in “to bao your child.” The myriad things all embrace or wrap their arms around the yang, which is in front of them, that is, apparent. The idea of bao yang is derived from the sun: one faces south and embraces direct sunlight. Another extension is confronting what is in front and seeing what is present (you 有). Male and female all possess his or her own particular distinct biological organs. The word fu (負), translated here as “embodying,” has more than twenty meanings in a classical Chinese dictionary. One of the main meanings of fu is to carry or bear something on your back, not facing you but carried in the background. Thus, this word fu in the Daodejing can be taken as bei 背 (on your back). Fuyin (負陰) then refers to things that are not confronted, or not seen, but still carried along. It is carrying something unseen or non-present (wu 無), coordinated with wu, non-being or absence. The fuyin always predicates a set of situations, a unique way to get a hold of the world. Taken together, fuyin and baoyang reflect awareness of two elements: the hidden underlying structure, and the explicit presence in front of us. Sex and gender reflect this intertwined connection. Although baoyang and fuyin are inseparable, our natural tendency is to focus on the former, to look toward what stands before us, what is yang, and ignore yin. A common element of the yinyang approach is to counteract this tendency with a focus on yin as well. Yin should be guarded (shou 守) and protected (bao 保). In action one should “stay at the front by keeping to the rear” (Wang, 2012, p. 158). This priority of the unseen yin is expressed nicely elsewhere in the same chapter of the Huangdi Neijing, which says, “Yin is inside but it guards yang; yang is outside but it is sent by yin (陰在內,陽之守也;陽在外;陰之使也)” (Yingan Zhang, 2002, p. 58). The order of yin and yang is natural because everything emerges from the dark ground and hidden places. A plant comes from a seed that has been hidden in the depths of the earth. The power of growing and nourishment below the surface allows it to spring up and be displayed. By extension we can say that biological sex, as yang, is supported by a social gender, yin. This can also be applied to a healthy relationship between a man and a woman. When yin flourishes smoothly and yang generates steadily, they regulate themselves so as to maintain mutually interdependent connections. Yin and yang do not exist in isolation but in a dynamic field of interaction. The notion of “complementarity” recognizes the fact that particular elements (here, the man and woman) cannot be



analyzed separately as having contradictory properties that exist in a complementary whole. The Huangdi Neijing describes it as follows: What is essential to all yinyang is that if yang is secured then yin is affirmed. If these two are not balanced it is just like there being spring without fall or winter without summer. If they can be harmonized, this is the measure of the sage. Therefore if yang is strong but cannot be secured, the qi of yin will be exhausted. If yin is steady and yang is secure then the spirit will be in an order. If yinyang are separated the essence of qi will be exhausted. (Yingan Zhang, 2002, pp. 26–27) Yinyang perception is always a process of interpretation. Yinyang is not something found, it is a hermeneutic apparatus, a way of seeing—or rather, many ways of seeing, a way of always seeing otherwise. It presupposes knowledge of yinyang schemes or patterns for intepreting the world in various ways. If we see a yang, or sex such as male or female, we cannot be ignorant of yin-ish things that also constitute that entity, such as his or her gender roles and gender identities, since they have always been there, as a concrete fact of society. The importance of baoyang and fuyin brings out an epistemic assumption underlying yinyang thinking: any given point of knowing, like male or female, is only a small knot in a giant and consistent gendered web. Any knowing contains infinite unknowing because the known reveals only a part of the unknown. On the one hand, we might take this as leading to what A. C. Graham calls a “great man metaphysic”: “The Great Man [or Great woman], by identifying himself [or herself] with the whole, widens his [ or her] perspective to a full view of everything, with the result that he [or she] sees finite things in proportion, as only relatively great or small, good or bad” (Graham, 1990, p. 144). Here Graham makes an excellent point. On the other hand, though, this yinyang frame conceives of sex and gender as the immediately accessible portions of a to-be-known field, which extends in space and time beyond the limits of what is immediately accessible. Rather than seeing a divide between the male and female, gender relations are seen as working with yin and yang, flowing along with the changes and striving toward a mutual refinement of one into the other. As a result, gender does not mean a complete rupture, or a total alterity or otherness, it is rather increased enhancement and energetic competence. Men and women approach their own circumstances as bearers of a particular social and cultural identity. This is, in part, what gives our lives unique particularity. The earliest Chinese description of gender division appears in the Book of Songs 詩經: nangeng nuzhi (男耕女織). This can be translated as “men are ploughing and planting while women are weaving and spinning.” All these activities are necessary parts of human existence and are highly valued. This division of labors exhibited a relationship of complementariness rather than subordination. Sericulture gave women a constructive economic role that empowered them within both the family and state. In the Guanzi, the Xinshu chapter says: “The ancients would say: ‘if even one man has to abandon agriculture the people become hungry while if even one woman has to stop weaving the people are


left cold (古人曰:一夫不耕,或為之飢;一婦不織,或為之寒).’” Women’s work is considered as a necessary and imperative part of human life. Woman’s experiences of weaving were not just fundamental to the well-being of family and the strength of the state; they have also offered great insights and metaphors on how men should govern a state (Raphals, 2005, pp. 181-201). It is apparent that in the Chinese tradition, woman or “she” in Irigaray’s language, is in there, and everything is born with her efforts, which is based on her interaction with the male, masculinity, or man. The mutual dependence of males and females in the linkage of yinyang appears most prominently in Daoist thought. As Catherine Despeaux and Livia Kohn put it: “Cosmologically, Daoism sees women as expressions of the pure cosmic force of yin, necessary for the working of the universe, equal and, for some schools, even superior to yang.” In Daoism, gender differences are cosmological, physiological, and social. These differences are identified within three categories: (1) innate disposition (benxing 本性), which includes yin and yang, yielding and unyielding, stillness and motion, the moon and the sun, as well as impurity and purity; (2) physical structure (xingti 形體), distinguishing bodily features, sexual attributes, fluids like blood and semen, and different kinds of energy; (3) practice (gongfu 功夫), a wider range of bodily cultivation and meditation (Despeaux and Kohn, 2003, p. 1). These classical theories and practices illustrate how sex and gender are intertwined and interwoven into a coherent whole of human experience. One can also claim that sex and the gender are opposed and can be classified differently, that is, sex is yin and gender is yang. This exemplifies an intertwining wholeness. After a five-chapter survey on the contemporary debate about sex and gender, Georgia Warnke concludes in the last sentence of her book Debating Sex and Gender: “Contained in their niches, as ways of understanding others and ourselves, sex and gender take their place beside other ways of understanding who we are. For who we are depends upon who is asking and with regard to what” (Warnke, 2011, p. 120). This conclusion agreeably echoes the yinyang sex and gender interaction. Yin (gender) cannot exist without yang (sex); yang (sex) cannot exist without yin (gender). Yin (gender) and yang (sex) are inherently interdependent and are seen as an interlocking ring. All patterns are based on the belief that no yin (gender) can be formed without yang (sex), and that yang (sex) fails to come into being without yin (gender). Paul Unschuld similarly summarizes the yinyang occurring in the human body: “In the yinyang doctrine, the terms yin and yang no longer retain any specific meaning themselves; they function merely as categorizing symbols used to characterize the two lines of correspondence” (Unschuld, 2010, p. 56). In the same line of thinking, the distinction between sex and gender is only significant because it entails mutual interdependence and a complexity of the human condition. Sex is not a substance or a self-identical being. Sex is achieved through a performative, functional gender relationship. Gender is not “natural,” and there is no “essential human element” that contributes to it. However gender is constructed within and by a culture and society through a given understanding of our sexual and lived body.



II.  YINYANG FLUIDITY AND INTEGRATION: CROSSING THE MALE AND FEMALE BOUNDARY Bringing sex and gender into a yinyang discourse identifies and recognizes differences within the origins of reality that do not necessarily secure an equal male and female partnership even while the relationship is complementary. In other words, a complementary relationship does not guarantee one of equality. Therefore, this yinyang identification can be easily misused. The focal point is whether there is a dynamic process in this application, and how it can best be utilized. The founder of imperial Confucianism, Dong Zhongshu, was also the first prominent Confucian to integrate the yinyang theory into Confucian thought. Dong Zhongshu applied the yinyang theory to social gender relationships, which resulted in a notable shift in the way male and female roles were viewed (Wang, 2005, pp. 209–31). For him, a biological based gender distinction dictates, instructs, demands, determines, and evaluates the gender roles as fixed and abstracted from concrete nuanced contexts. It implies a general predestinated biological and social fate for each person. In this construction an imperative element of yinyang understanding, change, disappeared. He transformed a dynamic and living notion into a fixed unalterable social code. This problem of fixation occurred through the rejection of the yinyang’s indispensable dynamic quality. The violent constitution of oppositions took the feminine as entrapped in servitude to masculine hegemony (D’Ambrosio and Shen, 2014). The woman/femininity and man/masculinity then became the result of the effective internalization of many social expectations. The yinyang in social relations no longer adhered to reality, nor did it transmit a living energy. There has been then a need to return to the original meaning of yinyang, particularly in its construction of the lived human body. The Huangdi Neijing gives several levels for the understanding of yinyang differentiation: If we talk about human beings as yinyang, then the exterior is yang while the interior is yin. If we talk about the human body as yinyang, then the back is yang while the front is yin. If we talk about the internal depots (zang 臟) and palaces (fu 腑) within the human body as yinyang, then the depots are yin and the palaces are yang. The five internal depots are liver, lung, heart, spleen and kidney, and they are all are yin. The five palaces are gallbladder, stomach, small and large intestines, urinary bladder and triple burner and they are all yang. (Yingan Zhang, 2002, p. 33) Here the human body is approached on three levels. The first level looks at the human body as a whole, with a distinction between the external and internal; the second level derives from an examination of front and back; the third level pinpoints the exact organs. Although yinyang illuminates all these levels, the division of the organs into zang and fu (depots and palaces) in terms of yinyang is the most vital hypothesis for Chinese medicine. The five zang (depots) are classified as yin because they are relatively solid, resembling the solidness of the earth. These include the kidney, liver, heart, spleen,


and lungs. They are also taken as the interior (nei 內) parts of the body and, thus, as yin. Fu (palaces) are classified as yang because they resemble the movement of the heavens, are hollow, and control the transport and digestion of food. These include organs such as the gallbladder, stomach, small and large intestines, urinary bladder, and the so-called triple burner.4 They are seen as relatively exterior (wai 外) parts of the body (that is, relative to the five zang). Zang and fu are different but intrinsically related. The two operate across a field of pairings. Zang organs are organs of storage, the fu are organs of transfer. Storage is a yin function, while transport and transformation are yang functions. Both zang and fu organs can be further subdivided into yin and yang. In comparison with one another zang organs can be yang, and fu organs can be yin. Furthermore, activity or function of the organ is its yang aspect and the structure is its yin aspect. For example, the heart is defined as controlling the circulation of blood and mental activities; these activities are yang, but the blood and the organ structure of the heart are yin. The basic functions of the body come through the excitation of yang and the restraint of yin. This system offers a way to grasp the complicated links and continual changes of the human body. In any area, from the interior organs to the exterior, all the meridians circulate according to determinate rhythms, all in terms of yinyang. Yinyang classification is much more complicated than a mechanistic division of elements because it necessitates a frame of reference. That is, yinyang categorization hinges on a context rather than on a fixed characterization and designation. For example, from the point of view of anatomy, liver is yin because it is one of the five depots (zang). But from the point of view of the rhythm of the body and seasons, the liver is yang because it represents the spring. In the frame of zang and fu, the heart, lungs, and liver are all yin, because they store things. But within the framework of internal and external they become yang: Thus, the back is yang and the yang within yang is the heart. The back is yang and the yin within yang are the lungs. The stomach is yin; kidneys are the yin within yin; the stomach is yin, the liver is the yang within yin; the stomach is yin, and the spleen is the ultimate yin of yin. Thus yin and yang, internal and external, male and female, all mutually resonate, corresponding to the yinyang of heaven. (Yingan Zhang, 2002, p. 24) This contextualization of classification gives flexibility to the applications of yinyang.5 As a model for gender dynamics yinyang does not just go beyond the distinction between sex as biological nature and gender as social roles. Yinyang construction must be situated in the rhythm of interactions and mutual integration. Like yin and yang classifications in the human body, the same element can be yin/female in a certain relation but yang/male in another, and one can talk about yin/female within yang/male, or yang/male within yin/female. In fact, like the yinyang distinction in the human body, the division between the male and female in social life should be highly dynamic and fluid. The yin and yang are not simply binary-opposed forces, they combine energies in the changes and rhythms of the world. All things are irreducibly interwoven with figures of masculine yang and feminine yin. Yin and yang have no separation. Yinyang is a whole with two or more interdependent aspects.



We can liken this to the use of chopsticks, which is not like using a fork and knife. First, the latter require two hands, while the former constitutes a unity so far as one hand is used to negotiate the utensils. Therefore, using chopsticks is a yinyang in action. Secondly, the fork and knife both penetrate food, whereas chopsticks do not and keep food intact. They only play a supportive role to bring food into your mouth. For this reason chopsticks must be used in concert with one another. They can only effectively grasp food if they are in the proper position with regard to one another in a sort of rhythmical movement. Similar to yin and yang classifications, their exact position or classification may vary, but only within a rhythmical and interrelated framework.6 A knife and fork also work together, but their relationship is less dependent upon a precise awareness of one another. Unlike chopsticks, they can be used separately and independently. (Interestingly, this is also sometimes thought of as “uncultivated” eating, for instance, eating off of a knife.) Thirdly, the yinyang interplay demonstrated by chopsticks is also like Irigaray’s famous notion of “two lips” (Bianch, 2014, p. 103). The two lips are carnal and they are neither both shut nor both open; they are offered as a polemical intervention into the symbolic regime of the phallus, which is the rigid, unitary symbol of identity, power, property, and agency. This yinyang fluidity also manifested itself in early Chinese male and female social relationships. On one hand, women are a yin in relation to men as yang. But the mother can be yang in relation to her son, and the wife can also be considered yang when she is in charge of certain family affairs. These gender roles are in a constant flux. The Lienü Zhuan 列女傳 (Categorized Biographies of Women) by the prominent Han scholar Liu Xiang 劉向 (79–8 BC) is the earliest book devoted solely to the moral education of women. We can begin by asking, why is there a need for educating women and why does “the woman problem” exist (Kinney, 2014, pp. xvi–xvii)? These questions reveal a persistent conviction and practice that women’s roles and functions can have a far-reaching effect on the family, state, and dynasty. Women from all walks of life can contribute to society in their own ways. The Lienü Zhuan seeks to “shape the entire female population in a Confucian mold” (ibid., p. xxvi). It demonstrates “how the actions of women either support or weaken the health and reputation of a family or dynasty” (ibid., p. xxviii). In addition, it also reinforces the belief that the permutations of yin, identified with female power, and yang, identified with male power, can produce all things and events. Yet, there is a danger that the yin force will be too strong to dominate yang—the emperor’s rightful authority. So there is a great need or imperative to curtail female influence and mold it along a Confucian value system: “The rise and fall of dynasties was at least partly due to the good or destructive influence of the ruler’s consort . . . the imperial consort as an essential component in dynastic stability. The right sort of woman would support the imperial house; the wrong sort would topple it” (ibid., p. xviii). The ethical behavior of court women was essential to a strong empire: “In the majority of narratives found in the Lienü Zhuan women are generally portrayed as acting in response to some form of conflict, crisis, or dangerous trend that threatens family or dynasty” (ibid., p. xxx).


In the West, fairy tales such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty women are unimportant until their princes come to awaken them. Similarly, Cinderella endures her suffering until her prince bestows a glass slipper upon her foot and relieves her from cruelty. In Liu Xiang’s stories, however, the reason that many slaves or ugly women turn out to be empresses or nobles is because of their own inner beauty or virtue (de德). This implies that a woman can be her own savior and liberator without a man. This conviction provides a common woman with a powerful incentive to focus on how cultivating her own inner moral character can bring her a better life, good reputation, and lasting legacy. Women are thereby valued and praised for their own cultivated dispositions and effectiveness and are given a privileged position based on their own merits. The Lienü Zhuan is also a textbook of rhetoric that accommodates women and prepares them to voice their concerns in both the private and public sphere (ibid., p. xxx). Women were accordingly trained in reason and argumentation as a vehicle for developing formal speech and reasoning that exemplify successful rhetorical strategies. This skill is important for the survival (or destruction) of states, dynasties, family, and individuals. Although “there is no official place in the outer realm for a woman as a decision maker or governor . . . she is valued as an outside observer who is encouraged to intervene when those in charge fail in their duties” (ibid., p. xxx). This clearly shows that women can mediate or at a certain time and place women can and will transcend those distinctions: “Women’s contributions are key to dynastic health and survival” (ibid.). Brook Ziporyn has argued that Dong Zhongshu and other official imperial Confucianism wanted to limit women’s powers and impose a strict hegemonic system. However, according to Ziporyn the yinyang structure makes it impossible for them to succeed in doing so. It introduces a rogue element that always allows these ways of subverting and reconfiguring the gender and hierarchical relations.7 Women play a crucial role in dynastic health. In order to perform social roles well and successfully, women must have full dimensional training, from reason to speech, from personality to moral character, from a daily life to work requirements. In the 1950s, this was a constant refrain of Mao Zedong, who claimed that “women hold a half of the sky.” Consistent with this thinking we find that in many Chinese novels and popular Chinese culture there are stories and tales where males undergo sexual transformation to become females. Guanyin (Avalokitesvara) was a male figure in India who went through a sex change to become a well-worshipped female deity in China. These facts exhibit a blurring and fluid line between the male and female, man and woman, and femininity and masculinity in traditional Chinese culture. In the Huangdi Neijing, yin and yang continuously support and consume each other, forming a changing pattern or continuum called “mutual restraint.” It is not the case that yin and yang become one, but rather that yin and yang multiply one another to form a dynamic but sustainable system. In any relationship there is this mutual dependence: The heavens cover and the earth carries. Things, when they have not yet come out of the ground, are in the place of yin, which is called yin-within-yin. Once they



have come out of the ground, they are called yin-within-yang. (Yingan Zhang, 2002, p. 69) As Paul Unschuld puts it: “All living beings are, therefore, brought into existence by yang influence and given a physical structure by yin influence. This process of genesis proceeds indefinitely, ensuring the continuation of existence. An imbalance of yin and yang influences leads eventually to death” (Unschuld, 2010, p. 199). This interdependence appears in another influential distinction coordinated with the yinyang relationship, namely structure and function. Yin is the structure (ti 體) and yang is the function (yong 用). Ti as yin refers to the tangible parts of the body, such as the organs, blood, and body fluids. Yong as yang refers to the abilities to act and transformational activities. Both structure and function are tied together to maximize different bodily capacities. For example, if one exercises (seen as yang) by weightlifting, then one’s capacity in one’s bodily structure (seen as yin) will be more suitable for becoming a football player. On the other hand, if one exercises (yang) differently, for example by doing aerobic exercise, then due to the building up of endurance and aerobic strength in the body one’s capacity (yin) will be well suited for long-distance running. In order to strengthen yang functional performance, one must build on yin, transforming the structures. In this way structure and function are two complementary forces that generate wholeness of performance. The interdependence and mutuality of yinyang as a complex system grounds the basic character and orientation of traditional Chinese medicine as well. This integration cannot simply be a matter of linear causality but finds its basis in the body’s interconnected circuits through twelve vessels or jingluo 經絡, which hold a key status in Chinese medicine (Harper, 1998, p. 83).8 The Guanzi states that qi flows along with blood through the mai 脈 (vessels) inside the body. According to Donald Harper, early medical texts show that the “physiological theory is vessel theory, vessels are the essential structures subsuming the other constituents of the body” (ibid., p. 78). The vessels “pervade the entire body like a network of rivers and lakes. The qi flows, in a cyclical rhythm, from the body’s center to the extremities (hands and feet) and back, passing through the twelve major conduits associate with the yin and yang orbs.”9 This understanding of the human body offers a valuable frame of reference for mapping out a detailed, intricate, and complicated male and female relationship. Explicating its details is beyond the scope of this chapter, though it is an important reference for understanding yinyang thinking.

III.  YINYANG GENDER DYNAMICS: A SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND THE CREATIVITY OF WOMAN The female and the feminine are a privileged locus in many early Chinese texts. The Daodejing makes a philosophical imaginary into the feminine, and relies on this as a way of thinking, knowing, experiencing, and desiring. However there is a tension between a personal gender role and the social structure. The yinyang gender dynamic entails men and women working within a specific social structure that relies


on definite role understandings. This can be limiting for the individual; however, as explained below, men and women do not have to be conclusively defined by their social roles. There is no doubt that Chinese women can negotiate a powerful space and exert a strong influence through navigating a feminine valued social system. This hidden power is unique to Chinese women right from history till the present day. Yet the problem is whether men and women have an equal opportunity to strive and lead a good life in their own unique creative ways. In other words, individual women (or men) do not just succeed within, with, or through a social structure, but can also create their own space outside of this social norm and conventional standard. This is something Zhuangzi has famously discussed. To contextualize the problem we may ask: Can woman build a collective capacity and work across boundaries in order to promote social justice? Anne Behnke Kinney makes a distinction between gender-based patriarchy and transmitive power-based dynastics. The term “dynastics” refers to “an ideology for reinforcing habits of deference to a family-based hierarchy for the sake of its ongoing continuity and prestige” (Kinney, 2014, p. xxvii). As she writes, it “focuses on transmission and perpetuation of a specific power structure. Dynastics is thus more concerned with maintaining continuity than shoring up masculine power” (ibid.). Dynastics is a verbal and behavioral mechanism for perpetuating power, whether it is masculine or not. Therefore, Chinese women do not just subordinate themselves to men, but more importantly women are perceived as a means to sustain dynastic power or family prestige. For example, in the Lienü Zhuan, the relationship between husband and wife can be professional and impersonal in certain circumstances. The interests of all individuals, including the husband or wife, must be placed beneath those of the enduring family or unit: “Thus, a woman must perform her occupational duties for the greater glory of her husband’s line in the same way as a minister performs his” (ibid., p. xxviii ). Women are asked to enhance and promote the public good as well as the health and continuity of the dynasty through their own moral influence and duties. That women thereby have a crucial role in dynastic health discloses a cultural contradiction and complexity. Ideally the yinyang gender dynamic should be able to deal with diversity and creativity. This goes hand-in-hand with the balanced living body. The yinyang spectrum characterizes a favorable state for the yinyang relationships, consisting of a dynamic equilibrium and balance. The struggle between pathogenic and antipathogenic factors results in the flourishing or decline of yin and yang in the body. More specifically, there are two sources for sickness or imbalance according to yinyang thinking. One is called “exogenous pathogenic factors,” which come when yang is not secure, dense, and guarding. The body encounters and is harmed by external influences, such as the changing of four seasons. This points to the immune system and resistance against disease. There are six influential environmental factors (also called the six deviants, liuxie 六邪): wind, cold, heat, dampness, dryness, and fire (feng 風, han 寒, shu 暑, shi 濕, zao 燥, huo 火). If any of the six deviants become abnormal or excessive, as in cases of abrupt and extreme changes in environmental conditions, or if the body’s resistance is too weak to adapt to these



variations, then the six deviants can become pathogenic factors that destroy the physiological equilibrium of the body and thus cause disease. This is classified as a yang disease, arising because the yang of the body is not secure. It is significant that the fundamental cause is not the external element but rather the weakness of one’s own yang qi, which is what renders one vulnerable to external harms. The other sources are called endogenous factors, which come when yin is not steady or calm. It is indicative of the body’s own internal weakness or disruption, which tends to produce conditions of deficiency. For example, human emotions have a bodily basis and are closely related to the functioning of the internal organs. The seven basic emotions (qing 情) of being pleased, angry, worried, pensive, grieving, fearful, and alarmed (xi 喜, nü 怒, you 憂, si 思, bei 悲, kong 恐, jing 驚), each corresponds to yin and yang. Emotional stimuli can attack the organs, causing disease by disrupting the normal ascending and descending flow of qi. An extreme emotion can impair the various organs, just as a dysfunction of the organs can lead to abnormal emotions. These yang forces (relating to the six deviants) and yin forces (relating to the seven emotions) have to work together to attain a harmonious balance that is healthy and sustainable. Otherwise, the body will face four basic types of imbalance or disease: yang impaired by a preponderance of yin; yin consumed by a preponderance of yang; overabundance of yang caused by a deficiency of yin; overabundance of yin resulting from a deficiency of yang. The Huangdi Neijing says: “If yin is excessive then it is yang disease; if yang is excessive then it is a yin disease. Yang in excess is hot while yin in excess is cold” (Yingan Zhang, 2002, p. 46). Clearly neither yin nor yang can be considered in isolation—health and illness both lie in the unbalanced relationship between them. The fact that the variables of these symptom-complexes are linked to yin and yang illustrates that gender relation or the male and female relationship also needs to be carefully managed. Like a river that flows because of the energy differential between its source and estuary, gender relationships are variable and constantly changing. A river flows as waves, eddies, currents, and rapids pools, which are like gender relationships that are also constantly emerging and transforming. A river is also a material and energetic substrate or qi that enables the existence of phenomena as waves and eddies. And a river, like a gender relationship, is a process of movement that is differentiated into various subprocesses with such underlying features as waves, eddies, currents, and rapids—which do not exist independent of the river. The human body is a complex dynamic process in constant flux. It contains several influential factors including natural circadian fluctuation and environmental conditions. A person always has to remain alert to subtle changes and should be prepared to alter the course of action like a practitioner alters treatment according to symptoms. A subject is healthy when certain patterns of flow, or when the various qi are in harmony. Harmony in this context means that the patterns observed and elements of the system stand in the right dynamic interrelationships. The indication of harmony is found in all parts or processes functioning together efficiently. Thus, the medical definition of health is in terms of dynamics. Medical treatment does not focus on restoring stasis but rather achieving harmony in its dynamics. There are


then two major aspects of harmony: (1) there must be internal coherence among the flows within the body; (2) the processes that make up flows within the body must be in resonance with the flows that make up the environment. Like the human body, male and female relationship, or any type of relationship, has its own depth. The depth is an intrinsically dynamic concept. It becomes evident over time, although it constantly changes and transforms. The male and female relations can be both separate and connected in terms of the hidden and unhidden elements, which might divide and unite them. This paradox of depth is a unity through disparity. The hidden and unhidden, the invisible and visible, are continuous with one another. The relationship between yin and yang is never static, and thus the ideal state of steady yin and secure yang is never fixed or final. The yinyang spectrum is the rhythm of change and transformation. The world at its most macroscopic level consists of combinations of yinyang patterns, constantly interplaying with one another to furnish an explanatory framework, capable of encompassing all forces and all events. The human body seen at a microscopic level also enjoys a natural pattern of the waxing and waning of yin and yang. In other words, the human body, including its extension to gender relationships, is a microcosm of the complex system of nature, made up of patterns of oscillation, vibration, and transformation. Living organisms contain rhythms modeled on nature, and keep transforming over time. The myriad things exist in time through yinyang. Like the rhythm of day and night and the changes of the four seasons, the human body functions as a natural biological clock, ticking according to yinyang alternations. The alternations in the body are also influenced by changes in the broader external natural world, with the body particularly influenced by the waxing and waning of the moon.10 The Huangdi Neijing distills many specific patterns of yinyang transformations. We can distinguish sixteen positive and constructive yinyang transformations, and eight kinds of negative and destructive changes. All of them are applied to explicate bodily changes as well. These can also be applied to male and female relationships. The sixteen positive yinyang changes are: 陰陽之變 alternations of yin and yang 陰陽相過 yin and yang pass into each other 陰陽相移 yin and yang move each other 陰陽相薄 yin and yang mingle with each other 陰陽相傾 yin and yang lean on each other 陰陽相持 yin and yang support each other 陰陽相得 yin and yang attain each other 陰陽相乘 yin and yang respond to each other 陰陽相貫 yin and yang string together 陰陽和調 yin and yang harmoniously adjust 陰陽和平 yin and yang harmoniously balance 陰陽平復 yin and yang return to balance



陰陽相隨 yin and yang follow each other 陰陽往復 yin and yang cycle around each other 陰陽卷舒 yin and yang contract and expand 陰陽離合 yin and yang separate and join The eight negative yinyang changes are: 陰陽相離 yin and yang separate from each other 陰陽相逐 yin and yang chase each other 陰陽相失 yin and yang deplete each other 陰陽不通 yin and yang do not intersect 陰陽俱盛 yin and yang simultaneously dominate 陰陽異位 yin and yang are displaced 陰陽逆順 yin and yang going against and going along 陰陽相逆 yin and yang oppose each other The multiplicities of these yinyang positive and negative changes indicate the complexity and plurality of reality. Noticeably, yinyang interaction or yinyang gender dynamics is a nonlinear function that contains a product of distinctive variables instead of their sum. This understanding calls for a balanced character, which emerges through the cultivation of its counterpart. This is the art of jiao 交 (“interaction,” “intercourse,” and “exchange”) and the way of the heavens and earth. We read from Liezi, 列子 (Book of Master Lie): “Being yin or being yang, soft or hard, short or length, round or square, life or death, warm or cool, floating or sinking, sound the note of gong or shang, appearing or disappearing, black or yellow, sweet or bitter, foul or fragrant” (Graham, 1990, p. 20). The yinyang interaction creates an external complexity from an internal unity. The Huainanzi describes: “The sage can be yin and can be yang, can be soft and can be hard. With proper timing one decides to be still or move; one can figure out the end before the beginning stage and can distinguish new things and be able to adjust to the changes. So the sage is never stuck throughout his life time.”11 The formulation of the various types of yinyang transformations guides the practice of acupuncture. A master of acupuncture is one who can apply the needle in a way to initiate or enhance the appropriate transformation of yinyang: The one who uses acupuncture masterfully induces yang from yin and induces yin from yang, using the right to manage the left and using the left to manage the right, using their own self to know others and using the manifestation to know the inside. (從陰引陽,從陽引陰,以右治左,以左治右,以我知彼,以表知裡) (Yingan Zhang, 2002, p. 65) The core of medical practice is in applying different methods for the transformation of yinyang. If patients manifest symptoms of heat, this shows the qi is too hot, which means it is too active, rising, or rapid. In that case, one should be treated with cold, such as cooling herbs or foods that transform the qi of the patient. One needs to regulate and adjust the flow of qi according to the variations of the yinyang patterns. Thus deqi得氣, literally “attaining qi,” is essential to acupuncture. The master


acupuncturist administers each needle attentively in order to attain the arrival of qi. The Huangdi Neijing describes the practice of acupuncture: Therefore if one knows yinyang, one will know where to insert the needles. One makes the diagnosis carefully and responds with timing, corresponding internally with the five depots and six palaces and externally with nerves, bones, skin, and surfaces. Therefore there is internal yinyang as well as external yinyang. (Ibid., p. 22) The quality of treatment depends on whether the patient has felt this sensation of deqi, attaining either yin qi or yang qi based on the diagnosis. This is the immediate effect of inserting an acupuncture needle into an acupuncture point located in the vessels in the body. The art of acupuncture proffers skillful practice as a model for the gender dynamics. Men and women must act according to the natural patterns and rhythms emerging from a complex and implicit background in order to achieve a harmonious relationship. In terms of yinyang theory, gender is always transformative in the interaction and transformation between men and women. One can be male, or female, both, or none! This means that yin and yang are not simply equated with being female or male. A man has a man’s yin and yang, but in both he remains being a “male”; similarly, a woman remains female in both her yin and yang aspects. Yinyang gender dynamics recognizes the diversity of women’s needs and experiences, as well as men’s! There is no single solution, or one ideal woman, that will be adequate for fitting all. Yinyang is also like Hans-Georg Gadamer’s conception of interpretative horizons as a way of illuminating our lived experience of, responses to, and reasoning about the world. It gives a framing assumption that we bring with us to perception and understanding as congealed experiences. It provides the lens through which we approach the world in which we live. We learn much from Zhuangzi about how to become a genuine person, and that is adeptly applicable here. The notion du 獨, or “solitude,” or “alone” is a way of living according to Zhuangzi. We read in the Under Heaven (天下) of the Zhuangzi: “But now Mo-zi alone, would have no singing during life.”今墨子獨生不歌) . . . and in the solitude of one’s individuality to dwell with the spirit-like and intelligent . . . 澹然獨與神明居); I will receive the off scourings of the world. Men all choose fullness; he alone chooses emptiness . . . Men all seek for happiness, but he feels complete in his imperfect condition .  .  . (己獨取後,曰:「受天下之垢。」人皆取實,己獨取 虛 . . . 人皆求福,己獨曲全 ) He chiefly cared to occupy himself with the spirit-like operation of heaven and earth . . . (獨與天地精神往來). (Ziporyn, 2009) In these writings Zhuangzi explores the idea that man or woman can come to an understanding of his or her self that is not limited to social roles. In another example, the story of the she 社 (“shrine”) tree, Zhuangzi describes how a particular tree goes along with social designations, and yet does not limit its own self-identity therein. The tree allows itself to be viewed as a she shrine, and it is not bothered by the fact



that this is how others view it. Social designations have little significant impact on how the tree views itself or actually lives. This is in line with the Zhuangzi’s general approach of advocating a view of oneself that is not limited to social roles, or even concrete actions. Du is one’s attitude that is not necessarily a rejection of social roles, but a critical reflection on them.12 One does not view oneself based on one’s social role and is thereby able to surpass cultural constraints. It is a useful attitude for less proactive feminists, and one that has been employed by suppressed peoples all over the world. According to the Zhuangzi one does not have to pity oneself and is at home knowing that no social roles can perfectly fit one’s natural self. Other ways to view the yinayang dynamic in terms of gender is that yin is an individual self, whether male or female, and yang is a social structure which the individual must confront. The yin-self has to create and craft a free space within yang-social power. This can be done as a yinyang strategy of riding a horse (Wang, 2012). Instead of having an internal matrix of a gender identification that is male and female, a healthy social structure should allow sex and gender to have a space to play freely and appreciate what each person wants to be. This will lead to less frustration and problems. For instance, when a little girl is allowed to freely play with a doll or a truck she does not have to feel constrained by social norms, or frustrated by certain restrictions. In the spirit of Zhuangzi allowing for gender playing, we can reach a spirited and easy state, characterized by continuous willingness to be surprised and to be open to the enjoyment of being jolted. The key factor is awareness. One should remain vigilantly aware of the plurality of possibilities, the multiplicity of viewpoints, the continuity of change, and the complexity of circumstances. This leads to appropriate decision making; so one can learn, train, and perfect oneself fully in any environment.

IV.  CONCLUSION This chapter intends to challenge a fixed yinyang frame of reference and arrives at a yinyang gender dynamics that is a way of understanding contingency and is itself an adaptive strategy. The discussion and application of the yinyang dynamics in Chinese medicine allows us to rethink the very notions of masculinity and femininity as rooted in yinyang theory. From classical texts we learn that male/female, man/ woman, masculinity/femininity, or yin/yang are not fixed entities or essential elements. Thus, the same thing can be categorized as yin/female in a certain relation, but yang/male in others, and one can talk about yin/female within yang/male, or yang/male within yin/female. This view also challenges the gender asymmetry where the masculine poses as a disembodied universality while feminine gets constructed as a disavowed corporeality. Femininity is not based in exclusion of the masculine nor is masculinity a rejection of the feminine. Yinyang gender identity is not a normative ideal, but rather a descriptive feature of experience, a lived body. The axis of yinyang gender tenders transformation and changes of gender identity that revolve around virtue. One can use Zhuangzi’s idea of playfulness to describe this movement.


Deborah K. Heikes asserts: “The most widespread and most fundamental criticism that feminists launch against the concept of reason is that it is masculine” (Heikes, 2012, p. 22). Feminists want to have a different voice. Perhaps the yinyang gender construction will provide an alternative to masculine ways of thinking about reason and establish that reason is not a purely masculine concept. It has carved out a space for women! The body is an incorporated space where a proper understanding of yinyang is manifested and yinyang gender is constructed and enhanced. Bodies are enfleshed, but not enclosed: they are open, biologically, environmentally, socially, politically, and affectively. Openness is ontological: an ethical stance, and an imperative. To be open means having the capacity for connection and a willingness to be receptive to otherness and difference. Openness is an engagement with processes of becoming, to embrace a future without predetermined ends. To open our eyes and our hearts, our senses and our awareness, is to accept the embodied experience of entanglements, fraught alliances, and fuzzy boundaries. Yinyang gender dynamics allows us to be like curious children. We can be open, honest, and playful in the world. Perhaps some feminists are more like rebellious teenagers, centered on self and consistently fighting authority to find a way. This chapter is just a start to exploring the propositional power of yinyang gender dynamics. There is still yet so much more to be fully unleashed with further research. The most valuable and unique contribution yinyang gender construction has to offer is a description of gender relationships as dynamic and fluid. One has no longer to live up to what it means to be a “woman” or a “man.” A husband and wife can participate in a harmonious whole without being limited to traditional gender notions. Additionally, we can equally preserve these gender roles according to the yinyang dynamics. The suppression and abuse of women throughout Chinese history may have employed yinyang understanding, but that understanding could equally and more accurately be used to support the view of women as superiors, as exemplified in some strands of Daoism. The real significance in yinyang dynamics for understanding gender is found in its being truly respected as a dynamic, that is, something subject to being influenced by each part, and something that allows for change and transformation to construct an organic whole. In other words, if men and women are in communication with one another, play an equal part in determining one another’s roles, and work in concert, then they truly embody the yinyang dynamic. In sum, men and women should be more like chopsticks and less like knives and forks. This allows them to be shaped by each other, playing like happy fish in water and fully enjoying the feast of life!

NOTES 1. The author would like to thank Paul D’Ambrosio, Eric Nelson, and Brook Ziporyn for reading this chapter, and providing comments and suggestions. 2. Taipingjing (太平經 The Scriptures of the Great Peace) (1990), author’s own translation (Beijing: Shangwu Press), p. 94.



3. Terry Woo offers different types of feminist critique on Confucianism in an essay in Woo (1999). Many female scholarships in China criticize the yinyang theory as a conceptual justification for subordination of woman. 4. It refers to three parts of the body cavity—the upper burner, which houses the heart and lung; the middle burner, which houses the spleen and stomach; the lower burner, which houses the kidney, urinary bladder, and small and large intestines. 5. Zang as yin controls the storage of qi, but each organ is a system that might best be portrayed as an energy field or network. The zang include the pathways or system of channels that connect various parts of the body. This network consists not only of its own structure but also other elements such as tissues, muscles, and bones. For example, to speak of an organ like the heart is to refer to a whole system and the functions it performs. The “organ” really refers to: (1) the basic life materials like qi, blood, body fluids, and activity; (2) relationships, as between the exterior and interior portions of the body and the upper and lower halves of the body; and (3) multiple functions, as the heart governs blood circulation and vessels but also stores consciousness. 6. Paul D’Ambrosio makes this claim in email. “This is why a drunken person practiced with chopsticks still handles food better than a novice.” 7. Brook Ziporyn, email, November 30, 2014. 8. The vessel theory involves two kinds of vessels (mai 脈) and serves as the basic anatomical and physiological model for the human body. The word mai (vessels, channels, or veins) appears in relation to blood flow as early as the Zuozhuan. 9. F. Pregadid and L. Skar, “Inner Alchemy,” in Daoist Handbook edited by Livia Kohn, ,.Brill Academic Publishing, 2000 p. 97 10. Unschuld explains, “The full moon produces a repletion with the strength within body, while a new or waning moon signifies a period of weakness, of susceptibility to injury” (2010, p. 70). 11. Huainanzi (1990, p. 505); my own translation. 12. See Paul D’Ambrosio, “The Role of a Pretending Tree: Hermits, Social Constructs and ‘Self ’ in the Zhuangzi’” (2012) and “Going along—a Daoist Alternative to Role Ethics” (2014).

BIBLIOGRAPHY Bianch, Emanuela (2014), The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos. New York: Fordham University Press. Black, Alison Harley (1989), “Gender and Cosmology in Chinese Correlative Thinking,” in Caroline Walker Bynum, S. Harrell, and P. Richman (eds.), Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, pp. 166–95. Bodde, Derk (1981), Essays on Chinese Civilization. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Csikszentmihalyi, Mark (2004), Material Virtue: Ethics and the Body in Early China. Leiden: Brill.


D’Ambrosio, Paul (2012), “The Role of a Pretending Tree: Hermits, Social Constructs and ‘Self ’ in the Zhuangzi,” in Jason Dockstader, Hans-Georg Moeller, and Günter Wohlfart (eds.), Selfhood East and West: Deconstructions of Identity. Nordhausen: Verlag T. Bautz. D’Ambrosio, Paul (2014), “Going Along: A Daoist Alternative to Role Ethics,” in HansGeorg Möller and Andrew K. Whitehead (eds.), Landscape and Travelling East and West: A Philosophical Journey. London: Bloomsbury Academic. D’Ambrosio, Paul and Lijuan Shen (2014), “Gender in Chinese Philosophy,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Despeaux, Catherine and Livia Kohn (2003), Women in Daoism. Cambridge, MA: Three Pines Press. Dong, Zhongshu (1996), Chunqiu Fanlu (春秋繁露 Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals). Beijing: Chinese Press. Graham, A. C. (trans.) (1990), The Book of Lieh-tzu. New York: Columbia University Press. Grimshaw, Jean (1986), Feminist Philosophers: Women’s Perspectives on Philosophical Traditions. Brighton: Wheatsheaf Books. Guisso, Richard W. (1981), “Thunder Over the Lake: The Five Classics and the Perception of Woman in Early China,” in Richard Guisso and Stanley Johannesen (eds.), Women in China: Current Directions in Historical Scholarship. Youngstown, NY: Philo Press, pp. 47–62. Hall, David L. and Roger T. Ames (2000), “Sexism, with Chinese Characteristics,” in Chenyang Li (ed.), The Sage and the Second Sex. Chicago: Open Court, pp. 75–95. Harper, Donald (trans.) (1998), The Mawangdui Medical Manuscripts. London and New York: Kegan Paul International. Heikes, Deborah K. (2012), The Virtue of Feminist Rationality. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Henderson, John B. (1984), The Development and Decline of Chinese Cosmology. New York: Columbia University Press. Irigaray, Luce (2013), In the Beginning She Was. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Jullien, Francois (2004), A Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western and Chinese Thinking, trans. Janet Lloyd. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press. Kinney, Anne Behnke (ed. and trans.) (2014), Exemplary Women of Early China: The Lienü zhuan of Liu Xiang. New York: Columbia University Press. Kohn, Livia (ed.) (2000), Daoism Handbook, Handbook of Oriental Studies—Part 4: China, Vol. 14. Leiden: Brill. Moeller, Hans-Georg (trans.) (2007), Daodejing: A Complete Translation and Commentary. Chicago and La Salle: Open Court. Queen, Sarah A. (1996), From Chronicle to Canon: The Hermeneutics of the Spring and Autumn Annals According to Tung Chung-shu. New York: Cambridge University Press. Raphals, Lisa (2005), “Craft Analogies in Chinese and Greek Argumentation,” in Eric Ziolkowski (ed.), Literature, Religion, and East-West Comparison: Essays in Honor of Anthony C. Yu. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, pp. 181–201. Rosemont, Henry, Jr. (1997), “Confucian and Feminist Perspectives on the Self: Some Parallels and Implications,” in Douglas Allen (ed.), Culture and Self: Philosophical and



Religious Perspectives, East and West. Boulder, CO: Westview Press/Harper Collins, pp. 63–82. Ryden, Edmund (trans.) (1997), The Yellow Emperor’s Four Canons: A Literary Study and Edition of the Text from Mawangdui. Taipei: Guangqi Press. Schipper, Kristofer (1993), The Taoist Body. Berkeley: University of California Press. Schwartz, Benjamin I. (1985), “Correlative Cosmology, the School of Yin and Yang,” in his The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 351–82. Tansley, David V. (1977), Subtle Body: Essence and Shadow. London: Thames and Hudson. Unschuld, Paul U. (2010), Medicine in China, A History of Ideas, 25th edition. Berkeley: University of California Press. Wang, Robin (2005), “Dong Zhongshu’s Transformation of Yin/Yang Theory and Contesting of Gender Identity,” Philosophy East and West, 55 (2): 209–31. Wang, Robin (2012), Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press. Warnke, Georgia (2011), Debating Sex and Gender. New York: Oxford University Press. Woo, Terry (1999), “Confucianism and Feminism,” in Arvind Sharama and Katherine K. Young (eds.), Feminism and World Religions. Albany: Sate New York University Press, pp. 110–47. Xiang, Liu (1931), Shuoyuan (說苑 Garden of Persuasions). Beijing: Harvard-Yenching Institute. Xu, Fuguan 徐復觀 (1982), History of Chinese Discussions on Human Nature 中國人性語 史. Shanghai: Huadon Normal University Press. Yang, Jilin 楊寄林 (ed.) (2002), Taipingjing (The Scripture of Great Peace). Shijiazhuang: Hebei People’s Press. Zhang, Xianglong (2002), “‘Gender Difference’ in Sino-West Philosophies and Their Thinking Consequences ‘性別’在中西哲學裡的地位及其思想後果,” Journal of Jiangsu Social Sciences, 6: 1–9. Zhang, Yingan 張隱庵 (ed.) (2002), Huangdi Neijing Commentaries 黃帝內經素問集注. Beijing: Xueyuan Press 學苑出版社. Zhang, Zailin 張再林 (2008), Traditional Chinese Philosophy as the Philosophy of the Body 作為身體哲學的中國古代哲學. Beijing: China Social Science Publishing House. Ziporyn, Brook (trans.) (2009), Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings with Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett.

Chapter Eleven

On the Dao of Ci 雌 (Feminine/Female) in the Daodejing《道德經》 lin ma

I.  INTRODUCTION Contemporary Western philosophy feminism is faced with serious challenges in its theoretical construction. One prominent dilemma concerns the fate of “gender.” Inspired by Simone De Beauvoir’s innovative idea that “one was not born to be, but made to be a woman,” feminists coined the notion “gender” in the late 1960s to indicate the different sets of expectations, models of behavior, and social roles that are stereotypically related to women and men respectively. However, toward the 1990s, it was found that, although “gender” reveals effectively at the theoretical level how women came to be pinned down into an oppressive social order, it meanwhile enhances the very differentiating ideology that has hampered the full development of women. Hence, scholars such as Judith Butler advocates “undoing gender” in order to acquire genderless self and thus to emancipate women from the oppression of such an ideology (Butler, 2004). Butler further points out that not only gender but also sex results from social construction. Sex is nothing purely natural and biological, but receives its materialization through the regulatory schemes of gender. On the other hand, French woman philosophers as represented by Luce Irigaray attempt to articulate a philosophy of sexual difference by focusing upon the specificities of the female body (Irigaray, 1985). Such an orientation in theorization has also aroused suspicion whether it defines woman in terms of certain determinate and unchangeable anatomic and physiological facts in isolation from her situatedness in particular existential and social contexts, and whether it ultimately leads to a re-inscription of traditional gender roles as embodied in the supposedly universal sexual difference between women and men. Yet another criticism of Irigaray is that her writings are solely concerned with femininity as an abstract philosophical notion that does not bear upon women in the empirical world. Thus, such a purely philosophical enterprise shares little with feminism as a social and political endeavor that aims at the emancipation of women (Fuss, 1989).

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Instead of gender or sex, let us consider the Chinese notion of ci 雌, which refers to both a concrete female creature and feminine characteristics. In this chapter I consider the ways in which ci, especially as articulated in the Daodejing, intersects and yet differs from both tendencies as summarized above. I explicate in what sense the Dao of ci (雌) constitutes the most fundamental Dao in terms of the primordial principle of “abiding by the feminine” in this scripture. First a few remarks on the texts. The Daodejing is the Chinese classic with the greatest number of translations into Western languages. It took upon its written form during the period 350–250 BC. Because of the traditional attribution of its authorship to the legendary and later deified sage Laozi (老子), it is also called the Laozi. Later it became a founding scripture in Daoist religious and philosophical tradition. There are hundreds of classical editions of the Daodejing, among which the Wang Bi (王弼) version has been most commonly consulted and used for translations into Western languages. After the archaeological discovery of the Mawangdui 馬王堆 texts (transcribed on silk, with two versions: A and B) in 1973 and of the Guodian 郭店 texts (transcribed on bamboo scrolls) in 1993, new renditions and exegeses have appeared. The Guodian edition consists of three sets, which in English are referred to as A, B, C respectively. Together with the Guodian edition was also discovered Taiyi Shengshui (太一生水 The Great One Gives Birth to the Waters), which does not belong to the received texts of the Daodejing, and yet articulates ideas bearing resemblance to it. The philosophical ideas of the Daodejing have often been characterized as “feminine” in terms of its orientation. When one opens this scripture, one would be immediately impressed with not only the frequency of occurrences of words referring to the feminine, but also the express accentuation upon such supposedly “negative” features as softness, weakness, quietude, and passivity. However, under the influence of Confucianesque appropriation of the Daoist sources, the importance ascribed to the feminine has been eclipsed, if not completely obliterated. In the first section of this chapter, I discuss words bearing on the feminine/female in the classical Chinese tradition. The grounding word that is employed to indicate the Dao of the feminine in the Daodejing, that is, ci, originally denotes a female bird, rather than a word directly referring to a female human being, or the more abstract yin (陰), which has a predominantly cosmological sense and has been conventionally connected with femininity. This provides ground for the Daoist conception of the feminine to be immune from criticisms of either empty abstraction or a tendency toward gender- or sex-essentialism. How to determine ci is a troubled issue. Ci does not possess any hardcore essence based on stringent and fixated biological criteria, neither is it purely a human construction, as Butler would have it regarding human sex. Ci receives its designation relative to specific forms of life of birds and animals that infuse them with such feminine features as softness and passivity, which to an extent are also shared by most human females. After clearing the ground of words and conceptions, I discuss three major readings of the feminine in the Daodejing: what I call a “naturalistic reading” put forward by Joseph Needham; what I call a “correlative reading” as represented by Roger T. Ames; and what I call a “political reading” to which Liu Xiaogan subscribes. Diverging from these three interpretations, I argue that the feminine



occupies a central place and possesses fundamental philosophical significance in the Daodejing. First I show the pervasiveness of the feminine water metaphor, which constitutes the milieu wherein the primordiality of the feminine finds its articulation. Second, I initiate Din Cheuk Lau’s discussion concerning the relation of opposites, and bring his insight to bear upon my reading of “know the male/ masculine (xiong 雄), yet abide by the female/feminine (ci 雌)” from chapter 28 of the Daodejing. Lau opposes ascribing to the Daodejing the idea of circular process between opposite terms. According to him, what this scripture asserts is only the necessary movement from the higher limit to the lower limit. Proceeding from this standpoint, I argue that the above-cited verse does not indicate a symmetrical relation between xiong and ci. Nor is the principle of abiding by the feminine set forth as a means to an end. After the centrality argument is set in place, I provide a more detailed discussion of “know the male/masculine (xiong 雄), yet abide by the female/feminine (ci 雌)” in light of the asymmetrical relation between abiding by and knowing. It transpires that the meaning of “abiding by” stands on a completely different plane from that of knowing, such that an idea of complementarity cannot be ascribed to ci and xiong. I conclude that, on the basis of the principle of abiding by the feminine in the Daodejing, one could construct a philosophy in the feminine that attempts to reorient our conception of the world and to transform the means by which we pursue our goals.

II.  How is the feminine identified in the classical chinese tradition? In French the word for woman is “femme,” which is etymologically bound up with such terminology as feminism and femininity. Although there exist a couple of gender-specific words for animals of different sex in Western languages, such as hen versus rooster, cow versus bull, there is no word, except that the adjective “female,” that specifically indicates the sexes of animals. This is crucially different from the Chinese language. The two words in Chinese that more or less directly correspond to the Western word “woman” are nü 女 and fu 婦. The oracle bone character of nü shows the curved figure of a (presumably unmarried) woman; and that of fu depicts a woman holding a broom, which points to the usual social role of a woman in ancient China: taking care of household matters. The word for mother mu 母 is used both for human and animal beings. What makes the Chinese vocabulary significantly different from Western languages is that there exist specific words that bear upon the female animals: ci 雌, which originally refers to a female bird (whose counterpart is xiong 雄); and pin 牝, which originally denotes a female mammal (whose counterpart is mu2 牡).1 Ci in particular is widely applied not only to humans but also to what are today supposed to be inanimate things. For example, there is female stone (cihuang 雌黃) versus male stone (xionghuang 雄黄), female bamboo (cizhu 雌竹) versus male

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bamboo (xiongzhu 雄竹), female wind (cifeng 雌風) versus male wind (xiongfeng 雄風), female rainbow (cini 雌霓) versus male rainbow (xionghong 雄虹); there is even female melody (cilü 雌律) versus male melody (xionglü 雄律). Pin occurs notoriously in the set phrase pinji sicheng 牝雞司晨 (A hen takes charge of crowing for the dawn), which degrades women who acquire power. In the Daoist tradition, the word ci in such formulations as shouci 守雌, zhici 执 雌, xunci 循雌 (all these expressions mean “abiding by the female”) received central significance compared with other words (yin, mu, nü or fu). Pin sometimes functions as a surrogate of ci with the same significance. In what follows I review a few sources that demonstrate how the female comes to be separated from the male; then I revisit the significance of ci. In the Chinese classics, it is commonly assumed that in primeval times there were no strict differentiations and segregations among the ten thousand things (wanwu 萬物). All the living beings, including human beings, share a common world. At a certain point of time, the sages distinguished between female and male of beasts, birds, and humans and designated apart dwellings for them. According to the Shiji 《史記》 (The Historical Records), The sages positioned beasts, which have pin (牝) and mu (牡), in the mountains and on the plateaus; birds, which have ci 雌 and xiong 雄, in the woods and nearby the ponds . . . [The sages] made men [nan 男] and women [nü] husbands and wives, gave them residences and farmlands; recorded their birthplaces and differentiated between their surnames and clans. (Shiji, chapter 68)2 It is notable that the words for female precede that for male in the pairs of beasts and birds, whereas the order is reversed in the pair for the humans. In this passage, the sages discerned what is female and what is male. But it is not explained whether such differentiations existed beforehand. In the Mozi 《墨子》, it is more clearly stated that the sages conferred to creatures these names of sexual difference. Such conferrals are contiguous with that in the case of the cosmos: When the sages taught about sky and earth, they spoke of up [shang 上] and down [xia 下]; when it comes to the four seasons, they spoke of yin [陰] and yang [陽]; when it comes to the human reality, they spoke of men and women; when it comes to birds and animals, they spoke of mu and pin [牡牝], xiong and ci [雄雌]. (Mozi, chapter 6) It is worth noting that, except for yin and yang, the words for female are set after that for male in all the other pairs. This seems to derive from the Confucian idea that women are subjected to men; it is possible that this word order in the Mozi was changed in the Han dynasty when Confucianism ascended the ruling post. A similar passage from the Huainanzi 《淮南子》states, In antiquity Huangdi (黃帝) was governing the world .  . . He researched the law of movement of sun and moon, harmonized the energy of yin and yang, regulated the solar terms of the four seasons, adjusted the changes in calendar, and differentiated between men and women, ci and xiong. (Huainanzi, chapter 3)



What these passages tell us is that in primeval times there existed neither cosmological nor sexual difference. Such identifications as female and male were not taken to be something inborn and self-evident. Hence they do not belong to the essence of a living being. It is by these processes of division and naming that natural order as well as social order emerged. Sexual difference is as derivative as the differentiation of the cosmological and the social order. Now the question is: What serves as the criteria for sexual differentiation? If we employ our hindsight and focus upon what has been assumed to an evident biological criterion, that is, organs for intercourse and reproduction, then it seems to be most difficult to distinguish between female and male birds. This is articulated in the Shijing 《詩經》 (Book of Poetry): They all assume a wise pose, But who can tell the ci and xiong of crows. (Shijing, chapter 192) Certainly, it is relatively easier to tell the sex of some birds from the difference in color of their feathers. But some other birds such as crows do not have such a difference. The Erya《爾雅》tries to provide a standard: “When it becomes difficult to distinguish between the ci and xiong of birds, then the bird that uses its right wing to cover its left one is xiong, and the bird that uses its left wing to cover its right one is ci.”3 This attempt at offering such a seemingly curious regulation indicates the bafflement involved in differentiating between female and male birds. The Shuowen Jiezi 《說文解字》 defines ci as “the mother of birds.”4 This seems to provide another criterion: a bird is female if it is brooding or nurturing a nestling. However, it is not always the case that when one sees a bird, it either sits or does not sit on the eggs; and the father of some birds also sits on the eggs. One encounters the same problem of demarcation when it comes to certain mammals such as hare. This is hinted at in the last two verses from the Mulanshi 《木蘭詩》 phrased as Mulan’s remark: “When two hares are running side by side, how could one tell whether I am a ci or a xiong?”5 Mulan is the famous legendary heroine in ancient China who carried out military service wearing the male garment in place of her father (hence she is also called as Ci Mulan). Here ci is extended to refer to a female hare. There are no obvious distinctions in appearance between a female and a male hare. Hence, in ancient China animal females and males are not determined in terms of biological anatomy, which is today assumed to be indisputable matter of facts. Look at the case of fenghuang (鳳凰 phoenix), a legendary bird. The two words feng and huang originally refer to male and female phoenix respectively. But when feng is mentioned together with dragon (longfeng 龍鳳), it assumes the role of female. Thus ci cannot be identified with the Western notion of sex on the basis of biological anatomy. It does not possess a hardcore that belongs to the essence of a living being. The differentiation of ci is made on the basis of the modest appearance and elegant movements of the phoenix. Neither is ci decided in terms of a fixed party in a mating process. In light of modern/Western biological sciences, procreation is regarded as a universal process in which the sperm that is produced by the male gets combined with the egg that

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is produced by the female; this is done in most cases by means of direct contact of sexual organs. The Zhuangzi 《莊子》presents a divergent view of procreation: The white fish hawk gaze at one another unblinkingly, thus fertilization [fenghua 風化, wind-transformation] occurs. The male insect chirps on the wind above, and the female corresponds on the wind below, and there is wind-transformation. Creatures act as female or male by themselves [ziwei cixiong 自為雌雄], and in this way wind-transformation is achieved. (Zhuangzi, chapter 14) Different creatures have different ways of affecting one another, ways that are at a remove from usual humanized picture of sexual intercourse, and this sometimes results in fertilization. Procreation is not conceived in terms of straightforward interaction of sexual organs, but in terms of indirect “contact” or, rather, affection: gazing at one another, or chirping in concert with each other. The Liezi 《列子》 records legendary stories concerning procreation: The beasts in Mount Chanyuan get pregnant by themselves, and they are called lei (類). The birds by the river and lake achieve fertilization by looking at one another, and they are called fish hawks.. . . The gentleman in love affects without coupling with a wife, and the lady in love gets pregnant without coupling with a husband. Houji (後稷) was born from a giant footprint, and Yiyin (伊尹) from a hollow mulberry. (Liezi, chapter 1) These visions of generation sound unimaginable and unscientific to the modern citizen. At most they could be considered to be a poetic and yet unrealistic view of generation, which nevertheless is outdated and should be dismissed. However, one needs to explore the philosophical implication of these seemingly archaic conceptions. Nowadays heterosexual intercourse and fecundity are widely assumed as the hardcore of an erotic relation to such an extent that other important aspects have been neglected. Other aspects such as looking, echoing, missing, and expecting are no less important in an erotic relation. People attach importance to the single fact that procreation happens between man and woman, and yet turn a blind eye to the fact that without love and affection nothing profound can be realized, and that fecundity in the sense of producing a progeny is not the only consequence that necessarily follows up. There are other ways in which fecundity, whatever it means, is achieved. Furthermore, what is ci and xiong in the Daoist thinking is not supposed to be always self-evident, not anything that can be pinned down univocally. Zhuangzi observes that bianju (猵狙 a mythical beast similar to an ape with dog’s head) pairs up with yuan (猨, a kind of monkey), treating the latter as the female; mi (麋, a sort of deer) hangs together with deer; and qiu (鰌, a kind of fish) befriends fish. The purpose of animals “keeping company” cannot be reduced to a biological drive that aims at selfish satisfaction or at procreation. Fertilization as described in terms of “wind transformation” opens up a wide spectrum of possibilities for considering the multiple interconnections between the ten thousand things. To sum up, in ancient Daoist thinking, sexual difference is neither conceived in relation to biological anatomy, nor in relation to the process in which an offspring



is produced. Then what serves as the criteria for identifying ci? A suitable answer could be: the particular forms of life of a creature in which are manifested such features as softness, weakness, quietude, and passivity, for example, the way of gazing of a white fish hawk, and the manner in which an insect corresponds to a calling out, as depicted in the Zhuangzi. Ancient Chinese people notice, “even when it comes to tigers, wolves, eagles and vultures, there lack no soft ones” (Liezi, chapter 2). Notably, the words for woman are absent in the Daodejing, so that the sense of the feminine is not associated with the social roles a woman is assumed to perform. This has been used as the basis on which some scholars argue that the references to the feminine are purely theoretical and have nothing to do with feminist concerns. However, it is simply impossible to explain away the concrete bond with the feminine/female that ci (a female bird) and pin (a female mammal) embody. One cannot treat ci and pin in the same breath as yin, which is admittedly susceptible to criticism of abstraction. The unequivocal accentuation upon ci and pin, rather than nü and fu, avoids associating the female with the definitive social functions of women. Mozi observes, Birds, beasts, deer, and insects use their feather or hair as clothes, their hooves or claws as shoes, and feed upon water and weed. This makes it possible that the xiong do not work in the field, and the ci do not weave or sew. They have already at their disposal things for wearing or eating. (Mozi, chapter 32) The focus upon ci instead of nü opens up a vision in which the feminine/female is considered neither in relation to gender-specific roles, nor in connection with presumably inborn biological characteristics, but in terms of such features as softness, weakness, quietude, and passivity that are manifest in various forms of life. Furthermore, the highlighting of the words related to animals is consistent with the fundamental Daoist intuition that humans are not insulated from other living beings. For a Daoist, the human female is contiguous with the female part of other species. This is because all things (wanwu 萬物) are unitary. Rather than using humans as the model and accordingly assuming animals to be the deficient beings, the Daodejing foregrounds ci and pin as exemplifying the principle of abiding to the feminine/female.

III.  THREE MAJOR READINGS OF THE FEMININE IN THE DAODEJING All the three readings I examine in this section can find their historical precedents in the two millennia-long commentarial history of the Daodejing. The reason why I single out these three scholars is that the latter two scholars are currently active in the English academic world of Chinese philosophy and therefore their interpretations continue to exert influences upon academics. From Joseph Needham, whose reading is enunciated in the second volume of his renowned magnum opus Science and Civilization in China, Ames establishes his “correlative reading” by first challenging

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Needham’s position. Hence, a discussion of Needham remains to be relevant for an adequate understanding of the import of the feminine in the Daoist philosophy. According to Needham, one cannot but be amazed with the predominant occurrences of the water metaphor (see next section) and the feminine symbolism concerning the soft and weak in the Daodejing. This scripture initiates a call for feminine yieldingness (rang 讓) in human, social, and political relations. Needham delineates the Daoist position as an opposition against the Confucian masculine tendencies: Confucian scholastic knowledge of the ranks and observances of feudal society [is] not the true knowledge of the Dao of Nature. Confucian knowledge was masculine and managing: the Daoists condemned it and sought after a feminine and receptive knowledge which could arise only as the fruit of a passive and yielding attitude in the observation of Nature. (Needham, 1956, p. 33) The Confucian and Legalist social-ethical thought-complex was masculine, managing, hard, dominating, aggressive, rational and donative—the Daoists broke with it radically and completely by emphasizing all that was feminine, tolerant, yielding, permissive, withdrawing, mystical and receptive. (Needham, 1956, p. 59) In contrasting Daoism as feminine with Confucianism as masculine, Needham attaches importance to the intimate connection between this feminine orientation and a set of features of nature such as passivity and yieldingness, as most vividly exemplified by water. He believes that this acclaimed “admiration for feminine philosophical characteristics” as well as “importance of woman in the scheme of things” goes in harmony with the “equity of women” in the later Daoist religious practice. Such a feminine orientation is unique and has no counterpart either in Confucianism or in Buddhism (Needham, 1956, p.  151). In view of Needham’s insight into the inherent bond between the Dao of the feminine and the Dao of nature, I call his reading a “naturalistic reading.” The profound implication of his interpretation has been far less explored. Ames opposes Needham’s characterization of Daoism as “feminine.” For him, this is “a persistent reading” that has presented Daoism as “passive, quietistic, negative, naturalistic (as opposed to humanistic), escapist, pessimistic, and so on” (Ames, 1981, p.  23; Hall and Ames, 2000, p.  86).6 His objection arises from a (Confucian) presumption that the reality of the world is indubitably masculine, and that the feminine outlook on the world boils down to a retreat from the world. In recognizing elements of feminine characteristics in the Daodejing, Ames tries to determine them as a negative compensatory means for the masculine purposes or as an antidote to the imbalance in the human world. According to Ames, these references to femininity have to be understood in light of a positive Daoist ideal of the consummate human being who is paradigmatically androgynous. In this human being, “the masculine and feminine gender traits are integrated in some harmonious and balanced relationship” (Ames, 1981, p.  43). This equilibrium and harmony is achieved by mean of reconciliation of the tension between these two opposites. Ames once calls his reading a “reconciliation reading”



(Hall and Ames, 2000, p.  87). This epithet is to be understood against his idea that in the West opposite terms such as masculinity and femininity are dualistic and diametrically opposed to each other, which finds reconciliation in the Chinese tradition of correlative thinking. In view of the fact that Ames’s ideas are consonant with other variant interpretations of classical Chinese thinking in general and of Daoist thinking in particular (or derivatively) as exemplifying a predominantly complementary/compensatory mentality, I think the more suitable epithet for his interpretation is “correlative reading.” Ames assumes that this reading corrects what he sees as the bias of Needham’s construal by assigning allegedly equal significance to the masculine and the feminine. In order to consolidate his “correlative reading,” Ames tries to downplay the role of mother (mu 母), which occurs seven times in five chapters from the Daodejing, and once in the Taiyi Shengshui.7 In comparison with the fact that the word for father never appears, the frequency of the occurrence of mu is impressive and bewildering.8 In addition, mu is the only word in the Daodejing, among other words for the feminine, that never occurs in relation to what is assumed to be her opposite, the word fu. Incontrovertibly this attests to the primacy Laozi lays upon the feminine. Ames attempts to minimize the importance of the figure of mother by describing her as an “impregnated woman,” which for him means “a union of the masculine and the feminine” (Hall and Ames, 2000, p. 87). I have two objections to this reduction. First, that a woman is in pregnancy does not detract from her femininity at all. The capacity and actuality of motherhood is not what alone warrants a woman to be addressed as mu. In the Western Zhou dynasty (1059–771 BC), when a young girl became of age, she would adopt a style name that ended with the word mu, just as an adult man had a style name that ended with fu. The word mu had the same use as the word for woman, nü.9 Hence, mu is not necessarily a woman in actual pregnancy. Furthermore, a pregnant woman may manifest most fully such feminine characteristics as softness and caring. Attempts at diminishing the femininity of a pregnant woman to the advantage of masculine elements run the risk in the first place of reducing woman to a means of producing progeny, the son (who is masculine). Second, Ames draws out from the figure of an impregnated woman a reference to the masculine on the ground of modern knowledge about procreation, that is, man produces the sperm while woman offers the egg and womb. However, this is not how procreation was conceived in ancient times. In quite a number of Chinese classics, one can find the saying that people “only knew the mother, and did not know the father.”10 Presumably, this is because people only saw the delivery of babies from the body of woman. The figure of mother is endowed with unique importance. Among all the chapters in the Daodejing where mu occurs, she is always presented as the origin, source, and guardian of the ten thousand things, instead of as a literally impregnated woman. The only place where mu seems to be a feeding mother occurs in a verse from chapter  20, which has been commonly translated as, “I alone am different from others, and value being fed (si 食) by the mother.” Nevertheless, some commentators point out that the word si has been wrongly transcribed. In its place there should actually be another word: de 得.11 Thus, the verse should read, “I alone am

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different from others, and value acquiring the mother.” It echoes another verse from chapter 52, “When you acquire the mother, you can know her progeny.” This central significance of mu, which cannot be leveled off to a discourse of complementarity, is in congruity with the principle of abiding by the feminine/female. The third reading of the feminine originated from Hanfeizi’s (韓非子 ca. 280– 233 BC) classical interpretation of the Daodejing, which maintains that the ci-based techniques are invoked for the purpose of accomplishing the xiong-inspired end of political control. Hence I call this approach a “political reading.” Liu Xiaogan is the most well-known current advocate of this reading. His explication of Laozi’s verses related to the feminine proceeds primarily from a consideration of how to govern the world (Liu, 2006, pp.  140–43).12 Liu insists that the principle of “abiding by the female” is a piece of admonishment to men, who are strong and who are the rulers. It is for the purpose of successfully handling social and political affairs in the world that this principle should be upheld (Liu, 2006, p. 318). Such a “political reading” takes for granted that the objectives and the agents of action are masculine in essence, while feminine virtues are invoked insofar as they can serve as strategies for achieving the ultimate goal. According to Liu, when a woman came into power in rare cases, as an agent of action she has become masculine (Liu, 2006, p. 717). This assertion is not convincing, at least it does not take into account the fact that Mulan (mentioned in the first section) has been persistently and emphatically called Ci Mulan in the abundant versions of traditional drama. It is precisely her femininity that gives special interest to what she has achieved. Not only “political reading” but also “correlative reading” presupposes a consensus that endeavors and achievements in the world, which are often masqueraded as “the positive and the neutral,” are masculine in their essence and do not belong to the feminine.13 On the other hand, Needham’s “naturalist reading” provides us with guidance for a more adequate and solid account of the cosmological/metaphysical significance of the feminine. Let us now turn to a detailed examination of the water metaphor, which is the starting point as well as the general context of the naturalistic reading.

IV.  THE PERVASIVENESS OF THE WATER METAPHOR IN THE DAODEJING Researchers from the generation of Joseph Needham to that of Sarah Allan cannot but marvel at the prominent role of water in the Daodejing, and they are unanimous in acknowledging a necessary connection between the symbolism of water and the feminine.14 For Needham, the water metaphor indicates an orientation toward nature, which sets store by a passive receptiveness. The pervasiveness of the water metaphor constitutes the milieu wherein the primordiality of the feminine finds its articulation. First, water is frequently invoked in delineating Dao. Chapter  4 states: “Dao constantly flushes and sprays [chong 沖], and yet use will never drain it. As deep as a spring [yuan 淵], it seems to be the origin of the ten thousand things [wanwu 萬物] . . . so clear and yet profound [zhan 湛], it only seems to persist.”15 Dao comports itself



in the same manner as water does. It flows ceaselessly like a persistent and profound stream that brings forth the ten thousand things without trying to possess them. For this reason, it is forever nourishing and can never be exhausted. In chapter 32, the way of Dao is compared to small creeks flowing into rivers and seas. Chapter 34 exclaims, “How Dao flows! Left and right it takes its course at ease . . . Ten thousand things are allegiant to it, and yet it does not make a proprietary claim.” Water does not have any determinate form, so it can easily fit itself to whatever channel available in order to make its way in all directions. That is why it can be constant and embrace all the sources without aiming to be their master. The way of Dao remains the same as the way of water. As chapter 62 reiterates, “Dao is the flowing together [zhu 注] of the ten thousand things.” Second, despite its important beneficiary role, water always lies modestly in a lower position and does not enter into contention with other things. Chapter  8 states: “The highest good is like water. Water is good in that it benefits ten thousand things but yet vies to dwell in places loathed by people. Therefore it comes closest to Dao . . . Just because it does not enter into contention, it incurs no misfortune.” In chapter 61, taking a lower position is connected with both water and pin 牝, which originally refers to a female animal: A large state is the lower reaches of a river—The place where all the streams of the world unite. In the union of the world, the female (pin) always gets the better of the male by stillness. Being still, she takes the lower position. Hence the large state, by taking the lower position, annexes the small state. The way in which a large state annexes other states is here described as tolerant and submissive, instead of aggressive and militant. Third, although water is soft and weak and thus seems powerless, it always prevails over what is strong. This finds expression in chapter 78: Nothing under the heaven is more soft and weak than water, and yet none can surpass it in overcoming what is hard and strong. That the soft prevails over the hard, and the weak prevails the strong, there is nobody under the heaven who has no idea about it. However, no one is capable of doing accordingly. Chapter 43 explicates: “What is softest under the heaven rides roughshod over what is the hardest. What is almost nothing can penetrate what looks seamless. This is how I know taking no coercive action [wuwei 無為] is beneficial.” It can be recognized that “what is almost nothing” alludes to water. In the natural world, only water can seep through invisible crevices. In the Taiyi Shengshui, water plays a most important role in the cosmological formation: The Great One (taiyi 太一) gives birth to water. Water returns to persistently assist the Great One, and thus forms the sky. The sky returns to assist the Great One, and thus forms the earth . . . Therefore the Great One remains concealed in water and moves according to appropriate time. Completing a cycle, [the Great One] starts over again, making herself the mother of the ten thousand things. (Henricks, 2000, p. 123)16

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Water is where the Great One conceals itself; thus, water is almost co-originary with the Great One. If one takes the Great One to be a synonym of Dao, which is the mother of the ten thousand things, then this passage seems to provide a cosmological background for the prevalent presence of the water metaphor in the Daodejing. Before concluding this section, I shall make a few remarks on yin 陰. Originally, yin refers to the side of a mountain against the sun; while its correlate word yang 陽 refers to the side of a mountain in the sun. They are often connected with two things or two sides of a thing that are supposed to bear an opposite or complementary relation: moon and sun, night and day, coldness and warmth, earth and sky, woman and man, down and up, and so on. However, I tend to say that femininity as symbolized in terms of yin in the yinyang model is susceptible to the criticism that it serves merely as an abstract category, which is not the case with ci and pin, both of which denote a female living being. Yin occurs only once in the Daodejing: “The myriad things shoulder the yin and embrace the yang; blending the qi 氣, they attain harmony” (chapter 42). It seems that an idea of complementarity of yin and yang is embodied here; hence Ames cites this passage as a key support for his “correlative reading” (Hall and Ames, 2000, p. 87). But this verse lends to an asymmetrical reading as well: Since yin is shouldered and thus is situated high above yang, it has a more respectful position than yang. Liu, the strongest advocate for the political reading, refrains from trying to appropriate this verse for his exegeses. Instead, he claims that that yin and yang in the Laozi does not bear on women and men, because this pair of words are closely bound up with natural phenomena and thus are too abstract and general to be associated with the human sphere (Liu, 2006, p. 587). We can find support for Liu’s claims in the Taiyi Shengshui, where yin appears five times together with yang. In continuation with the cosmogony in that text, it is said that the sky and earth mutually assist each other, and thus form the spiritual (shen 神) and numinous (ming 明). The spiritual and numinous assist each another, and thus produce yin and yang. Yin and yang assist each other, and thus produce the four seasons. The eternal movement of the Great One, who makes herself the mother of ten thousand things, is not something that yin and yang can bring to closure (Henricks, 2000, pp. 123–24). It is clear that in the Taiyi Shengshui, yin and yang assume only the fourth place in the order of cosmogony: The Great One/mother → water → the spiritual and numinous → yin and yang. It can be seen that the figure of mother and water are the most fundamental in this story of cosmological genesis. In addition, the verse containing yin and yang from chapter 42 is absent in the Guodian version. Therefore, it can be assumed that this sole occurrence of yin in the Daodejing is almost irrelevant to our interpretation of the feminine in this scripture. In the Daodejing, the ways of nature as manifest in the ways of water do not contradict the way of the human world. Rather, they serve as the ethical paradigm that humans should follow: staying in the lower position, not entering into contention, and acting noncoercively. The truth of this becomes more obvious in view of the fact that it is actually the human world that tends to be violent and coercive. The natural world manifests a feminine, rather than a masculine, way of being. The feminine is



not only the source of certain human values such as “gentleness,” but the origin of the whole world, of the ten thousand things. The feminine prevails over the masculine, the hard, and the strong. Nevertheless, this is achieved not through the masculine way of straightforward contention, but through the feminine way of adaptation and flexibility, just as water silently drips into stone drilling a hole in it, and finally dissolves the whole piece of stone. The “triumph” of the feminine cannot be simply explained as a reversal of the status of masculinity and femininity within the same masculine paradigm of contention. What is transformed is the paradigm itself or, rather, a new feminine paradigm emerges.

V.  THE PRINCIPLE OF ABIDING BY THE FEMININE/FEMALE I shall argue, against the correlative and the political readings, that the feminine occupies a central place in the Daodejing. This centrality is not to be defined in relation to the masculine, either in terms of a presumably harmonious and complementary relation, or in terms of mutual contradiction and distinctiveness from one another, or in terms of a combination of both facets. I shall bring D. C. Lau’s insight regarding the relation of opposites to bear upon the theme of the feminine. In his article “The Treatment of Opposites in Lao Tzu,” Lau raises objections to the usual assumption regarding the relation between two parties of a pair of opposites in the Daodejing. The typical opposite terms he gives as examples are short (duan 短) and long (chang 長), soft (rou 柔) and hard (gang 剛), weak (ruo 弱) and strong (qiang 強), and he calls the first words in each pair the “lower” terms and the second words the “higher” terms (Lau, 1958, p. 344). I shall employ his phrases for the sake of facility of discussion. Lau’s thesis is set forth in opposition to what I would call a “quasi-Hegelian dialectical reading” of the Daodejing. Scholars such as Feng Youlan, Yang Kuan, Yang Rongguo, and Hu Shi have described the movements between two opposite terms as a circular process, in which each term transforms into its opposite by reversion, conquering, or generation. Lau claims that these scholars have mistakenly assimilated the implication of apparently similar passages from the Laozi to that in the Yijing (ibid., p. 351). Lau admits that, in the Yijing, there are pairs of terms that signify movement in opposite directions, and these two kinds of movement together form a cycle and so suggest a process of circular change. However, what can be ascribed to the Laozi is not more than this: “When a thing develops to the higher limit, it will necessarily reverse and begin to decline, but it is not stated that when a thing is at, or reaches, the lower limit, it will necessarily develop all the way to the higher limit” (ibid., p. 353).17 Hence, what is necessary is only one specific movement called return (fu 復) or reversion (fan 返), which is from the higher limit to the lower limit. On the other hand, there is not a telos engrained in the lower terms that would necessitate a movement toward the higher terms. Therefore, such a process of circular change as found in the Yijing does not exist between the lower and higher terms.

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The formulation of Lau’s thesis is not focused upon the opposite of ci and xiong. However, his insight applies very well, perhaps the best, to this opposite. As a matter of fact, Lau has assumed that the primordiality of the feminine is a very self-evident and indisputable idea embodied in the Daodejing. In citing “know the male, abide by the female” from chapter 28, he describes “valuing the soft” and “abiding by the soft” as the “best authenticated theory” that can be attributed to Laozi. In order to support this view, he cites comments from the Zhuangzi, Xunzi 《荀子》, and Lüshi Chunqiu 《吕氏春秋》, which unanimously state that Laozi values the soft (ibid., p. 349). Lau uses this very principle as vindication for his thesis concerning the noncircular nature of the movements between opposite terms. He argues, If all things undergo a perpetual course of circular change, from the lower to the higher and from the higher to the lower, the injunction “abide by the soft” becomes idle advice . . . Indeed it will be impossible to abide by anything, for everything will inexorably change to its opposite. In other words in a world of ceaseless change, one cannot stop but has to move with the stream, and in such a world it will be futile to give advice as to what one should abide by. (Lau, 1958, pp. 349–50) Lau’s explication helps us appreciate Laozi’s accentuation upon the lower terms. Another significant point Lau makes bears upon the statement that the soft and weak overcome the hard and strong (chapters 36, 43, 78). In accordance with the assumption of circular process, the soft would become the strong when it overcomes the latter. Lau argues that the lower and higher terms are not two sides internal to a logical unity, which refer to whatever side that is at an advantageous or disadvantageous position. This is because, if this should be the case, then there is not a definitive soft side that we can abide by. For Lau, the conflict between the lower and higher is “an external conflict between one thing which is weak and another thing which is strong” (ibid., p. 350). The opposite terms in the Daodejing are not two sides internal to a thing within its own unity, but are externally recognizable and determinable. A correlative reading of the figuration of the feminine tends to treat femininity and masculinity as two sides within a single unity and thus has the danger of neutralizing and obscuring the thrust of Laozi’s verses concerning the central importance of the feminine. Furthermore, Lau points out that the victory of the soft over the hard is not one in the ordinary sense, but is true victory. The soft always preserves itself by means of noncontention (buzheng 不爭) [and letting-it-be (wuwei 無為)] and is not visited by defeat in turn, while the victor in the ordinary sense will surely meet her/his match some day and be defeated at last.18 A good textual support for Lau’s point, I think, can be found in chapter 43: “The softest thing in the world can ride roughshod over the hardest in the world . . . That is why I know the benefit of letting-it-be.” Laozi does not state that abiding by the soft is ultimately at the service of the hard, or of becoming the hard. Therefore, the principle of abiding by the soft/feminine is not set forth as a means to an end for the hard/male. In this light, the political reading of the feminine misses Laozi’s point.



By employing lucid and perceptive arguments, Lau leads us to see the unique character of the relation between the opposite terms in the Daodejing as distinguished from the Yijing. He shows us that it is wrong to ascribe a nondifferential model of cyclical change to the Daodejing. Rather, such lower terms as the soft, the weak, and the feminine receive emphases in their own terms. The admonition of abiding by the female can by no means been interpreted as a strategy for attaining masculine purposes. Instead, it must be appreciated in its own right.

Vi.  DIFFERING COMPORTMENTS TOWARD CI AND XIONG Chapter 28 famously claims, “Know [zhi 知] the male/masculine, yet abide by [shou 守] the female/feminine, and be a river gorge to the world.” It cannot be taken for granted that the masculine and the feminine receive the same degree of importance in the Daodejing. In this section I explicate this asymmetry in terms of the different senses of the words zhi and shou. It will transpire that the meaning of zhi stands on a completely different plane from that of shou such that a relation of complementarity cannot be ascribed to them. It is widely held that in Daoist thinking zhi as rational knowledge is thoroughgoingly depreciated and resisted. Chapter  19 admonishes, “Cut off sagacity and abandon knowledge; this would benefit the people a hundredfold.” Chapter 3 describes the administration by the sage as “keeping people innocent of knowledge and free from desire.” Chapter  10 states, “Loving people and breathing life into the state, are you able to achieve this without recourse to knowledge? When the gates of heaven open and shut, are you capable of abiding by the female (ci)?” Notice here that the admonishment of abiding by the female parallels a critique of recourse to knowledge. That knowledge has negative associations finds confirmation in its etymology. The composition of 知 is an arrow on the left side and a mouth on the right side. Thus, it has a sense of something coming straight out of the mouth as speedy as an arrow. What can be quickly committed to words is susceptible to superficiality, rashness, and even crudity. Quite a number of central ideas from the Daodejing are unanimously phrased in terms of shou. For instance, chapter 5: “Much speech leads inevitably to silence. Better hold fast [shou] to the void”; chapter 16: “I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly [shou] to stillness.” What is still is the female, and it is what should be adhered to. What merits particular attention is chapter 52, which is another place where zhi appears in contrast to shou: The world has a beginning, which is considered to be the mother of the world. When you acquire the mother, you can know [zhi] her progeny [zi 子]. When you have known her progeny, you return to abide by [shou] the mother. Then to the end of your days you will not be visited by danger . . . To see the small is called discernment; To hold fast [shou] to the soft is called strength.

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The privilege is unequivocally ascribed to shou, and zhi obviously belongs to another order. The significance of the mother resonates with that of the soft. The meaning of shou can also be confirmed by its etymology. 守 consists of a house at the top and a measure below. Thus, it has a sense of duty, post, principle, and the verbal sense “to preserve, to safeguard.” An extended meaning of shou is moral integrity, as reflected in such words as caoshou 操守 and chishou 持守. The message of chapter  52 can be better appreciated in connection with the famous verse “Reversing is how Dao moves; Weakening is how Dao functions” from chapter  40. One can acquire all varieties of knowledge about the world as symbolized by progeny in chapter  52; but one should be aware that what makes knowledge possible in the first place is the feminine, or the mother. Therefore, when one acquires knowledge, one cannot remain content with it, but needs to take a reversal to abide by the feminine, by the soft and weak; that is to say, to remain in a lower position just as a “river gorge,” to conduct noncoercively, and to not enter into contention, in order to be receptive of the ten thousand things. In chapter 52, the progeny [zi] is juxtaposed with the mother [mu] in terms of a contrast between zhi and shou. This juxtaposition hints as to how one should appreciate the asymmetry between ci and xiong in chapter 28. Just as there is no suggestion that zi and mu be considered as complementary, there is tenuous ground for regarding ci and xiong as a pair of complementarity. Xiong originally refers to a male animal. Here the emphasis falls upon such characteristics as restlessness and strength of a male animal, as contrasted with the stillness and softness of a female animal.19 Ci is the ultimate condition of xiong, just as the river gorge can embrace all the things in the world, and just as the mother is the source of the ten thousand things. In chapter  10, ci appears without any reference to xiong. Since the idea expressed there keeps to the same line as in that in chapter 28, the verses in the latter chapter make perfect sense without any reference to xiong. Before concluding this section, I discuss the import of the figure of “babe” as feminine, and the asymmetry of pin versus mu2. The verses that follow xiong and ci run: “Being a river gorge, Then the constant efficacious power [de 德] would not desert you; And you would return to being a babe [yinger 嬰兒].” I suggest that the figure of babe resonates with the figure of the female. This resonance comes out more directly in chapter 10: ‘In concentrating your breath, can you become as soft as a babe? . . . When the gates of heaven open and shut, are you capable of keeping to the female (wei ci 為雌)?” Being as soft as a babe parallels being as weak as the female. It is from this vision that we need to interpret yet another occurrence of babe in chapter 55: “One who has an abundance of virtue (de 德) is like a newborn babe: . . . It has not known the union of female (pin 牝) and male (mu2 牡), but its organs get aroused.”20 It is true that pin and mu2 in this particular case are mentioned with a reference to sexual intercourse as a mundane happening, but this is only one aspect of the picture. The mutuality of pin and mu2 is used to foreground the more general focus on the figure of babe as feminine in its character, whose “bones are weak and its sinews supple,” and whose “harmony is at its height.” In other chapters where pin occurs, the priority of the feminine always receives accentuation. Chapter  61 states: ‘In the union of the world, the female (pin 牝)



always gets the better of the male (mu2 牡) by stillness.” Chapter 6 has: “The spirit of the valley never dies. This is called the mysterious female (pin 牝). The gateway of the mysterious female is called the root of heaven and earth.” This explicit emphasis on the pin is consonant with that on ci. Although the word ci occurs only twice in chapters 10 and 28 in the Daodejing, the idea of shou ci has a sustained influence upon later development of Daoist philosophy. “Know the male” means that one should not remain complacent with and abide by the masculine, since that is doomed to failure.21 When one obtains masculine knowledge, one needs to return to and abide by the more fundamental feminine comportment that shows how Dao functions. One should not eclipse the import of the primordiality of the feminine in terms of either correlative or political reading.

VII.  CONCLUDING REMARKS In the Daoist thinking, because ci, originally referring to birds, remains at a remove from gender as bound up with specific social roles, it does not exert restrictions upon woman in terms of a fixed set of expectations. Hence, the Dao of ci has a much wider range of relevance and thus has sustained the vicissitudes of time. This significance originated from and is foregrounded in the Daodejing. It is a Dao that can be abided not only by women, but also by men. At the same time, because of its disposal of fixed gender roles, women were allowed the freedom of pursuing spiritual ideals other than fulfilling duties of social function. This is why in the Daoist religion, among all religions in China, there is the least prejudice against women. Neither is ci determined in terms of biological anatomy. Ci figures out in the forms of life where softness, passivity, and gentleness come to pass. The determination of the feminine does not hinge upon physiological facts and thus sexual difference does not present itself as an absolute essentialist division. Since “creatures act as female or male by themselves,” what identifies ci bears affinity, to an extent, with Butler’s re-definition of gender in terms of performativity.22 Such a fashion of identification provides a theoretical basis for explaining the possibility and actuality of what is now called same-sex loving relationships. It seems that the resources from the Daodejing support Butler’s idea that not only gender but also sex is a social construction. Nevertheless, because the notion of gender has been heavily involved in theoretical complexity and suffered from difficulties in feasibility, it is better to keep our eyes open for a new category for the feminine in order to advance the enterprise of philosophical feminism. I claim that the Dao of ci suggests itself as such a category that keeps us alert to the artificiality of “gender” and “sex” as usually conceived. Meanwhile, ci lends itself much less to deconstructive readings than these notions. In the Daodejing, ci unambiguously receives privilege, which cannot be rendered as a symmetrical correlate to xiong. Shou ci is situated at a completely different level than zhi xiong. These two can never be seen as complementary principles. The

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Dao of ci assumes an asymmetrical importance, such that it is not at all coincidental that Needham discerns from Chapter 28 “analogies with Goethe’s ewig weibliche” (Needham, 1956, p.  59). We cannot obscure the significance of the Dao of ci by reading shou ci as a filling up a lack of zhi xiong. The Daoist thinking on the feminine is grounded in an ontology wherein the true way of being is feminine. This does not mean that there are no “masculine” traits or that there is no distinction between feminine and masculine values. It suggests that the latter is subject to the feminine paradigm of noncontention. It is only against the general picture of the Dao of ci that the masculine can have any import. Chapter  36 states, “The soft and weak is superior than the hard and strong. Fish cannot survive when it goes outside water. The sharpest instruments of a state cannot be shown to others.” What is masculine cannot survive without relying on the feminine milieu of being, just as fish would soon decease when it leaves water. Feminine ways of being are most fundamental and therefore always take precedence. In addition, just as fish can flourish only by modestly dwelling in deep water, a state can attain peaceful existence only by adhering to the Dao of ci, instead of rashly resorting to sharp instruments. Such labels as equality, mutuality, complementarity, or androgyny become applicable only with a prior confirmation of an ontology in which the superiority and asymmetry of the Dao of ci, which consist in softness and noncontention, is recognized as an articulation of the way of the ten thousand things. Such a philosophy is not only a philosophy of the feminine, but also, and more importantly, a philosophy in the feminine.

NOTES 1. Since the transliterations of 牡 and 母 are the same, I use mu2 for 牡. I shall discuss yin 陰 in the next section. 2. In this contribution references of well-known classics are normally given by chapter numbers. I have translated the Chinese texts on the basis of existing renditions when available. 3. Erya jinzhu《爾雅今註》, (Tianjin 天津:Nankai daxue chubanshe 南開大學出版 社,1987), 17.75, p. 329. 4. Consulted online at: 5. Cited from Yuefu shiji 《樂府詩集》, vol. 2 (Beijing 北京: Zhonghuashuju 中華書局, 1979), p. 374. 6. Ames’s characterization is retained in Hall and Ames (2000). I shall sometimes cite from the text of 2000 as the updated formulation of Ames’s position. 7. Cf. Robert G. Henricks (2000, p. 123, and p. 125). 8. Chapter 42 has “I shall take this as my precept (jiaofu 教甫).” In the Mawangdui version, the word fu is written as 父, which usually means “father.” But in ancient times, fu was often used to address a man, and did not necessarily mean “father.” 9. Cf. Yang Kuan 楊寬 (1999, pp. 776–79). 10. See Lü Buwei呂不韋, Lüshi Chunqiu《呂氏春秋》(The Annals of Master Lü), chapter 117. Also see Zhuangzi, chapter 29.



11. Cf. Gao Heng 高亨 (2004), Gao Heng Zhuzuo Jilin 《高亨著作集林》 (Complete Works by Gao Heng) (Beijing: Qinghua Daxue Chubanshe 清華大學出版社), vol. 5, p. 87. 12. Liu Xiaogan 劉笑敢 (2006). In an earlier contribution Liu stresses that the Daodejing is “a work written by men for men to read,” and that the references to femininity in the Daodejing have nothing to do with women in real life and therefore cannot make immediate contribution to feminism. See Liu Xiaogan (2003), “關於《老子》之雌性比 喻的詮釋問題 (On Interpretations of the Female Metaphors in the Laozi,”《中國文哲研 究集刊》 (Bulletin of the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy), 23: 179–209. 13. This is the famous phrase by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex, trans. H. M. Parshley (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), p. xxvii. 14. See Needham (1956, pp. 57–61); Sarah Allan (1997), The Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue (New York: State University of New York). 15. For the English translation, I have consulted various renditions, including Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall (2003), Daodejing “Making This Life Significant” (New York: Ballantine Books); Din Cheuk Lau (1963), Tao Te Ching (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press); and Michael Lafargue (1992), The Tao of the Tao Te Ching: A Translation and Commentary (Albany: State University of New York Press). Some versions of the Daodejing have the word chong from chapter 4 as 盅, which thus was translated as “empty.” The Mawangdui B version has 沖, which shares with the other two characters yuan 淵 and zhan 湛 the same root 氵that denotes water. The Shuowen Jiezi thus explains chong: “to flush and to spray (yongyaoye 涌摇也).” http:// 16. Henricks (2000, p. 123); translation modified. 17. Emphasis original. 18. Cf. Lau (1958, p. 356). 19. Cf. He Rongyi 賀榮一 (1994), Daodejing Zhuyi yu Xijie 《道德經注譯與析解》 (Tianjin 天津: Baihua Wenyi Chubanshe 百花文藝出版社), pp. 211–12. 20. Most translations have “male/man and female/woman” according to the custom in Western languages. I have restored the order of the female and the male according to the original (pin mu2 牝牡). 21. As He Rongyi elucidates, to “abide by the female” suggests that one should not abide by the male, and that one should abandon restlessness and hold fast to stillness. See, He (1994, p. 211). 22. Zhuangzi, chapter 14.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Ames, Roger T. (1981), “Taoism and the Androgynous Ideal,” in Richard W. Guisso and Stanley Johannesen (eds.), Women in China. Youngstown, NY: Philo Press, pp. 21–45. Butler, Judith (2004), Undoing Gender. London/New York: Routledge. Fuss, Diana (1989), Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference. New York: Routledge.

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Gao, Heng 高亨 (2004), Gao Heng Zhuzuo Jilin (Complete Works by Gao Heng). Beijing: Qinghua Daxue Chubanshe 清華大學出版社. Hall, David L. and Roger T. Ames (2000), “Sexism, with Chinese Characteristics,” in Chenyang Li (ed.), The Sage and the Second Sex: Confucianism, Ethics, and Gender. Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court, pp. 75–95. He, Rongyi 賀榮一 (1994), Daodejing Zhuyi yu Xijie 《道德經注譯與析解》. Tianjin 天津: Baihua Wenyi Chubanshe 百花文藝出版社. Henricks, Robert G. (2000), Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: A Translation of the Startling New Documents Found at Guodian. New York: Columbia University Press. Irigaray, Luce (1985), This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter. New York: Cornell University Press. Lau, D. C. (Din Cheuk Lau) (1958), “The Treatment of Opposites in Lao Tzu,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 21 (2): 344–60. Liu, Xiaogan 劉笑敢 (2003), “關於《老子》之雌性比喻的詮釋問題 (On Interpretations of the female metaphors in the Laozi),”《中國文哲研究集刊》 (Bulletin of the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy), 23: 179–209. Liu, Xiaogan (2006), Laozi Gujin 《老子古今》 (The Laozi from Ancient Times to Today). Beijing 北京: Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Chubanshe 中國社會科學出版社. Needham, Joseph (1956), Science and Civilization in China: Volume 2, History of Scientific Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Yang, Kuan 楊寬 (1999), Xizhou Shi《西周史》 (A History of Western Zhou Dynasty). Shanghai: Shanghai Renmin Chubanshe 上海人民出版社.

Chapter Twelve

To Beget and to Forget: On the Transformative Power of the Two Feminine Images of Dao in the Laozi* galia patt-shamir

Some while ago a graduate student and a mother-to-be told me the following Jewish tale: A young man begs his mother for her heart, which his betrothed has demanded as a gift. Having torn it out of his mother’s proffered breast, he races away with it; and as he stumbles, the heart falls to the ground, and he hears it question protectively: “Did you hurt yourself, my son?”1 The image of a mother giving her life for her son and still worrying for him rather than for herself was familiar to my student from her Chinese tradition, which in no way can be considered close to Judaism. She wondered whether it implied something about the universal nature of motherhood. In this chapter I wonder if one can reason with the idea that in a deep intuitive sense in many cultures, the conceptual framework of “motherhood” challenges the definition of self-identity. More concretely, we normally connect self-identity to a sense of oneness with oneself, usually having to do with self-fulfillment and selfactualization; for example, a tree’s identity is established when the seed actualizes itself as a fully grown tree; the identity of a person is maturing into a self-sufficient adult, aware of her/himself and identifying the self as a separate individual. In general, we refer to a collection of beliefs about ouselves that embodies the answer to “Who am I?” Still, is it possible that mothers are inherently different from other creatures, such that “who one is” may be a complete yielding of oneself? Can a mother “actualize” herself by sacrificing her very self? The “paradox of motherhood” is seen from both theoretical and practical perspectives: from the former, self-effacing



contradicts self-fulfilling; from the latter, giving oneself for another is the annuling of “self.” Hence, one may ask: Does “mother” require a conceptual framework in which self-fulfilling amounts to self-effacing? How can this make sense in theory and in practice at all? Here, I would like to suggest that referring to the Dao as mother (mu 母) and mysterious female (xuanpin 玄牝) annuls the paradox. I aim to show the relatedness of self-effacing to self-fulfilling by looking into these ideas as two of the images of Dao in the Laozi. We open with a description of the images of mother and of mysterious female in the Laozi. We then move on to the mystical significance of the feminine, focusing on its transformative aspect, which instead of one sacrificing oneself opens up opportunities for development. To stress the practical-developmental aspect of the idea, a psychoanalytic perspective based on the theory of Wilfred Bion (1897– 1979) will be added. By this means I also wish to draw attention to the universal appeal of Laozi’s idea of the feminine and its contemporary relevance.

I.  THE MOTHER AND THE MYSTERIOUS FEMALE I.1. Dao as Mother Already in the first verse of the Laozi, the reader encounters the female perspective of Dao, namely that of Dao as mother. The essential ambiguity of Dao that forms a dialectics through which a gate may open, and the way can be followed, is described by the image of Dao as the mother of the myriad things. The walk toward opening a gateway to the secret of Dao unifies two opposing tendencies within Dao. First, Dao that can be “daoed” (dao kedao 道可道), the way that can be walked, described, and guided through, is revealed as “the mother” of myriad things (wanwu zhimu 萬物 之母). Second, changdao 常道 is the beginning of heaven and earth (tiandi zhishi 天地之始), through which one may reach its secrets (miao 妙). When the two paths coalesce as one mystery (xuan 玄), they open a gateway to the secrets of Dao.2 This gateway, as we will see later, is inherently connected to the feminine aspect of Dao. According to the first verse, the named mother (mu 母) and the nameless beginning (shi 始 ) can be both approached, yet they are to be approached differently, revealing different facets of the way. Without desires one may observe the secrets of the nameless beginning, yet having desires one observes the manifestations of the named mother, or as her “offspring.” Before getting back to the ending of the verse with the gateway that is opened when the two approaches are seen as one, let us take a look at this very “dual citizenship” of Dao in verse 52. This time with a hint regarding self-knowledge: The world had a beginning And this beginning could be the mother of the world. When you know the mother Go on to know the child. After you have known the child Go back to holding fast to the mother,



And to the end of your days you will not meet with danger.3 The relatedness of the way (Dao) to all under heaven is presented above as that of mother to childern, described in terms that seem closer to root and branches than to “cause and effects.” A mother, by definition, nourishes others, or at least in some senses is others, such that when the mother is known, the offspring cannot be ignored. However, knowing the offspring calls for guarding the mother, most likely “within” the offspring, as one’s heredity, behaviors, and memory. In other words, the unique identity of the mother is an identity of direct and necessary co-dependence. The important role of the mother cannot be neglected in the process of walking the way. Indeed, as verse 1 shows, the mother leads us to the limits, rather than the secrets; to being rather than non-being. Our mothers carried us in their bodies and nourished us through it when we were very young. As we grow up, our mother keeps taking care of our needs: she takes care of our health, cleanliness, nutrition, schooling and education, and later on she keeps worrying about our lives. The image of a woman who surrenders her own desires, interests, or well-being for the sake of family and for the well-being of her descendants reflects the image of a “good mother” in most if not all traditions. A philosophical puzzle of this kind may start making sense when we think of our own identities, of our minds and bodies, which used to be part of our mothers. Indeed, before I was born, I was part of my mother; as the simple biological fact teaches, the ovum which turned into me was among others within my mother’s body from the moment she was born. In fact, even before she was born “I” was in her DNA, in her mother’s body, in her mother’s mother’s, and so on. An identity of a mother is a strange issue to deal with, since it contradicts the very notion of self-identity, and Laozi shows, through delicate hints, the mother in each born creature. Naturally, we do not perceive our mothers (or the mothers of others) as mysterious; they are extremely earthy; yet verse 51 treats these earthy motherly attributes of Dao as related to the “mysterious virtue” (xuande 玄德): Thus the way gives them life; Virtue rears them; Things give them shape; Circumstances bring them to maturity. It gives them life yet claims no possession; It benefits them yet exacts no gratitude; It is the steward yet exercises no authority. Such is called the mysterious virtue. The way is analogous to mother in the sense that it is fully responsible for being (you 有). It gives life, rears, brings up, nurses, nourishes, shelters, and brings about maturity, like a mother who nourishes her offspring before they take shape, when they are still part of her own body, then nurses them and brings them to maturity, maintaining her offspring before overspreading them without claim of possession, gratitude, or authority. Importantly, the fact that in terms of identity, one’s offspring are second only to one’s own body does not affect one’s view that they do not belong to one. This motherly practice is also a mysterious virtue.



An interesting perspective regarding the mother arises in the description of the unique simplicity and possibly the loneliness of the person of Dao in verse 20: The multitude are joyous As if partaking of the offering Or going up to a terrace in spring. I alone am inactive and reveal no signs, And wax without having reached the limit. Like a baby that has not yet learned to smile, Listless as though with no home to go back to. The multitude all have more than enough. I alone seem to be in want. My mind is that of a fool—how blank! Vulgar people are clear. I alone am drowsy. Vulgar people are alert. I alone am muddled. Calm like the sea; Like a high wind that never ceases. The multitude all have a purpose. I alone am foolish and uncouth. I alone am different from others And value being fed by the mother. While others look satisfied and pleased, as if enjoying a banquet, this person alone seems weak and still, with no indication of their presence; like an infant who has not yet smiled, gloomy and lost and having nowhere to come back to. Unlike others with more than enough, this person seems to have lost everything, with the heart of a dolt in a state of chaos, dull and confused, like a turbulent sea, drifting as if there is nowhere to rest, dull and incapable. The harsh description, however, ends with a morsel of hope: “I alone am different from others, and value being fed by the mother,” the mother who nurses and gives power and justification. Lin Ma stresses that as the term mu in the Laozi is never related to an opposite (such as father), it shows the primacy of the feminine (Ma, 2009, p. 272).4 Yet her offspring, who as we just read can be seen as her counterpart, who is known by knowing her as if they are one, is described in completely different terms. The offspring is quiet, motionless, murky, and dark. In fact, this offspring reminds one of the other female aspect of Dao.

I.2. Dao as Mysterious Female The first occurrence of the “mysterious female” (xuanpin 玄牝) appears in Laozi 6: The spirit of the valley never dies. This is called the mysterious female. The gateway of the mysterious female Is called the root of heaven and earth.



Dimly visible, it seems as if it were there, Yet use will never drain it. “The spirit of the valley” is the valley-less interior of the valley. It has no shape or shadow, no objection or insubordination. It lies down and doesn’t move; it preserves its stillness and never ends. By its own nature of being an open “container” the valley is accomplished, yet no one can see its shape. This according to the Laozi is ultimate existence, called “mysterious female.” Its opening, or gateway (men 門) is its very self-definition, hence called “the root of heaven and earth” (tiandigen 天地根). Wang Bi’s concern with the mystery of life brings him to see the power of wu 無 to enable transformation and change: since Dao is neither concrete existence nor concrete nonexistence as a “beginning,” it must be at the same time the mother of things, which brings them up, and nurses them, makes them secure and stable. The gateway in verse 6 is where the mysterious female comes from. Its root is at the gate and its body is one with its boundaries, therefore it is called “the root of heaven and earth.” Can one say it exists?—its shape cannot be seen. Can one say it does not exist?—the myriad things come out of it. Hence “it seems as if it were there.” Since everything is accomplished but it never makes an effort for it, “use will never drain them.” The female is connected with the low, the mysterious, the infinite and inexhaustible, and with having a gateway. As we have seen, one can underestimate the value of the gateway in the Laozi, as we read in verse 10: When carrying on your head your perplexed bodily soul Can you embrace in your arms the One and not let go? In concentrating your breath can you become as supple As a babe? Can you polish your mysterious mirror And leave no blemish? Can you love the people and govern the state Without resorting to action? When the gates of heaven open and shut Are you capable of keeping to the role of the female? While one’s bodily soul (po 魄) is perplexed with the many, one is counseled to embrace the one, and be like a newborn, with no plans or thoughts from within, with no tasks and duties from without. While the mind is presented as a mirror, one is asked to polish its darkness and leave it clear and ready for containing. Loving the people and governing the state call for immediacy of action “ without resorting to action,” namely, an action of nonreflecting thought, or not-knowing (wuzhi 無 知). The gates of heaven are those from which the world arises; they open and shut in times of order and chaos. Sometimes they open and sometimes they close, and the rule is transferred to the world. The female responds, yet does not lead, she is activated and does not initiate. The Laozi seems to suggest that if we, regardless of our gender, can be female when the gates of heaven open and shut, namely, if we can respond to heaven, then we will always find our appropriate place. It turns out that the mysterious female annuls herself not in the sense of sacrificing herself but in the



sense of being able to make way for others. The apparent paradox that for women self-identity is in fact self-sacrificing is thus resolved in the Laozian philosophical position such that being female, as yin, enables both male and female. One may wonder about the possibility to realize the female ideal, which the Laozi sets for its readers. In fact, the great historian Sima Qian gives us a clue about Laozi’s self-realization in this respect: Laozi cultivated Dao and its virtue. He taught that one should efface oneself and be without fame in the world. He lived under the Zhou dynasty . . . Thereupon Laozi wrote a book in two sections dealing with Dao and its virtue. It had more than five thousand words. Then he left, and nobody knows what became of him. (Sima Qian, Shiji, ch. 63)5 According to Sima Qian, Laozi taught how to be female. Moreover, in teaching the way and virtue as effacing oneself and renouncing fame, then yielding and disappearing, he definitely succeeded in being female. Thus the ongoing dispute over the authorship of the work is the living proof of Laozi’s losing identity but gaining Dao. In this case this effacing does not amount to sacrificing oneself for others, but rather is fulfilling oneself. As suggested in verse 23, “those who follow the way are the same as the way.”6 In this way, according to “his” ideas, the one who cultivates Dao loses every distinguishing characteristic of the self. According to Laozi, effacing oneself is a way to be in the world. Laozi, who disappeared, leaving nobody behind to tell what became of him, to praise his person, to admire his achievement, and appreciate his gift for others, is no longer a “he.” Laozi has no concrete biography since he turned back, annulled himself, and left the book and the way. However, Laozi as Dao is female and enables transformation; as mother he is still nourishing us all. Perhaps for this reason Laozi 21 refers to the way, again by means of an extremely feminine image, perhaps an image of a selfless embryo in a selfless womb: Shadowy and indistinct. Indistinct and shadowy, Yet within it is an image.

I.3. Selflessness, Oneness, Transformation: Laozi’s Practical Mysticism In her work of mysticism, Livia Kohn stresses the experience of selflessness as Oneness, which is the core of mystical experience. Kohn refers to the cosmic sense that is revealed in human beings who undergo this experience: “In the end, the individual loses all sense of personal consciousness. He or she feels at one with the absolute agent or force . . . The old self is gone. A cosmic self is found” (Kohn, 1992, p. 21). Indeed, according to the Laozi we cannot assume that heaven moves according to heavenly law and humans according to “human” law, which is essentially different. The dark, mysterious, female necessarily represents a unity of the natural order of chaos (hundun 混沌). Verses such as 18 or 38 in the Laozi highlight the



unfortunate outcome of distinguishing and thus falling from unity to differentiation, from spontaneity to paradigms, from natural chaos to civilized disorder (luan 亂). The practical outcome of breaking this unity is introduced metaphorically in the Zhuangzi’s famous story about hundun’s death. While hundun is apparently a female representation of perfection, when human beings wanted to endow it with something, they could have thought about nothing except their own image. Wishing to replicate themselves as a gift for hundun, they were unable to forget their own selves; they were unable to truly give, or truly be a mother. Originally, hundun lacked nothing; it was one and perfect, with no individuation. Hundun, therefore, was the ultimate host, who had room for everyone, who was complete responsiveness. It was nothing—at least nothing “in particular.”7 The mystical message of hundun is that world and life are one, and we are our lives. The acts of organizing and setting our lives by means of the metaphorical acts of carving, shaping, and imitating necessarily distance us from reality. The tricky point is to be human, to see, hear, speak, and smell without killing our own “hunduns,” or to yield without disappearing. This is what mysticism is about. When Laozi 12 says “the five colors make man’s eye blind; the five notes make his ears deaf,” it refers to this “chaotic” mysticism. The process one goes through is indeed a process of lessening; but this lessening does not necessarily mean the removal of sense-perception. Hansen is thus taking into account the Chinese worship of nature, therefore rejecting any idea of sense-skepticism (Hansen, 1992, p. 226). Roth, who sees mysticism as “removing the normal contents of the mind: sense perception, desire, the emotions, knowledge and scheming” (Roth, 1999a, p. 74), interprets verse 12 of the Laozi: “The activities of the senses . . . must be set aside if one is to make any kind of progress in inner cultivation” (Roth, 1999a, p. 73). According to the present suggestion, with regard to the way as mother and mysterious female both are right: as mother the senses are not removed, as female they are suspended. These characteristics of Dao as at once a mysterious female and a nourishing mother have a practical sense too, as we read in verse 37 referring to Dao as engaging in no action and yet nothing is undone (wuwei er wu buwei 無爲而無不為). In this undone reality, not knowing, non-doing, and non-willing are the essence of the pursuit of the way, as nonintentional and undetermined—or better, as motherly responsive. Wang Bi thus shifts the focus of the power of wu from purely mystical to its enabling transformation and change. According to Wang Bi, wu is a function (yong 用) of Dao as natural (ziran 自然); and you 有 is the presence of anything as wu and is thus its inherent dialectical pair. According to Alan Chan, non-action is an expression of non-being and is thus free of the store of “competing interests” (Chan, 1998, p.  98). Thus the pursuit of Dao “decreases” daily until it reaches non-action in which “nothing is undone.” Getting rid of desires, relinquishing the burden of partial and subjective memory, and forgetting what we have mistaken as “understanding,” is thus understood as a deed and not an undoing. When Antonio Cua deals with forgetting (wang 忘), he stresses that “to forget distinctions is to enmesh oneself in the experience of the harmonious union of things,” which is “less of a theoretical doctrine but more of an attitude toward



human affairs” (Cua, 1977, pp. 306–7).8 This suggestion may explain the sense in which a mother “forgets” her children, just as she “forgets” her body, for example, when she nurtures her offspring through her body. Hence, the highest attainment is when one “casts aside form . . . discards knowledge . . . detaches from body and from mind, and becomes one with the Way” (Zhuangzi, ch. 6). Lynn stresses that wu as “that which has no somethingness” is a key concept in Wang Bi’s thought: “by it, he seems to mean the perfect absence of conscious design, deliberate effort, prejudice or predilection.” (Lynn, 1999, p.  17). Nothingness functions as a principle, and acting out of nothing brings happiness and peace of mind (Lynn, 1999, p. 18). As Hansen puts it: “Where conventional wisdom normally invites us to value you, Laozi invites us to reflect on the value of wu . . . All learning of distinctions comes with a disposition to prefer one over the other” (Hansen, 1992, pp. 223–24). This is also the sense in which Chan stresses that wuwei is definitely at odds with total inaction (Chan, 1998, p, 98), and Lynn believes that wuwei cannot mean “no action” as inertia; it rather amounts to no deliberate differentiation (Lynn, 1999, p. 18). Turning back, forgetting oneself, and attaining non-being is being female. As characterizing the way, this “forgetting oneself ” amounts to simple female presence that permits the beginnings of things; it allows a motherly presence that supports the offspring; “forgetting herself ” also allows a mother to lean back when she needs to rest, and watch her offspring grow, while never taking the first steps instead of her offspring, and obviously never growing in her place. The lack of individuation amounts to emptiness in practice as nourishing, transforming, and allowing change to occur.

II.  THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FEMALE FOR GROWTH AND DEVELoPMENT Wilfred R. Bion’s theory of thinking may shed light on the idea of mental development as an outcome of wu, or in Bion’s terminology of “no-thing” (Bion, 2002, p. 33).9 Bion took his cue from Freud’s “drive-structure theory” (Freud, 1911, 1920); yet, unlike Freud, who saw thinking as subordinate to the pleasure principle, hence responsible for replacing pain with pleasure, Bion saw a less deterministic functioning of thought. Namely, thinking (which is a function of the reality principle) can indeed be subordinated to drive, hence to the pleasure principle, but can also free itself of this subordination and act from a different motive. Independence from the pleasure principle is an expression of Bion’s “no-thing” and a necessary condition for mental development. This is the innovative aspect of Bion’s theory as compared with Freud. For that matter, Bion displays a choice between two major mental strategies; the first is the pleasure-oriented one, and the second prefers development in acceptance of absence and the ability to see the nonexistent as a tool for burgeoning rather than a reason for depression, or, on the contrary, an unbearable experience leading to a furious reaction. This model is deduced from the infantile experiences of presence and absence of a nourishing source. Tolerance of pain is needed, from the beginning of life, for the transformation of the nonexistent source experienced as a “present



badness” into an “absent goodness.” But the transformation from the first to the last demands a mental shift (Bion, 2002, pp. 83–89). The implications abstracted from this model concern mental abilities in general. Bion titles one of them “preconception”: This term represents a state of expectation. The term is the counterpart of a variable in mathematical logic or an unknown in mathematics. It has the quality that Kant ascribed to an empty thought in that it can be thought but cannot be known. (Bion, 2002, p. 91) Hinting at both the conceptual and the physical processes, pre-conception describes the potential for a pregnancy that is realized in the very structure of the womb as a receptacle. This is not to say that the womb “expects” to be pregnant; namely, the term “expectation” does not refer to an emotional state. Rather, it is an “open state”—open to change and transformation. The state of pre-conception embodies infinite possibilities, infinitely different products. When pregnancy occurs, it reduces the possibilities in accordance with human choice. The term “pre-conception” is multilayered and embodies emptiness in its relative status as a receptacle in a way that reminds us of verse 4 of Laozi: The way is empty, yet use will not drain it. Deep, it is like the ancestor of the myriad creatures. Every thought is created from the meeting of expectation (pre-conception) of a being and the absence of such a being. Intolerance of absence creates our need to fill up the empty space, to produce, the sooner the better, an experience of satisfaction. The ability to interact with the unknown (as pre-conception meeting absence) is tolerance of the unknown as infinite (while the known is always finite). A consciousness that is not tolerant of the unknown will stick to the known or, in Bion’s words, will seek the quickest saturation. But a quick saturation comes at a cost: the dynamic process of meeting and getting-to-know is replaced by static knowledge; the thing-in-itself becomes an object. The satisfied mind is no longer opened. In the psychoanalytic context such is the consequence for both the patient and the psychoanalyst. Three mental operations are stressed by Bion as derivatives of the pleasure principle: desire, memory, and understanding. The two functions of memory are possessing and evacuating. Both are selective, and their selection is pleasure oriented. Possessing, because remembering is keeping, hence one’s being the owner of what is kept; evacuating, because not-remembering means disposing of whatever is found unpleasant. Since both are selective and their distinctive operation reflects desire, neither possessing nor evacuating matches the nature of reality, of infinity, of the unknown. According to Bion, one who has such a selective mind is incapable of learning (Bion, 1970, p. 29). Reality as Dao is “in itself so”; yet memory and desire can distort it according to the pleasure principle. Whatever is kept in memory and used as matter for thinking is a static. Memory is the mental presence of the past, which fixes it in the present; desire is the presence of a “bad absence,” which has turned into a hallucinatory wish for the future. It does not represent experience as such, but as it should be.



Bion reminds us: The capacity to forget, the ability to eschew desire and understanding, must be regarded as essential discipline for the psycho-analyst. Failure to practice this discipline will lead to a steady deterioration in the powers of observation whose maintenance is essential. (Bion, 1970, p. 51) The powers of observation oppose desires for Bion and Laozi alike as both positive and negative derivatives of dualistic views, as we read in verse 13 of the Laozi: Favor and disgrace are things that startle; High rank is, like one’s body, a source of great trouble.And as chapter  46 instructs: . . . There is no crime greater than having too many desires; There is no disaster greater than not being content; Similar to the Laozi’s view, Bion holds that desires reflect anxiety, which produces the activity of pleasure-derivatives; for example, knowledge is to be possessed and fixated so that the unpleasant feeling of not-knowing does not show itself. One of the emotive links of humans to their world is knowledge, which together with reason may serve the drive to settle things “in categories in a convenient way” (Bion, 1989, pp. 35–36). According to Bion, a mind whose task is to further develop and facilitate the mental growth of others should therefore cultivate “a disciplined denial of memory and desire” (Bion, 1970, p. 41). Bion defines the way the psychoanalytic act of interpretation facilitates mental growth. According to Grinberg, Sor, and Tabak de Biancheli “only the interpretations which transform ‘knowing about something’ into ‘becoming that something’ will produce change and mental growth” (Grinberg, Sor and Biancheli, 1977, p. 80). Knowledge “about something” (entitled by Bion “K”) is a dualistic knowledge. “Becoming that something” is a different level of knowledge, entitled by Bion “O.” Hence, In Bion’s conception of “O,” we are introduced to the possibility of a mental activity which may transcend what is ordinarily meant by “thinking.” We have to be curious, unsaturated, and ready for the unexpected, Bion believes. Once we encounter it—perhaps it is better to say that once we are encountered by the unexpected “it” and are able to allow its entry into us by our readiness to tolerate it (because we are able to attenuate our fears of its potential awesomeness)—we process it as it processes us. (Grotstein, 1995, p. 5) This serious attack on the ego allows an alternative ego-less “self,” which is ready for self-development and nourishment of others. Mental development is therefore the readiness to resist the demands of a pleasure-oriented strategy. Interestingly, the characteristic of forgetting, with which we are familiar as a major feature of mystical experience and practice, is present here as a major condition for mental development in general. According to Bion, the dualistic categories serve the pleasure principle. The self, which is a product of pleasure principle, should therefore be relinquished for



the emergence of another mode of experience. This brief glance into psychoanalytic thought brings to the fore a new perspective on a major characteristic of Laozi’s mysticism, as a philosophy and practice aimed at enforcing mental development by resisting the pleasure principle. This brings us back to Roth’s argument regarding mysticism in Laozi: first, “profound merging” (in other words, unity) is in contrast with “dualistic categories or activities.” Second, dualistic tendencies that are reinforced by the senses “reinforce attachment to the individual self ” (Roth, 1999a, pp. 73–78). Roth concludes that individual self contrasts inner cultivation. In this case we are left with a “selfless self,” who is self-transforming as a mysterious female and nourishing as a mother.

III.  MYSTICISM AND BEYOND: FORGETTING AND NOURISHING We can now recall the enormous variety of interpretations of the Laozi and its meanings. Starting with the question of authorship, it has been suggested that the Laozi contains layers of material put together by different authors at different times (Emerson, 1995), but alternatively that the Laozi is inherently a multi-interpretive “polysemic” text (Robinet, 1998). Laozi is primarily known as a work of philosophy, usually considered a metaphysical work on Dao and its manifestations (W. T. Chan, 1963), with the emphasis possibly on its “purposive” rather than its “contemplative” bent (Creel, 1970), or on “correlative cosmology” (Ames and Hall, 2003); nevertheless, it was later suggested that the Laozi offers a “naturalistic” philosophy of life (Liu, 1997). It is understood by some as an influential political masterpiece intended for the ruling class (Lau, 1963; LaFargue, 1992), as a criticism of the ills of society suggesting an ideal “primitive” society (Needham, 1956), and even as an “anti-structural” philosophy of language (Hansen, 1992). It also has mythological value as a philosophy of “chaos” (Girardot, 1983)  with a view of earth as the cosmic feminine (yin) aspect (Chen, 1969). Many agree regarding the mysticism of the Laozi: either as influenced by Indian mysticism (Waley, 1958; Mair, 1990) or as uniquely Chinese (Welch, 1965; Schwartz, 1985;); either as limited by degree (Kaltenmark, 1969) or as forming a ground for a religion (Kohn, 1992 and 1998); either as both mystical and mythological (e.g., Ching, 1997) or as both mystical and political (Graham, 1989). This chapter adds a transformative feminist perspective to Laozi’s mysticism as a dialectic of the mysterious female as non-being and the nourishing mother as being. The modern understanding of mysticism, starting with William James’s attempt at finding universal core characteristics of the mystical experience, universally characterizes the experience, among other characteristics, as “ineffable.”10 The term represents the transcendental quality of the experience; hence the inadaquacy of language to discover its mysteries. The two Jamesian elements—universality on one hand and ineffability on the other—are linked.11 A major problem raised by the term “ineffability” lies in its traditional presentation as a one-directional term, ignoring the dialectical nature of the mystical practice.12



This tendency to view mysticism as an introvertive “shutting of the senses” is to be found in Roth’s analysis: “The first aspect of apophatic practice in early Daoism that is usually presented in our sources is to reduce to a minimum or entirely eliminate sense perception. We have evidence of such a practice . . . in chapter 52 . . . 56” (Roth, 1999a, p.  71). This interpretation is criticized by Chad Hansen: “Another common misinterpretation by modern Western Confucians (and latent Buddhists) has Laozi opposed to sense experience” (Hansen, 1992, p. 226). This elimination of sense-impressions—called by Hansen “sense-skepticism” —is not in accord with the Laozi’s understanding of the female. No “removal” of sense-experience for the sake of another experience, mystical or other, is directly mentioned in the Laozi. The Laozi never suggests emptying the mind in order not to see. It suggests the opposite: seeing with binocular vision, one which enables seeing in depth. To see means to see what is, and not what is thought to be seen or selectively wished to be seen. The integration offered here suggests replacing both the one-directional road that leads to organized conceptions, and the one-directional road that leads to ineffability as a dead-end, by a two-directional reconditioned road holding together the mysterious as the nourishing. As we are told in chapter 25 of the Laozi: There is a thing confusedly formed, Born before heaven and earth. Silent and void It stands alone and does not change, Goes round and does not weary. It is capable of being the mother of the world. I know not its name So I style it “the way”. I give it the makeshift name of “the great”. Being great, it is further described as receding, Receding, it is described as far away, Being far away, it is described as turning back. Hence the way is great; Heaven is great; Earth is great; The king is also great. Within the realm there are four things that are great, And the king counts as one. Man models himself on earth, Earth on heaven, Heaven on the way, And the way on that which is naturally so. The way is chaotic, void, and inexhaustible and is thus capable of being a mother. Hence it is not describable and yet it can be modeled, or it nourishes others. This also explains why forgetting does not mean removal of functions, but the disciplined maintenance of desirable biases and preferences reflected in distinctions, not for the benefit of not-seeing, but for the sake of an improved capacity for seeing. The



mystical task as represented in the female and mother is the cultivated development of this advanced mental capacity. At least according to Bion (1970), this task is common to the mystic, the scientist, the psychoanalyst, and the philosopher. For Bion (unlike Freud), the reality principle means the human readiness to defeat its animalistic drive to pleasure for the capacity to learn from experience. Experience, for Bion, means the immediate experience of the here and now, very much in line with Daoist “self-so.” When two minds interact, one may help the other in its developmental task, like a mother who is disciplined in a certain way for being empty; otherwise her own mind is subordinated to pleasure-principle derivatives: memory, desire and understanding, which limit her ability to give way. Freeing oneself from this trio’s dominance is an essential demand for the maintenance of the ability to take care. At-one-ment, expressing a female inner sense that is also a motherly common-sense, is attained by a non-action. Bion too offers a type of “non-action”: When we are in the office with a patient we have to dare to rest. It is difficult to see what is at all frightening about that, but it is. It is difficult to remain quiet . . . We are under constant pressure to say something, to admit that we are doctors or psycho-analysts or social workers; to supply some box into which we can be put complete with a label. (Bion, 1980, pp. 10–11) According to Bion, good doctors, psychoanalysts, or social workers at once care for others and are able to rest, empty themselves, and be both the mother and the mysterious female at once. In Laozi’s words in chapter 16: I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness. The myriad creatures all rise together And I watch their return. The pressure to act upon the world is not to be activated from outside, as social pressure, but from within. Emptiness and stillness enable the birth and growth of others, as well as their own return to emptiness and stillness. The pressure to produce some fixed identity or certainty causes a too-quick movement from pre-conception to conception. According to Bion this happens due to the pleasure principle aiming to reduce pressure. Then, being is due to the psychological drive to entities, which are preferred over non-facts, the frustrating non-entities, the dim mystery of nonbeing. However, non-being or forgetting oneself is not necessarily useless or selfsacrificing, as we learn in Laozi 29 and are reminded in 48: Whoever does anything to it will ruin it; whoever lays hold of it will lose it. The capacity to not-know oneself and not do for oneself, or to know in a non-partial way desirelessly and without self is forgetting and begetting at once, as mother and female. Laozi offers the inherent tendency to the nondualistic capacity for at-onement, or the inner-sense of the other. His female-mysticism signifies a cultivation of that capacity.



Katz suggests that mystical experience is not “unconditioning or deconditioning of consciousness, but rather it is a reconditioning of consciousness” (Katz, 1978, p.  48). I believe that Laozi’s mother-female mystical philosophy, practice, and experience enable an exchange of a dualistic mental stand for a nondualistic one. This type of practical mysticism neither has a dreamy flavor regarding the mystery of the experience nor calls for an ongoing ascetic practice; neither has it anything to do with a substance that hides itself and has to be approached, nor with any type of “Grand Metaphysics”; most definitely, it carries no romantic-oppressive flavor regarding a mysterious female who naturally sacrifices herself for the sake of others, and thus transforms into a mother. Rather, we are left with quite a “thin”—but efficient—interpretation that argues for a very different “diet,” as shown in Laozi’s question “Can you be female?” suggesting a process or discipline in which mother and female are one, and as one she represents Dao. This at-one-ment amounts to being able to both lessen oneself and nourish the other, in which to forget is to beget. Importantly, this is recommended not only for women but for men too. If this sounds insane, we should not be discouraged; as J. D. Salinger writes in The Catcher in the Rye, “mothers are all slightly insane.”

NOTES * The writing of this chapter was supported by the Israeli Science Foundation. 1. A Jewish folktale, see Bart, in Koltun (1976, p. 72); also see: http://www.shirhadash. org/rabbi/06/05/13/mothers.html. I am deeply indebted to my student Yanyan Chen for bringing up the tale and the disturbing paradox it entails. 2. For a detailed description of this dialectic process see Patt-Shamir (2009). 3. All citations from the Laozi use D. C. Lau’s translation, unless otherwise stated. 4. Lin Ma distinguishes four feminine aspects in the Laozi: as mother (verses 1, 20, 25, 52, 59), mysterious female (verses 6, 55, 61), female (ci 雌, verses 10, 28) and Yin 陰, referring more generally to natural phenomena. See Ma (2009, pp. 271–73). For the present purpose this chapter focuses on mother (mu) and on female (as both pin and ci). 5. Quoted from Kohn and LaFargue (1998, p. 1). 6. The Chinese reads: “congshi yudaozhe, tongyu dao 從事於道者, 同於道 .” D.C. Lau translates: “A man of the way conforms to the way.” In this case it is my choice to diverge from Lau’s translation in order to highlight the equality or sameness (tong) with the way, as in the Chinese text. 7. For the Hundun story, see Zhuangzi, chapter 7, for example, Graham (1989, pp. 98– 99) and discussion in Girardot (1983). 8. One should note that Cua’s article primarily refers to the Zhuangzi. However, I believe that his important insight can be borrowed, in the present context, to Laozi too. 9. Bion worked as a psychoanalyst with people who suffered from mental disorders, sometimes severe disorders (such as schizophrenia). In the course of his work, he



attempted to understand schizophrenic thought and communication. Bion developed a meta-psychological theoretical framework dealing with thought, its development, and its functions. 10. See James (1902), lectures 16 and 17, pp. 484–553. 11. Indeed, the Jamesian internally linked pair of ineffability and universality became the basis of a fruitful theoretical dispute, which in turn gave rise to a few models. One of them is Stace’s (1961) model of Introvertive versus Extrovertive mystical experience. Roth, for instance, treats the Laozi as demonstrating both Introvertive and Extrovertive practices, relying upon a basic assumption that the experience itself is separable, and in fact must by definition be separated, from its conceptual context (Roth, 1999a). 12. Stace’s (1961) and later Forman’s (1990) efforts to describe the ineffable experience led to a view according to which Forman’s “Pure Consciousness Event” (PCE), defined as a “wakeful thought contentless (nonintentional) consciousness,” and Stace’s “deliberately shutting off the senses, by obliterating from consciousness the entire multiplicity of sensations, images and thoughts, to plunge into the depth of his own ego” (Stace, 61), are in this understanding, both misleading.

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Chapter Thirteen

The Yijing, Gender, and the Ethics of Nature eric s. nelson and liu yang

I. INITIAL QUESTIONS: GENDER, NATURE, AND “CHINESE THOUGHT”1 This chapter traces the shifting roles of gender and the changing character of nature in the Yijing (《易經》). We consider how gender and nature have been conceived in relation to the Yijing and its potential and limits for addressing questions of gender, the environment, as well as issues of the interconnection of gender and ecology articulated in ecofeminism. Chinese philosophical and cultural traditions have become part of contemporary interpretive conflicts over the meaning of gender and the relative social status of women and men. On the one hand, Chinese cultural and intellectual traditions have been interpreted as having a greater appreciation of the significance of gender and the feminine than standard Western forms of thought. The gendered logic of classical Chinese thought with its emphasis on a dynamic relational balance and transformative reversibility between the categories of the masculine and the feminine is distinguished from rationalizing Western tendencies that either essentialize social-cultural gender roles as an unchanging natural fate determined by “natural” biological sex or conceal gender under the guise of masculine-oriented claims to a nongendered universality and neutrality.2 Chinese sources such as the Daodejing (《道德經》), attributed to Laozi (老子), the Yijing, with its earlier origins in the Shang (商) and Zhou (周) dynasties, and yinyang (陰陽) thinking have become part of the contemporary reassessment of gender and feminist arguments about the gendered character of the underlying logic of modern societies. The ecofeminist Jytte Nhanenge, for instance, utilized these three Chinese models of gendered thinking in formulating an analysis that links the exploitation of women with the masculine domination of nature that has reached a flashpoint in the contemporary environmental crises of a now globalized Western modernity (Nhanenge, 2011, pp. 71–79). On the other hand, as feminist critics of Confucianism have demonstrated, essentializing gender has not only been a Western practice. Despite a growing number of ecofeminist and ecological appropriations of Chinese models of gender


and nature, the gendered logic of classical Chinese thought has been criticized as a potentially problematic basis for rethinking gender and the roles of women insofar as it has been complicit with, or motivated, the exploitation of women and the domination of nature in traditional East Asian societies. The greater awareness of gender and the feminine in classical Chinese thought does not necessarily entail actual gender equality and fairness. Customary Chinese models of understanding gender have been questioned to the extent that dominant Chinese traditions appear to hierarchically privilege the male (nan 男) over the female (nu 女), yang 陽 over yin 陰, and active masculine heaven (tian 天) over passive feminine earth (di 地). Masculine and feminine phases are not dualistically separated into invariable opposites, as the expressions tiandi, yinyang, or nannu indicate; yet they are not seen as equal in the normative hierarchical accounts of Confucianism and in the prioritizing of the feminine and maternal in the Daodejing.3 According to critics, the gendered and familial logic of masculine- and feminine-oriented expressions serves to reproduce a patriarchal and patrilineal sociocultural order that encourages the role-defined recognition and subordination of women and the elements of nature identified as feminine.4 One way of responding to these two apparently incompatible understandings of gender in Chinese culture, which emphasize either interactive mutuality or stratified hierarchy, is to offer a less essentialist and more differentiated account of the variety of roles gender can play within Chinese and other Confucian cultures. There is no one meaning of gender in Chinese culture just as there is no one essence to what it means to be Chinese. A strategy that has been developed by a number of authors, which is also adopted in this chapter, is to show how mutuality and reversibility continue to resonate in the context of the stratified and hierarchical interpretations that come to dominate through the Confucian tradition.5 Accordingly, to introduce an example, the initial hexagrams of the “creative” (qian 乾) and “generative” (kun 坤), or heaven and earth, that inaugurate the Yijing retain traces and indications of their basic mutuality and reversibility as modalities of one autopoietic and generative dance-like reality, despite their increasingly hierarchical stratification into opposites through Confucianizing male-oriented interpretations such as the “Great Commentary” (Yi Dazhuan 《易大傳》). Unlike the earlier strata of the Yijing, this commentary identified heaven with height and superiority and the earth with what is naturally lowly and base: “tian (heaven) is high and di (earth) is low (天尊地卑,乾坤定矣)” is construed as a natural phenomenon that entails a social hierarchy between women and men.6 While Confucianizing interpretations transformed the Yijing from a work of divination into one that inspires ethical reflection and natural philosophical inquiry, they masculinized the text by transforming the generative into the receptive. Qian (the creative) and kun (“the receptive”) and the correlational logic of the Yijing are associated with a hierarchical understanding of the paired appearances (liangyi 兩儀) of yinyang. Yinyang is an expression that means the shady and sunny sides of the mountain in its earliest uses and which was introduced and solidified in Confucianizing commentaries. There is little evidence of yinyang thought in the earlier strata of the Yijing (Redmond and Hon, 2014, p. 77). It was only in these subsequent interpretations that qian was identified with yang,



masculine power, nobility, height, and ease and kun associated with yin, feminine passivity, ignobility, lowliness, and labor (Wang, 2003, p.  28; Rosenlee, 2006, p. 56). A sense of the infinite primordial generative nature of kun was lost. Later figures such as the early Han dynasty Confucian scholar Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 —who played a key role in the Confucian hermeneutic tradition—solidified the identification of yinyang with femaleness and maleness and the five elements (wu xing 五行). Though Dong recognized mutual resonance and the role of the feminine in constituting the masculine and the masculine in constituting the feminine, he systematized a moralistic interpretation with an entrenched gendered hierarchy.7 The Yijing as a changing text and a matrix of practices has multiple meanings inside and outside its East Asian milieu. Recent historical research and contextualization of its earlier strata reveal a different picture from the static hierarchal order of nature and society; transformation, reversal, movement, generation, fecundity, and fertile interchange are constitutive of the Yijing’s formative process—or “dialectical logic” in a fluid, open, and non-Hegelian sense—in which the polarities of positions are continuously changing as in dance.8 The unceasing movement of generativity (shengsheng buxi 生生不息) and reversal, opposition, and return (fan 返) indicates a different understanding of balance and harmony than the reproduction of a static hierarchical binary opposition in feminist appropriations of yinyang thinking.9 Robin Wang has noted how yinyang continues to serve a double function in the Chinese tradition: “on the one hand, yinyang seems to be an intriguing and valuable conceptual resource in ancient Chinese thought for a balanced account of gender equality; on the other hand, no one can deny the fact that the inhumane treatment of women throughout Chinese history has often been rationalized in the name of yinyang” (Wang, 2012, p. xi). Whether this feminine/masculine dialectical play—a dialectic without an encompassing overcoming and synthesis of its elements—in Chinese thought and the significance of the feminine in the Yijing have a critical, ecofeminist, and socioculturally transformative character are separate questions. Since the practice of the Yijing is to promote divinatory understanding and/or self-reflection on one’s own present situation, it can be interpreted in relation to ecofeminist questions that stress the links between gender and nature in order to reflect on and respond to our current ecological plight. The Yijing does not offer one exemplary model or metaphysics of the cosmos. There are multiple—at least sixty-four—changing models in the Yijing through which to reflectively engage one’s own situation, including one self, society, and natural world. Along with the passive and responsive modalities (ying 應) that it shares with the Daodejing, the Yijing traces appropriate moments (shi 時) in their incipient movement (ji 機) for responsive activity and intervention in the world. In contrast to the Yijing, the Daodejing arguably indicates one model of thinking about the feminine character of nature. It emphasizes the maternal fecundity and nurturing dimension of nature as well as a comportment of responsiveness, deferential passivity, and deferment. It has been argued that this strategy suggests an important way to respond to the activism and aggressiveness of technological modernity and its male-oriented domination of nature.10 However, large-scale effortful interventions aimed at maintaining or


reestablishing equality and fairness among humans and balance and harmony between the human and natural worlds are called for, such as are needed in response to gendered inequalities, environmental injustices, and the domination of nature. The Yijing presents a more extensive basis for reflecting on nature and the ecological crisis insofar as it encourages creatively restoring balance through both activity and responsiveness. It does so through a reflective logic that indicates moments of appropriate increased activity as well as moments of deferential letting be. Such appropriate models of activity, informed by receptivity and responsiveness to the emerging incipient situation, are necessary in a situation in which ecological restoration is needed more than minimal activity and nonintervention in a massively degraded environment.

II.  A PRE- AND POST-PATRIARCHAL BOOK OF CHANGES? The Yijing has itself changed almost as ceaselessly and radically as the change it describes. In this section, we will offer an overview of gender and gender-related issues in the long historical and interpretive development of the Yijing, and consider its possible pre- and post-patriarchal elements. The Zhouyi 《周易》, the Changes of Zhou, is one of the oldest documents from ancient China along with the Book of Documents and Book of Odes. The Zhouyi—the oldest strata of the Yijing—is a record of divinations (bu 卜) about war, travel, sacrifice, marriage, and death. It concerns significant affairs of daily life, including the relations between women and men, the changing natural seasons, and the movements of the heavens above. The earlier strata of the text make descriptive rather than prescriptive statements about women and their roles (Redmond and Hon, 2014, p. 89). An early form of divination involved burning animal bones and tortoise shells, interpreting the cracks as signs and indications from the spirits, and leaving brief records inscribed in the oracle bones. Informed by these archaic Bronze Age– divination practices of the Shang and Zhou dynasties, the Yijing 《易經》, the Book of Changes—anachronistically associated with the legendary sage ruler Fu Xi (伏 羲) and later cultural heroes such as the founder of the Zhou dynasty, King Wen (周文王)—gradually emerged.11 The divination practices of the Zhou should be understood in relation to those of the Shang dynasty. There is evidence for the prominent role of women in divination during the Shang period. Remnants of divination practices record the significance of aristocratic women in early Chinese social life. One intriguing example is the Shang dynasty consort and military leader Fu Hao (婦好) whose tomb was excavated at Yinxu (殷墟) near Anyang (安陽) in 1976. Fu Hao was a frequent object of divination (e.g., her health, dreams, and battles) and she herself is recorded as leading sacrifices and divinations (Haapanen, 2002, pp. 11–12). The case of Fu Hao reveals the importance of women in the early practice and understanding of divination in China, an understanding that continues to resonate in later masculinized periods.



The emergence of the Yijing included the introduction of the eight trigrams and sixty-four hexagrams that were said to be drawn from the patterns of heaven and earth and used to interpret the casting of the yarrow stalks. According to tradition, it was King Wen who added the judgments and made the 64 hexagrams out of the 8 trigrams (Marshall, 2002, p. 10). Each trigram is associated with gender, either feminine or masculine, and each hexagram has a gendered character based on the gender of the trigrams. Hexagrams can be feminine-feminine, feminine-masculine, masculine-feminine, or masculine-masculine in their composition (Nielsen, 2003, p.  88; Wu, 2003, p.  127). Gender, encompassing those socially and culturally mediated qualities associated with biological males and females, is formative for interpreting the logic of the Yijing throughout much of its history since the later Zhou dynasty. The historical strata of the Yijing and its interpretations offer multiple changing models and images of the feminine and the masculine. The Yijing accordingly indicates a gendered way of thinking of nature, society, and the self that have been understood in hierarchical and non-hierarchical ways. Despite the later association of the feminine with passivity and the lowly and the masculine with activity and nobility, the hexagrams themselves indicate a more complex and shifting understanding of gender relations beginning with the generative power of the earth (kun). The lines concerning kun only refer to gender in the image of a mare (pinma 牝馬), which referred to a sacrificial animal and was only later reinterpreted as feminine and compliant.12 Kun is not portrayed as weak, passive, or base as later commentators propose: its energy creates and completes the myriad things and sets into play the dynamic transformations of nature, society, and the self that are indicated in the Yijing. The later normative interpretive tradition highlights how it is the activity of qian that activates passive kun; another understanding stresses how qian only ascends like a dragon to the heavens from out of the infinite generative depths of kun to which it will return or from its dance with kun itself. This is a dance of attraction between partners and a play of distance and approach without the hierarchical closure suggested in patriarchal interpretations. Even the heavens, like all things, are born from and require earth for their generation and fulfillment. The Zhouyi/Yijing is not the sole model of divination in ancient China: “According to the Zhouli 周禮 (Rites of Zhou) in ancient times there were three ancient sources that represented three methods of divining: (1) Lianshan 連山; (2) Guicang 歸藏; and (3) Zhouyi 周易” (Knechtges and Chang, 2014, p. 1877). The first “connecting mountains” method was attributed to the archaic Xia (夏) dynasty and associated with Shennong (神農), one of the legendary three founding emperors of Chinese civilization. He introduced agriculture and is associated with the earth. Lianshan begins with the doubling of the mountain trigram (gen 艮). The mountain arises from the earth toward the heights and has both sunny (yang) and shady (yin) sides. The primacy of generative kun itself is found in the divination text “Return to the Hidden” (Guicang 歸藏). The Guicang was ascribed to the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi 黃帝), attributed to the more feminine-oriented Shang dynasty, which followed the semi-legendary Xia. It was historically thought to be a later forgery until an earlier version was excavated in 1993.13 Its hexagram sequence begins with the doubling of


the kun trigram, and the early text provides clearer evidence of the power of earth, water, and the feminine than the Yijing. In the Yijing, the third divinatory approach mentioned in the Zhouli, the constitutive role of the feminine cannot be denied. The autopoietic generative interplay of nature is distorted if it is understood as the imposition of heaven upon earth or the masculine on the feminine. In the earlier strata of the Yijing, it is clear that various qualities such as qian and kun can be associated with either women or men. It is in the Xi Ci 〈繫辭〉commentary that heaven is defined as male and earth as female (乾道成男,坤道成女), even as other passages in the same commentary articulate the generation of the myriad things (wanwu 萬物) from the generative interplay of heaven-earth (tiandi) and male-female (nannu) (天地絪縕,萬物化 醇,男女構精,萬物化生) (Xi Ci I, 1.2 and Xi Ci II, 5.12). In commentaries such as Tuanzhuan《彖傳》1.2, the obedience of earth to heaven and vassals to their lord is emphasized. Hierarchy has in this context an ethico-political function unrelated to the sexual play of kun and qian that generates the difficult new beginning of the sprouting blade of grass pushing through the earth in hexagram three (tun 屯) and the subsequent hexagrams. Confucius himself purportedly added the commentaries that emphasize the moral-political lessons of the Yijing. The Yijing remained until modernity a political guidebook, even as it continued to be a source for understanding the present through divination and interpreting the natural world and human roles within it.14 Yijing divination is about interpreting the present situation and its direction of potential development, so that one can choose the right course of action to maximize the possibility of a beneficial result. The Yijing initially developed and continued to function as a work of divination. Because of its interpretive character, it became a primary source for understanding one’s various changing roles in the social and natural world. The Yijing’s shifting roles, patterns, and identities allow gender to be experienced and re-experienced in multiple ways without one underlying essential structure defining what it means to be male or female. The roles of child, daughter, sister, wife, mother, or elderly woman are relational roles that can be adopted and varied in multiple ways in responsiveness (ying 應) and resonance (gan 感) with shifting polarities, positions, and situations in the generative dance of life. Basic religious practices of ancient and traditional Chinese culture were sacrifice, geomancy, and divination, which call for interpreting the past, future, and particularly the present. These religious yet worldly practices inform the sensibility and examples used in classic texts such as the Analects attributed to Confucius and the Daodejing associated with the name Laozi. Practices can be understood as divination based either on their procedural or nonscientific characteristics (Guo, 2012, p.  419). Divination can involve spirits and the supernatural or be “naturalistic” without any appeal to the supernatural or to spirits. The Yijing is taken in a naturalistic way throughout its history. In the Analects, one sees the Confucian tendency to reinterpret the religious or supernatural in terms of the ethics of the exemplary person (junzi 君子). Heaven (tian 天) emerges as the morally sanctioned order of the world and moral action as genuine prayer and listening to heaven’s command. One should sacrifice to the ancestors as



if they are present, because of the importance of sincerity and cultivating a virtuous disposition through the rituals that renew (fu 復) daily life. Religious rituals become primarily social-ethical, as the secular becomes the sacred (Fingarette, 1972). A parallel development occurred with the interpretation of the Yijing. The emphasis turned from interpreting the traces left by ancestral spirits and indirectly the lord on high (Shangdi 上帝) to an imaginative reflective encounter with one’s own situation in the context of one’s natural and social world. In the Zuo Zhuan 左傳, which described events and persons of the sixth century BC, through either protoConfucian or anachronistic Confucian lenses, some regard divinations as literal but the wise interpret their results in relation to the ethical character and situation of the person such that “success and failure” lie “in the human realm” (Pines, 2002, pp. 86–87, 200–1). Although the historical reconstruction of the oldest strata of the Zhouyi calls for removing its philosophical and ethical dimensions, the role of the Yijing that is crucial to the development of later Chinese culture and thought stresses cosmology and ethics. Wang Bi 王弼 (AD 226–249) explicated the naturalistic and ethical dimensions of the Yijing, and these become crucial to this reading for the later tradition. Wang Bi only lived to be twenty-three years old and, during his brief life, edited and wrote commentaries on the Daodejing and Yijing. Wang Bi is known as a “NeoDaoist” because of his teaching of the numinous or the “dark learning” (xuanxue 玄學) that begins with the mystery of the emptiness of things and proceeds through their self-generative natural spontaneity. Wang Bi is influenced by Confucianism as can be seen in his eclectic commentary on the Yijing that emphasizes its role as a guide for interpreting the natural world and the moral cultivation of the self and the community. In Wang Bi’s commentary on the Daodejing, the mysterious or dark female (xuanpin 玄牝), an expression found in Daoist texts associated with Laozi and Liezi 列子, is an image that points beyond words and is an indication of the ultimate. The philosophy of mysterious or dark learning highlights feminine qualities of flexibility, receptivity, and responsiveness as well as infinite depth and mystery. Wang Bi associated the Yijing’s kun (the female, the earth, the receptive, the mare) with the primordial emptiness (wu 無) of Laozi and thus recognized the primordial and generative power of the feminine. Kyoo Lee argues that Wang Bi both recognizes and attempts to tame the feminine in his analysis of Laozi’s “dark female animal” (Lee, 2014, pp. 57–77). Wang Bi’s understanding of the feminine can be inadequate to its shifting and transformative character in the Yijing; yet his reading provides important clues for imaginatively and reflectively engaging gender and the feminine through the Yijing and feminist and post-patriarchal interpretations of the Yijing. While Confucius once stated to sacrifice to the spirits as if they were present, Wang Bi comments: “The yarrow stalks respond to questions as if they were echoes” (Wang Bi, 1994, p.  120). This Confucian-Daoist synthesis is not uncommon, as it is found throughout Chinese intellectual history; nor is it unusual to see Han Confucians and later Neo-Confucians take the emptiness and receptivity of the way (dao)—and accordingly the openness and generativity of the feminine—as the point of departure for their thinking of nature and the cosmos. The late Eastern


Han dynasty Confucian philosopher Xu Gan 徐幹 (AD 170–217), recognized in his Zhonglun 《中論》 (Balanced Discourses) that the Yijing taught that it is by emptying the heart-mind (xin 心) that one becomes receptive and hence responsive to the incipient transformation of things, others, and one’s own heart-mind (Xu Gan, 2002, p.  51). Emptying the heart-mind signified a return to its openness and responsiveness as well as its naturalness and generative power. At the same time as ordinary popular Confucian culture officially maintained a masculine and hierarchical attitude, elements within Confucian philosophy point toward the importance of the feminine in experiencing and conceptualizing the world. These pre- and non-patriarchal elements indicate the possibility of, and also reconstructing, a post-patriarchal philosophy of the Book of Changes.

III.  THE YIJING AS DIVINATION, PROPHECY, AND SOCIAL CRITIQUE In this section, we explore the role of divination, prophecy, and social criticism in relation to the Yijing. The Yijing is primarily about analyzing and reflectively engaging the present situation, emphasizes fluid identities rather than fixed essences, and can consequently reveal and encourage transformation. The archaic pre-patriarchal sources of the Yijing no doubt encompass male and female experiences, even if it is challenging to identify an earlier purely feminine or matriarchal level of the text.15 Shamanic female spirit mediums and practitioners of divination (wu 巫) are known from oracle bone inscriptions from the Shang dynasty and Zhou historical records, In Korea, in contrast, shamanism was historically primarily male—including the mythic shaman kings who founded Korea—and became predominantly practiced by female mu (무) as the old shamanic practices became increasingly regarded as superstitious.16 In contemporary literature, popular culture, and new age spiritualties, the category of the feminine has been associated with the divinatory and the prophetic. But it is questionable to identify the feminine with whatever appears irrational from a modern “masculine” rationalistic standpoint if it reproduces the hierarchical opposition that such an identification intends to overcome. It also is problematic to identify actual women with their multiple changing identities and self-interpretations with a fixed cultural construction of the feminine, including ideas of responsiveness, nurture, nourishment, and care insofar as women can also interpret themselves through other natural and ethical modalities and roles. There is furthermore a mixed historical record about the role of women in various forms of divinatory and prophetic activities. Lisa Raphals notes that historical evidence suggests that mantic experts and clients have been predominantly male (Raphals, 2013). The Yijing is ordinarily interpreted in terms of its being a text and a practice of divination (bu 卜) used in order to examine and clarify doubts (jiyi 稽疑). Divination is a controversial category in Western modernity, given the rejection of divination in favor of prophecy in the Torah, and the deepening of this distrust in later Abrahamic traditions. Divination is also dismissed in dominant narratives of modern science,



since it apparently poses an obstacle to the goal of disenchanting and demystifying the world by explaining natural phenomena through efficient material causes. Notwithstanding such doubts, the Yijing retains its fascination; this appeal transcends standard—whether favorable or antagonistic—understandings of divination. The Yijing provides no crystal ball to directly perceive the future and it differs from the conventional construal of divination. The Yijing is frequently understood in naturalistic terms in the Chinese tradition. The neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi 朱熹 (AD 1130–1200) stressed that the Yijing was a work of divination and divination aimed at understanding subtle processes of the natural world rather than supernatural realities.17 The Chinese understanding of the Yijing does not deny the natural world for a supernatural realm. It “naturalistically” recognizes and affirms the contingent and transient causal character of the world, disclosing an immanent dynamic balance and harmony within its tensions, oppositions, and changes. Rather than making predictions based on contingent combinations of affairs, images, and concepts, the Yijing seems to indicate ways of disclosing the cadences, rhythms, and threads running through the constant change and transformation (bianhua 變化) of heaven and earth that the sages imitate and effect (xiao 效) (“天地變化,聖人效 之”; Xi Ci I, 11.4). The Yijing traces the transformation of things on multiple levels, including sexuality and gender. The Yijing has a rational, logical, and mathematical character that fascinated Chinese and Western readers, including Leibniz (Nelson, 2011 and 2014). The Yijing is, however, more comprehensive than the focus on logic and numbers suggest. It indicates multiple ways of constructing, imagining, and modeling reality and human life. The ways of thinking encouraged by the Yijing encompass the feminine as well and the masculine, emotion and reason, imagination and calculation, situatedness and the universal. The priority of the ethical is a key aspect of Confucian readings of the Yijing. In contrast to the school of image and numbers (xiangshu 象數), Wang Bi emphasized the meanings and patterns (yili 義理) of the Yijing, its use of language, and how the Yijing served practices of self-reflection. As cited earlier, Wang Bi: “The yarrow stalks respond to questions as if they were echoes” (Wang Bi, 1994, p. 120). The words, images, meanings, patterns, and interpretive practices of the Yijing are not merely calculative and self-interested attempts at knowing the future. They are simultaneously aesthetic, cosmological, ethical, sexual, and gendered. The Yijing involves gendered realities and self-understandings. Gender, or the social-cultural construal of female and male characteristics and identities, has played an ambivalent role in the historical uses of the Yijing. The yinyang model of thinking has been employed to hierarchically subordinate women and identify women with “lesser” earthly yin elements. However, this same model can undermine such hierarchical thinking by indicating the complementary character and the reversibility and transformability of yin and yang. It indicates then a nonhierarchical understanding of sexual relations and gendered identities. The Yijing calls its female and male practitioners to self-reflection and self-interpretation in response to their natural, social, and individual environs, including the sexual forces and gendered roles that shape their situations. In the infinite variation of the nexus of the world, it indicates the possibility of reflectively achieving an internally balanced harmony


as well as women’s and men’s co-agency in this shifting balancing and rebalancing of their world. Confucius noted: “The exemplary person (junzi) seeks harmony (he 和), not sameness (tong 同); the petty person (xiaoren 小人) does the opposite” (Analects 13.23).18 As in the appropriate relationship between kun and qian, internally generated autopoietic self-organization takes precedence over order achieved through forceful external imposition. In his Balanced Discourses, Xu Gan developed this distinction further by distinguishing the unforced harmony (he) of a whole from the external and forced identity of conformity (tong). Harmony equalizes and balances between a plurality as well as the excessive and the deficient through affective sensibility and formative taste, differing from the identity and external conformity and sameness (tong) of a totality.19 Xu Gan remarked that the exemplary person “seeks harmony (he) but not conformity (tong)” (Xu Gan, 2002, p. 25). According to Xu Gan, virtue is comparable to composing fine music or preparing an excellent cuisine. It is a harmony formed and cultivated from a multiplicity of elements or ways rather than drawing on one exclusive way (Xu Gan, 2002, p. 9). The Yijing states that the recourse to excessive conformity, force, and integration signals increasing danger, weakness, and the inability to gather things appropriately into harmony (Wang Bi, 1994, pp.  274, 400, 402, 417, 433). The Yijing’s fluid dialectic is consequently irreducible to forced constancy or the assimilative logic of the self-same subject that reproduces and reintegrates itself through each encounter. It does not necessarily entail the domination and mastery of nature aiming at its control and exploitation, which ecofeminism associates with masculine attitudes toward nature and women. Xu Gan recognized how emptying the heart-mind allows it to be appropriate, flexible, receptive, and responsive (Xu Gan, 2002, p. 51). The idea of harmony, as the forced conformity and uniformity practiced by the petty person, has the potential to justify injustices and exploitation, including the subordination of women. Nonetheless, a number of thinkers such as Wang Bi and Xu Gan interpret harmony as an idea of justice emerging from an internal relational dynamic that can be used to challenge social injustices. For instance, they both recognize that the following passage from the Yijing is concerned with reflecting and acting upon virtue for the sake of justice: Within the earth, there is a mountain. [This is] the image of modesty. The exemplary person reduces that which is too much, augments that which is too little, and weighs and balances things (地中有山,謙﹔君子以裒多益寡,稱物平 施).20 The image of the mountain in the earth (地中有山) can be interpreted as an ontological lesson in the play of concealment and unconcealment or a sexual metaphor of the masculine mountain returning to the feminine earth from which it arose. However, the image is interpreted in an ethical and sociopolitical sense as a balancing and equalizing of the high (the mountain) and the low (the earth). The mountain in the earth is an image articulated ethically as addressing the exemplary person (junzi 君子) to be humble and modest (qian 謙) by attending to the lonely and destitute (gua 寡), that is, in words that parallel Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible,



to act for the widow, orphan, and childless elder, and for the poor and the needy. Such nobility of character does not mean an excess of generosity that remains above and detached from the other person’s suffering. Nobility is instead a humility that restores harmony and balance—as discussed above, in “harmony in difference” (he er bu tong 和而不同)—by humbling the mighty and raising the destitute (pou duo yi gua 裒多益寡). The Yijing call for justice toward others and the self ’s cultivation of virtue is a requirement for the practice of justice. This is not divination in the restricted sense—if it is interpreted as a self-interested and instrumental calculation about the future based on subjective opinion and preference—but “prophecy” in calling for humility toward the destitute other. However, the Yijing’s exemplary person has a wider calling, care, and responsibility: to act for others and to equalize things and restore balance (cheng wu ping shi 稱物平施) between unequals. In recognizing the shared life of things, responsibility extends from the individual toward others and to society and nature itself. The Yijing signals an ethical sensibility and interpretive art immanent to life and nature.21 A post-patriarchal interpretation of the Yijing might focus on and develop this ethical-political dimension, which can be applied to the gendered inequalities and injustices of contemporary societies. These inequalities, inadequately diagnosed by conventional liberalism, are intertwined with environmental costs and burdens that are more heavily placed upon women throughout the world. Vandana Shiva, an Indian ecofeminist philosopher, has shown how environmental problems cannot be isolated from problems of human justice and fairness. It is the poor and women who are faced with the most difficult contradictions living with the burdens and costs of environmental degradation and social inequality (Shiva, 1988).

IV.  LEARNING FROM NATURE THROUGH THE DIALECTICAL IMAGE Given the ecofeminist thesis that intrahuman injustices and the domination of nature are intertwined, how can we begin to address this problematic nexus? In sections four and five, we consider the “mediated image” as a vehicle of self-reflectively and affectively-imaginatively encountering the present and cultivating responsiveness to oneself, others, and environments. Such a model illuminates women’s experiences of thinking as drawing on and integrating affective, imaginative, and cognitive elements in contrast with masculine tendencies focusing on cognitive and calculative elements. The unfixing of identity and situated responsiveness suggested in the philosophy of changes challenges reified gender hierarchies and the favoring/ disfavoring of specific identities associated with the feminine and the masculine. Furthermore, it points toward elements of a more appropriate and ecological culture of nature. Vandana Shiva has argued that feminism cannot be separated from environmentalism and describes how indigenous and traditional forms of life and thought provide significant elements for living with nature. These have been undermined through


unequal processes of capitalist development and modernization that have increased rather than lessened the burdens and costs of ordinary life.22 One indigenous and traditional source for responsively living with nature in a less damaging and more appropriate way might be found in the Yijing with its long association with receptively observing and responsively attending to the natural world in its incipient movements and transitions. The Yijing has been connected with the practice of observing and learning from nature: Fu Xi is described as drawing the eight trigrams after observing heaven and earth; Cang Jie (倉頡) created characters from observing the prints of birds and tracks of animals. What can be encountered through the Yijing are analogous models for encountering and responding to changing circumstances. Yin (broken, odd) and yang (unbroken, even) lines are, according to Wang Bi, what is most capable of change; their varying combinations present instants in changing time or mediated dialectical images, which bring elements into new imaginative and reflective constellations. Given changing conditions, the same virtues, rules, and actions are not appropriate for each moment or situation. The Yijing is an interpretive and reflective practice and art that does not artificially separate reflection from emotion or reasoning from its associated affects; that is, it indicates hermeneutical models for encountering and reflecting on the happening of the world (Nelson, 2013a, pp. 101–2). This reflection involves images, words, and concepts: “The words are generated by the images, thus one can ponder the words and so observe what the images are. The images are generated by ideas; thus one can ponder the images and so observe what the ideas are” (Wang Bi, 1994, p.  31). The Yijing as an interpretive practice encompasses and integrates processes of empirical observation, empathetic feeling, categorical association, and self-reflection in the generation of concrete indicative “images” (xiang 象). Images are necessary for the practice of the Yijing and do not function merely as abstract symbols.23 Imaging inspired by the traces of heaven, earth, and humanity (tianrendi 天人地) form prototypical models that are process-events. These correlational or “categorical associations” (lei 類) and mediated dialectical image-situations indicate relational patterns of significance and allow interpreters to performatively enact a comprehensive and situationally appropriate understanding of nature, society, and the self through the interpretive practice of the Yijing.24 To discuss an example, one manifestation of the hermeneutics of the generative image is found in Xi Ci, I, 8, and related passages. The ancient sages, it is written, “were able to survey all phenomena under heaven and, considering their forms and appearances, creatively and concretely imagined and indicated (xiang 象) things and their appropriate attributes. These were accordingly called images or “forms” (xiang) (Campany, 1992, p. 206). The word xiang here can mean: image, symbol, figure, or a pictorial configuration of meaning (Robinet, 2005, p. 1086). To form or generate “forms” arising from the earth and in responsivity to things is the creative, generative, and originating qian (乾). Qian is one primary element of a dynamic relational whole rather than an independently existing or transcendent entity unconnected to or merely imposed from above upon kun (坤). The dragon, which is later identified with the masculine exemplary person (junzi) in Confucianizing interpretations, ascends in the spring from the earth to which it



will return and sleep in its deep dark watery pool until it ascends next spring once again (Yijing, Qian, 2). For Wang Bi, the dragon represents pure yang just as the mare in kun represents pure yin (Wang Bi, 1994, pp. 138–39; Lynn, 2015, p. 390). In another interpretation of qian as the ascending dragon, the dragon (qian) returns to water (kun) where it is born and arises bringing with it spring rains and the nourishment of life. The word xing 形 that appears in Xi Ci, I, 8, is often translated as “appearance.” It also means shape, form, figure, or body. Xing should be understood not merely as becoming visible or the semblance of the real, as an idol or shadow of reality, but as the material manifestation that is the interpretive encounter with reality itself. The observational interpretive character of the Yijing is evident in statements recommending empirically encountering the world by looking above to observe the movements of the heaven, looking below to observe the earth, and witnessing and giving testimony to the myriad things.25 The empirically and reflectively generated images of the Yijing situate both selfexamination and a reflective observation of the natural world through perception, relational and responsive feeling, and situated mindfulness. The empirical ontic tendencies of learning from nature in Chinese thinking were stimulated by, and in turn informed, observation of and research into astronomical, geographical, and meteorological phenomena, among others. The interpretive oscillation occurs through natural worldly phenomena and through the reflective or interpretive image that is more indicative than symbolizing. This vibrant motility can be obscured in the language of isolating or atomistic abstract ideas and symbols, as Chinese thought has maintained the primacy of the practical and of the good (ethics), with all the awareness of relational nuances that this requires, over a paradigm of disinterested neutral knowledge that ignores sexual embodiment and gendered self-identification and selfinterpretations. Gender can be thought of as the cultured and social interpretations of biological sexual differences, which are in a changing interconnected pattern in the thinking of the Yijing. As sexual and gendered beings, biological sexuality and culturally specific gender identities cannot be removed from our experience of ourselves and nature, even as nature’s changing dance-like patterns evade identity-thinking and the externally forced identification with one model of what it means to be gendered.26 Jiji 既濟 (“completion” or “after completion”), the “only ‘perfect’ hexagram among the sixty four,” symbolizes the fulfilled mutuality and correlational alignment of yin with yang, of the feminine with the masculine, in which each line corresponds with the other (Wawrytko, 2000, p. 171). Combining fire (the masculine) below and on the inside and water (the feminine) above or on the outside of the hexagram, it is an image of sexual completion. The Yijing does not result in fulfilled closure: the cycle begins anew with a reversal of polarities in the sixty-fourth hexagram weiji 未濟 (incompletion) with fire on the outside and water on the inside. Sexuality structures the Yijing, and hierarchical gendered interpretations cannot control its relentless dance of transformations. The Yijing must be sexual since sexuality in it is nature acting through women and men in manifold ways. Because sexuality and the dance of the generative (kun) and the creative (qian) is manifold,


gender roles and identities are less fixed and stratified than patriarchal interpretations of the Yijing maintained.27

V.  THE YIJING, GENDER, AND AN AFFECTIVEREFLECTIVE ETHICS OF NATURE Modifying Wang Bi’s model of reflective understanding and interpretation, the significance of the Yijing need not consist in its offering an abstract or speculative cosmology, ontology, or philosophy of nature that inscribes gendered hierarchies onto nature and biological sex. The reflective practices of the Yijing are correlationally part of and enacts changing nature in a particular situation. Its interpreters are challenged through the shifting models of the Yijing to interpret, recognize, and appropriately respond to things, others, and their own heart-mind in relation to their own situations and circumstances. As this affective-imaginative reflection on one’s self, social situation, and natural environment responds to one’s situation, it can become an encounter with one’s own gendered being with oneself, others, and the world. Women’s experiences point toward the centrality of the affective in life even as these diverse experiences should not be reduced to a mere affective life or a reified stereotype of feminine emotionality. Responsive awareness of the contextual field and its particular focus encompass more than conceptual knowledge. Divination techniques typically combine the intuitive with the intellectual (Guo, 2012, p. 420). This holistic tendency is intensified in reflective interpretations of the Yijing that appeal to the agent’s affective and imaginative capacities, drawing on the situation of the relational individual. Instead of stratifying or suppressing the experience of a gendered being in the world, the affective-reflective processes described by Wang Bi promote an open engagement with the particularities of her life and the possibility of transforming her roles within their relational context. The shifting modalities and roles of the Yijing consequently suggest the possibility of a more transformative role ethics than a model that focuses on conventional and hierarchically established roles that deny female social equality and opportunities for self-identification and self-understanding.28 The Yijing’s transformative dialectic challenges the constancy and assimilative logic of the self-same male subject, which ecofeminists identify with patriarchal cultures, and nature as a fixed essence reproducing and reintegrating itself through each transformation. The Yijing’s significance lies in its arising from the world while offering multiple ways of modeling and interpreting it. Xu Gan’s correlative account of naming opposes nominalism and conventionalism and calls for the appropriate accordance of name (ming 名) and actuality (shi 實). Names arise from actuality understood as the myriad things, heaven, and self-so-ness (ziran 自然). The Yijing does not then represent a masculine calculative mastery of nature through divination aiming at control and exploitation. The myriad happenings of nature are neither heroically confronted nor pragmatically and technically manipulated as mere instrumental objects of use and exchange. Responsiveness to the shifting yet



patterned natural world to which one belongs is cultivated through the appropriate reflective use of the Yijing. The human world is intertwined with the self-soing of heaven and earth. Nature occurs in and correlates with practices of the self; it is by emptying the heart-mind that one can become receptive and responsive to the transformation of things, others, and oneself. The Yijing suggests an open “formally indicative logic,” matching models and things, and an ethos of humility and modesty that calls on one in fu (復 return or renewal, thunder under the earth) to encounter the turning point and practice daily ethical renewal through return (Xu Gan, 2002, p. 37). In Hexagram 24 there is a needed quickening impulse within the context of quietude or quiescence. This transformative movement of return indicates the possibility of a responsiveness within and the hermeneutics of a cultured and enacted nature. This multifaceted and transformative relational nexus is interpreted through the living moment; this means that the humanly interpreted natural world cannot be dialectically integrated or conceptually mediated. The Yijing does not involve an abstract linear conception of time but a shifting flowing temporality that calls for responsively tracing the living opportune moment (shi 時) in its incipient dynamic temporality.29 These qualities of quickening, which shake the masculine tranquility of the exemplary person, and returning to generative incipience suggest the significance of the feminine in the dialectic of the Yijing that incessantly undermines the formation of stratified hierarchies based on gender. Although the sense of temporality in the Yijing arose from experiences of sexuality and seasonality, the Yijing does not offer one model of cyclical time in contrast to linear conceptions of time. Cyclical time itself is more variable and happens in multiple ways in our environments and bodies. Gendered and other relational roles make a difference for how one interprets the images and the ideas of the Yijing in the context of one’s own situation. The Yijing is, as Ming Dong Gu observes, “a system of representation, and because of its unique structure and principle of signification, it forms an open hermeneutic space with infinite possibilities of interpretation” (Dong, 2005, pp. 257–82). The Yijing is an open semiotics in relation to a changing world, indicating an interpretive material logic that is more attuned and responsive to the shifting multiplicity of female experiences and self-interpretations. Its material logic has a formalism that allows women and others to explore, imagine, and reflect on the concreteness of their own affective, bodily, and gendered situation. There are as many ways of interpreting the Yijing as there are individuals to interpret it. This multiplicity of perspectives hangs together suggesting a contextual whole through which each is elucidated and, in turn, an elucidation of the whole through multiplicity. The Yijing is hermeneutical in disclosing the mutuality and interdependence of the particular and the whole in the moment (shi 時). The Yijing’s hermeneutics is far from being a disinterested observer’s art of reading texts and tracing authorial intentions for the sake of historical reconstruction. This hermeneutics of nature encompasses the Yijing’s practitioner as a participant in the performative enactment and interpretation of the cosmos, society, and the embodied self. Despite masculinizing and Confucianizing interpretations that privilege the masculine moment over the feminine moment, the Yijing addresses women in their own relational and unique circumstances and conditions.


In the Yijing, it is the way in which gendered individuals comport themselves in changing circumstances and fortunes toward others and things, increasing or decreasing their well-being and harmony, that matters. Human behaviors and practices belong to the fabric of nature, which is nourishing and destructive and can elevate or lower its patterns. Human activity partakes in the nourishment, maintenance, disordering, and destruction of things. Without the duality of fact and value, is and ought, or nature and morality, the Yijing involves a naturalistic (in a broadly defined nonreductive sense that includes sexuality) yet interpretive (in a worldly interactive sense) ethics (in the sense of following a way). This transformative ethics is in accord with an ethics that seeks to unfetter the roles that women can play in responding to and nourishing their own life, the life of others, and the ecological context of their life. The interaction between interpreter and the Yijing offers ways of interpreting the cosmos, nature, and human behaviors through instructive examples and orienting models that can frame reflection and practice. It suggests a self-organizing harmonizing of humans and nature, and hence an ecological and environmental balance: enacting the ways of heaven and earth while not neglecting and responding to the circumstances of women, men, and the myriad creatures. As change is the intrinsic character of things, one can follow change and the patterns (tendencies and counter-tendencies) of change through the Yijing’s words and images and interpretive observation. Wang Bi remarked in the section on “Clarifying Images” of the “General Remarks on the Changes of Zhou”: “The language twists and turns but hits the mark” and “words are snares for the images and the images are traps for the ideas” (Wang Bi, 1980, p.  565; Wang Bi, 1994, pp. 31–32; Lynn, 2015, p. 389). Words allow variation, and exploration, of images. Ideas are not merely mental representations; they are enactments of understandings that can be accessed through images (ibid.). Words and images are momentary situational configurations or constellations. Language and nature are interconnected at any point in time; they consist of changing interactions between elements, patterns, and ways. Wen (文; pattern, ornamentation, and writing) and language are manifestations of nature and the cosmos in the working of human experience and expression. The attunement and correspondence of mind and nature occur through mediating images, words, concepts, and ideas. As change is itself changing, the patterns of nature and society proceed through variations and possibilities. There can be therefore no one essential concept, basic word or image, fixed paradigm or model of nature, sexuality, or gender that is suitable to each situation or the present moment of the whole at all times. Experiences of sexual and gendered realities are basic, at the same time they situationally vary, to our responses to the movement of the Yijing and these experiences can be affectivelyimaginatively engaged through interpreting the Yijing. In light of our post-patriarchal and ecofeminist reading of Wang Bi’s meaning- and pattern-oriented interpretation, the Yijing offers a great variety of models and dialectical images for reflectively encountering and responding to one’s own situation, including acting and not acting, and withdrawal and approach.



VI.  CONCLUSION The Yijing can be a helpful source for thinking about nature and ecology. Given the current need to actively intervene in natural environments to help restore their ecological equilibrium and promote environmental justice by lowering what has come to be high and uplifting what has come to be low, a different paradigm is needed than relying on either deliberate action (wei 為) or a more minimal effortless or deferential action (wuwei 無為). This alternative is found in responsiveness (ying 應) to and resonance (gan 感) with the situated moment (shi 時) in which one can appropriately blend modalities such as letting be, engagement, return, and renewal. This suggests adopting a culture of nature in which nature is not construed as a fixed identity to be preserved, including essentialized accounts of biological sex. Nature and sexuality are instead affectively and imaginatively constituted, cultured, and gendered through emergent transitional identities and roles for oneself in one’s relational nexus with oneself, others, and the natural environment. The Yijing has both limits and possibilities for questions of gender. Gender plays multiple key roles in historical interpretations and uses of the Yijing. The Yijing is an imperfect model given its origins and history, as it has been masculinized in various ways in Chinese tradition. Nonetheless, as maintained in this chapter, the Yijing offers significant ways of engaging and transforming our experiences, expressions, and understandings of gender. It suggests alternatives to essentialist conceptions of women and reified understandings of the feminine that have limited women to restricted self-understandings and roles. Ecofeminist, feminist, and post-patriarchal approaches to the Yijing have a critical and potentially emancipatory dimension in relation to gender by undoing fixed identities and emphasizing the transformative character of women’s roles, self-interpretations, and their embodied being in the world.

NOTES 1. Special thanks are owed to Ann A. Pang-White, Joseph Adler, Shirley Chan, Mathew Foust, Denis Mair, Robin Wang, and Shengqing Wu for their encouragement and for their thoughtful comments during various stages of the development of this project. The following translations and editions have been consulted: Wang Bi (1994); Pearson (2011); Rutt (1996); Shaughnessy (2014); Wilhelm and Baynes (1967). Unless otherwise noted, the Chinese text of the Yijing and commentaries are from the Chinese Text Project: 2. On claims about the feminine and ecological dimensions of Chinese culture, see Callicott (1997, pp. 67–86); McFarlane (2001, p. 195); and Nhanenge (2011, especially p. 77); on the distinction between the transcultural category of sex and the cultured character of gender in the context of Chinese philosophy, see Hall and Ames (2000, p. 75). 3. On the complexity and multiple roles an expression such as yinyang can play in Chinese thought, see Wang (2012).


4. On these conflicting tendencies concerning gender in Chinese culture and their importance for contemporary ecofeminism, see the discussion in Nhanenge (2011, pp. 71–79). 5. For discussions of these issues, compare Nhanenge (2011, p. 78); Raphals (1998, pp. 144–45); Redmond and Hon (2014, pp. 77, 129, 243); and Rosenlee (2006, pp. 57–58). 6. Xi Ci I, 1. Compare the translation from Wang, Robin R. (2003), Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period through the Song Dynasty, p. 28; also compare the discussion in Rosenlee (2006, p. 56). 7. For instance, on the mutuality of feminine and masculine, “陰之中亦相為陰,陽之中 亦相為陽。諸在上者,皆為其下陽;諸在下者,皆為其上陰。” Chen (2011, p. 151). On Dong’s problematic role in the gradual decline of the treatment of Chinese women, see Chan (2003, pp. 312–33). 8. On the generative thinking of the Yijing, see Nelson (2013a, pp. 97–104). On fertile interchange and dance, see Mair (2005, pp. 1–15). 9. On the dangers of yinyang thinking for radical feminism, see Saldanha (2012, pp. 145–68). 10. On the role of the feminine in the Daodejing, see Nelson (2009, pp. 308–9). 11. How closely they are related is a matter of scholarly contention, S. J. Marshall argues for the preservation of the tortoise shell divinations in the Zhouyi in Marshall (2002, p. 7). 12. See Redmond and Hon (2014, pp. 77–78); Shaughnessy (2014, pp. 214–15). Qian and kun are vigor and compliance, not taken to be about gender. 13. For a detailed discussion and translation of the excavated fragments, see Shaughnessy (2014, pp. 141–87). 14. For an example of the political uses of the Yijing, see Hon (2005). Since the origins of the Zhouyi are associated with the struggles between the Shang and the Zhou, its political character appears very early. 15. See, however, the provocative translation by Pearson (2011). 16. The founding legends of the shaman kings of the Korean people can be found in Ilyeon (1972). 17. See the introduction of Adler to his translation of Zhu Xi (2002). 18. On emotional and social harmony, compare Hall and Ames (1998, p. 160); Nelson (2013c, p. 36). On the negative emotions in Confucianism, see Nelson (2013b); Nelson (2013c). 19. Xu Gan (2002, p. 25); on harmony in change and the whole without fixed identity, see Pines (2002, pp. 160–61), and Angle (2009, pp. 61–63). 20. Wilhelm (1967, p. 64); Wangbi (1994, p. 230). Xu Gan cites this to condemn the excesses of the wealthy and the abuse of laborers and slaves in (2002, p. 285). 21. A tendency that resonates with early Daoist ethics, see Nelson (2009, pp. 294–316). Later Daoist readings of the Yijing retain this ethical dimension, for instance: “The ground of ethics gives abundant life, embracing the people without cruelty, protecting



and embracing them, minimizing criminal law, making taxes light” (Liu and Cleary, 1986, p. 255). 22. Vandana Shiva has explored the intersection of the environmental crisis and human injustice on the basis of class, gender, and race in her works. On the intersection of a just and environmentally appropriate society, and of bio-diversity and cultural diversity, see Shiva (2005); on pluralism and multiculturalism in Shiva, compare Dalmiya (2014, pp. 167–84). 23. For instance, see Xi Ci II, 3: “《易》者,象也;象也者,像也。” 24. On image (xiang) and correlational or categorical association, see Yu (1987, p. 115). 25. See, for example, “《《易》曰:「宓戲氏仰觀象於天,俯觀法於地,觀鳥獸之文, 與地之宜,近取諸身,遠取諸物,於是始作八卦,以通神明之德,以類萬物之情。」” Liu (2002, p. 32). 26. On the sex-gender distinction, see Hall and Ames (2000, p. 75). 27. On sexuality and dance in the Yijing, see Mair (2005, pp. 1–15). 28. For an extended account of role ethics in Chinese philosophy, see Ames (2011). The Yijing arguably indicates a more fluid understanding of roles than orthodox Confucianism. 29. On the sense of temporality and incipient time in the Yijing, see Chang (2009, pp. 216–29); on response and responsiveness as a source for ecological reflection, see Adler (1998, pp. 123–49).

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Chapter Fourteen

Daoism and the LGBT Community susan scheibler

Daoism as a product of Chinese culture and social norms developed against a background of heterosexual normativity reinforced by Confucian values. While recent historical and literary scholarship has found documentation of same-sex relationships between Daoists, male and female, including commitment ceremonies between women in Guangdong (Canton) and men in Fujian (Fukien), dating back to Daoism’s earliest organized form as it emerged during the Han dynasty, it has only been with the emergence of modern homosexuality and contemporary LGBT studies that the question of how Daoism engages with sexuality has become relevant to Chinese and non-Chinese philosophers and religion scholars as well as practicing Daoist adherents. The revival of Daoism in China in recent years, its expansion as a global phenomenon among the Chinese diaspora as well as non-Chinese adherents, the expansion of Daoist academic studies beyond religion departments, the phenomenon of Western LGBT adherents looking for a spiritual practice to supplement and/or replace traditional Western religions in which they cannot locate themselves, and the increased visibility if not widespread acceptance of the LGBT community in China have given increased urgency to the question of whether or not there is a Daoist stance on homosexuality and, if so, what that might be. While it is difficult to substantiate reports that the Daodejing is the most translated book after the Bible, a survey of “Daodejing” at results in over thirty books; a search for “Dao” results in almost a hundred titles. A search for “Daodejing” on the Internet produces over 94,000 results, including links to published translations for sale, free translations, an assortment of commentaries on the text, Wikipedia and other encyclopedia entries providing historical and interpretive contexts, scholarly articles, links to Daoist associations, syllabi for university courses, discussion boards, and blogs. In a like manner, a search for “Daoism and Homosexuality” results in several hundred results with the same range of sources as for the larger topic of Daoism. A review of university course syllabi available online reveals that, as one would expect, Daoism is taught in a variety of academic disciplines, including Asian Studies; Philosophy and Religion/Theology departments; Art, Music, Theater and Film programs; Literature and Languages and that, among these courses are those that look at homosexuality through a Daoist lens.



In his Daoism: A Guide for the Perplexed, Louis Komjathy provides a paradigm by which to understand the diverse interpretations, concerns, understandings, and identities exemplified on the Internet. He writes: Daoism, written “Taoism” in the older Wade- Giles Romanization system but still pronounced with a “d” sound, is an indigenous Chinese religion deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture. “Daoism” may be understood as the “tradition of the Dao,” with the Dao (Tao; Way) referring to the sacred or ultimate concern of Daoists. “Daoism” is a placeholder for Daoist adherents, communities, and their religious expressions. Daoists (Taoists) are adherents of Daoism, although there are diverse modes of adherence and expressions of affiliation. In the modern world, Daoism has become a global religious tradition characterized by cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and national diversity. While rooted in “Chinese Daoism” as source-tradition, global Daoism is a religion with worldwide distribution and international adherence. (Komjathy, 2014, p. 1) An examination of the various Internet sites reveals three groups of Daoist adherents: Chinese practicing Daoism in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan; adherents of Chinese descent practicing Daoism as part of the Diaspora and therefore part of Komjathy’s global Daoism; and non-Chinese adherents, many of whom are Westerners of European and American descent, who, by means of social media sites, play a key role in the ways that Daoism is understood as a global phenomenon. Looking at these three groups we see that Daoism, in the words of Komjathy, “has entered the modern world not only in the form of physical presence and immigration, but also through intellectual engagement and popular appropriation . . . Daoism exists as both a lived and living religion as well as a series of intellectual constructs and popular fabrications” (p. 202). While the question of homosexuality within Daoist discourse is of intellectual and philosophical interest, it is most pressing to those for whom Daoism is a lived and living religion, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. The interest in the question can be traced to the intersection of several trends that have developed in the last two or three decades: (1) a renewal of Daoism in China combined with the increased visibility of the Chinese LGBT community; (2) a renewed interest among LGBT members of the Diaspora in their Chinese heritage, and (3) a turning toward Daoism and Buddhism by non-Chinese LGBT people looking for a spiritual practice that is less restrictive than the religions in which they have been raised. In the case of the first trend, the revival of Daoism in China has been traced to the socioeconomic reforms begun by Dean Xiaoping and continuing through the economic miracle of recent years. During this time, Daoist temples have been restored, novices and apprentices have been trained, and scholarly interest in the subject has grown. At the same time, the LGBT community in China has experienced greater visibility. While the importance of family and the centrality of the one-child policy still means that homosexuality is not widely accepted, especially outside the large cities, changes have occurred, thanks in part to the Internet and social media sites that enable LGBT people to connect with one another. While there is no protection against discrimination at the workplace, homosexuality was decriminalized in



1997 and removed from the list of psychiatric disorders by the Chinese Psychiatric Association in 2001 (Stout, 2014). Beginning in June 2013 foreign same-sex couples in Beijing have been able to file for dependent residence permits. Most recently a psychological clinic has been ordered to pay compensation to a gay man who sued it for administering electric shock intended to make him heterosexual. This is the first lawsuit involving so-called conversion therapy. Gay pride parades have become a fixture in Beijing and Shanghai and, since 2001, these cities have seen a rise in “marriage protests,” that is, protests by same-sex couples who can’t get married. While there are, by many accounts, a huge number of women married unknowingly to gay men and even more “companionate marriages” between gay men and lesbians, the mood among LGBT activists is guardedly optimistic. In their optimistic postings, they cite the lack of religious opposition due in part to China’s secular political culture and in part to the fact that Buddhism and Daoism do not have the same strictures against homosexuality as is found in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. If China has taken small steps toward accepting its LGBT population, Taiwan has taken leaps forward, becoming a Mecca of sorts for gays from across Asia. According to news reports, organizers estimate that more than 65,000 people, including marchers from Japan, Mainland China, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore, joined this year’s gay pride march through the streets of Taipei. In other parts of Asia, gay rights advocates are struggling to secure basic protections but in Taiwan openly gay and lesbian soldiers can serve in the military, textbooks are required to promote tolerance for gays and lesbians, workplace discrimination is illegal, and a bill to legalize same-sex marriage has been introduced in the legislature. Of course, Taiwan is, in many respects, a traditional society bound by a sense of Confucian filial duty that emphasizes family and the production of heirs. Even so, it has, among its tourist attractions in Taipei, a Daoist temple dedicated to the Gay Rabbit God. According to the stories, the Rabbit Deity emerged in the Qing dynasty as Hu Tianbao, who was beaten to death after his infatuation with an imperial inspector was exposed and then appointed a deity for homosexual relationships by deities in the afterworld who were moved by his unrequited love. The Taipei temple stands as a place for same-sex couples seeking good fortune to come and make their prayers known. Most analyses of Taiwan’s thriving LGBT culture point to several factors to explain the largely open attitude: a lively news media, a robust culture of grassroots organizations that fuel a vibrant democracy, and, as is perceived to be true of Mainland China as well, a religious life that is dominated by Buddhism and Daoism. But for many LGBT Daoist adherents, Chinese and non-Chinese alike, the question remains: Is there a Daoist perspective on homosexuality and, if so, what might it be? A survey of Daoist social media, web sites, blogs, and Internet discussion boards provides a glimpse into the questions, concerns, and issues at stake. For example, Matthew Niederhauser, a photographer working in Beijing, blogged about accompanying Dinah Gardner, the LGBT reporter for TimeOut Beijing, to the White Cloud (Daoist) Temple to provide photographs to her piece on Daoist views on homosexuality. According to his report, her question “how does Daoism feel about homosexuality amongst practitioners?” received the following answer: “According



to Daoist principle, homosexuality represents a metaphysical problem. The union of two Yang forces (male on male) creates disharmony within the Dao and must eventually be resolved. If there is only Yin or Yang it is imbalance or disharmony. Homosexual relationships do not perpetuate natural life. At some point, Yin must mix with Yang to produce more babies” (Niederhauser, 2008). The comments, observations, interpretations, and arguments posted in the accompanying discussion blog are similar to those raised in other blogs, social media, and web sites. They reflect academic scholarship in their identification of the key terms and issues that must be unpacked in order to understand Daoist views on homosexuality: the sexual nature of the Daodejing; the emphasis on fertility and reproduction in the classic texts; yinyang; Daoist treatises on the cultivation of the self (including sexual practices); wu wei, de, and ziran (see, e.g., where the discussion includes Chinese and non-Chinese participants, among whom are Daoist scholars, students of Daoism, serious adherents, and the curious). Perhaps the single most influential concept for a heterosexual understanding of Daoist philosophy is that of yinyang where yang is understood as male and yin as female. In this figuration, male on male would be yang on yang, and therefore would lack balance that comes from the integration of yin and yang. Female on female would be yin on yin and therefore would also lack the balance that comes from the integration of the two. Only sexual relations between a male (yang) and a female (yin) would maintain order and balance through the integration of the two forces. This understanding of yin and yang as female and male has been reinforced by the emphasis on sexual practice as part of Daoist health science with its emphasis on the cultivation of vitality, energy and spirit, known as the Three Treasures, to ensure health, happiness, and long life. One of the earliest movements to emphasize sexual techniques emerged in the late third millennium BCE and is referred to as the Huang-Lao school, taking its name from Huang Di, the legendary Yellow Emperor, and Lao Tzu, the Ancient Master. The Mawangdui finds of 1973–1974 produced five texts of this tradition: Ten Questions, Joining Yin and Yang, Talk on the Supreme Guidance of the World, A Course in Effectiveness, and A Course in Guidance. Ten Questions, written in the form of questions and answers, contain general recommendations regarding sexual intercourse, control of ejaculation, exercises in breathing, and healthy diet. Joining Yin and Yang presents specific sexual techniques to ensure the health benefits of blissful intercourse, emphasizing mood, sensitive foreplay, thorough arousal, and the importance of the complete satisfaction of the female. Talk on the Supreme Guidance for the World provides a detailed rationale regarding the relationship between sex and health as well as a manual of techniques, styles, and methods of sexual intercourse. The two courses, effectiveness (de jing) and guidance (dao jing), combined, encompass the De Dao Jing, a long-lost version of the Dao de jing, that is, in the words of Thomas Cleary, “more down-to-earth than the comparatively abstract and mystical interpretations of ancient lore in the Tao Te Ching” (Cleary, 1999, p. 416). In his book Taoist Body Kristofer Schipper points out the paradoxical contradiction at the heart of Daoist sexuality, namely that Daoism recognizes the centrality of



sexuality in life and nature while establishing interdictions such as “restrain yourself,” “conserve your seminal essences,” and so on. Schipper argues that the literature on sexual practices, while containing aspects of Daoism, does not represent true Daoism. As he says, it is “a mistake to look for Taoism in the idea of ‘nourishing the yang at the expense of the yin’; Taoism moves on an entirely different level.” He supports his argument with a quote from the Zhuangzi, chapter 11, interpreting the warning “do not overburden your body, do not stir up your seminal essences” as meaning not to use the body to follow passion or be carried away by the senses. As he says, the “fact that sexuality is so explicitly referred to also implies this: ‘Let us seriously occupy ourselves with sex, so that we can then forget it’” (p. 149). In other words, sexuality is part of nature, human and otherwise, and should be experienced fully but one should not be carried away by one’s passions and desires. To do so would not be following Dao. In his discussion of what he terms “the Dao of Sex,” Hans-Georg Moeller comments on the fact that the “Dao is the continuous process of growth and withering, of becoming and passing away, and thus it is also a sexual process, a process that entails the division of the sexes and their ‘struggle’ for fertility” (Moeller, 2006, p. 25). He goes on to point out: [The] Dao of sex in the Laozi is not predominately a Dao of human sexuality. Since this is the case, it is not concerned with gender issues. The sexes are, from its perspective, not socially but cosmically defined. It is not the distinction between men and women that serves as the guideline. When the Laozi speaks of the masculine and feminine, such as in chapters 61 and 28, it does not mean men and women in particular but the masculine and feminine in general . . . Daoism does not look at the world from an anthropocentric perspective, and this is also true for its view on sexuality. Human beings are sexual, but their sexuality is only part of a larger sexuality that encompasses all of nature . . . Sexuality is not only not confined to human beings, it is not even confined to the realm of the biological in a modern scientific sense. Everything between heaven and earth takes part in processes of growth and withering. (p. 26) Moeller concludes his discussion of the Dao of sex with the observation that in “the Laozi there is no special emphasis on human sexuality, and thus no particular concern for such all-too-human (and thus all-too-narrow-minded) categories of sexual “sin”—or, conversely, “gratification” (p. 32). If the heterosexual normativity assumed by the various Daoist bedroom manuals, commentaries, and ritualized techniques is grounded in a reduction of the “masculine” and “feminine” to “male” and “female” and from there to “men” and “women,” the same slippage occurs in interpretations of yin and yang. The concepts of yin and yang, qi, dao, and de are not uniquely Daoist but are common to the philosophical discourse of ancient China. As Moeller puts it, in the ancient Chinese terminology the two basic elements of (sexual) twoness are Yin (the female aspect) and Yang (the male aspect). The unity of these two aspects is the Dao. This basic structure appears in many ancient Chinese



philosophical texts, though most notably in the Book of Changes; it serves as a kind of fundamental pattern for various cosmological and other speculations. It is an elementary part, so to speak, of the grammar of ancient Chinese philosophical semantics .  .  . The Yin/Yang distinction, however, is not to be reduced to or simply identified with the femininity/masculinity distinction, and much less with the distinction woman/man. It is a much more general distinction than these, and the two sexes are only one of its (most important) manifestations. The Yin/Yang distinction is, in the terminology of the Sinologist Marcel Granet, a distinction of the “rubrics” by which everything that is or happens can be classified. It provides the most basic structure into which the world can be divided. (pp. 33–34) In her book Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture, Robin Wang uses the term “yinyang” rather than “yin or yang” or “yin-yang” as reflecting the Chinese usage as well as more faithfully representing the meaning of the term as a “paradigm for thinking about change and effective action . . . Yinyang embodies a wide range of linked meanings, many of which are in play simultaneously (pp. 5–6). In her carefully constructed and thoughtful analysis of the term across a variety of structures, she identifies several key characteristics: (1) the term is always context dependent; that is, it always applies to particular and relative contexts; (2) a single thing can be yin in one way and yang in another; (3) since everything is simultaneously yin and yang, things are always implicated in multiple relations at once; (4) different relations are in view depending on the particular purposes and priorities of the viewer; and (5) it is neither dualistic in positing two absolutely independent entities nor simply dialectical (pp. 7–8). She goes on to posit six forms for the various relationships: (1) contradiction and opposition; (2) interdependence; (3) mutual inclusion; (4) interaction or resonance; (5) complementarity or mutual support; and (6) change and transformation. Through all of these forms runs a common thread, namely that things are not purely yin or purely yang. As she points out in terms of contradiction and opposition, it “is the tension and difference between the two sides that allows for the dynamic energy that comes through their interactions. It is also this difference that enables yinyang as a strategy—to act successfully, we must sometimes be more yin and sometimes more yang, depending on the context” (p.  8). Opposites need not imply contradiction. The same thing can be considered one thing in one context and the opposite in another; for example, something may be small when compared to a mountain but large when compared to an anthill. In a like manner, the moon can be considered yin when compared to the sun but yang when compared to the night sky. In terms of interdependence, consider the door. It must be able to open and close as two interrelated acts. Interdependence is closely linked with mutual inclusion. Yin always entails yang and yang always entails yin. As Wang observes, the “constant alternation between yin and yang also entails that yang always holds some yin and yin always holds some yang. In the cycle of four seasons, summer is the most yang of the seasons, yet it contains a yin force, which will begin to emerge in the summer, extend through the fall, and reach its culmination in the winter” (p. 10). This illustrates the relationship between the hidden and the present. If yin and yang are interdependent,



then a change in one will cause a change in the other; they are always in some sort of interaction, influencing one another. At the same time, they complement and mutually support each other, with each side providing what is lacking in the other. Finally, each transforms and changes into the other in an endless cycle. “In nature, there is decline, deficiency, decrease, and demise, as well as flourishing, surplus, increase, and reproduction. In the human world, life is filled with trouble, failure, exhaustion, and insufficiency, as well as fullness, fruition, mastery, and success . . . change is perpetual, never ending. Reversal is a constant theme in Chinese thought” (Robin Wang, 2012, p. 11). Or as it says in the Daodejing: Reversal is the movement of the Dao. Weakness is the usefulness of the Dao. The things of the world are generated from presence (you). Presence is generated from nonpresence (wu). (Daodejing 40; Moeller, 2007, p. 97) The ten thousand things; Carrying Yin, embracing Yang Blending Qi to create harmony. (Daodejing 42; Moeller, 2007, p. 103) Everybody in the world knows the beautiful as being beautiful. Thus there is already ugliness. Everybody knows what is good. Thus there is that which is not good. That presence and nonpresence generate each other, Difficult and easy complement each other, Long and short give each other shape, Above and below fill each other, Tones and voices harmonize with each other, Before and after follow each other (Daodejing 2; Moeller, 2007, p. 7) Know the masculine and maintain the feminine—be the world’s river. Be the world’s river and constant efficacy won’t leave you, you return to the state of infancy. (Daodejing 28; Moeller, 2007, p. 71) Louis Komjathy argues, “yin and yang are used to represent different dimensions of the same phenomenon or situation” and, to that end, should be considered relative (Komjathy, 2014, p. 105). He points out that there are degrees of yin and yang in every phenomenon, so “certain men may be more yin than certain women, and vice versa. People in one context may be more yang (i.e. talkative or hot), while in another that same person may be quite yin (e.g. quiet or cold)” (p.  105). The emphasis on yin-yang in Chinese medicine and self-cultivation bears this out as it maps out yin along some organs, behaviors, tendencies and yang along others, all of which exist in each individual, social order, and the cosmos itself.



The assumption that things contain both yin and yang provides a response to the argument that homosexuality is a metaphysical problem. Men are not pure yang; women are not pure yin; therefore, sex between men is not a matter of yang on yang and sex between women is not a matter of yin on yin. Any relationship, heterosexual or homosexual, depends on the interdependence, interaction, mutual inclusion, growth and transformation, and reversal of yin and yang. Any relationship, heterosexual or homosexual, can be characterized by harmony and balance just as any relationship can be characterized by disharmony and imbalance. The important thing is to cultivate one’s self so that one is attuned to the way that qi is flowing through one’s self, the environment, and the other. If we understand yin to be feminine and yang to be masculine, it’s possible that gays and lesbians are, by their very natures, already a mix of yinyang, possibly more so than is true of heterosexuals. This argument, of course, demands further study and exploration. The third major argument mentioned earlier in favor of heterosexuality as that which is more properly aligned with the Dao than is homosexuality has to do with the emphasis on fertility, reproduction, and nature in the Daodejing. This argument stems primarily from the images used by the text to define the Dao, especially the emphasis on the feminine, the mother, valleys, rivers, and water. The assumption is that only heterosexuality is normal and natural since procreation depends on seed and sperm. As was shown in the discussion about sexuality and yinyang, it is generally advisable to understand Daoist concepts on a cosmic even metaphysical level. On a practical level, the Daoist sage as defined by the Daodejing is actually someone who does not spend his seed, as it were; he is to become an infant. Daoist nuns and monks often take a vow of celibacy and all Daoist adherents are expected to adhere to a set of precepts, among which is the vow not to misuse sex. In other words, not every heterosexual Daoist will procreate either by choice (the decision not to have children), vows of celibacy, physical conditions (infertility), economics, or political reasons (e.g., adherence to China’s one-child policy). Thanks to in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination, homosexual couples may also procreate. In other words, the argument that heterosexuality is normal and natural because heterosexual relations produce children is probably the easiest to counter and has been countered across the globe as LGBT couples marry, have children, and are gaining legal recognition. The perception that Daoism is less prohibitive in the same way as other religions (especially the religions of the Book: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) is one of the reasons given for the increased visibility of a Chinese LGBT community, especially in Taiwan, and the appeal of Daoism for non-Chinese LGBT people searching for a spiritual practice that offers them acceptance. For one thing, Daoism does not have a single authoritative text, a concept of sin, or a wrathful God who must be obeyed. The Daoist canon consists of a set or sets of “essential works,” including the classical texts the Daodejing, Zhuangzi, and the Book of Changes, as well as numerous commentaries and manuals designed to teach a variety of meditation and self-cultivation techniques. For centuries these works remained outside the reach of the common people; however, the late Ming period saw a rapid expansion of the publishing industry, including Daoist texts. These proliferated during the Qing



dynasty when Daoist and Buddhist publishing saw the appearance of sets of essential works, most of which were geared to a public hungry for religious self-help books. As canonical texts, none of these texts, unlike the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and the Koran, include proscriptions or prohibitions against homosexuality. Homosexuality is not mentioned. In fact, while the text is addressed to the male sage-ruler, the sexuality that is privileged throughout the Daodejing is feminine, not masculine, as one would expect. The fact that when oppositional pairs are used in the Daodejing and Zhuangzi the hierarchy is reversed creates an opening for homosexuality as a reversal of heterosexual normativity. In Daoism, the soft overcomes the hard, the flexible overcomes the rigid, water overcomes stone, the lower lying is privileged over the higher, stillness over action, as we see in the following: The spirit of the valley does not die— This is called: dark femininity. The gate of dark femininity— This is called: root of heaven and earth. How ongoing! As if it were existent. In its use inexhaustible. (Daodejing 6; Moeller, 2007, p. 16) The female overcomes the male by constant stillness. Because she is still she is therefore fittingly underneath. (Daodejing 61; Moeller, 2007, p. 141) Therefore it is said: the hard and the rigid are the companions of death. The supple and the soft, the delicate and the fine are the companions of life. If a weapon is rigid, it will not win. If a tree is rigid, it is reaching the end. The rigid and great settle below. The supple and the soft, the delicate and the fine settle above. (Daodejing 76; Moeller, 2007, p. 177) Nothing in the world is smoother and softer than water; but nothing surpasses it in tackling the stiff and the hard, because it is not to be changed. That water defeats the solid, that the soft defeats the hard: No one in the world who does not know this, but still no one is able to practice it. (Daodejing 78; Moeller, 2007, p. 181) If one takes, as a starting point, the fact that homosexuals are born, not made (as is accepted by the medical and psychological communities), then to be homosexual is natural for a homosexual just as being heterosexual is natural for the heterosexual. A homosexual in denial is not acting according to his or her true nature just as a heterosexual who denies his or her sexuality is not acting true to his or her own



nature. If Daoism leaves a space open for homosexuality in its privileging of reversal, its central concepts wu wei, ziran, de, and the equality of things enlarges the space considerably. One reason Daoism can be read as neutral on the subject of homosexuality is because, where other religions are concerned with morality and immorality, Daoism is concerned with ethics or virtuous behavior, not morality. Komjathy observes that when it comes to morality and immorality, for Daoism there is no such thing, primarily because “terms such as ‘morality’ are human constructs, ways of creating meaning and order in an impersonal universe” (Komjathy, 2014, p. 92). Yong Huang places Daoism within virtue ethics, as opposed to the ethics of duty, where virtue ethics or an ethics of virtue is understood as those systems of thought that place an emphasis on the cultivation of the moral disposition of the agent rather than on rules or consideration of consequences, as would be true of an ethics of duty. According to the argument, Zhuangzi provides an excellent example of virtue ethics with its “emphasis on naturalness, effortlessness, ease and joyfulness of an agent in performing moral actions” (Huang, 2010, p. 1050). He argues that there is an ethics in Zhuangzi’s stories. Zhuangzi’s ethics of virtue provides a space for homosexuals that the morality of other religion works so hard to preclude. Huang identifies two categories of stories in Zhuangzi: knack and difference. Knack stories are those that describe masters who exemplify the Dao by means of the ease with which they perform actions. Their actions exemplify wu wei, that is, effortless effort. A primary example is that of the cook who astonishes King Hui with his skill. When questioned, the cook explains that his skill comes from his love of the Dao. After spending three years studying oxen, he is able to “encounter it with the spirit rather than scrutinizing it with the eyes. My understanding, consciousness, beholden to its specific purposes, comes to a halt, and thus the promptings of the spirit begin to flow” (Ziporyn, 2009, p. 22). Depending on Dao to guide him, he is able to slice through the oxen with such ease that, where a normal cook changes his blade once a month, this cook has used the same blade for nineteen years. Whenever he comes to a difficult part that seems to thwart his efforts, he stops himself until, in his words, “my seeing comes to a complete halt. My activity slows, and the blade moves ever so slightly. Then all at once, I find the ox dismembered at my feet like clumps of soil scattered on the ground” (Ziporyn, 2009, p. 23). Huang quotes P. J. Ivanhoe’s discussion: These three craftsmen (the cook, Carpenter Ziqing and Wheelwright Pin) all have somehow managed to get into the flow of the Dao; they follow the hidden seams deep in the pattern of nature and, by so doing, are able to lead highly effective yet frictionless lives. Such individuals accord with rather than collide with the things and events they encounter in life and manage to pass through them all without incurring or causing harm . . . These stories lead one to believe that Zhuangzi is not an ethical skeptic; he thinks some people understand not only a better way but the Way. (Huang, 2010, p. 1052) If the knack stories provide examples of people who act spontaneously, naturally, and effortlessly (wu wei) by aligning themselves with the Way, then the difference stories



“tell us what constitutes a morally appropriate action—the action that recognizes the equal values of diverse ways of life” (Huang, 2010, p. 1059). Difference stories urge people to take the perspective of the Dao, that is, a perspective that “puts such perspectives into perspective: that everything holds its own perspective and yet not impose its own perspective on anything else, so that everything can treat everything else from the perspective of the thing being treated” (Huang, 2010, p. 1054). Zhuangzi, chapter two, “Equalizing the Assessment of Things” (in Ziporyn’s translation) provides what is probably the strongest argument for LGBT Daoists, namely the perspectival approach identified by Huang, which equalizes things. The chapter starts with a conversation between Ziqi and Yancheng Ziyou. Ziyou asks Ziqi to explain the piping of heaven, to which Ziqi replies it “gusts through all the ten thousand differences, allowing each to go its own way. But since each one selects out its own, what identity can there be for its rouser” (Ziporyn, 2009, pp. 9–10). He expands on this by pointing out that life is a series of alternations: joy and sorrow, anger and happiness, regrets and plans. Minds are shaped by whatever is selected out of the process of alternation. Someone could as easily choose one thing over another. For example, the Confucians and the Mohists each have a system of rights and wrongs; the Confucians affirm what the Mohists negate and affirm what they negate and vice versa. Ziqi proposes the “Illumination of the Obvious,” namely perspectival knowledge: There is no being that is not “that.” There is no being that is not “this.” But one cannot be seeing these from the perspective of “that”: one knows them only from “this” [i.e. from one’s own perspective]. Thus we can say: “That emerges from “this,” and “this” follows from “that.” This is the theory of the simultaneous generation of “this” and “that” . . . “This” is also a “that.” “That” is also a “this.” “THAT” posits a “this” and a “that”—a right and wrong—of its own. But “THIS” also posits a “this” and a “that”—a right and wrong—of its own. So is there really any “that” versus “this,” any right versus wrong? When “this” and “that”—right and wrong—are no longer coupled as opposites—that is called the Course as Axis, the axis of all courses. When this axis finds its place in the center, it responds to all endless things it confronts, thwarted by none. For it has an endless supply of “rights,” and an endless supply of “wrongs.” (Ziporyn, 2009, p. 12) In other words, to say “this” implies “that” and the terms take on meaning only from the situation and the perspective of the speaker. One person’s “this” is another person’s “that.” Or, by like measure, something can be “this” at one moment and “that” at another. This conjures up chapter two of the Daodejing: “presence and nonpresence generate each other/difficult and easy complement each other,/long and short give each other shape,/above and below fill each other,/tones and voices harmonize with each other/before and after follow each other” (Moeller, 2007, p. 7). In like manner, chapter forty-nine of the Daodejing describes the sage as someone who does not make distinctions: The sage is constantly without a heart; He takes the heart of the common people as the heart.



That which is good He holds to be good. That which is not good He also holds to be good. Thus he attains goodness. That which is true He holds to be true. That which is not true He also holds to be true. Thus he attains truth. (Moeller, 2007, p. 117) A dialogue between Nie Que and Wang Ni follows, reinforcing the point. Nie Que asks Wang Ni if he knows what all things agree in considering right. Wang Ni responds with a series of examples of the different ways that animals and humans live, eat, and consider beauty, concluding that things are too tangled up to know which is right among them. He only knows that the consummate person is beyond these distinctions. In like manner, Chang Wuzi tells Ju Quezi a story about Lady Li. When Lady Li was first captured, she wept but when she reached the palace and tasted all the good things, she regretted her tears; what was first considered captivity and bad she now considered something good. He follows the story with the observation that just because one person wins a debate and another loses, it doesn’t follow that the winner is right and the loser is wrong: Must one of us be right and the other wrong? Or could both of us be right, or both of us wrong? If neither you nor I can know, a third person would be even more benighted. Whom should we have straightened out the matter? Someone who agrees with you? But since he already agrees with you, how can he straighten it out? Someone who agrees with me? But since she already agrees with me, how can she straighten it out? Someone who disagrees with both of us? But if he already disagrees with both of us, how can he straighten it out? Some who agrees with both of us? But since he already agrees with both of us, how can he straighten it out? So neither you nor I nor any third party can know how it is—shall we wait for yet some “other”? (Ziporyn, 2009, pp. 9–10) In like manner, if someone says “you can’t be homosexual and a Daoist,” who is to say he is right or wrong? If someone says “you can be homosexual and a Daoist,” who is to say she is right or wrong? The consummate or virtuous person lets it be. In this way, perspectival knowledge is bound up with de, that is, integrity or virtue. Chapter Five of Zhuangzi articulates this relationship. In this chapter, Confucius describes the virtuous person as one who can experience change and the alternation of things without getting caught into preferring one to the other. The virtuous person sees all these alternating pairs as two sides of the same thing. Given time things will change into the opposite, much as the side of the hill that is in shade will, in time, be sunny and vice versa; yin into yang, yang into yin. As he says, “looked at from the point of view of their sameness, all things are one. If you



take the later view [sameness], you become free of all preconceptions . . . you free the mind to play in the harmony of all Virtuosities. Seeing what is one and the same to all things, nothing is ever felt to be lost” (Ziporyn, 2009, p. 33). In other words, cultivating de allows one to choose to see the oneness of things instead of exclusive differentiation. De is generally translated as “integrity,” “power,” “virtue,” or “potency.” In Confucian tradition de is a matter of moral character and presupposes self-cultivation. In Daoist thought it is that which signifies the embodiment of the Dao. It is closely related to the concept of ziran or self-so. Komjathy points out that, according to Daoist thought, in the case of human beings, innate nature is innately good. To express this nature is to act with virtue. But this is not socially constructed morality, as in the case of Confucianism. Rather, it is the way in which one’s innate nature naturally manifests, as a beneficial presence and influence. Such a condition has moral qualities from a conventional perspective, but it is simply one’s own innate nature, the Dao, becoming present in human relationships and interactions. (Komjathy, 2013, p. 92) Komjathy goes on to point out that, in Daoism, if virtue (de) does not flourish, it is not because of evil but has more to do with confusion. It can be cultivated through fasting the mind; that is, through stillness and emptiness. In the Zhuangzi, Confucius observes, “People cannot see their reflections in running water, but only in still water. Only stillness can still the multitude to the point of genuine stillness” (Ziporyn, 2009, p. 33). Or, as Shen Tujia puts it “a bright mirror gathers no dust; if dust gathers there, it wasn’t really bright to begin with” (ibid., p. 34). By becoming still and empty, the sage gains calm by allowing things to be ziran or self-so, that is, accepting things in their suchness. As Zhuangzi says at the end of Chapter Five “Markers of Full Virtuosity”: “What I call being free of them means not allowing likes and dislikes to damage you internally, instead making it your constant practice to follow along with the way each thing is of itself, going by whatever it affirms as right, without trying to add anything to the process of life” (ibid., p.  38). Or, as Komjathy explains: The tradition proposes various ways to do this [cultivate de], but taking classical Daoism to its logical conclusion, it simply involves abiding in the ground of one’s being. One accepts what is and allows each being to unfold according to its own innate nature .  .  . One trains oneself to have a positive and accepting view of oneself and others . . . to attain a state of “true joy,” or calm contentment and buoyancy undisturbed by gain and loss, by the trials and tribulations of existence, or by fulfillment or frustration of mundane desires. It requires recognition of change as the one universal constant. (Komjathy, 2013, p. 92) The concepts of de and ziran are closely connected with wuwei. While sometimes translated as non-action, it should not be understood as quietism or inactivity. The idea is more closely aligned with effortless effort (e.g., the cook described above) that comes from realizing that there is no need to tamper with the flow of reality. Perhaps



one of the most fundamental teachings of Daoism is that troubles and confusion come from humans creating distinctions such as good and bad, beautiful and ugly, self and other, and so on. One must cultivate stillness, empty the self from culturally assumed distinctions and divisions, accept things as they are (ziran) and cultivate wuwei. In this way, one acts naturally and not willfully, going with the flow, not tampering with how reality is moving, learning how to take advantage of how things are rather than trying to impose anything on them (see Daodejing, chapters 17, 23, 25, 28, 33, 34, 36, 37, 48, 51, 57, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65). In conclusion, if one takes the Dao seriously, one does not legislate morality. In fact, one understands morality to be a human construct and, like all constructs, results in confusion. A strict adherence to an exclusive narrow-minded morality can block the Dao from flourishing in one’s self, the social order and the cosmos. To that end, Daoism does not legislate against homosexuality. One thing that sets Daoism apart from other religions is its embrace of sexuality. Since sexuality is natural and since Daoism embraces the natural, it sees sexuality as neither good nor bad; it simply is. In fact, when read through the lens of sexual metaphor, the Daodejing is full of sexual imagery. Even so, when it does refer to sexuality, it privileges the feminine over the masculine. As Daoism developed as a religion, different schools of thought emerged, emphasizing different aspects of Daoist thought. While some privileged meditation (fasting the mind), others developed very thorough manuals, the bedroom manuals, describing in great detail sexual techniques as a form of self-cultivation. At the same time, as Buddhism entered China, Daoism began to adopt Buddhist elements, including sets of precepts, meditation practices, and monasteries, among other things. The one thing that distinguished Daoism from Buddhism was its carefully articulated sexual practices (inner and outer alchemy). Both Buddhism and Daoism included, within their precepts, the prohibition against misusing sexuality. Both religions also emphasized the need to let go of one’s attachment to desire and passion in order to cultivate lives of calm acceptance, tranquility, harmony, joy, equilibrium, and balance, obtained through meditation (on the part of both Buddhism and Daoism) and body cultivation (eating, exercise, sexuality on the part of Daoism). While the sexuality described in the various Daoist texts and commentaries is heterosexuality, there is no reason why gay or lesbian sex should be excluded. No doubt creative gay and lesbian couples can study and embody the various techniques laid out in the bedroom manuals. While the sexual techniques are expressed in terms of yin and yang, there is no reason to reduce yin to women or yang to men. It is better to understand the concept as a structure that informs everything in the cosmos. Yin-yang is, at heart, the basic structure of change and transformation; things are constantly transforming from one to the other. To that end, things are not yin or yang in and of themselves, as concrete or discrete objects, but contain yinyang in them at any given moment. Yinyang is therefore to be understood as relative terms, like all things in the universe. To that end, while the moon is yin when compared to the sun, it is yang when compared to the night sky. While the sun is yang, if it is too much yang, it will scorch the earth, creating draught and other environmental disasters. Therefore any argument that reduces yang to male or men



and yin to female or women is based on a simplistic and reductive understanding of the complexity of the concept. In the process, such thinking ignores the relational characteristics of the two; that is, that they exist in relationship to one another, which is why the term yinyang is better suited to capturing the full sense of the concept. Our understanding of yinyang must be informed by the fundamental Daoist principle, which is that everything is in a process of change and transformation. Yin becomes yang, yang become yin; from one perspective something is yin; from another it is yang. Since homosexuals are born (as argued above), not constructed, their homosexuality is their nature. They are self-so as homosexuals. To deny their sexuality would be to deny their self-so nature and therefore would be against Dao. If the Dao runs through all things, defining the ten thousand things, then it runs through homosexuals as well as heterosexuals. If one applies wuwei, then one should take no action that is contrary to nature. One lets nature take its own course. A Daoist does not impose artificial structures in an attempt to control and manipulate things; rather, he/ she chooses to appreciate the natural tendencies of circumstances, environment, people, and themselves, after which one explores the best way to make use of the surroundings. Respecting ziran means respecting the spontaneous manifestation of the natural tendencies of a phenomenon, including people and social structures.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Chan, Alan (2000), “The Daodejing and Its Tradition,” in Livia Kohn (ed.), Daoism Handbook. Leiden: Brill, pp. 1–29. Chan, Wing-Tsit (1963), A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Cleary, Thomas (1999), The Taoist Classics. Boston, MA: Shambala Press. Coutinho, Steve (2014), An Introduction to Daoist Philosophies. New York: Columbia University Press. Crane, Sam (2013), Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of the Dao: Ancient Chinese Thought in Modern American Life. Sussex: Wiley Blackwell. Csikszentmihalyi, Mark (2000), “Han Cosmology and Mantic Practices,” in Livia Kohn (ed.), Daoism Handbook. Leiden: Brill, pp. 53–73. Fowler, Jeaneane (2005), An Introduction to the Philosophy and Religion of Taoism: Pathways to Immortality. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press. Hu, Fuchen (2013), The General Theory of Taoism, trans. Zhonghu Yan. UK: Paths International Press. Huang, Yong (2010), “Respecting Different Ways of Life: A Daoist Ethics of Virtue in the Zhuangzi,” The Journal of Asian Studies, 69 (4): 1049–69. Kirkland, Russell, T. H. Barrett, and Livia Kohn (2000), “Introduction: Explaining Daoist Realities, Cultural Constructs and Emerging Perspectives,” in Livia Kohn (ed.), Daoism Handbook. Leiden: Brill, pp. xi–xxxviii. Komjathy, Louis (2013), The Daoist Tradition: An Introduction. London: Bloomsbury. Komjathy, Louis (2014), Daoism: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Bloomsbury.



Levine, Jonathan (2013), “In China, LGBT Citizens Seek Acceptance,”, updated June 22, 2013; downloaded November 26, 2014. Littlejohn, Ronnie (n.d.), “Daoist philosophy,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, iep.; downloaded November 26, 2014. Mair, Victor (2000), “The Zhuangzi and Its Impact,” in Livia Kohn (ed.), Daoism Handbook. Leiden: Brill, pp. 30–52. Moeller, Hans-Georg (2006), The Philosophy of the Daodejing. New York: Columbia University Press. Moeller, Hans-Georg (trans.) (2007), Daodejing: The New, Highly Readable Translation of the Life-Changing Ancient Scripture Formerly Known as the Tao Te Ching. Chicago: Open Court. Niederhauser, Matthew (n.d.), “Yang on Yang: Homosexuality and the Dao,”, downloaded November 1, 2014. Rainey, Lee Dan (2013), Decoding Dao: Reading the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi. West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons. Roth, Harold D. (2004), Original Tao: Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism. New York: Columbia University Press. Schipper, Kristofer (1993). The Taoist Body, trans. Karen C. Duval. Berkeley: University of California Press. Stout, Krista Lu (2014), “Being Gay in China: Does the Rainbow Flag Fly Free?,” cnn. com; updated November 26, 2014; downloaded November 26, 2014. Wang, Keping (2011), Reading the Dao: A Thematic Inquiry. London: Continuum. Wang, Robin (2012), Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Yi, Ho (2007), “Taoist Homosexuals Turn to the Rabbit God,” Taipei Times, October 21, 2007;; downloaded November 26, 2014. Ziporyn, Brook (trans.) (2009), Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Part IV

Buddhist Approaches Part IV explores Buddhist approaches to gender found in the teachings represented by the ancient Theravada traditions and the later Mahayana schools. The four chapters in Part IV investigate essential Buddhist canonical texts, modern Buddhist transformation, and Buddhist perspectives on social ethics, gender, and LGBT community. In Chapter  15, “Buddhist Nondualism: Deconstructing Gender and Other Delusions of the Discriminating Mind through Awareness,” Sandra Wawrytko analyzes the philosophy of nondualism delineated in Buddhist texts to illuminate the broader context within which discussions of gender are situated. Buddhism’s adherence to nondualism offers a philosophy beyond gender, in sharp contrast to the ingrained gender bias of most philosophical systems. Buddhist philosophy also goes beyond a feminist agenda by avoiding a reverse sexism that extols the “feminine” by denigrating the “masculine.” The most important melding of these qualities is found in the figure of the bodhisattva for whom Wisdom naturally evolves into Compassion, thus equipping one for complete consummate Practice. Wawrytko further taps into the new findings of neuroscience to support her analysis. In Chapter  16, “Non-self, Agency, and Women: Buddhism’s Modern Transformation,” Ann A. Pang-White argues that “non-self (anātman 無我)” and “emptiness (śūnyatā 空)” necessarily entail nonduality. Nonetheless, conflicting teachings are found in various Theravada and Mahayana texts. Buddhist nuns receive much less respect and financial support than monks, often facing the possibility of extinction. In Taiwan, however, in a complete reversal, Buddhist nuns outnumber male monks in an astonishing 75 percent to 25 percent ratio, with the largest number of Buddhist nuns in the world. How do Taiwanese women and Buddhism mutually transform each other? In addition to theoretical analysis, Pang-White investigates two Buddhist communities of women (Still Thought Abode and the Luminary Buddhist Institute of Nuns) to shed light on Buddhism’s modern transformation. In Chapter  17, “‘The Bodhisattva’s Path’ as Gender-Neutral Practices: A Case Study of Buddhist Tzu Chi Community in Taiwan,” Hwei-Syin Lu examines from a sociological point of view how “the bodhisattva’s path” highly values women’s caring work and how men are trained to follow the female model of engaged Buddhism



in the Buddhist Tzuchi organization, the largest Buddhist charity group in Taiwan. Being enlightened to nurture compassion and to put it into action, the volunteers are freed from gender roles socially imposed upon them. In Chapter 18, “Bhikunī Chao-Hwei’s Buddhist-Feminist Social Ethics,” HsiaoLan Hu writes that the field of “Buddhist-feminist social ethics” virtually does not exist without considering Venerable Chao-Hwei. She has written three monographs on Buddhist ethics. In Chinese academic circles, she is the lone scholar-activist who pulls together Buddhist ethics, feminist critiques, and social activism. Venerable Chao-Hwei has been known for her confrontational challenge of the eight special heavy rules for nuns (garudhammas; in Chinese, bajingfa 八敬法) during a dual ordination ceremony of monks and nuns and her controversial involvement in various social issues, from demanding gender equality to advocating for animals rights, and from coordinating interreligious efforts against the building of a casino to mobilizing protesters across social strata against the construction of a nuclear power plant. Most recently, she has been an active defender of the rights of the LGBT community. She has officiated at several Buddhist same-sex weddings. Some were much publicized, in accordance with the couple’s wish to raise public awareness on the lack of civil rights of same-sex couples.

Chapter Fifteen

Buddhist Nondualism: Deconstructing Gender and Other Delusions of the Discriminating Mind through Awareness sandra a. wawrytko

The Buddhist teachings are not here to constrain people. They are here to support and liberate them. This is not a special effort to stand up for women; I’m simply upholding the truth. Hsing Yun, 2013, p. 145 This pronouncement from a contemporary Buddhist master reflects the broad sweep of liberation that crushes all -isms. When Buddhist philosophers nondualistically deconstruct the phenomenal/noumenal divide enshrined by ego or self, sexist assumptions and stereotypes are deconstructed along with all other forms of discrimination. Women can no longer be devalued or demeaned as agents of mere appearance contrasted to the superior male, a supposition of primal duality hardwired into many ancient languages: in the Indo-European language system the words matter, material, and meter as well as mother, and its Latin and Greek forms mater and μήτηρ, are derived alike from the Sanskrit root ma¯ - (ma¯tr-), from which, in Sanskrit itself, comes both ma¯ta¯ (mother) and ma¯ya¯ (the phenomenal world of nature). The meaning of the common word ma¯- is “to measure,” thus giving ma¯ya¯ the sense of the worldas-measured, that is, as divided into things, events, and categories [dharmas]. In contrast stands the world unmeasured, the infinite and undivided (advaita) Brahman, the supreme spiritual reality .  .  . The catalogue of popular images, figures of speech, and customs which associate spirit with the divine, the good, and the male and nature with the material, evil, sexual, and female could go on indefinitely. (Watts, 1970, p. 143)



In principle, then, feminist goals are irrevocably supported and furthered by Buddhist philosophy. Most importantly, the goal of Buddhism is not to bemoan the oppressed state of women, but pragmatically to assess the mental root of that dysfunction so that it may be removed. Dharma is “a prescription for action” (Gombrich, 2009, p. 160). From Buddhism’s inception it was a philosophy beyond gender. The nondis­ criminating mind encompasses both stereotypically “feminine” and “masculine” strengths, without privileging one over the other or consigning them to specific subsets of beings. The most obvious melding of these qualities is found in transgendered bodhisattva figures, for whom Wisdom (prajña¯ 智慧; Mañjuśrī, Wenshu 文殊) naturally evolves into and aligns with Compassion (karuṇā 慈悲; Avalokiteśvara, Guanshiyin 觀世音), thus equipping one for complete Practice (ayana 行; Samantabhadra, Puxian 普賢). The rich contours of the Lotus Sūtra deftly reveal how this process unfolds, as wisdom (chapters 1–14) provides the foundation to build an all-encompassing compassion (chapters  15–27) that in turn results in consummate practice (chapter 28). This chapter analyzes the philosophy of nondualism delineated in Buddhist texts to illuminate ways in which discussions of gender transcend the confines of feminist theory, while contributing to its ends. More specifically, as Master Hsing Yun 星雲 stated, the “woman” problem in Chinese Buddhism is not essentially about women, but rather a problem of perception, misperception, and mistaken identity that both includes and transcends women and gender issues. For Buddhist philosophers this distortion arises from a lack of awareness, attention, or mindfulness appamāda/ apramada (不放逸 bufangyi), what a scientist might recognize as inattentional blindness. Due to the narrow fixations of the discriminating mind, misidentification of self and others arises, preventing us from realizing our true nature as well as that of the presumed other. In early Asian cultures this misperception was compounded by an ingrained hierarchical mind-set dominated by a patriarchal value system. In Buddha’s time India adhered to gender distinctions as well as a rigid caste system, although Buddha ridiculed the Brahmins’ claim to birth from Brahma’s mouth (Gombrich, 2009, p. 189). In China Kongzi 孔子 sought to conserve the Zhou 周 culture, maintaining its organizational structures through self-cultivation “initiated by poetry, grounded in li 禮, completed by music” (Analects 論語 8:8). Li Zehou traces Confucian philosophy to China’s “non-Dionysian tradition of rites and music that molds and regulates human nature from the outside, now internalized by Confucius and the Confucians to become the proper pursuit of conscious humanity and humanistic emotion” (Li, 2009, p. 46). He refers to this as “sedimentation,” “an experiential, a posteriori species heritage shared across cultures,” whereby human tool use evolves into complex forms of conceptualization and exposure to external phenomena generates the construction of internal noumena (Wawrytko, 2013, p. 476). Since Buddhist epistemology intends to liberate us from these very distinctions, it stands in sharp contrast to the ingrained gender biases of most philosophical theories. In China, Buddhism’s radical egalitarianism was deemed a threat to the natural order of Heaven above and Earth below mediated by Humanity. Monasticism also clashed



with Confucianism’s focus on the continuity of the family line, which required adherence to the “norm” of a dominant husband and subservient wife, whose primary duty was producing a male heir. By the time of Han Yu 韓愈 (768–824) in the Tang 唐 Dynasty hierarchical distinctions had proliferated even further—he expounded on “three grades of human nature” along with “three grades of feelings,” rejecting any attempt at a universal understanding of humans as inherently good, evil, or a mixture of both (Chan, 1963, pp. 451–52). A Korean yangban, Pak Ch’o (1367–1454) offers a pointed criticism along these same lines in his “Anti-Buddhist Memorial”: “What kind of man is this Buddha who makes a son that should carry on the family line betray his father and sever the affection between father and son; who makes men resist the Son of Heaven and destroy the righteousness between lord and minister; who says that for men and women to live together is not the Way” (Lee, 1993, pp. 373–74). Although Buddha was awakened to our predilection for discriminatory deluded thought, his cultural context was not. Buddhist accounts clearly indicate that even dedicated Sangha members struggled with misguided dualistic preconceptions. Multiple strategies were developed to deal with the persistent presence of discriminating mind. The Ka¯la¯ma Sutta sets forth the epistemological methodology advocated by the historical Buddha to expose and dismantle the delusions of the discriminating mind. Fixations on the accepted “truths” of consensus reality must be thrown into doubt; dogmatism must be overthrown by the same salutary uncertainty that accompanies scientific investigation. Members of the Kalama clan residing in Kesaputta approached the Buddha when they become confused by the conflicting claims of dogmatic preachers: “They expound and explain only their own doctrines; the doctrines of others they despise, revile, and pull to pieces.” A list of suspect sources is unfurled for their inquiring minds: hearsay, tradition, rumor, scripture, surmise, axioms, specious reasoning, biased views, reliance on someone’s presumed ability, or deference to authority. Instead of succumbing to convenient assurances, Buddha advises an empirical approach to be undertaken by each person using their own resources: “Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them” (Soma Thera, 1981). Buddha guides the Kalamas to consider how negative assessments are associated with greed, hatred, and delusion—which bring about harm and ill. What is worthy of our attention, however, are “things . . . praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness.” Furthermore, Buddha urged the Kalamas to validate the positive consequences of removing faulty assumptions. The “Four Exalted Dwellings”—a mind devoid of hatred, malice, and delusions, while remaining mindful—result from following what is beneficial. Without discriminating thoughts amity, compassion, gladness (joy), and equanimity arise. The “Four Solaces” eliminate any concerns about life after death, in a Buddhist expansion of Pascal’s Wager: (1) If there is an afterlife, a life well-lived will reap a reward in the hereafter. (2) If there is no afterlife, one can rest content knowing one lived well in the world. (3) If evil conduct is punished, then one can



take solace in not being an evil-doer. (4) If there is no retribution for evil behavior, the mindful person remains unaffected for virtue is its own reward. Not everyone is as inquisitive as the Kalamas, hence Buddhist teachers found it necessary to provoke cognitive dissonance concerning a biased consensus reality, whether focused on age, class, ethnicity, gender, or even species identity. For the Buddhist, despite Sigmund Freud’s famous pronouncement to the contrary, anatomy is not destiny. Among Chinese Buddhists the presumption of universal Buddhahood was challenged by conflicting interpretations of the icchantika 一闡提迦, someone lacking the desire for enlightenment, due to the absence of good roots or due to the committing of heinous acts. Somewhat paradoxically, the term also was used to describe a bodhisattva who vowed to forego Buddhahood, hence a Great Compassion Icchantika 一闡提迦. Liu argues “the icchantikas’ terrible fate has more to do with their stubborn sense of self-sufficiency than with any concrete act of transgression” (Liu, 1984, p. 63). This echoes the label “overbearingly arrogant” bestowed on the 5,000 practitioners in the Lotus Sūtra who walk out just as the Buddha is about to expound the One Vehicle of universal Buddhahood: “What they had not attained they supposed they had attained, what they had not understood they supposed they had understood” (Watson, 1993, p. 30). In more contemporary parlance we can refer to them as the “unconsciously incompetent”—“Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it” (Kruger and Dunning, 1999, p. 1121). The case for universal Buddhahood is made in Buddhist literature through the presentation of such difficult cases. Who, if anyone, is excluded from Buddhahood—a wealthy merchant? the very old? the very young? an illiterate barbarian? a serial killer? Buddha’s would be assassin? members of another species? a demon? If even the least likely to succeed can realize enlightenment, skeptical practitioners can begin to grasp the unlimited potential possessed by all, Buddha wisdom as “the wisdom embracing all species” repeatedly proclaimed in the Lotus Sūtra (Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra; Miaofa lianhua jing 妙法蓮華經). Key texts serve as catalysts for seeing through discriminatory epistemological constructs so we may move from egocentric, group-centric perspectives that reinforce dogmatic assumptions to an allocentric perspective that is open to a fresh evaluation. Some Mahāyāna texts focus on the interwoven practices of non-abiding (apratiṣṭhita; wuzhu 無住) and emptiness (śūnyatā; kong 空) as the necessary correctives. The “dust” of deluded thinking collected on the mirror mind, responsible for a distorted view of both self and others, must be swept away, emptied out, while avoiding abiding in or fixation on the concept of emptiness itself. We will pay particular attention to the gynophobic biases spouted by the figure of Śāriputra in two important Mahāyāna sūtras. Although he is distinguished among the inner circle of Buddha’s disciples for his great wisdom, the underlying message seems to be that wisdom is insufficient when encountering unfiltered reality, Suchness (tathāta; zhenru 真如). Wisdom that has Gone Beyond, Prajñā-pāramitā (bore boluomiduo 般若波羅蜜多), adds the all-embracing Compassion born of pratītya-samutpāda (yuanqi 緣起法), insight into the interconnectedness of all that



is more than a mere intellectual concept. In this same vein, Krishnamurti famously challenged us to seek “Freedom from the Known.” This requires us to distinguish between concentration, which necessarily entails “exclusion,” and attention or “total awareness” that “excludes nothing” (Krishnamurti, 1969, p. 31). That absence of exclusion is possible through emptiness. The Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra (Weimojiesoshuojing 維摩詰所說經) is known especially for its espousal of emptiness, manifested in calls to empty abiding, discrimination, dualism, language/concepts, emptiness as well as the self-imposed limitations of complacency and arrogance by instilling fearlessness. The title character who propounds this message is Vimalakīrti, a wealthy elderly layman, who serves as an embodiment of emptiness. His very name can be rendered as “Renowned for Purity” or “Praised for Freedom from Defilement.” A decisive justification of this designation occurs in chapter nine, “initiation into the Non-dual Dharma” (Luk, 1972, p.  92), or entering “the Dharma-Door of Nonduality” (Thurman, 2003, p. 73). After thirty-two bodhisattvas attempt to verbalize nondualism, Vimalakīrti “kept silent without saying a word,” leading Mañjuśrī, bodhisattva of wisdom, to exclaim “Excellent, excellent; can there be true initiation into the non-dual Dharma until words and speech are no longer written or spoken” (Luk, 1972, p. 100)? This passage exerted a profound influence on the development of Chan. The opening chapter praises the 32,000 bodhisattvas assembled to hear the Buddha for “having achieved all the perfections that lead to wisdom”; they are recognized as esteemed Dharma teachers, possessed of purified thoughts, words, and actions (Luk, 1972, p. 1). The litany of their accomplishments goes on for many pages. Yet we soon discover that they lag behind this “lowly” layman, who fearlessly engages with all segments of society, in their practice and level of mental purity. When the Buddha asks the Bodhisattvas to visit the “ailing” layman on his behalf, each claims to be unqualified for the mission, based on a difficult encounter with him. Several examples of mispeaking or misidentification are narrated. Maitreya mistakenly casts Bodhi in a temporal context while Glorious Light tries to locate bodhimandala spatially; Bodhisattva Ruler of the World mistakes a demon for Sakra/ Indra and then an actual demon is confounded when Vimalakīrti accepts an offer of 12,000 goddesses that had been spurned by the bodhisattva; a young practitioner mistakes superficial ritual performance for true practice with regard to the offering of a necklace. These lead the highly regarded bodhisattvas to question their worthiness. The accounts also reveal how the teaching of Vimalakīrti empowers the lowly. He recommends “a Dharma called the Inexhaustible Lamp” to the goddesses as they reenter the demon realm, allowing them to help others there focus on supreme enlightenment, just as a light penetrates all darkness (Luk, 1972, p. 44). In another case we learn that “the poorest beggar who has also listened to his expounding of the Dharma developed a mind set on supreme enlightenment” (Luk, 1972, p. 48). Thus, to quote Jesus, it seems that “the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). As Vimalakīrti observes in chapter 3, “All things basically are not what they seem to be” (Luk, 1972, p. 29). The Buddha revealed the reason for these reversals in the very first chapter, declaring that the pure mind of the bodhisattva reveals the purity



of a Buddha land. Hence those who fail to see the purity of the world as it is—or the purity of their fellow beings—who perceive only a defiled Sahā world, have not yet fully emptied their minds of distorting dust. Buddha informs an inquisitive Śāriputra, “because your mind is up and down and disagrees with the Buddha-wisdom, you see that this land is unclean,” a harbinger of his later dogmatic skepticism regarding the goddess’ enlightenment (Luk, 1972, p. 13). Nondualism means that coming is going and going is coming, hence Vimalakīrti declares that the nondiscriminating mind of a bodhisattva may enter the Buddha path by walking “the wrong ways” (Luk, 1972, p. 81). Similarly, Zen Master Ikkyū (1394–1481) wrote: “Entering the realm of the Buddha is easy, entering the realm of the devil is difficult” (Stevens, 1993, p. 28). Unexpected reversals are evident in other texts. Devadatta, the Buddhist equivalent of the duplicitous Judas of the New Testament, is given a prophecy of Buddhahood in the Lotus Sūtra, despite the multiple attempts he made on the Buddha’s life. The Buddha identifies Devadatta as his “good friend” in a past life, which facilitated his later awakening (Watson, 1993, p. 184). His case is recommended to practitioners as a basis for building confidence in their own prospects for awakening, inspiring them to aspire to Devadatta’s future Buddhahood. The Aṅgulimāla Sutta tells the story of a serial killer, named for his “garland (māla) made of fingers (aṅguli),” who nonetheless becomes a committed practitioner known as Ahiṁsā (non-injury). He transforms himself from what we might be tempted to call a natural born killer, “brutal, bloody-handed, devoted to killing & slaying, showing no mercy to living beings,” into a devout monk who compassionately assists a woman undergoing a breech birth (Thanissaro, 2003). In the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra 楞伽經 Lord Rāvaṇa, demon (rākṣāsa) villain of the Rāmāyana, witnesses an upāyic magic show conjured up by the Buddha. Upon realizing that he has had a glimpse of a Buddha’s unfettered view of reality, he “felt an awakening and transformation [parāvṛtti], as he realized what appeared was nothing but the perceptions of his own mind, and he found himself in a realm free from such projections” (Red Pine, 2012, p.  31). The Chinese Buddhists had their own least likely candidate in Hui-neng 慧能, the impoverished and illiterate barbarian who managed to become the Sixth Patriarch of Chan even before he was ordained as a monk. The Platform Sūtra (Liuzu Tanjing 六祖壇經) details the obstacles he faced as well as his revolutionary ways of overcoming them. Several texts also specifically target gender bias as a product of the discriminating mind. Chapter 12 of the Lotus Sūtra is often cited for its riveting tale of the dragon king’s daughter or Nāga princess, who bears the burden of numerous impediments. She is the “wrong” age (a mere girl of eight), has a “soiled” female body, and comes from another species. Her connection to the Nāgas, from the Sanskrit word for snake, nag, reinforces the female element, since snakes are often identified as cobras, symbols of fertility and abundance, who inhabit watery depths. By extension this can imply an ability to plumb the depths of profound wisdom. Thus, she is credited with “keen roots” and “seeds” of wisdom and practice. Mañjuśrī cites her case of awakening as evidence for the efficacy of the Lotus Sūtra, which she heard him expound in the ocean. His description of her corresponds to what one would expect from a Buddha—one who has mastered the dhāranīs,



embraced Buddha wisdom, practiced deep meditation, was possessed of eloquence and compassionate commitment to all beings. In her thinking and her speaking, “she is subtle, wonderful, comprehensive and great” (Watson, 1993, p.187). Nonetheless, Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulated questions the veracity of Mañjuśrī’s claim that she has realized Buddhahood, since she did so “in the space of an instant,” while the Buddha required “immeasurable kalpas” (Watson, 1993, p. 187). Suddenly she appears in the assembly, and goes directly to the Buddha for validation, stating “the Buddha alone can bear witness to this” (Watson, 1993, p. 188). Ṥāriputra, distinguished among Buddha’s disciples for his wisdom, challenges her, citing the Five Obstacles that are claimed to prevent women from reaching the exalted status of a Brahmā heavenly king, king Śakra, devil king, wheel-turning sage king, or a Buddha due to a “defiled” physical form that is “not a vessel for the Law” or Dharma (Watson, 1993, p.  188). Again, she does not respond directly to her inquisitor, but rather presents a “precious jewel” (Buddha-nature?) to the Buddha, which is immediately accepted. Both Wisdom Accumulated and Ṥāriputra agree this has been done “Very quickly!” Just as quickly, she responds by transforming herself into male form, completing the bodhisattva practices, relocating to the Spotless World of the south where she/he realizes enlightenment, manifesting thirty-two features and eighty characteristics of a Buddha. Since seeing is believing and they have now seen for themselves what they deemed impossible, we are told that “Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulated, Ṥāriputra and all the other members of the assembly silently believed and accepted these things” (Watson, 1993, p. 189). So the chapter ends with practice trumping wisdom, a wisdom that seemingly has yet to realize the compassion capable of acknowledging the Buddha wisdom embracing all species. Yet their acceptance only comes after she has assumed a male form, leading some interpreters to claim this as a vindication of women’s exclusion from Buddhahood qua women. One could also argue that the problem lies in their discriminating minds, which can only see a Buddha as a man. In the Tiantai 天台 tradition, Zhiyi 智顗 (538–597) famously espoused an egalitarian position on this point, declaring that the Nāga princess and other females do not require male embodiment to realize Buddhahood: “ . . . the dharma nature is like a great ocean. No right or wrong is preached (within it). Ordinary people and sages are equal, without superiority or inferiority” (Fahua Wenju 法華文句; Taishō 34.117a) (Levering, 2002, pp.  481–82). Philosophically speaking, a Buddha defies gender assignment or any other form of categorization. Chapter  25 of the Lotus Sūtra, “The Universal Gateway of the Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds,” reinforces the egalitarian message of chapter 12 through the thirty-three manifestations of the bodhisattva of compassion. This very popular chapter has largely been misread as a promise of access to the other-power of a bodhisattva savior, who is literally at our beck and call. Nikkyō Niwano challenges that simplistic interpretation and instead sees a message of self-empowerment: “salvation lies in our awareness of the existence of the Eternal Buddha, who is omniscient both within and outside us” (Niwano, 1990, pp.  377–78). That omniscience is symbolized by the diverse forms the bodhisattva assumes to practice compassion: young and old, male and female, elite and common, humans and non-



humans. We are being primed to recognize any being as a bodhisattva, despite their superficial, and counterintuitive, appearance. The form upāyically matches the needs of the being to be “saved.” Different types of practitioners can be bodhisattvas, as can various heavenly beings. But they may also be found in unexpected guises—as a petty king, a wealthy man, a householder, or any of their wives. The list continues, encompassing male and female children, mythical beings, and eventually any “nonhuman being” (Watson, 1993, p. 302). Moreover, those who have been marginalized by discriminatory social norms are inspired to aspire for the same role, by seeing themselves in at least one of these beings. Hence Perceiver of the World’s Sounds is heralded as “Bestower of Fearlessness,” as one who leads us to dare to conceive of ourselves, as well as all others, as bodhisattvas (Watson, 1993, p.  302). The closing gātha and the chapter emphasizes the nondiscriminating gaze of this bodhisattva, which is “true,” “pure,” “of great and encompassing wisdom,” “pity,” “compassion”; “a sun of wisdom dispelling all darknesses” or delusions (Watson, 1993, p.  305). The 84,000 people present “all conceived a determination to attain the unparalleled state of anutttara-samyaksmabodhi” with the bodhisattva as “a universal gateway” (Watson, 1993, p. 306). A fuller account of nondualism and the irrelevancy of gender is provided in the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra, as Śāriputra encounters and questions a wise goddess in chapter 7, “Looking at Living Beings” (Luk, 1972, p. 70) or more precisely “Seeing Sentient Beings” (Hisamatsu, 1996). When he looks at her, his vision is blocked by a fixation on her gender, presumed to signal defilement; therefore he does not truly see the being before him. Even scientists now question the veracity of our compromised perceptions—“Given that people see much less than they think they do, is the visual world a mere illusion?” (Mack, 2003, 184). The deep reality of Suchness is obscured and distorted by social stereotypes, the consensus reality that marginalizes the female. Although he is impressed by the wisdom she displays in their intellectual joisting, Śāriputra continues to assume her female body dooms her to an inferior status and prevents Buddhahood (as laid out in the Five Obstacles cited in the case of the Dragon king’s daughter). He is not persuaded by her argument that “I have been looking in vain for a female bodily form; so what do you want me to change?” Mere words cannot dispel his gynophobic assumptions. Only after being magically inserted into the body of the goddess he once shunned as defiled does Śāriputra experience an epiphany concerning nondualism proclaiming: “The form of a woman neither exists nor is non-existent” (Luk, 1972, p. 79). The Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra (勝鬘師子吼一乘大方便方廣經) is a valuable evidentiary source due to the central role assigned a woman as Dharma teacher expounding the seminal Mahāyāna doctrine of Tathāgata-garbha (rulai cang 如來 藏), the womb of Buddha nature. As Diana Paul notes, this is “a unique development within the Buddhist tradition because of its egalitarian and generous view concerning women, portraying, on the one hand, the dignity and wisdom of a laywoman and her concern for all beings, and, on the other, the role of woman as philosopher and teacher” (Paul, 2004, p. 5). Its female-specific imagery supports the depiction of Prajñā-pāramitā (般若波羅蜜多) as the Mother of all Buddhas: “The container in which the Tathagata resides is implied in the ‘womb’ dimension of garbha. The



potentiality of becoming a Tathagata is represented by the foetus or ‘embryo’ nature of garbha” (Paul, 1979, p. 191). Unlike the other least likely candidates for Buddhahood, the queen does not encounter a hostile environment, but rather has the full support of the Buddha as she expounds on emptiness.

I.  CONSERVATISM AND THE NEUROSCIENCE OF FEAR The Buddhist doctrines of nondualism and emptiness recognize the practical problem perpetrated by discriminating mind; however this intellectual realization in itself does not end the duḥkha generated by bias and prejudice. As the Fourfold Noble Truth demonstrates, it is necessary to delve deeper to locate the tṛṣṇā that triggers this duḥkha, dogmatism wielded in defense of the status quo, cultural norms, and tradition. Krishnamurti recognizes how tradition enslaves us, citing the etymology of the word itself, “tradere—to give, hand over, to give across,” which shares its root with “betrayal” (Krishnamurti, 1974, p. 19). Fear of losing that tradition, which has already betrayed us, fuels all forms of discrimination, including misogyny. It is most often perpetrated by those who have the most to lose if tradition is overthrown, those in positions of privilege and power, but it is also emulated by masses who bask in the glory of that power. These are the “overbearingly arrogant” in the Lotus Sūtra and Zhuangzi’s “smug and satisified” who are “precariously perched”; as acolytes of self-involved hedgehog philosophies, they cling to their unconscious incompetence oblivious to reality (Watson, 1968, pp. 275–76). Buddhism also recognizes how successive generations can be enthralled by “habit energy,” remnants of collective memory interwoven with tradition. William Faulkner famously observed, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” (Faulkner, 1950). While young chimpanzees have demonstrated short-term memory abilities superior to those of human adults, the human species has a greater capacity for long-term memory compared to our primate relatives (Matsuzawa, 2007). However, longterm memories can be malignant. A case in point is the apparent inability of many white southerners to move beyond the defeat of the Confederacy in the American Civil War, remembered as “the War of Northern Aggression” rather than as the beginning of the end of slavery. Historian James C. Cobb attributes this to the fact that many remain “steeped in the mythology of their ancestors” (Blinder, 2014, A9). The lingering resentment and racism cannot be solved by rote education, but only dis-solved as younger generations gradually escape indoctrination into distorted perceptions of the past. Hence Krishnamurti rightly declares “If I live in tradition, I betray the present” (Krishnamurti, 1974, p. 19). We need not remain imprisoned in the past or enslaved to tradition’s consensus reality. By entering the laboratory of the mind it is possible to observe the thirst of tṛṣṇā that gives rise to the suffering of duḥkha, whether one’s own or duḥkha projected into one’s environment. The Buddhist response to and modification of discriminatory behavior, the Eightfold Path, begins with the wisdom of right views (samyag-dṛṣṭi) and right thought (samyak-saṃkalpa). A key component of this



wisdom is recognition of pratịtya-samutpāda 緣起法, the interdependent arising that exposes the delusion of a single, separate, intrinsic self-identity, the very ātman initially sought by the pre-awakened Gautama. Implementation of this wisdom of the nondiscriminating mind engenders compassionate behavior: right speech (samyagvāc), right action (samyak-karmānta), and right livelihood (samyag-ājīva). This accounts for the egalitarian practices of Buddhism’s nondualist philosophy. Mental discipline encompasses practices that sustain awakening—right effort (samyagvyāyāma), right awareness (samyak-smṛti), and right meditation (samyak-samādhi). Scientific studies have shown that the minds of meditators display neuroplasticity, the ability to be “rewired,” altering neural connections as well as one’s perception of reality, defying deterministic assumptions about hard-wired limitations (Baer, 2010; Raffone and Srinivasan, 2010). In relation to the problem of the mind prone to discrimination and thus adverse to egalitarianism, cognitive science has discerned physical differences in the brains of conservatives and liberals. Liberals tended to have “increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, . . . associated with increased sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern.” Conservatives had an enlarged right amygdala, the site of “emotional processing” that initiates fear responses (Kanai et al., 2011, p. 677). These groups also varied in terms of their views of human nature, with liberals more likely to emphasize cooperation while conservatives embraced a Hobbesian view of innate self-interest and corresponding competition (Tuschman, 2013). The conservatives’ connection to Thomas Hobbes, celebrated author of the authoritarian tome The Leviathan, is not coincidental. Buddhism identifies the motivating factors underlying harmful behavior as external impositions, the Three Poisons or drugs (triviṣa; 三毒 san du). Hobbes, however, considered basically the same elements to be “the natural condition of mankind” (Hobbes, 1952, p. 84). A version manifested as anger/hatred (dveṣa 瞋), leads to what Hobbes calls diffidence, a sense of insecurity. Attachment expressed through greed/lust (rāga 貪), is deemed the source of competition by Hobbes. The ignorance (avidyā) of delusion (moha 痴) leads us to seek glory. The motive of glory is particularly important to our discussion, since the compulsion to protect one’s sense of self-identity or group identity presupposes discrimination between self and other. For Hobbes, otherness is perceived as a threat. Driven to maintain our reputation, violence erupts over “trifles”—“a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name” (Hobbes, 1952, p.  85). For Hobbes, fear pervades the human condition and is thus the primary means to maintain power: “covenants entered into by fear, in the condition of mere nature, are obligatory,” such as the payment of ransom for prisoners of war (Hobbes, 1952, p. 89). While Buddhist philosophy acknowledges the Three Poisons, it regards them as not only unnatural, but toxic as well. Fear is an obvious factor in the Vimalakīrti Nirdesa Sūtra. The disciples and bodhisattvas fear the layman because he challenges their sense of monastic superiority. Śāriputra fears being soiled by the flowers strewn by the goddess, which “are not in the state of suchness” (Luk, 1972, p. 74). He even displays symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): fear of contamination



or dirt [polluting phenomena?], demanding reassurances and adherence to established order (Mayo clinic, 1998–2004). We need not succumb to these fears, as Hobbes does. Fear is explicitly countered by the fearlessness associated with the bodhisattva, who is armed with wisdom and compassion. In the Lotus Sūtra practitioners are urged to contemplate of the bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds so that “hatred in all its forms will be dispelled” (Watson, 1993, p. 305). Buddhist meditation practice marshals the neuroplasticity of the brain to effect change in the processing of experience, thus eliminating fear-driven behavior. James H. Austin describes “simple empathy” as “an innate, reflexive capacity to share other persons’ simple emotions and sensations” (Austin, 2009, p.  211). Oxytocin, “the hormone of love,” in fact acts as “an agent of ethnocentrism” [or sexism] generating love and trust among members of an identified group; it is the emotional default that kicks in unless there is some previous information that suggests we should trust a stranger or distrust someone we identify with (Wade, 2011, D1). This is distinguishable from “highly refined . . . authentic” Buddhist compassion, karuṇā (bei 悲), which “enables us to correctly perceive a situation, sense deeply how it would affect us, project our interior feelings sympathetically toward others, and then reach out selflessly to improve the situation in the most appropriate way” (Austin, 2009, p. 213). The Nāga princess and the goddess seem to demonstrate this as they seek to cure Śāriputra of his deluded thoughts concerning females and enlightenment. They fulfill the four infinite states of Buddha mind (catvāri apramāṇāni; 四無量心), referred to as the “Four Aspects of Love” by Thich Nhat Hanh: (1) loving kindness (maitrī; 慈); (2) compassion (karuṇā; 悲) that eases suffering; (3) joy (muditā; 喜); and (4) equanimity or freedom (upekṣā; 捨), which removes all barriers (Nhat Hanh, 2004, pp. 1–4). The sūtras don’t just present Buddhist doctrines; they employ strategies to invoke or provoke rewiring of the brain, based on its inherent neuroplasticity. The beginning point, as noted by the Buddha, is appamāda, literally to be a (not) pamāda (careless), also rendered as heedfulness, mindfulness, or diligence. For our epistemological purposes a more fitting translation would be alertness or awareness. It has been designated “the most distinctive contribution of Buddhism in India’s (or the world’s) soteriological practice” (Gombrich, 2006, p. 80). The Appamāda Sutta (X, 15) states: “Just as the footprints of all legged animals are encompassed by the footprint of the elephant, and the elephant’s footprint is reckoned the foremost among them in terms of size; in the same way, all skillful qualities are rooted in heedfulness, converge in heedfulness, and heedfulness is reckoned the foremost among them” (Thanissaro, 2000). Robert Thurman defines it as “a type of awareness of the most seemingly insignificant aspects of daily life, an awareness derived as a consequence of the highest realization of the ultimate nature of reality” (Thurman, 2003, 158). The antithesis of such total awareness is the “carelessness and inattention” that David Hume concludes is necessary to maintain his sanity in the face of his skeptical crusade of epistemological deconstruction, which, he concludes, is a “malady” (Hume, 1964, p. 218). Fear of the dire consequences of mental instability, cognitive dissonance, drives him to capitulate to the forces of “custom” or habit, whose mental



effect bestows “a facility in the performance of any action or the conception of any object; and afterwards a tendency or inclination towards it” (Hume, 1964, p. 424).