What are the purposes of the very brief "Biographies of Exemplary Women" (607-13)? Are these truly biographies of diverse individuals, or merely variations of the same general archetypes? Whose interests are served by such commemorative texts?

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Pamela C


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June 6, 2015








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They are "lively tales" that served not only as a form of recreation common in genteel households [Mair, Steinhardt, and Goldin, 607] but also as a reminder of the womanly virtues idealized in Confucian culture. By the Qing era, biographies of exemplary women were an essential part of every official dynastic history; essays praising virtuous widows were a standard subgenre of writing by literati [Mair, Steinhardt, and Goldin, 461] and had become an minor industry in and of itself [Mair, Steinhardt, and Goldin, 607]...
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Ban Zhao's chapter titled "Womanly Conduct" from her work Admonitions for Women [Mair, Steinhardt, and Goldin, 188] plainly describes the expectations that women are held to in Confucian society. These include womanly virtue, which is essentially exclusive to chastity and filial piety, womanly speech, womanly appearance, and womanly merit; all of which are geared to the primary roles women are intended to fulfill: chaste and pious women; fiancees and wives; daughters and daughters-in-law [Mair, Steinhardt, and Goldin, 607]...
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