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Women in the Qing Dynasty

Instructor: Margaret Moran
The Qing Dynasty in China was a time of growth and prosperity in China; however, little social progress was was made in the lives of women. This lesson will examine women within the Qing Dynasty including some of their restrictions and limitations.

Qing Dynasty Background

The Qing Dynasty, also known as the Manchu Dynasty, was the last imperial dynasty to grace China. It was established in 1636, and came to power in 1644. This age in China would last almost 200 years until 1912. The Qing Dynasty was a time when many people of different cultures immigrated to China allowing foreign ideas and values to flow into the kingdom. The empire's acceptance of certain western ideals not only allowed for a more free trade system and more prosperous economy, but also signaled a new and more modern era within the confines of the Chinese empire.

Map of Qing Empire Territory
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Women's Rights

Following the Song Dynasty and the embrace of Neo-Confusianism, women's lives were more restricted than they had been previously. Confucist teachings of the time centered on the importance of the family, with an emphasis on the importance of giving birth to sons to carry on the lineage. While mothers of sons could look forward to being revered as ancestors after their death, their daily life on earth was extremely limited.

With the birth of the Qing Dynasty, few improvements for women began to happen. Women were expected to remain in the house all the time and look after the children. They would be responsible for all the cooking, cleaning, and sewing. Sadly, women would usually end up either being one of several wives, usually if born in the middle or upper class, or becoming a concubine.

The virtue of women became all important and was heralded in both song and text, with many books, songs, and poetry written about the chaste woman. These stories included tales of women committing suicide to avoid rape or choosing not to remarry after a spousal death out of loyalty to him and his family. These widely circulated tombs interestingly enough never identified these virtuous women by name. So popular were these ideas about the ideal woman, that the the government began to ask for families to nominate these ''chaste widows,'' and if they were deemed worthy a stone arch would be erected in their honor in the village. Amazingly, over 6,000 women would receive this honor.

Empress Cixi

In juxtaposition to the plight of the common Chinese woman, a woman rose to great political power within the last part of the Qing Dynasty; her name was Dowager Empress Cixi. She ruled as regent alongside her son then nephew. She took full advantage of her status and began to pursue her own political agenda, and she was even known to have her rivals killed.

Photo of Dowager Empress Cixi
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