Divine, Demonic, and Disordered
Women without Men in Song Dynasty China
- PUBLISHED: January 2021
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / China, History, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 244 Pages, 6 x 9 in
- ISBN: 9780295748320
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
A variety of Chinese writings from the Song period (960–1279)—medical texts, religious treatises, fiction, and anecdotes—depict women who were considered peculiar because their sexual bodies did not belong to men. These were women who refused to marry, were considered unmarriageable, or were married but denied their husbands sexual access, thereby removing themselves from social constructs of female sexuality defined in relation to men. As elite male authors attempted to make sense of these women whose sexual bodies were unavailable to them, they were forced to contemplate the purpose of women’s bodies and lives apart from wifehood and motherhood. This raised troubling new questions about normalcy, desire, sexuality, and identity.
In Divine, Demonic, and Disordered, Hsiao-wen Cheng considers accounts of “manless women,” many of which depict women who suffered from “enchantment disorder” or who engaged in “intercourse with ghosts”—conditions with specific symptoms and behavioral patterns. Cheng questions conventional binary gender analyses and shifts attention away from women’s reproductive bodies and familial roles. Her innovative study offers historians of China and readers interested in women, gender, sexuality, medicine, and religion a fresh look at the unstable meanings attached to women’s behaviors and lives even in a time of codified patriarchy.
Authors & Contributors
Hsiao-wen Cheng is associate professor of East Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania.
This important book advances our understanding of issues of women and gender in premodern and especially Song-dynasty (960-1279) China.- Nan Nu: Men, Women and Gender in China
Cheng’s focus on medieval China makes an important contribution broadly to the study of women, gender, and sexuality from an unprecedented angle.- Journal of Chinese Studies
Offers the reader an invaluable and rare insight.- Religious Studies Review
Examines the problems that celibate women posed to the patriarchal, patrilineal society of Middle Period China within the context of the thought patterns and textual productions of that society. Many of the stories and accounts make for pleasurable and even head-turning reading.- Suzanne Cahill, University of California, San Diego
An important contribution to the study of gender and sexuality in medieval China.- Jinhua Jia, Hong Kong Polytechnic University