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Changes to Women’s Legal Rights in the Family from the Song to the Ming

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Chapter Summary

This essay examines three important changes to women’s legal rights in the family from the Song to the Ming. During the Song the legal privileges of a mother were mitigated so that children could sue their non-natural mother, and this change was sustained and expanded during the Ming and Qing. The inheritance rights of a formal concubine were enhanced so that she could inherit spousal patrimony and, when the wife was absent, establish a posthumous heir for her late husband. These new rights were maintained by the Yuan but perhaps reduced by the Ming and Qing. The property rights of an unmarried daughter in a communal family were also enhanced so that she could keep private property earned on her own, inherit half the amount of her brother’s inheritance share, and gain the right to inherit by subrogation, and these changes were partially upheld after the Song.



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