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5 Abortion in Late Imperial China: Routine Birth Control or Crisis Intervention?

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Chapter Summary

This chapter presents new evidence from Qing legal sources that suggests a very different perspective on the questions of safety, reliability, and accessibility of abortion, and on the context in which women actually attempted abortion. Fei Xiaotong's discussion of the Chinese focuses on infanticide and neglect. It may be true that some elite women exploited the ambiguity of menstrual regulation to terminate unwanted pregnancies, as a form of birth control. Nevertheless, it is not clear how much ambiguity between menstrual regulation and abortion existed in practice. It would be interesting to learn whether the fertility of elite wives differed from that of their husbands' concubines to any significant degree. The cases of poisoning by traditional abortifacients that occasionally surface in medical reports today are significant for inquiry mainly because they shed light on how abortion was attempted in times past.

Keywords: abortion; birth control; Fei Xiaotong; Late Imperial China; menstrual regulation; pregnancies; Qing legal sources; traditional abortifacients



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