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Love in a Confucian Climate: The Perils of Intimacy in Eighteenth-Century China

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This article explores what an eighteenth-century case of adultery in an elite family tells us about the status of Confucian marriage and challenges to it in the mid-Qing. The case illustrates the problematic nature of conjugal love in this period, which puts emotions in conflict with ritual propriety, the marital relationship in conflict with the interests of the patriline, and subjective desires in conflict with social duties. The case also offers insights into the emotional world of the period, providing intimate details of the emotional texture of three interwoven marital or quasi-marital relationships. Each represents a deviation from the ideal of Confucian marriage and presents a different configuration of self, sentiment and ritual propriety. Together they offer a rich picture of the intimate realm of family life and the forces that worked to destabilize it.

Affiliations: 1: University of Utah


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