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Child Bodies, Blessed Bodies: the Contest Between Christian Virginity and Confucian Chastity

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In late imperial China chastity of a widowed or betrothed woman, rather than virginity per se, was considered the core female virtue in social practice, in literary discourse, and in law. However, religious chastity as offered in Buddhism and other Chinese religious traditions was a way for women to evade the strictures of married life. This helps explain why, when introduced in the seventeenth century by Spanish Dominican friars, the concept of virginity as a prerequisite for consecrated religious life found enthusiastic acceptance among some women in Fujian province. To legitimize virginity as a virtue and a perpetual state of life for some Chinese women, missionaries and their converts ingeniously revised the meaning of filiality, claiming a place for Christian filiality within orthodox boundaries of filial piety (xiao), while suggesting that Christianity offered a truer meaning of filiality, subordinated to the divine prerogatives of the Christian God.


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