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Gender, Sexuality, and Power in Early China: The Changing Biographies of Lord Ling of Wei and Lady Nanzi

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image of NAN NÜ

Towards the end of his life, Lord Ling of Wei (r. 534-493 BCE) effectively abdicated in favor of his wife, Lady Nanzi. Such a transfer of power seems to have been unique in Zhou dynasty China, and these events were discussed at some length in ancient historical and philosophical texts. Throughout the imperial era scholars and commentators continued to study Lord Ling and Lady Nanzi, producing a considerable body of research which reflects changing attitudes to the nature of ruler's rights and authority, and which also documents responses to the couple's apparent rejection of accepted social and gender roles. Although their actions were often portrayed positively in early Chinese texts, the overwhelming majority of scholars who studied their biographies in the imperial era were hostile to the concept of a woman taking control of the government of a state. The tension between the accounts found in ancient texts and subsequent scholarship is the subject of this paper.

Affiliations: 1: Seoul National University


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