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Palace Women in the Former Han Dynasty (202 BCE–CE 23): Gender and Administrational History in the Early Imperial Era

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In the chapters concerned with palace women, the Hanshu provides a detailed description of the administrational structures of the hougong (Rear palace) in the Former Han dynasty, the earliest information of this kind to survive for any Chinese regime. This includes an account of the twenty-one official ranks granted to women at this period, and the information given here has parallels in other contemporary historical texts. Thanks to the excavation of Han dynasty legal codes at Zhangjiashan, the Hanshu account can now be understood in much greater detail, not only with respect to the salaries paid to women, but also their right to hold tracts of land – a legal right shared with other women heads of household at this time. This paper examines the developing institutional structures of the Han dynasty hougong, and the impact of promotion within this hierarchy on the social and economic status of women inside and outside the walls of the palace.

Affiliations: 1: Seoul National University


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