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The Status of Mothers in the Early Chinese Mourning System

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This essay examines the prescriptions on mourning for mothers in the Yili and the Liji, aiming to bring out the complex and evolving nature of the status of mothers in the centuries that saw the initial codification of the Chinese mourning system. The discrepancies between texts and within the same text, together with the ambiguity and lacunae in prescriptions, show that women’s identities in the patrilineal family were continuously contested and reshaped in the preimperial and early imperial periods. Major themes explored include: the fragmentation and fluidity of maternal roles, the tension between patrilineal principles and natural feelings, the ambivalent roles of divorced mothers and remarried mothers, the systematic suppression of mothers of concubine status, and the intricate linkage between the wife’s status and the mother’s status. The changes and ambiguities emphasized in the paper have important implications for our understanding of the later evolution of the mourning system.
 Cet article s’intéresse aux prescriptions relatives au deuil des mères dans le Yili et le Liji; l’objectif est de mettre en évidence la complexité et le caractère évolutif du statut des mères pendant les siècles qui ont vu les débuts de la codification du système de deuil en Chine. Les divergences entre les textes ou à l’intérieur d’un même texte, en même temps que les ambiguïtés et les lacunes des prescriptions, montrent que les identités féminines au sein de la famille patrilinéaire n’ont cessé d’être contestées et refaçonnées pendant la période pré-impériale et au début de l’empire. Les principaux thèmes abordés incluent la fragmentation et la fluidité des rôles maternels, la tension entre les principes patrilinéaires et les sentiments naturels, le rôle ambivalent des mères divorcées ou remariées, le refoulement systématique des mères ayant le statut de concubines, et les relations complexes entre le statut de l’épouse et celui de la mère. Les évolutions et les ambiguïtés mises en avant dans l’article ont des implications importantes pour notre compréhension de l’évolution ultérieure du système de deuil.

Affiliations: 1: Stanford University


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