WITHIN THE HOME The Depiction of
Ching-cheng Liu(History Department, Soochow University)
In the Confucian world order, women were supposed to live within the home (Nyu cheng wei hu nei). but this “ideal” was hard to practice in daily life. This was a conflict that confronted Sung literati in the writing of funerary inscriptions. Compared to the biographies of women in the official dynastic histories and instruction books, funerary inscriptions were relatively informative, however, they too were limited, perhaps by their very nature. Because these inscriptions were written as memorials, a great number of epitaphs exaggerated or were otherwise untrue. But becarse of this, we can assume that the authors only wrotewhat they thought good and proper, or what would be recongnized as a fit way to honor the deceased. So from what was written, we can perceive the authors’ ideal rather than the reality or truth.
Since these epitaphs were a kind of biography, why did the authors depict women, who had lived extremely varied lives, as having lived in one idealized way – that is, within the home? One reason is that in real life many women really did follow the lessons of the classics and stayed within the home. Of these women, there was very little else to comment on. But even about women who had various business activities outside the home, the literati only emphasized that which could be connected with household affairs, in order to maintain the “first principle of heaven” – that women should have no business with the outside world (Fujen wu wai shih). As for women who were greatly successful or achieved renown outside the home, and who could not be credited as being exemplary when it came to household affairs – they were compared with men or even treated as if they were men, in their epitaphs, This was done to avoid the embarrassment that these women did not stay within the home, the “proper” place for women. In effect, these women were able to transcend the level of the ordinary woman and were deemed worthy to be compared to men. Ironically. this seems the highest praise that a woman could achieve in traditional China.
Northern Sung、literati、woman、epitaph、household affairs