What Are the Purposes of the Very Brief "Biographies of Exemplary Women" (607-13)? Are These Truly Biographies of Diverse Individuals, or Merely Variations of the Same General Archetypes? Whose Interests Are Served by Such Commemorative Texts?

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The Biographies of Exemplary Women in Mair, Steinhardt, and Goldin's Hawai'i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture [2005] (here after referred to as the Reader) are pithy stories highlighting the often shortened lives of ‘virtuous women' and their commendable actions and roles as wives, fiancées, and daughters (in-law) [Mair, Steinhardt, and Goldin, 607]. The original stories, Lienu zhuan, written by Liu Xiang in Han times were tremendously popular, and had a significant impact on dynastic culture several centuries afterwards. Their original purposes may have been to prevent further damage done by court women who lacked classical Confucian educations. These women were in close proximity to the emperor, which negatively influenced the imperial court. Liu Xiang's stories served as educational basis to counter their influence by offering them an ideal to aspire to [Ebrey, 58]. These stories correspond to the turn of the government's support from Huang-Lao Daoism to Confucianism as the official philosophy of the Han dynastic era. Liu Xiang's original works encouraged several womanly qualities including cleverness, resourcefulness, and depravity but by late-imperial times, the focus of the similar biographies centered almost exclusively on Confucian "wifely fidelity". This shift of focus played an undisputed role in the changing of the role of and perspective on females amongst the literate elite in the Ming and Qing dynasties; however, the Confucian ideals of women did not apply to the peasant class in as severe a manner as they had for the women of the literate elite since the former could not afford such restrictions on the roles of their women. It is also noted that Liu Xiang's intentions for these short biographies' impact on the public are not the same as those of Wanyan Yun Zhu who compiled the stories in the Reader.

The Reader's selection of stories taken from Yun Zhu's "Precious Records of the Maidens' Chambers" (Langui baolu) (1831) is the product of...
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