This book engages the most familiar and most thoroughly researched topic within Chinese gender and women's history: the cult of female chastity in the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). The institutionalized veneration of chaste widows and chastity martyrs first came to the attention of historians in the 1930s, who approached it from the perspective of the radical critiques and transformations of the old Confucian family system in their day. Different approaches to chastity, shaped largely by readings of social commentaries and hagiographic biographies of women written by literati men, and the writings of late imperial elite women themselves, offer a flexible model of the relationship between norm and practice that accounts for both the reproduction of orthodox values and structures and the diversity of accepted gender practices and interpretations of female virtue.
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