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Concepts of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Infancy in Ch'ing Dynasty China

Charlotte Furth
The Journal of Asian Studies
Vol. 46, No. 1 (Feb., 1987), pp. 7-35
DOI: 10.2307/2056664
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2056664
Page Count: 29
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Concepts of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Infancy in Ch'ing Dynasty China
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Abstract

This is a study of the classical medical norms governing reproduction as found in China in the late imperial era (1600-1900). The author explores how interpretations of biological processes shaped Chinese cultural understanding of the status of women, early child development, and the meaning of sexuality; as well as how these influenced the social organization of pregnancy and childbirth. Drawing on evidence from contemporary popular handbooks on fu k'o (medicine for women) and erh k'o (medicine for children), the author concludes that biological models of female gender were two-sided, labeling women as the dependent "sickly sex" and also as a source of pollution in the form of disease. In this way they were bound to their children as both nurturing creators and a toxic source of childhood sickness and death. These symbolic models legitimized Confucian paternalism, while revealing misogynistic fears of female power. Through them, medicine acted as an important ideological force for the support of the Confucian family system.

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