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Imagining Matriarchy: "Kingdoms of Women" in Tang China

Jennifer W. Jay
Journal of the American Oriental Society
Vol. 116, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1996), pp. 220-229
DOI: 10.2307/605697
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/605697
Page Count: 10
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Imagining Matriarchy:
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Abstract

Traditional Chinese sources designated certain self-contained societies as "kingdoms of women" either on the grounds that no men were present in the population or that women served as heads of state. This paper seeks to identify and discuss the kingdoms of women as known in Tang China under two categories: (1) mythical kingdoms constructed by legend and imagination, and (2) historical kingdoms, located in western Tibet, Japan, and Korea, which did, in fact, interact with Tang China. In the light of current views on matriarchy, only the Chinese characterization of the Tibetan kingdom before the eighth century might be understood as pointing to a true matriarchy, in terms of female rule, matrilineal succession, and matrilocal residence. Despite the nearly contemporary reigns of China's only female "emperor," Wu Zetian, Silla Korea's three ruling queens, and Yamato/Nara Japan's halfdozen empresses, none of these "kingdoms of women" can be understood as matriarchies, because women, in general, did not play a dominant role in the state or society.

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