Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Servants as Sons and Daughters: Hierarchy, Gender, and Sexuality in Ming Households

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Marriott Balcony A, Mezzanine Level

This paper investigates Ming period shifts in the framing of violence by masters against servants through the perspectives of gender and hierarchy. I argue that a new legal status for servants, yinan yifu (adopted men and adopted women), reconstituted the normative relationship between masters and servants — masters should treat their servants as their children — and introduced new complications into master-servant relationships. Focusing on writings about male and female masters’ sexual privileges — those based on their social status relative to servants— I show that male masters’ sexual accesses to female servants and to male servant’s wives became problematic when servants became “real” children, for example through adoption. In contrast, while writers commonly described women as sexually passive, they assumed female masters to be the initiators of sexual relationship with their servants since, in theory, their superior position should preclude coercion by inferiors. Finally, the paper examines how the new idea that one should treat servants as one’s own children became a rationale that constrained both male and female masters’ violence against their servants. At the same time, beating and scolding servants remained a means by which women, including wives, concubines, and even young daughters, demonstrated and maintained their hierarchical positions over servants within households.

Shiau-Yun Chen

Cornell University, New York

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2 - Servants as Sons and Daughters: Hierarchy, Gender, and Sexuality in Ming Households



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