Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Have women exercised leadership in Confucianism or CIT?

Confucian tradition is staunchly patriarchal. Long-standing practice all over Asia, as a result of Confucian influence, has until only recently expected women to obey father before marriage, husband during marriage, and oldest son when her husband dies. Education under classical Confucian direction was limited to males. That is no longer the case in societies that still acknowledge, however indirectly, their Confucian heritage. As for CIT, a number of empresses and princesses came to prominence over the centuries, but here too the leadership was male. Empresses were generally in charge of the so-called inner court. Empress-mothers frequently had duties in matters of state and thus were often more active in the outside world. Women were never allowed in the main halls of the Forbidden City’s outer court, except on the day a new empress married her emperor.


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