Category Archives: Feminism

CFP: Confucianism and Feminism


Confucius and Feminism

Co-editors: Mathew A. Foust (Central Connecticut State University) & Sor-hoon Tan (National University of Singapore)

Chenyang Li’s path-breaking The Sage and the Second Sex (2000) challenged the traditionally received notion of Confucianism abetting the oppression of women in three ways.  With studies of a wide range of Confucians, including Mencius, Xunzi, and Li Zhi, and historical periods stretching from fifth century BCE to sixteenth century, contributions to the edited volume suggested that women’s situations in Chinese history were not as bad as has been supposed; that core Confucian teachings have had little to do with anything bad about their situations; and that Confucianism offers an ethical vision compatible with Feminism.

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Is Confucian Feminism So Easy?

My main project while on sabbatical this year has been a book on contemporary Confucian political philosophy (built on the Tang Junyi Lectures I gave a year ago). I am working on one of the final chapters right now, in which I argue that Confucianism must recognize and critique structural forms of injustice. This has led me to revisit some of the literature on Confucianism and feminism, including Lisa Li-Hsiang Rosenlee’s Confucianism and Women (SUNY, 2006). I want to ask, somewhat in the spirit of a devil’s advocate, is it really as easy to articulate a Confucian feminism (or a feminist Confucianism) as Rosenlee says? Continue reading →

Confucianism and Sexism

Van Norden discusses sexism very briefly (pp. 330-31) in his book. I realize, and he does too, there are whole volumes dedicated to the topic. But I wanted to discuss an interesting issue that Van Norden raises–not to critique his book but because I stumbled across the issue there this morning while coffeeing up. Van Norden writes:

“There is nothing, I think, essentially sexist about Ruism. Ruism emphasizes the importance of acting in accordance with our roles. But it is not a requirement of Ruism in itself that these roles be static or attached to specific genders.”

(For those who are unfamiliar, “Ruism” is another–maybe clearer, maybe somewhat problematic–way to refer to Confucianism.)

I think Van Norden’s view here is probably like that of a lot of contemporary defenders of Confucianism. But it raises a question: Is there something essential to Confucianism that transcends, or would allow it to transcend, its actual socio-historical role in sexist practices and institutions? Or maybe that’s too broad; more pointedly, how could a role-based ethical view remain identifiably Confucian if we divorced it from its actual substantive views about role-appropriateness based on sex? Or am I assuming too much in the latter about Confucianism’s actual substantive views about sex-based role-appropriateness?

Lots of questions; any answers?