Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Trim: 6 x 9
978-1-4422-2289-2 • Hardback • June 2013 • $98.00 • (£75.00)
978-1-5381-4194-6 • Paperback • March 2020 • $31.00 • (£23.99)
978-1-4422-2290-8 • eBook • June 2013 • $29.50 • (£22.99)
Keith McMahon is professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Kansas.
Prologue: Sexual Politics and State Politics
Part I: Early China, 1250 BCE–317 CE
Chapter 1: The Institution and Values of Royal Polygamy
Chapter 2: Empresses and Consorts of the Former Han, 206 BCE–25 CE
Chapter 3: The Later Han to the End of the Western Jin, 25–317
Part II: The Eastern Jin to the Reign of Wu Zetian, 317–712
Chapter 4: The Period of Disunity, 317–589
Chapter 5: The Sui and Early Tang Dynasties to Empress Wu, 581–705
Part III: The High Tang to the Liao, 712–1125
Chapter 6: The Tang from Xuanzong to Its Fall, 712–907
Chapter 7: The Five Dynasties, Ten Kingdoms, and the Liao, 907–1125
This survey of the role of women in early Chinese dynastic history succeeds in elucidating patterns over many periods. University of Kansas professor McMahon relies on a variety of sources, including official histories offering a “correct” view of events and unofficial histories, which provide more salacious details. From these, McMahon pieces together brief vignettes, each usually a few paragraphs, about empresses and consorts through the ages. The author acknowledges difficulties with veracity, but aims to document the qualities ascribed to both praise-worthy and poorly-behaved imperial women rather than determine precise historical accuracy. An upright wife is, above all, lacking in jealousy while wives that are vilified are described as “wanton.” Highlights of the book include the story of Wu Zeitan, who described herself as emperor. The book includes scenes of torture, mild pornography, and acts of self-sacrifice. Examples presented over the time span covered here—1250 B.C.E. to 1125 C.E.—[will] appeal to Chinese history scholars.
— Publishers Weekly
In this book, written with conscientiousness and compassion, Keith McMahon illustrates early Chinese dynastic history from a unique perspective. Rather than discussing emperors and heroes as in mainstream historiography, Woman Shall Not Rule focuses on imperial ladies—empresses and consorts—in the context of polygamist ancient China with scenes of self-sacrifice, torture and violence, and even mild pornography. . . . In addition to presenting an alternative narrative of Chinese history from about 1250 B.C.E. to 1125 C.E., the author also takes imperial polygamy as an approach to the study of sexual politics in China. . . .McMahon’s narratives of palace women in the context of the royal polygamist family offer many insights when rethinking the roles of imperial women in Chinese history. . . .In addition to scholars in Chinese history, the book could also attract general readers with its vivid accounts of historical women.
— Women and Gender in Chinese Studies Review
One of the world’s leading experts in Ming-Qing fiction and gender relations, Keith McMahon is ideally qualified to undertake the study of women in the emperor’s entourage over the two millennia of China’s imperial history.In this masterful two-volume survey, Women Shall Not Rule and Celestial Women, he draws on official histories for the basic facts of who, when, and where, and he also casts a wide net, exploiting informal histories, gossipy memoirs, and the countless fictional narratives that have always done more than official histories to shape public perceptions of women and gender relations in the emperors’ palaces.... McMahon has expertly crafted a narrative that is at once erudite, encyclopedic, and entertaining. He has set the standard for writing about the empresses and consorts of Chinese emperors and has drawn on countless examples in order to build insightful generalizations about patterns, changes, and continuities in gender relations at the top of the Chinese government over two millennia of imperial history. And he has done all this with careful attention to the ways Chinese examples compare with palace women in other cultures, times, and places. This is a most welcome and valuable addition to global scholarship on Chinese history, literature, politics, and gender studies.
— China Review International
The reader will find here a treasure house of ideology, history, and lore about China’s highest-placed and most visible women, the empresses and concubines of China’s rulers, starting from the earliest times of the civilization. Denied formal access to political power and at times indifferently educated, a few palace women managed, for better or worse, to exert great political force. Every famous empress and consort known to history appears here, along with many others whom the author has rescued from obscurity. The women appear mainly as intimate participants in the rulers’ private lives, but some made their way into the public sphere as well, influencing policy, and, in a few cases, commanding the realm. Useful comparisons are made to royal and imperial households in other cultures. McMahon, an experienced scholar of China’s traditional fiction and gender relations, is especially well qualified to take up this ambitious project, one the China field has long needed.
— John W. Dardess, University of Kansas
A stimulating and comprehensive history of Chinese emperors and their multiple wivesA lively narrative based on careful scholarshipColorful biographies of women rulersVivid portraits of libertine emperors and femmes fatalesFascinating tales of jealousy and rivalry among imperial wivesBizarre accounts of intrigue and scandal among eunuchs, dowagers, wet-nurses, and palace maidsStories of love affairs and infatuations in the inner palaceDetails about sexual customs in the haremThoughtful analysis of the issues of rule by women and the relationship between one man and many wivesComparative references to European, Byzantine, Mughal, Ottoman, and other regimes across the worldContrasts the customs of native Han and nomadic Inner Asian regime