Chinese Empresses highlights the stories of Chinese imperial women and how male authorities attempted to curb their power. It disputes the notion that Chinese empresses were simply hapless or powerless victims of the male-dominated political system.
This book is not a compendium of biographies of Chinese empress. The objective is more fundamental. By analyzing details from the lives of representative empresses, it is possible to understand how women gained and used political power, and how male rivals opposed them. The significance of this topic extends far beyond the scope of Chinese studies. In China, monarchy stretches back to high antiquity, providing hundreds of case studies that can be used to understand the nature and applications of female power. Whereas the histories of most places describe only a few powerful women, Chinese chronicles offer numerous examples that reveal how rulers’ consorts gained, maintained, and used power. The length and richness of Chinese history make it the best historical field for exploring female power in detail.
Bret Hinsch is professor of history at Fo Guang University, Yilan, Taiwan. He is the author of Women in Ancient China, Women in Early Medieval China, Women in Early Imperial China, Women in Imperial China, Masculinities in Chinese History, and The Rise of Tea Culture in China.
In this well-written book based on a wide-range of primary and secondary sources in Chinese and English, Bret Hinsch carefully analyses the influence of Chinese empresses in the broad sweep of two millennia of history, tracing the specific circumstances that generated their roles as daughters, wives, mothers, and not least, rulers of the realm. This exposition of the lives of women at court demonstrates how kinship, wealth, and, religion, interacted at the inner sanctum of the Chinese polity. Chinese Empresses is a unique in-depth study of how women in successive dynastic regimes could wield influence, and compete against male authority. The reader will learn a great deal about how Chinese governmental ideals interconnected with female political influence and could purposely thwart the power of empresses. This volume is an ideal study text for university students and research scholars as well as the general public.
While books on Chinese women of the imperial era inevitably discuss empresses, empress dowagers and imperial consorts of various ranks, Hinsch’s book promises to be the first comprehensive one devoted to this group of important women in Chinese history in terms of the ways they gained and exercised political power and how they coped with the misogynistic opposition from male authorities.