2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

On the Concept of Marriage in
Liu Xiang’s Book of Various Women

Sherman Chu

Department of Chinese Literature, National Tsing Hua University

The Book of Various Women was originally composed with the goal of cultivating the emperor’s taste in women, so that the emperor could benefit the state by properly choosing his mates. In light of this understanding, this article focuses on Liu Xiang’s understanding of marriage, scrutinizing various ideas presented in the work, such as the nature and the purpose of marriage, the priority of marriage in ethical relations, and women’s duties in the marital relationship. This article further discusses notions derived from these specific issues: that marital rites were consecrated and that no ceremonial acts should be neglected; that virtue and physical attractiveness could not coexist; and that women could only commit suicide when facing conflicts in ethical relations. This paper also shows that in the sphere of work women’s productivity was largely discounted, that the definition of licentiousness was very broad and standards very strict, and that mothers were responsible for the misdeeds of sons. This article finally examines whether the ideal of ritual propriety expounded in the work can be considered inhumane.


Keywords: marriage, ethical relations, conflict between de (virtue) and se (physical attractiveness), chastity, licentiousness, admonition