Bryn Hammond's Reviews > Women of the Conquest Dynasties: Gender and Identity in Liao and Jin China

Women of the Conquest Dynasties by Linda Cooke Johnson
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it was amazing
bookshelves: steppe-history, website-widget

On the 'barbarian' dynasties Liao and Jin, created by northern tribal peoples, the Khitan and the Jurchen. More about Liao, for Jin quickly took on Chinese culture and values. Even in Jin, though, observers from Song China noted the barbarisation of society: women freely on the streets, while Song kept them at home. In emergency, Jin women remembered they were tribal and actively involved themselves in war.

Liao society kept northern values to the end. The sexes weren't segregated; girls rode, shot and studied with boys. Daughters weren't a future loss but a gain, and weren't unwelcome. The custom was for the wife to be older than the husband, often a fair bit older. Single women existed. Virginity before marriage was not an issue.

The Liao Emperor throws a feast when his mother kills a bear. An empress commands the army at Liao's crucial victory over Song. Women participated in politics and war.

And it was catching. In Jin, a woman who has no barbarian about her, she's Han Chinese, followed the example she was given and led a bandit army, for a career in the three-way wars between Jin, Song and Mongols.

In this age, foot-binding was coming into general practice in Song. The author sees a crack-down, a reaction against barbarian habits, once China was for the Chinese again.

This book is written in such a way that those new to Liao and Jin -- perhaps here with an interest in women in history -- have a sufficient introduction. It should present no difficulty to a general reader. Although much of the material on Liao (except for archaeology) can be found within the 1949 opus, Wittfogel's History of Chinese Society: Liao -- inexplicably, this is the first English book on the subject.
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Reading Progress

July 12, 2012 – Started Reading
July 12, 2012 – Shelved
Finished Reading
July 14, 2012 –
page 110
43.31% "Women from the northern tribal peoples were active in government and war – in such contrast to China, parts of which these peoples conquered. After conquest, women kept their tribal traditions even as they took on selected aspects of Chinese culture. In result, you meet women who both led armies and were known for scholarship. It’s a remarkable story, at this intersection of societies."
July 15, 2012 – Shelved as: steppe-history
October 26, 2012 – Shelved as: website-widget

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Alice (new)

Alice Poon Thanks for the review, Bryn! Sounds like an interesting book. In my recent trip to Hong Kong, I found and bought a Chinese translation of a book written by an award-winning Japanese historian of steppe history (her name is Masaaki Sugiyama) - it's the history of Liao (Khitans), Jin (Jurchens), Xi Xia (Tanguts), and Yuan (Mongols). Haven't read it yet.


Bryn Hammond This is a fabulous book, you'd like it. I envy you your Japanese book.


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