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Defining Woman Ruler in China

"Defining Woman Ruler in China," presented by Professor Keith McMahon, University of Kansas.

Open and free to the public

Feb. 12, 4:30pm - 6:00pm

White Hall 207

"Defining Woman Ruler in China" is about the characteristics of rule by women from the Han Dynasty to the Qing. The usual reason that allowed women to rule was the incapcity or death of emperor-husband and the extreme youth of his successor. The precedent was for a woman to govern temporarily as regent and, when the heir apparent became old enough, hand power to him. But many women exercised power and influence without being regent, and many regents did not hand power to the son once he was old enough, or even if they did, still continued to exert power. In the most extreme case, Wu Zetian (625-705) declared herself emperor of her own dynasty. Women afterwards retained many of her methods of legitimization, though avoiding too great a resemblance. What factors and variables can be used to define and evaluate female rulership?  After summarizing the situation in China, the speaker will answer this question via a cross-section of royal women from Eurasia and suggest multiple intermingling variables that can be used to compare and contrast queens, empresses, dowagers, consorts/concubines, mistresses, and other palace women and their roles in royal rulership.

About the speaker:

Keith McMahon studies Ming and Qing fiction, gender character types in Chinese literature and history, and Chinese narrative of all periods. He received his B.A. in French and Comparative Literature from Indiana University, his M.A. in Chinese from Yale University, and his Ph.D. in Chinese from Princeton University. He studied one year of Chinese in Taiwan, did Ph.D. and post-doctorate research in Shanghai and Beijing for four years, and since the late 1970s has visited Taiwan, Shanghai, and Beijing regularly. He has taught at the University of Kansas since 1984, where he was chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures between 1996 and 2008. He is on the editorial board of Nan Nü: Men, Women and Gender in China and the Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture.