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Polyandry and Wife Sale in Qing Dynasty China

May 6 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Free

Matthew Sommer
Professor of Chinese History, Stanford University
May 6, 4:00 pm
509 O’Brian Hall (Law School Conference Room), UB North Campus
Free and open to the public
Cosponsored by the UB Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies, Gender Institute, Department of History and Confucius Institute

In China during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), polyandry and wife sale were widespread survival strategies practiced by the rural poor in conditions of overpopulation, shrinking farm sizes, and worsening sex ratios.  Polyandry involved bringing in an outside, single male to help support a family in exchange for sharing the wife; wife sale involved the transfer of a woman from one husband to another, to become the latter’s wife, in exchange for cash payment.  These two practices represented opposite ends of a spectrum of strategies to mobilize the sexual and reproductive labor of women in order to supplement household incomes and maintain subsistence.  If we take into account lived experience among the poor, no clear distinction can be drawn between marriage and the traffic in women in Qing China; similarly, the normative distinction between marriage and sex work that was basic to law and elite ideology cannot be sustained.

Matthew Sommer’s research focuses on sexuality, gender relations, chosen kinship, and law during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), and the main sources for his work are legal cases from central and local archives in China. He also likes to use popular fiction and other non-legal sources for historical research.

Sommer’s first book, SEX, LAW, AND SOCIETY IN LATE IMPERIAL CHINA, is primarily a legal history, but more recent projects use legal cases to explore social historical topics as well. His second book, POLYANDRY AND WIFE-SELLING IN QING DYNASTY CHINA: SURVIVAL STRATEGIES AND JUDICIAL INTERVENTIONS, was published in September 2015. He is now completing his third book, which analyzes male same-sex relations and masculinity in eighteenth-century China on the basis of some 1,700 relevant cases. Long-term plans include a fourth book about criminal procedure in the Qing dynasty.

Venue

509 O’Brian Hall
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260 United States
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