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The Domestic Outsider: Interpreting Contradictions in the Status of Maidservants in Qing China

  • Xiyang Liu
Chapter

Abstract

This chapter clarifies the legal, social, and ritual status of maidservants: young unmarried female domestic labourers (bi) in the households of Chinese literati and merchants in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). Maidservants’ social position is ambiguous due to the lack of legal and customary protections for female household dependents; the obligations and terms of their bondage do not fall wholly under that of chattel slavery or the ‘mean/commoner’ distinction (liang jian ming fen) under Chinese society. Nonetheless, the features of their bondage are distinct from other forms of female dependency such as marriage, concubinage, or filial obligation. Court cases, sales documents, marriage rituals, rules of etiquette, and literary records from the period reveal how maidservants negotiated the terms of dependence, honour, and belonging in the household.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiyang Liu
    • 1
  1. 1.The Commercial Press of ChinaBeijingChina

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