Contextualizing Female Infanticide: Ming China in Early Modern European Travelogues


One of the essential components of the early modern European response to China was an emphasis on the fabulous wealth and social organization of Chinese society. Despite their knowledge of the wide-scale abandonment and killing of newborns within the society, and despite the categorization of infanticide as a great moral sin by the early Christian church, the European travelers to China commented on infanticide dispassionately, without any moral revulsion, and continued to project an image of China as a virtual utopia for its residents. One reason for the detached descriptions of abandonment of children and infanticide in China might be the fact that conditions with regard to children in Europe were no superior to those in China and were probably far worse; the vast numbers of abandoned and dead children in Europe blunted the edge of criticism with regard to Chinese customs. Another might be that infanticide was practiced within Europe contemporaneously, even though the killing of newborn children there was practiced much more surreptitiously, and public opinion had firmed up connections among single women, illegitimacy, concealment, and murder. However, the dire social circumstances within their own countries had not prevented the Europeans from soundly criticizing and morally reproving cannibalism or infanticide in other cultures. In order to understand their acceptance of this “sinful” practice in China, we must look elsewhere.

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Sachdev, R., 2010. Contextualizing Female Infanticide: Ming China in Early Modern European Travelogues. ASIANetwork Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts, 18(1), pp.24–39. DOI:


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Rachana Sachdev (Susquehanna University)



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