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Reading: Contextualizing Female Infanticide: Ming China in Early Modern European Travelogues

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Contextualizing Female Infanticide: Ming China in Early Modern European Travelogues

Author:

Rachana Sachdev

Susquehanna University
About Rachana
Rachana Sachdev is Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Asian Studies at Susquehanna University. Her current research project focuses on representations of infanticide in Asia in early modern European travelogues. She is also co-editing, with Qingjun Li, a volume of essays on early modern European responses to China.
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Abstract

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.
DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/ane.194
How to Cite: 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: http://doi.org/10.16995/ane.194
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Published on 01 Oct 2010.
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