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The Pitfalls of Piety for Married Women

The Pitfalls of Piety for Married Women

Two Precious Scrolls of the Ming Dynasty

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Published by: Cornell University Press

228 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm

  • ISBN: 9781501758362
  • Published: August 2021

The Pitfalls of Piety for Married Women shows how problematic the practice of Buddhist piety could be in Late Imperial China. Two thematically related "precious scrolls" (baojuan) from the Ming dynasty, The Precious Scroll on the Red Gauze and The Precious Scroll of the Handkerchief, illustrate the difficulties faced by women whose religious devotion conflicted with the demands of marriage and motherhood.

These two previously untranslated texts tell the stories of married women whose piety causes them to be separated from their husbands and children. While these women labor far away, their children are cruelly abused by murderous stepmothers. Following many adventures, divine intervention eventually reunites the families and the evil stepmothers get their just deserts. While the texts in The Pitfalls of Piety for Married Women praise Buddhist piety, they also reveal many problems as far as it concerns married women and mothers.

Wilt L. Idema's translations are preceded by an introduction that places these scrolls in the context of Ming dynasty performative literature, vernacular literature, and popular religion. Set in a milieu of rich merchants, the texts provide a unique window on family life of the time, enriching our understanding of gender in the Ming dynasty. These popular baojuan offer rare insights on lay religion and family dynamics of the Ming dynasty, and their original theme and form enrich our understanding of the various methods of storytelling that were practiced at the time.