UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sino-western historical accounts and imaginative images of women in battle May, Louise-Anne


The intent of this thesis is to analyse both the characteristics of the participation of women in war and the social and ideological context in which the imagery of the armed woman proved useful in two distinct cultures which produced an inordinate number of historical and fictional women warriors. Specifically, it is intended to test the following three hypotheses which arise from an analysis of the secondary literature in this field in the context of the societies of seventeenth and eighteenth century France and Imperial China: 1. That women were generally excluded from military combat and leadership roles. This exclusion was the result of gender and not biological constraints. 2. That some women in history were able to modify the masculine/ military equation. This was based on one or more of three factors: rank, religion, rebellion/revolution. 3. That the images of women warriors in imaginative literature and art did not reflect the actual scope or nature of women's participation in war. Rather, they reflected and reinforced attitudes towards ideal social and sexual hierarchies and behaviours. The present study examines the subject of women and war within a more limited cultural and historical framework than that which is usually employed in this field. While significant variations are discovered in the analysis of Chinese and French history and culture, the finding is that these three hypotheses prove to be correct. This is not to suggest that the two cultures were the same. Rather, it suggests that within two very different social hierarchies, there were comparable sexual hierarchies which were underlined and reinforced by similar ideals in respect to the division of labour and to the appropriate behaviour which accompanies this division.

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