Center for Asia Pacific Studies
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In 1629, a seven-year-old girl was selected as Japan’s Empress Regnant. Known as Empress Meishō, she was the daughter of the current emperor and, on her mother’s side, she was the great-granddaughter of the founder of the Tokugawa warrior government. Although scant scholarly attention has been paid to Meishō, surviving documents and artifacts reveal that she participated in a rich material culture at the Japanese imperial court. Extant sources tell of her engagement with art works, entertainments and diversions, particularly during her retirement. Even though Meishō was in many respects an exception, her case is indicative of the unique role of the sovereign in Japan’s early modern political and ideological landscape. This article—meant both for specialists and a larger reading audience—thus provides insights on traditions of the Japanese court.
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Ming China’s imperial household and the family system at its heart developed from the founding of the dynasty in 1368 until its end in 1644 through constant interplay among the powers of emperors, their male kin, imperial women and their families, court eunuchs, women servants in the palace and senior civil officials and their wives. The marriage system embedded within the imperial family limited the power and prerogatives of individual women, while maximizing the opportunities of each emperor to produce a legitimate male heir. In this context, this paper explores what various kinds of sources can tell us about the roles of women in the imperial household in the last seventy years of the dynasty. It highlights the political and cultural achievements of Empress Dowager Li (1546–1614), and explores the roles, responsibilities, and opportunities of some of the many women who worked within the household, including literate female officials, wet nurses, and other lesser palace women. All contributed to the achievements of the household and the family and to the rituals that reflected the culture and the political order of the imperial family, the household and the court.
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This article illustrates the value of using the lens of institutional history to study imperial medicine. Identifying and incorporating a range of organizations and posts into the narrative of imperial medicine in eighteenth-century China shows the breadth of medical activity during this time. The most familiar institution of imperial medicine is the Imperial Medical Bureau, and this study argues that we can greatly benefit from including the history of other formations such as the Imperial Pharmacy and the Ministry of Imperial Stables, Herds, and Carriages. Such an outlook reveals the overlapping spheres of institutions, practitioners, and medicinals between human and equine medicine, implies that ethnicity may have been a factor in the organization of medicine, and points to a wider range of medical practitioners and patients within the imperial realm. Furthermore, multiplicity did not only exist among institutions and practitioners, but also on the linguistic level, as evidenced by the divergence in the meaning of some Manchu and Chinese terminology. Finally, these pluralities suggest that an understanding of imperial medicine as being limited to the Imperial Medical Bureau greatly underestimates the diversity of institutions, posts, ethnicities, and languages within the eighteenth-century Chinese imperial medical world.
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This study offers a look into the daily life of royal women in nineteenth-century Korea through an examination of fertility and childbirth. From the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, the royal family identified fertility with the state’s prosperity. In spite of the emphasis placed on fertility, there was a crisis of declining royal childbirth from the seventeenth century on. As Joseon kings were official figures, royal childbirth was an event of public importance. Though the primary responsibility for childbirth was on the royal women, the process of childbirth therefore became part of the institutional system. Unlike wedding ceremonies and rites of death, the rites of childbirth in Joseon Korea remained unchanged by the Confucian system. Because human beings cannot control all the risks in the process of delivery, divine assistance was invoked for safe delivery, bringing Daoist elements into the rites of childbirth. Nonetheless, Confucian discrimination between a wife and a concubine, an eldest son and the other sons and daughters were projected into the birthing process.
Keynote Address presented at The Imperial Court in China, Japan, and Korea: Women, Servants, and the Emperor’s Household (1600 to early 1900s), University of San Francisco, Center for Asia Pacific Studies, April 18, 2013.