After a long spell of chaos, the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BCE–220 CE) saw the unification of the Chinese Empire under a single ruler, government, and code of law. During this era, changing social and political institutions affected the ways people conceived of womanhood. New ideals were promulgated, and women's lives gradually altered to conform to them. And under the new political system, the rulers' consorts and their families obtained powerful roles that allowed women unprecedented influence in the highest level of government.
Recognized as the leading work in the field, this introductory survey offers the first sustained history of women in the early imperial era. Now in a revised edition that incorporates the latest scholarship and theoretical approaches, the book draws on extensive primary and secondary sources in Chinese and Japanese to paint a remarkably detailed picture of the distant past. Bret Hinsch's introductory chapters orient the nonspecialist to early imperial Chinese society; subsequent chapters discuss women's roles from the multiple perspectives of kinship, wealth and work, law, government, learning, ritual, and cosmology. An enhanced array of line drawings, a Chinese-character glossary, and extensive notes and bibliography enhance the author's discussion. Historians and students of gender and early China alike will find this book an invaluable overview.