Precious Records by Susan Mann

pid_2894Nonfiction — print. Stanford University Press, 1997. 326 pgs. Purchased.

Subtitled “Women in China’s Long Eighteenth Century”, Mann divided her book into chapters addressing specific topics such writing, piety, and work. Focusing almost entirely on elite women during the High Qing dynasty (1863-1839), the book manages to confront and change some of the gender-based stereotypes those in my women in Chinese history class seem to hold onto (myself included).

Women were not just confined to their homes, and many of them were actually highly educated. Mann is quick to point out, however, that this may have been because women were supposed to be the early educators of their sons and lay the foundation for success on the civil service exams.

One of my biggest pet peeves in nonfiction is when an author refers to something and then says they will address it one or four chapters later. I want them to explain now, especially if it is an idea that peaks my curiosity as I will race through the next few pages until I reach the particular point referenced. I also hate it when authors respond to someone else’s work without at least summarizing the argument. You should not assume that I have read every book on women in Chinese history, in this case.

The book started out strong. I was quite interested in the experience of elite women but, by the time I reached the fifth out of eight chapters, I lost interest. Mann never managed to regain my focus and I was happy to turn the last page.

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