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Testimony of Ms. Xing, Wife of Zhu Bingren, 1814

A Case Study of Religious Rebellion: Testimony of Ms. Xing, Wife of Zhu Bingren, 1814

This case concerning the Eight Trigrams rebellion of 1813, accounts the experiences of a young married woman, Ms. Xing. She was an unwitting victim of sexual exploitation by members of the Heavenly Principle Society (a religious sect which followed the White Lotus teachings) of which her husband and marital family were involved. The transcript of her testimony brings to light the lack of status afforded to women by Qing imperial legal views. Women were subordinate to their fathers and after marriage, their husbands and father-in-laws. They lacked the will or agency to make independent choices and could be coerced, and even, expected to consent to illicit sexual activity. They were considered, in many ways, chattel to be bought and sold and the Qing Legal Code reinforced these views.

Women were subordinate to their husbands in all things. When women married, they left their own patrilineal family and became part of their husband’s family. Regarding sexual relations, the law protected their right to say “no”, however, it also found them to be criminally liable when they did not.[1] They had limited agency and were not completely free, as women today know freedom, to make their own choices. When found guilty of having given consent to illicit sex, women were sentenced to 90 blows with the heavy bamboo[2]. Husbands or other male relatives who encouraged or forced their wives to have illicit sex with other men were punished more severely because this was seen as a violation of filial piety towards his wife.

In the testimony of Ms. Xing, she relates that her father-in-law, Zhu Xian would regularly tell either her or her stepmother-in-law to sleep with the “Old Master”, Lin Qing.[3] Neither would dare to refuse. The family’s involvement in the Heavenly Principle Society, a religious sect associated with the White Lotus teachings, allowed for this type of deviant behavior, and in fact, was part of their religious practices.[4] Despite the fact that Ms. Xing was only a member of the sect by virtue of her marriage and did not enter willingly made no difference. Within the family, she was completely subordinated to her husband and other male relatives of a closer degree. If a women was forcibly raped, she was not punished, as long as it could be proven that she resisted, but for consenting to illicit sexual activity, she could be punished.[5]

Within sects, there was an expectation to practice a code of moral behavior which varied between the different sects. Often, prohibitions against drinking and sexual activity were part of the practices expected of members. However, according to Naquin, “a common government criticism of White Lotus sects has been that they not only permitted men and women to meet and fraternize with an alarming disregard for social convention, but that the sects sponsored sexual relations outside of marriage and permitted orgies at their meetings.”[6] This was certainly evidenced by Ms. Xing’s testimony of being expected to have illicit sex with other sect members. They certainly took advantage of these relaxed sexual standards and the Qing government most certainly disapproved of these practices.

Women who confessed to illicit sexual relations were sometimes treated with leniency. In this case, Ms. Xing confessed to having illicit sex with the “Old Master”, Lin Qing, and the magistrate, Chen, and was not held to account for this behavior. However, Chen, who had been charged with having sex with a prisoner and thus “has no sense of shame” and would be arrested and interrogated.[7] Furthermore, Ms. Xing, having been found to have no information which was useful to their case was presumably freed following the “strenuous questioning” she had undergone.[8] It seems as though the officials were more interested in quelling the rebellion and finding all those who had been involved than they were in prosecuting Ms. Xing for her immoral behavior. Perhaps they recognized that she was an unwitting victim the sect’s practice.

Following the failed rebellion which was mounted by Lin Qing and Ms. Xing’s father-in-law, Zhu Xian and husband, Zhu Bingren, of Beijing, she fled along with her senior mother-in-law and stepmother-in-law and wandered aimlessly for two days. She eventually decided to turn herself in, with the hope that by doing so, she would keep her own mother and father safe from harm as she had heard that the authorities were arresting people. She found a local constable and he took her statement. The constable kept her in jail for 20 days and during that time, she was reported to the magistrate, His Lordship Chen Shaoyong. He delayed her interrogation to “to go south”, and during that time, her mother “begged his man Yu Tingfu to say that a woman would not dare rebel, and it would be best if he’d release me [Ms. Xing] for a little money.”[9] As a woman who lacked the agency to make her own decisions, it was recognized that she wasn’t entirely free to act on her own free will. Her mother capitalized on her feminine wiles and the official’s expectation of a bribe, to convince the official to release her daughter.

The magistrate, having been dismissed from office for some unknown reason, resulted in the magistrate’s wife, feeling frightened for Ms. Xing’s safety. She arranged and rented a room for her to live in, then having heard that the officials were searching for people, sent her to stay at the house of a matchmaker, Ms. Cao.[10] Later, the magistrate sent for her again, and had illicit sex with her. There is no indication that she consented to this or the earlier sexuality activity, or any sense that she was held responsible for this upon her capture. In fact, from the chronicle presented, it appears as though she was freed after having convinced the officials that she had no knowledge of the whereabouts of her father-in-law, husband or any of the others who had escaped capture following the rebellion.

The testimony of Ms. Xing, as recorded by those who interrogated her, illustrates the assumption commonly held that women could be easily induced to consent to various abuses. However, it also illustrates that men were held more culpable for sexual violations as pointed out by the magistrate’s punishment. Women of the Qing were at the same time protected from exploitation and also burdened by the legal view point that they were subordinate to men.

This case highlights Qing legal views of women, that even though they had the right to say “no” to illicit sexual activity, they were bound by the filial obligations and expectations placed on women. It also illustrates the lack of coequal agency for male and female participants. Men were held to a higher standard and received greater punishments for coercing women to engage in illicit behavior. However, those who practiced White Lotus teachings ascribed to a moral code which was seen as deviant by the imperial officials and traditional society. Considering the themes of sexual exploitation and rebellion in this case, both which violated legal codes, government officials were clearly more considered with those who participated in the uprising as this more directly threatened the security of the imperial state.

Works Cited

Naquin, Susan. Millenarian Rebellion in China: The Eight Trigrams Uprising of 1813. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1976.

Philip C.C. Huang, “Women’s Choices under the Law: Marriage, Divorce, and Illicit Sex in the Qing and the Republic,” Modern China, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Jan 2001): 3-58.

Hegel, Robert E., trans. True Crimes in Eighteenth Century China: Twenty Case

[1] Philip C.C. Huang. “Women’s Choices under the Law: Marriage, Divorce, and Illicit Sex in the Qing and the Republic,” Modern China, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Jan, 2001): 23.

[2] Huang, “Women’s Choices,” 6.

[3]Robert E. Hegel, trans., True Crimes in Eighteenth Century China: Twenty Case Histories (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009), 188.

[4] Susan Naquin, Millenarian Rebellion in China: The Eight Trigrams Uprising of 1813 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1976), 48.

[5] Huang, “Women’s Choices,” 14.

[6] Naquin, Millenarian Rebellion, 47.

[7] Hagel, True Crimes, 191.

[8] Hagel, True Crimes, 191.

[9] Hagel, True Crimes, 190.

[10] Hagel, True Crimes, 190.

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