Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 July 2004
The issue of women's property rights during the Song dynasty has been heatedly debated for over half a century. First in Japan, and then in China, Taiwan and the West, scholars have developed strikingly divergent views of the legal and social dimensions of Song women's claims to property and control over their remarriage as widows. This article discusses and assesses the different views, particularly those of Bettine Birge in her recent book-length analysis of the topic. In siding largely with earlier studies that stressed Song women's legally backed rights to property as daughters, wives and widows, Birge's work provides the most comprehensive and persuasive treatment of this debate in any language. In addition, she discusses the fate of Chinese widows, accustomed to remarrying under favourable terms in the Song, and then suffering during the Yuan serious restrictions on their options for remarriage as well as on their property rights. The turning point, according to this book, was the merger of Mongol government and neo-Confucian court interests in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, thereby depriving women of many powers they had acquired in the Song.