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date: 25 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Gender is an underexplored issue in the study of ancient China, often understood to be one and same as biological sex. Using biological remains and material offerings excavated from major cemetery sites in China, this chapter examines the social construction of gender from the Neolithic to the period of state emergence under the Shang Dynasty. By comparing the different ways biologically sexed female individuals were treated at death, this discussion shows the variable ways gender could be understood depending on an individual’s social rank, kinship relations, and even ethnic affiliation. Reappraisals of these cemetery sites also reveal how gender—as a shifting aspect of personhood and individual life histories—was instrumental in configuring the social relationships of early village communities as well as dynastic courts. These observations redress interpretations influenced by classical Chinese thought and Marxian paradigms.

Keywords: gender, social evolution, Marxist archaeology, Neolithic, Bronze Age

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