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Women's status and gender relations in Southeast Asia from the thirteenth to the fifteenthcenturies : based on Notes on the Custom of Cambodia 真臘風土記, Description of the Barbarians of the Isles 島夷志略 and The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores 瀛涯勝覽

English Abstract

The relationship between men and women was regarded as a regional characteristic in Southeast Asia. However, along with the development of the historiography of Southeast Asia, there was a debate about it. Some thought the assertion about women‟s high status needs to be further explored in a concrete context, while some even challenged this assertion by saying that there was no major difference in the status of women in Southeast Asia and neighboring regions, such as China. Others have even suggested that the generalization about women‟s status was constructed by contemporary scholars of Southeast Asia to present the region, otherwise characterized by its great diversity, as a cohesive unit worthy of academic study. Hence, this thesis aims to make an important contribution to this issue from the thirteenth century to the fifteenth century. In particular, it examines and evaluates the usefulness of three Chinese sources, namely Notes on the Custom of Cambodia, Description of the Barbarians of The Isles and The Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores, since the Chinese literatures were the main source about Southeast Asia in the time period under study. After a systematic scrutiny of the materials in the three Chinese literatures that make references to women‟s status and gender relations, this study finds that: In religions and folktales, the Chinese sources show the spread of Theravada Buddhism in mainland Southeast Asia and the growing popularity of this religion among women, as witnessed in the presence of female devotees (nuns). At the same time, women continued to exercise special influence and status in older belief systems, such as Hinduism. In economy and politics, women had prominent performance in trade and were widely engaged in commerce. In addition, they had more freedom to take part in political affairs and could even inherit the position of ruler. Social customs reflected the relative egalitarian nature of male-female relations and women‟s autonomy and privilege in sexual affairs. Hence, this study argues that in the three Chinese literatures, although women did not fully enjoy autonomy and privilege in all social aspects, their distinctive status was supported by the interlinkage of special roles in religions, prominence in economy and relatively more freedom in social life and customs all of which advantaged women. The gender relations in Southeast Asia at that time also showed egalitarian nature.

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Li, Li Juan


Faculty of Social Sciences


Department of History




Women -- Southeast Asia -- Social conditions

Man-woman relationships -- Southeast Asia


Sugiyama, Akiko

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