A Confucian interpretation of women’s empowerment

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In this paper, I present a cultural interpretation of women’s empowerment by referring to a Confucian classic Neixun (Instructions for the Inner Quarters) that was written by Empress Xu. I explain that Empress Xu rejects the prevailing gender biases and practices concerning the low status and moral inferiority of women. She supports women’s empowerment in three aspects: the exercise of one’s agency, a more balanced approach to power relations, and the provision of essential means to effect change. I further argue that Empress Xu’s reading of women’s empowerment revolves around a Chinese belief in gender mutuality where men and women are moral equals despite performing different social roles. The Niexun underscores the importance of giving girls sufficient educational resources, mentoring and female role-modelling. Confucian perspectives on gender contribute to the existing literature on the diverse sociocultural understandings and application of women’s empowerment.
This is the final draft, after peer-review, of a manuscript published in Journal of Gender Studies. The published version is available online at
Confucianism, Gender equality, Empress Xu, Women’s empowerment
Tan, C. (2021). A Confucian interpretation of women’s empowerment. Journal of Gender Studies, 30(8), 927-937.