Skip to content

Divorce in Early Medieval China (1st to 6th century CE)

Title: Divorce in Early Medieval China (1st to 6th century CE)

Time:Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, 20:30-21:30 (China time)

Moderator:Norman P. Ho, Peking University School of Transnational Law

Meeting link:

Meeting ID:694 1783 2777;Passcode: 454436



Prof. Qiaomei TANG (唐巧美), Grinnell College (USA)


Qiaomei Tang received her PhD from Harvard University and her BA and MA from Beijing Normal University. She studies the literature and culture of the Six Dynasties period (3rd-6th century) with a focus on issues related to law and gender. Her current book project is about divorce and the representation of the divorced woman in Early Medieval Chinese writings. Her publications have appeared in the Nan nü: Men, Women and Gender in China and the Journal of Oriental Society of Australia. She is an Assistant Professor at Grinnell College. Prior to Grinnell, she taught at two other liberal arts colleges Swarthmore College and Colgate University. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.


It was not long ago when divorce was frowned upon in China, and divorced women faced serious social stigma. But since the turn of the twenty-first century, the divorce rate in China has spiked. The Chinese Supreme People’s Court’s 2012 interpretation of the marriage law sparked a nation-wide discussion on women’s rights in the event of divorce. Fake divorces in China have been engineered to circumvent restrictions on property-buying. Divorce cases have also increased during the pandemic. Indeed, divorce has become a part of our contemporary life that could potentially touch many of us. What was the situation like in the patriarchal society of premodern China, especially during the early medieval period (1st to 6th century CE) when no legal code has survived? Was divorce even allowed then? Could women divorce men? What was it like to be a divorced woman? What role did the state play in regulating divorce and the divorced women? In this seminar, I will go over the classical prescriptions on the conditions and procedures for divorce and compare that with the recorded divorce cases in early medieval China. I will show the discrepancy between Confucian ideals of marriage and family life and the actual practices in society. In particular, I will discuss a new social and familial phenomenon called “two-principal wives” (liangdi 兩嫡) that occurred during this period and explain how the debates on liangdi reveal the ambiguity of the definition of divorce, on the one hand, and contribute to the development and codification of the divorce law in the Tang 唐 (618-907) dynasty, on the other. From the classical ritual prescriptions on divorce to the codification of the divorce law in Tang China, the early medieval period played a significant role in linking the two. The sources under discussion will include official histories, excavated bamboo slips on legal matters, religious writings, anecdotal accounts and poetry.

prev:Legal Career Development: Wang Jing & GH Law Firm next:Legal Career Development: Dispute Resolution