Education About Asia: Online Archives

Virgin Widows and The Cult of Chastity

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“Earthen walls crumbled, wooden houses rotted and collapsed, only to be replaced by stone walls and stone houses to begin a new cycle.”(note 1)

Gu Hua’s first novel, A Town Called Hibiscus, later adapted for the screen as Hibiscus Town, catapulted him into international view. This Hunan Province writer followed success in 1985 with another gem, Virgin Widows—literally “virtuous women.” A story about women written by a man is often suspect, but what better way to parse a culture’s understanding of women’s roles than through analysis of their representations. (note 2) The issue represented is as profoundly limiting and as integral to Chinese culture as footbinding: chastity among widows.