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The Aesthetics of the Three Obediences: Murasaki Shikibu and Asian Women's Responses to the Code of Feminine Conduct Open Access


Other title
Asian Women
Murasaki Shikibu
The Three Obediences
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Masumitsu, Kazuko
Supervisor and department
Hart, Jonathan (Comparative Literature)
Examining committee member and department
Lin, Jenn-Shann (East Asian Studies)
Verdicchio, Massimo (Comparative Literature, Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
Sayed, Asma (Comparatve Literature)
Commons, Anne (East Asian Studies)
Laffin, Christina (Asian Studies) University of British Columbia
Comparative Literature

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Abstract All the three ancient sacred scriptures of Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, the Laws of Manu, the Lotus Sutra and the Book of Rites, demonstrate that the three obediences were once the prescribed code of woman’s conduct for South and East Asian women, as follows: Her father protects (her) in childhood, her husband protects (her) in youth, and her sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence. (The Laws of Manu Ch. IX. 3) 1 A woman obeys her parents in childhood, her husband in marriage and her son in widowhood, and she remains chaste. (listed in Buddhist sutras including Lotus Sutra, qtd. in Mochizuki Buddhist Great Dictionary 望月仏教大辞典 1542-1543) The wife should follow and obey her husband. The woman obeys her father in childhood, her husband in marriage and her son in old age.2 (The Book of Rites 礼記) The woman is bound by the three obediences.3 (Ch. “Blue Trousers 藤袴.” The Genji Vol. 3. 328) These ancient Chinese and Indian manuscripts indicate that their women were expected to observe the three obediences. The three obediences, written in Chinese as 三従 and pronounced as sanjyū in Japanese and sankon in Chinese, 1 In the English translation of the Laws of Manu by George Bühler. All the additional phrases in parentheses are listed. 2 My translation. 3 My translation. were once a familiar phrase in East Asia, including Korea and Vietnam. The presence of the same code of women’s conduct in the Tale of Genji also implies that the author, Murasaki Shikibu, wrote her work during the period when Japanese noblewomen were equally bound by that code. This recognition is the major inspiration for the first exploratory study of Pan-Asian womanhood under the three obediences within the field of comparative literature. This dissertation will trace back the development, evolution and effect of the three obediences on womanhood in India, China and Japan; then, it will re-read the Tale of Genji in the frame of the three obediences.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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