Accounts of premodern Chinese women focus on paragons of virtue and self-control who are defined by their ability to meet strict standards of chaste behavior, although in recent decades this picture has been complicated somewhat by studies of talented women writers and teachers. But there has been little attention to the once popular figure of the strong woman who takes up sword and spear to avenge a wrong done to a family member by killing the guilty party. The avenging woman is a key figure in the Eastern Han (25-220 ce), a formative period in the development of Chinese political and ethical practice; during the Han and Wei (220-65 ce) dynasties, she plays an important role in the integration of yin and yang metaphysics, social morality, expressions of individual feeling, and legal order into a harmonious and cohesive aesthetic and ideological structure. This article examines the uses of a gendered framework of yin and yang in art, historical narrative, and poetry, with particular attention to the topic of the avenging woman as it manifests itself in diverse discursive contexts.

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