Ko, Dorothy 1957–
Ko, Dorothy 1957–
Born 1957. Education: Stanford University, B.A., Ph.D.
Joan Kelly Memorial Prize, American Historical Association; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellow, 2000-01; Hopkins-Nanjing Center fellowship.
Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-Century China, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1994.
Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2001.
(Editor, with JaHyun Kim Haboush and Joan R. Piggott) Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2003.
Cinderella's Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2005.
(Editor, with Wang Zheng) Translating Feminisms in China, Blackwell (Malden, MA), 2007.
Contributor to books, including Good Sex: Women's Religious Wisdom, 2001; The Presence of Antiquity: Ming Discourses on Footbinding's Origins, 2001; and Rethinking Confucianism: Past and Present in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, 2002. Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-Century China was also published in Chinese.
Dorothy Ko is a historian whose primary interest is the everyday lives of women in China as a significant aspect of China's cultural, economic, and political development. Her work intersects with the fields of anthropology and women's studies. Incorporated into this interest are her studies of the domestic objects made and used by Chinese women.
In Ko's first book, Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-Century China, the author provides a history of women's literary communities in China during the seventeenth century. ‘In a study rich with theoretical insights and empirical data, Ko investigates the communities of the privileged wives and daughters of scholar-officials of Jiangnan,’ noted Sophie Volpp in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History. Ko focuses on the gender issue, with women living in an oppressive, male-dominated culture. Specifically, she presents her thesis that Chinese women's interest in literature and their development of literary communities gave them a new space within this culture that did not threaten the accepted hierarchy. Writing in the Canadian Journal of History, Michael Szonyi remarked that ‘this simple thesis, which Ko demonstrates with considerable elegance, has important implications for our understanding of Chinese women and the seventeenth century Chinese world.’ Journal of Social History contributor Katherine Carlitz commented that for many years scholars believed that Chinese women were largely illiterate. ‘In this powerful book,’ stated Carlitz, ‘we find women not only reading and writing, but building ‘intellectual and emotional communities through reading and writing,’ … altering received gender notions in the process."
Ko's examination of the Chinese tradition of footbinding in Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet was called a ‘beautifully produced book’ by Jonathan Mirsky in the Spectator. Written as part of an exhibition of lotus shoes worn by Chinese women with bound feet, the book includes numerous photographs of the shoes. Ko examines in detail the practice of footbinding, taking her study beyond the traditional Western view of footbinding as oppression of women and a sexual fetish to provide a more complex view of this unique cultural practice. ‘Novels, trade books, and other works on this subject have been interesting but often have focused on the more intriguing aspects of footbinding such as the fetishism or its debilitating effects, with less attention paid to the cultural context that led to the practice,’ Linda B. Arthur reported in the China Review International. For example, the author examines footbinding within the context of the Confucian system of thoughts as a rite of passage. She also writes of the social, economic, and cultural significance of the embroidered shoes the women wore as well as the Chinese women's ambivalent view of footbinding that made them see it both as a deformity and as a type of high society sophistication. In addition, Ko provides an overall history of footbinding. In a review of Every Step a Lotus, Booklist contributor Donna Seaman wrote that the author ‘convincingly defines the practice as a historical source of female identity, purpose, pride, and power.’ Arthur concluded: ‘This is a marvelous book."
In Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan, Ko and fellow editors JaHyun Kim Haboush and Joan R. Piggott present eleven essays by scholars from the United States, Asia, and Europe who examine the relationship between Confucianism and women. Divided into four parts, the book addresses topics such as male dominance and the Chinese patriarchal family model and how women acted in and affected politics, education, family, and art in China, Korea, and Japan. The parts are divided into four essays each on Japan and China and three essays focusing on Korea. ‘By comparing the impact of Confucianism in these three countries, Women and Confucian Cultures enables us to see the impact of a group of homogeneous ideas within a developing school in three different cultures, producing different results,’ according to Lily Xiao Hong Lee in the China Review International. A contributor to the History Cooperative Web site noted that Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan ‘makes a signal contribution to the study of gender and social history in East Asia."
Ko revisits the practice of footbinding in more detail in Cinderella's Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding. ‘In her new book, Dorothy Ko unravels the textual and material evidence behind this custom that was cherished as the epitome of female beauty and condemned as barbarism at the same time,’ wrote Ina Asim in the Historian. ‘The author unfolds the multiple layers of cultural meanings and practices of footbinding traditions. The result is an elegantly composed masterpiece that reveals the complexity of the phenomenon.’ The author follows the history of footbinding from its inauguration as male fetish, to its last days when it was continued solely as a tradition, and to the final production of ‘lotus shoes’ in 1999. The book is broken up into two parts: ‘The Body Exposed,’ which discusses how the new Chinese Republic condemned footbinding, and ‘The Body Concealed,’ which focuses on the past and the main players in the development of footbinding.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, June, 1996, Ellen Widmer, review of Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-Century China, p. 892; December, 2004, Katherine Carlitz, review of Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan, p. 1545.
Asian Affairs: An American Review, summer, 2004, May-Lee Chan, review of Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan.
Booklist, March 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet, p. 1084.
Canadian Journal of History, August, 1995, Michael Szonyi, review of Teachers of the Inner Chambers, p. 396.
China Quarterly, September, 2002, Patricia Buckley Ebrey, review of Every Step a Lotus, p. 767; March, 2007, Charlotte Furth, review of Cinderella's Sisters, p. 219.
China Review International, spring, 2003, Linda B. Arthur, review of Every Step a Lotus, p. 195; spring, 2004, Lily Xiao Hong Lee, review of Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan, p. 15.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, June, 1995, R.E. Entenmann, review of Teachers of the Inner Chambers, p. 1650; July-August, 2002, B.B. Chico, review of Every Step a Lotus, p. 2017; November, 2006, B.B. Chico, review of Cinderella's Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding, p. 541.
Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, June, 1997, Jerry Dennerline, review of Teachers of the Inner Chambers, p. 220.
Historian, summer, 1996, Vivian Ling, review of Teachers of the Inner Chambers, p. 881; fall, 2007, Ina Asim, review of Cinderella's Sisters, p. 572.
Journal of Asian Studies, November, 2003, Suzanne Cahill, review of Every Step a Lotus, p. 1219.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, spring, 1997, Sophie Volpp, review of Teachers of the Inner Chambers, p. 748.
Journal of Social History, summer, 1996, Katherine Carlitz, review of Teachers of the Inner Chambers, p. 994.
Journal of Women's History, winter, 1997, Susan Mann, review of Teachers of the Inner Chambers, p. 163.
London Review of Books, May 11, 2006, Rena Mitter, ‘Untwisting the Pastry,’ review of Cinderella's Sisters, p. 27.
Publishers Weekly, December 24, 2001, review of Every Step a Lotus, p. 59.
Signs, winter, 1996, Ann Waltner, review of Teachers of the Inner Chambers, p. 410.
Spectator, July 20, 2002, Jonathan Mirsky, ‘Torture as a Text,’ review of Every Step a Lotus, p. 36.
Women's Studies International Forum, January-February, 2002, review of Every Step a Lotus, p. 160.
Barnard College Web site,http://www.barnard.edu/ (October 29, 2007), faculty profile of Dorothy Ko.
Barnard News Center Web site,http://www.barnard.edu/newnews/ (October 29, 2007), ‘From Footbinding to Dress-Making, Dorothy Ko Focuses Research on the Significance of Domestic Lives and Objects."
History Cooperative,http://www.historycooperative.org/ (October 29, 2007), review of Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan.