Past Events


September 11, 2015

“Polyandry and Wife Sale in Qing Dynasty China”

A Talk Jointly Presented by the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality History Workshop and Pre‐modernist Workshop 
(co‐sponsor: Institute of Chinese Studies)

(View video of this event at the bottom of this page.)

Polyandry and Wife-Selling in Qing Dynasty China Book Cover

Matthew Sommer
Professor of Chinese History
Stanford University
Time: Sept. 11 (F), 2:00pm
Location: 168 Dulles Hall

In China during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), polyandry and wife sale were widespread survival strategies practiced by the rural poor in conditions of overpopulation, shrinking farm sizes, and worsening sex ratios. Polyandry involved bringing in an outside, single male to help support a family in exchange for sharing the wife; wife sale involved the transfer of a woman from one husband to another, to become the latter's wife, in exchange for cash payment. These two practices represented opposite ends of a spectrum of strategies to mobilize the sexual and reproductive labor of women in order to supplement household incomes and maintain subsistence. If we take into account lived experience among the poor, no clear distinction can be drawn between marriage and the traffic in women in Qing China; similarly, the normative distinction between marriage and sex work that was basic to law and elite ideology cannot be sustained.
Bio of Speaker:
Matthew Sommer is Professor of Chinese History at Stanford University. His research focuses on sexuality, gender relations, chosen kinship, and law during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) and the main sources for his work are legal cases from central and local archives in China. He also uses popular fiction and other non-legal sources for historical research. Professor Sommer’s first book, SEX, LAW, AND SOCIETY IN LATE IMPERIAL CHINA, is primarily a legal history, but more recent projects use legal cases to explore social historical topics as well. His second book, POLYANDRY AND WIFESELLING IN QING DYNASTY CHINA: SURVIVAL STRATEGIES AND JUDICIAL INTERVENTIONS, is coming out in Sept. 2015.


April 14, 2014

Sumathi Ramaswamy, Professor of History, Duke University. Co-sponsored with the Sawyer Seminar.

March 31, 2014, 3:00pm-4:30pm, Dulles Hall 168

Mary Louise Roberts, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin, Madison. Co-sponsored with the Race, Ethnicity, and Nation Constellation, the Modern U.S History Seminar, the Department of French and Italian, and the Mershon Center for International Security Studies.

February 27-28, 2014

Leigh Ann Wheeler, Associate Professor of History, SUNY Binghamton, and Co-editor of The Journal of Women's History. Prof. Wheeler will be giving talks at OSU, Newark (Feb. 27, 4-5:30) and Columbus ( Feb. 28, 1:30-3:00, 168 Dulles) on the topic of "Making Reproductive Freedom: Abortion, Sterilization, and Civil Liberties, 1960s-1970s". She also will offer a professionalization/publishing workshop open to interested graduate students and faculty entitled "Publishing in Scholarly Journals: What First-Time Authors Need to Know" (Feb. 28, 10-11:30, 168 Dulles. Co-sponsored with the Modern U.S. History Seminar, the OSUNewark History Department, the OSU Newark Diversity Committee, the Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies as well as Sexuality Studies (a unit within DISCO)

February 14, 2-3:30, 168 Dulles

"The Problem of Manhood in Anglo-American Demonic Possession and Witchcraft"
Erika Gasser, Assistant Professor of History, University of Cincinnati Co-Sponsored with the Ohio Seminar in Early American History

January 24, 2014, 1:30pm-3:00pm, 168 Dulles

"Sex and Gender in Pre-Modern History: Still Useful Categories of Analysis?" A Roundtable Conversation with David Brakke, Tina Sessa, Ying Zhang, and co-moderators Greg Anderson and Clayton Howard.

November 14, 2013, 2:00pm, University Hall 347

"Patrilineal Descent/Matrilineal Ascent: Gender Imbalance in Contemporary Jewish Life" A talk by Sylvia Barack Fishman, Esther Foster Professor of Contemporary Jewish Life, Brandeis University. Co-sponsored with the Melton Center and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literature.

October 11, 2013, 2:15pm-3:45pm, 168 Dulles

"Sexing the City: Solicitation, Public Space, and the Sexual Culture of Nineteenth-Century Paris," A talk by Andrew Ross, Visiting Assistant Professor of History, Kenyon College. Co-sponsored by the Department of the History of Art and French and Italian.

September 13, 2013, 1:00pm-2:30pm, 168 Dulles

A Cookies and Conversation featuring Daniel Rivers, author of Radical Relations: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and their Children in the United States since World War II (North Carolina press, 2013) with conversation partner Katherine Marino and moderator Birgitte Soland. For more information or to receive book chapters, please contact Prof. J. Wu (

November 5, 2010      Malia McAndrew, John Carroll University
"Gendering Japan: The Promotion of U.S. Ideals of Womanhood and Beauty in Occupied Japan"

October 17, 2008       Megan Threlkeld - Denison University, Assistant Professor
"Something Deeper and Thicker Than Oil": U.S. Women and the Mexican Diplomatic Crisis, 1926-1927"

May 23, 2008       Leila Rupp - University of California as Santa Barbara, Professor 
"Sapphistries: Writing a Global History of the Love Between Women"

May 16, 2008       Mireille Miller-YoungUniversity of California at Santa Barbara 
"Hip-Hop Homeys and Da Hustlaz: Black Sexualities in the New Hip-Hop Pornography"

February 2008       Margaret Sumner- Ohio State University, Marion, Assistant Professor 
"Solving the Structural Problem of Virtue: Early American College Families and their Construction Principles, 1800-1860"

April 2007        Caroline Merithew, University of Dayton, Assistant Professor
"'She Looks Fine:' Memory and the Construction of Working-Class Feminists in the 20th Century"

Feb 2007         Karen Huber, The Ohio State University, Graduate Student
"To Pity or to Punish? Women on Trial for Abortion and Infanticide in the Third Republic of France"

Jan 2007          Kathryn Meyer, Wright State University, Assistant Professor
"Working Girls in the Garden of Grand Vision, Harbin , China 1940-1941"

Nov 2006        Susan Burch, Gallaudet University, Associate Professor
"'Beautiful, Though Deaf': The Deaf American Beauty Pageant"