It is a commonplace of Chinese history that proper family and political order was achieved through maintenance of the distinction between private and public, expressed in terms of inner (nei) and outer (wai). Respectable families were expected to keep their women and their domestic affairs secluded within the walls of the family compound. Improprieties were to be dealt with discreetly and guarded as family secrets. While their wives managed their households in seclusion back home, officials posted around the empire were to maintain clear boundaries between their public duties and their private, that is personal, interests to guard against nepotism and malfeasance. In this talk I will tell the tale of a sex and corruption scandal from the Yongzheng-Qianlong transition years in Zhejiang that ended the careers of a powerful and respected governor and destroyed two prominent families. Numerous transgressions of nei/wai boundaries created this scandal. More intriguing though is that political factions mapped onto family factions in ways that reveal the routine permeability of these boundaries and show that the interpenetration of family and state was integral to Qing political institutions. The case allows us to see both the practical limitations of the nei/wai construct and its political necessity.
Janet Theiss is the Founding Director of the The Asia Center and Director of the Asian Studies Program at the University of Utah. She is also Associate Professor in History and the author of Disgraceful Matters: The Politics of Chastity in Eighteenth-Century China (UC Press, 2004). She has written numerous articles and chapters published in journals like Nan Nü: Men, Women and Gender in Early and Imperial China and is Associate Editor of of the academic journal Late Imperial China.