Woman Wang is an ill-fated personage who symbolizes the pervasive silence or constrained muffling of women. Spence unearths the judicial system in the Qing dynasty and demonstrates the odds which were against women. Woman Wang does not speak much and one observes that her husband and illicit lover are the ones who hold primary discourse. Because of the shameful circumstances surrounding her ignominious death, the law dictates that no one has the right to touch her. Only another old village woman can do a post-mortem examination to probe the cause of death. Woman Wang, as a result, attained an ‘untouchable’ and outcast position. “Throughout much of Chinese history, mortal-moral women have been held in highest esteem…the one central characteristic of their appeal was that they served as moral exemplars… role models and as ideal cultural archetypes” (Peterson) Chinese historic annals applaud chaste women. On the other hand, the dishonored women would fade into oblivion, names forgotten or expunged from records. The survival of the mini-narratives through Spence’s account signifies that even the women with alleged marred reputations still deserved a place in history and their tales mentioned. Illegitimate legal practices riddled the Chinese justice system, ensuring that women would be voiceless or unable to prosecute their abusers. Women were labeled as natural fornicators; therefore, cases of rape go unpunished. The prejudiced system comprised of Emperor, magistrates, diplomats, literati, and husbands. Also as a result of gross inequalities, men have unrestrained freedom to leave their wives and forsake their children to pursue another lover (Jurich 12).
The dishonor of women is a reflection of the cheap worth put on their lives by society. In one scenario, Woman T’sai’s husband runs through her estate after marriage in dissipated living. He then plans to sell his wife as prostitute to continue drinking and gambling. This brief outline demonstrates a practice which was not only common, but also accepted (Hughes 16). Prostitution is one of the lowest ranks to which a woman in the moral-conscious society in China could sink. Ironically this ‘industry’ which exploited women thrived. The subject of prostitution is therefore a hypocritical contradiction, which allowed men unlimited latitude for sexual relations and imposing restraints on the woman. Spence unfolds a story of another notorious death of a woman – pushed by her forlornness to suicide. Nan San Fu agrees to marry a woman named Tou. Here, the reader observes the carefree, wayfaring man, the desertion of dishonored women by fiancé and family, socioeconomic and emotional depression, a last petition and suicide.