Women in Joseon Korea (1392–1910) were held to high standards of virtue, which were propagated through didactic texts such as the “Chaste and Obedient Biographies” volume of Lienü Zhuan
, the Chinese classic featuring biographies of exemplary women. Joseon women who converted to Catholicism were also educated in standards of Catholic virtue, often through the biographies of saints, which shared with the Confucian exemplar stories an emphasis on faithfulness and self-sacrifice. Yet, the differences between Confucian and Catholic standards of virtue were great enough to elicit persecution of Catholics throughout the nineteenth century. Therefore conversion would have involved evaluating one set of standards against the other and determining that Catholicism was worth the price of social marginalization and persecution. Through a comparison of the Confucian exemplar stories and Catholic saints’ stories, this paper explores how Catholic standards of virtue might have motivated conversion of Joseon women to Catholicism. This comparison highlights aspects of the saints’ stories that offered lifestyle choices unavailable to women in traditional Joseon society and suggests that portrayals of the saints’ confidence in the face of human and natural oppressors could also have provided inspiration to ease the price of conversion.
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