Constructing Tradition Together: Identity and Agency of Women and Men in the Literary Culture of Late Imperial China

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Constructing Tradition Together: Identity and Agency of Women and Men in the Literary Culture of Late Imperial China
Stream: Literature
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Authors:
Wanming Wang, McGill University, Canada (organizer, presenter,chair)
Mizuyo Sudo, Kyoto Sangyo University, Japan (discussant)
Ji Wang, University of Wisconsin–Madison, United States (presenter)
Kelvin Yu-hin Ho, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)
Zhihui Lin, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong (presenter)

Abstract:

The literary women who flourished in late imperial China have been investigated for their crossing gender boundaries to write and to associate with male literati. However, their interventions in the literary and cultural traditions established and monopolized by men await further exploration. By creating a dialogue between the studies on both women’s writing and writing about women, this panel analyzes the (re)interpretation of women’s position in relation to men’s power in these traditions.

Wanming Wang demonstrates that both male and female High-Qing writers legitimized women’s importance in the family, local, and empire traditions of poetry in various genres. Ji Wang examines the reiterated interpretation of the seventeenth-century courtesan Zhang Yiniang and women’s negotiation of feminine space and interaction with male literati through handscrolls during the High Qing era. Kelvin Ho argues that Ming-Qing women’s educational texts for their sons constructed their masculinity and women’s authority within a male-dominated bureaucracy. Zhihui Lin explores Qing women’s emphases on the importance of their food management as an embodiment of womanly virtues and a component of nation building.

During late imperial China, women were commemorated and evaluated as subjects of the literary culture and wrote on men’s and women’s gender roles in these traditions. The (re)interpretations of women’s position further exerted an influence on men’s construction of them. Together, men and women reshaped and shared these traditions. Their representations of masculinity and femininity were mutually constructed, and the traditions were appropriated by both genders.