Exemplary Women

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:13 am

A new translation of the Lienu zhuan is out, under the title Exemplary Women of Early China The book was compiled by Liu Xiang, mostly from older sources, so it is both an anthology of Pre-Han stories about women and one of the most important influences on post-Han women’s education.

The translator, Anne Behnke Kinney, says that the organizing principle of the book is dynastics, “an ideology for reinforcing habits of deference to a family-based hierarchy for the sake of its ongoing continuity and prestige.” It is thus broader than the usual understanding of filial piety and is not the same as patriarchy, although it often overlaps with it. Most of the stories portray women dealing with some sort of crisis that threatens the family or dynasty.

Sometimes of course women -are- a threat to the family and dynasty, as in this story from the section on the Depraved and the Favored.

The Songstress Queen of King Dao of Zhao

The Songstress Queen was a singer from Handan and the queen of King Daoxiang of Zhao. At an earlier time, she had brought disorder to an entire clan. When she became widowed, King Daoxiang was struck by her beauty and married her. Li Mu remonstrated with him, saying, “This won’t do. A woman’s impropriety is the means by which state and family are turned upside down and made unstable. This woman has brought disorder to her clan. Shouldn’t Your Majesty be alarmed ?”The king said, “Whether there is disorder or not depends on how I govern.” He then proceeded to marry her.

Earlier, King Daoxiang’s queen had given birth to a son named Jia who became heir apparent. After the Songstress Queen entered the court at the rank of consort, she gave birth to a son named Qian. The Songstress Queen then became a great favorite of the king and secretly slandered the queen and the heir apparent to the king. She [also] arranged for someone to offend the heir apparent and thus provoke him into committing a crime. The king thereupon dismissed Jia and set up Qian [in his place], and deposed the queen and established the songstress as queen. When King Daoxiang died, Qian was enthroned as King Youmin.

The Songstress Queen was dissolute and immoral. She developed an illicit connection with the Lord of Chunping and frequently received bribes from Qin. She made the king execute his great general, the Lord of Wuan, Li Mu. Afterward, when Qin troops marched in, no one could stop them. Qian was then taken prisoner by Qin, and Zhao was destroyed. The grandees, resentful that th eSongstress Queen had slandered the heir apparent and killed Li Mu had her killed and exterminated her family. Together they enthroned Jia at Dai. After seven years they could not defeat Qin. Zhao was then annihilated and became a commandery [of Qin].

The Odes says, “If a man have not dignity of demeanor /What should he do but die. These words apply well to her.

The Verse Summary says,

The Songstress Queen of King Daoxiang of Zhao

Was insatiably covetous.

She destroyed the true queen and heir,

Working her deceit with guile.

She was debauched with Lord Chunping,

And ruthlessly pursued what she desired.

She received bribes, ravaged Zhao,

And died in the kingdom she destroyed

This story gives a nice sample of both court politics in the Warring States and pretty traditional views about the dangers of marrying beautiful women. It also reflects one of the reasons the book was complied, since Liu Xiang seems to have been worried that too many Han emperors were marrying low-born women who did not understand proper family behaviour. These women needed to be either avoided or educated, and this book could help with either. We also get a sample of one of the verse summaries that one can memorize to keep the lessons of the story in mind.

Much different is this story, from the section on Accomplished Rhetoricians

The Wife of the Bow Maker of Jin

The bow maker’s wife was the daughter of an armor craftsman of Jin. In the time of Duke Ping, the duke ordered her husband to make a bow. After three years it was finished. When the duke drew the bow and shot, the arrow did not pierce even one layer of armor. The duke was angry and was about to execute the bow maker.

The bow maker’s wife thereupon begged for an audience, saying, “I am the daughter of an armor craftsman and the wife of the bow maker. I would like to be granted an audience.” When Duke Ping met with her she said, “Have you heard of Gong Liu’s conduct in former times ? Whenever the sheep and oxen trampled their rushes and reeds, he felt great pity for the common people, and his concern even extended to plants and trees. Would he have countenanced the killing of an innocent person? Duke Mu of Qin encountered bandits who ate the meat of his fine steed, but he gave them wine to drink. When an officer of King Zhuang of Chu tugged at his consort’s robe, she tore off his hat tassel. But the king later drank with him quite happily. As for these three rulers, their benevolence became known to the entire world. Eventually each one was requited [for their kindness], and their names have been passed down to present times.

“Formerly, Yao did not trim the thatch of his roof or carve its mottled beams. He had earthen steps of only three levels.Even so, he felt that his workmen had toiled hard and that he was living in great comfort. Now, when my husband made this bow, his efforts were also laborious. The bow’s shaft came from wood grown on the slopes of Mount Tai, and each day he would examine it three times in both the sunlight and the shade. It is decorated with the horn of oxen from Yan, bound with the tendons of deer from Jing, and glued together with adhesive derived from Yellow River fish. Since these four things are among the most select and extraordinary materials in the world, your inability to pierce even one layer of armor must be due to your inability to shoot. Yet you want to kill my husband. Isn’t this mistaken?

“I have heard that in the Way of Archery, one’s left hand should be held as firm as a rock, while the right hand should be held like a diagonal support beam. When the right hand releases the arrow, the left hand should not be aware of it. This is the Way of Archery.”

When Duke Ping did what she said and shot, the arrow pierced seven layers of armor. The woman’s husband was immediately set free and given three yi in cash. A man of discernment would say, “The bow maker’s wife was able to offer assistance in difficulty.” The Odes says, “The ornamented bows are strong;’ and “They discharge the arrows and all hit.”This phrase describes the methods of archery.

The Verse Summary says,

Duke Ping Jin commissioned a bow,

Which took three years to complete.

But he became angry with the bow maker

And was on the verge of punishing him.

The wife went and spoke tothe duke,

And explained what materials were used in the bow.

She set forth the labor and difficulty involved,

And the duke thereupon released him.

So we have another commoner woman, but this one is an expert on bows, archery, rare materials and persuading rulers. She also has the courage to tell the Duke he is lousy at one of the Six Arts (Archery) and is eloquent enough to both get away with it and improve him. Even men could take her as an example!

As a result this is a really useful book to use when teaching about Chinese women. Students come in with a lot of ideas about women in traditional China being powerless and oppressed. That’s not wrong, but getting them to go beyond that is often pretty hard. These stories mostly deal with female agency, but always in a family or dynastic context, so we are getting neither Passive Lady Plum Blossom nor Disney’s Mulan. It is also a good book for Early China. It’s always had to find something to do for the early part of a China class, given that a lot of the secondary stuff is pretty technical and the translated primary sources tend to be philosophical texts that are hard for undergrads to deal with. This seems just about perfect.

Of course, even if you are not going to teach with it, you could still read it. Its a good book.


Manchu underwear

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:38 am

So, I was reading the 1911 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, specifically the entry on China. For those of you who don’t know it, the 1911 edition is considered to be a classic because it had a higher level of really well-known contributors than any before or since. Given the date it was published, it also give you a a great picture of the late-Victorian Anglo-American mindset. And it’s on-line.

The China entry is remarkably physical and geographic. There is a bit of history, but as late as this they were not prepared to say much about the history of China.1 They do have some stuff on more contemporary history, including this little bit on the Dowager Empress Cixi, who should have been handing power over to the Guangxu emperor as he attained his majority just before the 1898 reforms.

The dowager-empress, who, in spite of the emperor Kwang-su having nominally attained his majority, had retained practical control of the supreme power until the conflict with Japan, had been held, not unjustly, to blame for the disasters of the war, and even before its conclusion the young emperor was adjured by some of the most responsible among his own subjects to shake himself free from the baneful restraint of “petticoat government,” and himself take the helm.

I was struck by the phrase “petticoat government” (in quotes no less) Although the study of Manchu undergarments is still in swaddling clothes, I am pretty sure that Cixi did not wear petticoats. I have actually seen that phrase before, used in early 20th century anti woman’s suffrage  rhetoric, as here.

It seems to have been a pretty standard phrase in the West at the time, referring to the baleful influence of women in politics. From Wikipedia it seems that the phrase goes back to at least the 1750’s, and thus long before votes for women was any sort of issue. That actually ties it in better with the Chinese case, where there was also a long tradition of fearing the influence of women on government, but for the most part not because women were likely to get access to the formal mechanisms of power (the ballot in this case) but because they could attain power outside of the official “Confucian” stream. There is a lot of stuff about this in Keith McMahon’s new Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao

While the book has a short analysis of the issues involved with women and political power in the Chinese tradition, the heart of it are McMahon’s accounts of pretty much every story of women with court power in China down to the Liao. There were a number of ways for women to get power, from getting the emperor to fall in love with you, being the Empress Dowager, coming from a major aristocratic clan that the emperor had to respect, and just being smart and ruthless. Pretty much all of these women were condemned by those who wrote histories, in part out of unadulterated sexism, and in part because all of these methods of gaining power were not the formal one of getting an education and becoming a bureaucrat. Women were often lumped in with eunuchs, who were both not-male and represented a separate power stream.

Cixi would seem to not fit many of these models. The theme of emperors becoming infatuated with personal pleasure, in the form of concubines, rather than state duties is not really relevant, as she only became really powerful after her husband died. The old aristocratic politics was long dead by that point. She is one of the few really powerful court women of the Ming-Qing. She does have the ‘mother of the current emperor’ thing, but I would almost say she has more in common with Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, more of a successful freelance political entrepreneur that part of a standard system that often made it possible for women to get political power, as in the earlier dynasties. It will be interesting to see what MacMahon does with her in his second volume.


  1. I have seen at least one timeline from this period that marks all Chinese history down to the Tang as ‘legendary’ []


The Birth of Chinese Feminism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:43 pm

Columbia University Press sent me a copy of a really good book, Lydia Liu, Rebecca Karl and Dorothy Ko. The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2013. The core of the book is a set of translations of essays by He-Yin Zhen, although we also get a lengthy introduction and translations of few other key texts.

The authors are interested in He-Yin Zhen because she was one of the the most interesting feminist theorists of the late Qing who has been ignored because her fundamental analytic category of nannu 男女 (literally man and woman or male/female) did not fit well with with either bourgeois or anarcho-feminist ideas about gender. The book includes translations of Liang Qichao’s On Women’s Education and Jin Tianhe’s The Woman’s Bell, but unlike these two (male-authored) texts, He-Yin Zhen did not subordinate woman’s issues to nationalism, modernization, or racial survival.

..instead, in He Yin Zhen’s theoretical idiom, history is formed by a continuously reproduced injustice in the manner of what the Annales school of French historians would come to call the longue duree, whose generalized contours of uneven wealth and property as well as it specificities of embodied affect could be made visible through the figure of “woman”.

For He-Yin, nannu 男女 was the fundamental analytical category, more important that Chinese vs. Western, modern vs. premodern, or Marxist ideas about class. In “On the question of Women’s Labor” she discusses labor and the subordination of women throughout Chinese and modern history, claiming that while modern factory labor has special characteristics, in the end it grows out of the unequal distribution of wealth, the same cause as the subordination of women in traditional society. In “Economic Revolution and Women’s Revolution” He-Yin is in favor of love marriage, but sees every type of existing marriage, both for men and for women, as a form of prostitution. In “On Feminist Antimilitarism” she claims that antimilitarism would be good for “weak nations (literally “races or kind”, zhong 種), the common people, and women.” It’s practically subaltern studies.

It’s a very good book, with some very good readings. It’s pretty obvious why a lot of these have not been translated before, since it is hard to see how you could take a class from some of these readings to other stuff that was going on in 1907.


Tears and sincerity

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:59 pm

A while back I was wondering why people in classical Chinese texts seemed to cry so much. Was being able to shed tears on demand something that people were supposed to be able to do? It turns out that Qian Zhongshu had already written about tears and their role in partings, which were an important ritual in elite society. Qian at least seem to support the idea of a gradual transition towards a more “”masculineist” view that tears are just for women. But really his piece is worth reading just for itself.


That is why people about to part clasp each other’s arms affectionately, and urge the other to take care after they separate. When we parted, your display of love was like that of Zou Wen and Ji Jie, so that your eyelashes were soaked with tears. Yet I merely clasped my hands in a gesture and turned away, ashamed to act like a woman.

—Wang Sengru (465-522),
Letter to He Jiong

The reference here to HeJiong’s weeping is reminiscent of several lines in “Rhapsody on Partings,” byJiang Yan (444-505): “He pushes aside the jade-fretted lute, tears wet the carriage bars,” “When it is time to let go hands, they choke back tears,” “They weep as they say good-bye,” “Kin and companion are bathed in tears.”1

In his essay “On Wailing as a Ritual” Yu Zhengxie (1775-1840) examines the ritual use of “crying facilitators” in ancient funerals, and he observes, “According to the ritual prescriptions, one did not necessarily have to shed tears when crying.”2 I would venture to add that crying was a propriety required not only at funerals. It was also required at partings among the living, although as such it may not have been as universally observed or as ancient as crying at funerals. Furthermore, if a person’s crying at a parting did not include the shedding of tears, he was likely to be faulted for violating propriety. On this point the standards seem to
have been even stricter than those for crying at funerals.

The expectation that one must cry at partings seems to have become widespread only in Jin times (265-420). The narrative of an event that took place shortly earlier is revealing in this regard:

Once when the king of Wei (Cao Cao, 155-220) set off on a campaign, his two sons, the crown prince and Zhi, the lord of Linzi, saw him off at the side of the road. Zhi proclaimed the virtue and merit of the mission with words that were elegant and decorous. Everyone fixed their eyes upon him, and the king himself was pleased with him. The crown prince, by contrast, had a sorrowful expression and seemed not to know what to do. Wu Zhi whispered in his ear, “The king is about to depart. It is permissible to shed tears.” When he said his farewell, the crown prince wept as he bowed. The king and his attendants sighed audibly, so moved were they by this display. Later, everyone said that the lord of Linzi’s speech was excessively florid, while the genuine affection in his heart was insufficient.3

From this we may infer that at the end of the Han dynasty it was not yet customary to cry at partings. That is why Wu Zhi’s clever ploy was effective and caused the crown prince to outshine his younger brother. The Old Tang Dynasty History says, “When Emperor Tai (r. 62,7-649) decided to lead an attack upon the Korean kingdom of Koguryo, he ordered the crown prince to stay behind and guard Dingzhou, Once a date had been set for the emperor’s departure from Dingzhou, the crown prince cried sorrowfully for several days.”4 Was this crown prince also heeding Wu Zhi’s advice of long before?

The failure to produce tears with one’s crying has been variously criticized, explained, or even excused. Forest of Sayings (fourth c.) records the following: “A man went to take leave of Master Xie. Xie shed tears but the other man showed no sign of emotion. Once he left, the attendants said, ‘That guest only showed
gloomy clouds.'” Xie commented, ‘It was even less than “gloomy clouds.” It was “dry thunder.”‘ “5 “Gloomy clouds” is like what is recorded about Empress Lu in Records of the Grand Historian and The Han Dynasty History: “The empress cried but did not weep.”6 Yan Shigu explains in his commentary that “weep” means to produce tears.7 “Dry thunder” is like one of the “three kinds of crying” described in Chapter 25 of The Water Margin’. “To make noise without producing tears is called ‘howling’… ‘dry howling'” and what Monkey says in Chapter 39 of Journey to the West: “There are several types of crying. If the  mouth makes noise but the eyes remain dry, that is called ‘howling.'”8

Family Instructions of the Yan Clan (sixth c.) says:

Separations occur frequently, whereas reunions are difficult to bring about. That is why the ancients assigned great importance to partings. At farewell banquets in the South, one weeps when speaking of the imminent departure. There was, for example, the case of a prince who was the younger cousin of Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty. When the prince was leaving to take charge of Dong Prefecture, he bid farewell to the emperor. The emperor … wept tears that covered his face, but the prince only showed “gloomy clouds”
and then left, blushing with embarrassment. For this reason he was punished (by winds that would not let his boat depart).. .. Northern customs, by contrast, pay no regard to this convention. Standing at a crossroads, friends say good-bye with a merry laugh.

There are, however, also people who, by nature, are not given to shedding tears. Their heart may be breaking but their eyes remain perfectly clear. This type of person should not be blamed for failing to weep at a departure.9

A person who sheds no tears though the heart is afflicted is said to have “a soft heart and stiff eyes.” This is the terminology used in Zhu Shuzhen’s (fl..1095-1131) couplet, “Although a woman’s eyes are said to be soft, / Tears do not flow forth for no reason” and in the anonymous early Ming song, “I’ve always had stiff eyes, / Which don’t show sadness before lovely scenery.”10 Classified Sayings (1136) quotes an account of Liu Xiaochuo’s farewell to Wang Yuanjing, when Yuanjing was departing on an official mission: “Xiaochuo wept, but Yuanjing had no tears. He apologized for this, saying, ‘Please don’t hold it against me. After we separate, tears will stream down my face.'”11 He means that although at the moment he has no tears, later he is bound to weep, fulfilling the required response. When Wang Seng-u parted from He Jiong, as we have seen earlier, Jiong wept but Sengru had “stiff eyes” and thus was in violation of the Southern custom. Moreover, unlike Wang Yuanjing, Sengru neglected even to excuse himself by promising to cry subsequently. That is why he subsequently sought to justify his conduct in a letter.

Despite the social convention of crying at partings described above, there was also a tradition of viewing tears shed by men as being “womanly” or even disingenuous. Wang Sengru’s letter says, as we have seen, “your display of love was like that of Zou Wen and Ji Jie…. Yet I merely clasped my hands in a gesture and
turned away, ashamed to act like a woman.” The allusion is to The Kong Family Masters (third c. B.C.):12

Zigao traveled to Zhao, where among the retainers of the Lord of Pingyuan there were Zou Wen and Ji Jie, who befriended Zigao. When it was time for Zigao to return to Lu,… as he took his leave. Wen and Jie had tears all over their cheeks, but Zigao merely clasped his hands in a gesture…. Later, Zigao said, “At first I thought that these two were true men of stature. Today I see that they are just women.” … His attendant asked, “Is there no good to be found in weeping?” Zigao replied, “Weeping has two uses. Men of great treachery use it to persuade others of their sincerity. Women and cowards use it to make a show of their

Similarly, A New Account of Tales of the World says, “When Zhou Shuzhi was appointed prefect of Jingling, his older brothers, Zhou Hou and Zhongzhi, went tobid him farewell. Zhou Shuzhi cried and wept without stopping. Zhongzhi said indisgust, ‘This man acts for all the world like a woman. When he parts from some-body, he does nothing but yammer and blubber.’ Whereupon he removed himselfand left.”14 Zhou Shuzhi knew that weeping was a propriety required at partings,but he did not realize that the same propriety, carried to extremes, could provokedisgust and enmity rather than affection. (Luo Yin’s [833-909] poem, “Tears,” says,”Ever since the realm of Lu disappeared / It has either been treacherous men orwomen [who shed tears]” clearly also drawing upon The Kong Family Masters pas-sage.15 Li Yu’s [937-978] farewell to his younger brother, the prince ofDeng, says”Sorrowful tears and sweet words are the habitual manner of women and girls, I willhave none of it.”16 The use of such language in a farewell composition is likewise a veiled allusion to The Kong Family Masters.)

Crying and weeping were frequently used as a shortcut up the mountain of officialdom, which is one reason they were so often viewed with suspicion. The earliest record of this occurs in the biography of Wang Mang in The Han Dynasty History. In the autumn of the fourth year of the Dihuang period (A.D. 23), Mang
led his assembled ministers to the southern suburb to lift their eyes toward Heaven and cry aloud in an effort to suppress the national calamity. “Students and commoners gathered in the morning and cried out until the evening…. Those who showed extreme grief and those who could recite his Announcement to Heaven from memory were promoted as court attendants. Over five thousand men earned appointment this way.”17 The Old Tan^Dynasty History says, “Erudite Wei Chifen requested that Li Jifu be given the posthumous epithet ‘Respectful of Regulations.’ Zhang Zhongfang objected and criticized Jifu’s character, saying, ‘Fawning tears hung upon his eyelids and flowed our at every convenience. Clever words served him like the reed mouthpiece of a musical instrument, which sings out soothingly whenever blown upon.'”18

Chen Jiru (1558-1639) comments, “Whenever I read this, I smile, thinking it should be posted on-the walls of pleasure quarters everywhere as a warning.”19 He is equating “treacherous men” with “women,” saying that their behavior in this respect is interchangeable: the treacherous man’s tears are like those of the courtesan, and the courtesan’s tears are themselves a form of treachery. Yuan Mei’s Remarks on Poetry quotes lines thatJiang Sunfu addressed to a courtesan, “I ask that you not wipe away those lovesick tears, / Save them to send off another man tomorrow morning.”20 This shows the reality of “crying at the time of parting” in the pleasure quarters!

The association of tears with opportunistic men who are anxious to display their “loyalty,” and likened to insincere women eager to prove their “love,” continues in later periods. Shen Defu (1578-1612) observes:

Shamelessness among men of learning has never been more pronounced than during the Chenghua period (1465-1487). Since the Jiajing period (1522.-1566), it has manifested itself again. Wang Hong knocked his head on the floor and wept as he pleaded with Grand Secretary Zhang Fujing; Zhao Wenhua bowed a hundred times as he wept and beseeched Grand Secretary Yan Song; and Chen Sanmo knelt and wept on and on before Grand Secretary Zhang Juzheng, Each of these men regained favor and salary because of a few streaks of glistening tears. The ancients said, “Women sell love by weeping, and vile men peddle treacherous schemes by weeping.” It is really so!

(The reference here to “the ancients” is also to the passage in The Kong Family Masters.) Wang Shizhen (1634-1711) says:

When Dong Na was leaving his post as censor to become governor-general of Zhejiang and jiangxi, one of his former colleagues in the Censorate went to say farewell and, sitting down close beside him, burst out crying and would not stop. Dong was very moved by this display and everyone present considered it most extraordinary. When he was done, the man went directly to visit Yu Guozhu, the minister from Daye, and as soon as he entered the room and bowed, he burst out laughing. Startled, Yu Guozhu asked him why he
laughed. The man replied, “Dong is gone. The nail has been extracted from my eye!

This may serve as a gloss upon Chen Jiru’s remark about the warning that should.
be posted on the walls of pleasure quarters.

In fact, the usefulness of “selling tears” is no less than that of the courtesan’s ploy of “selling smiles.” Moreover, the sheer volume of the “bribes by tears” and “proprieties of tears” that have been offered by men through the ages may exceed that of the “three pools of tears” mentioned by Tang Chuanying (1620-1644) as well as the celebrated “debt of tears” that must be repaid by Lin Daiyu in Tbe Story of the Stone.24 (As for the latter, it may be noted that such notions as the “repayment of tears” and the “owing of tears” mentioned in Chapters 1 and 5 of the novel may be traced to Meng Jiao’s [751-814] lines, “You owe me ten years of love/I must have a debt to you of a thousand streams of tears,” in a poem lamenting the death of his son, and Liu Yong’s [mid eleventh c.] lines, “You have tied my heart to you for a lifetime /1 must owe you a thousand streams of tears.” These are the first occurrences in literary works of the idea of a debt of tears.)23

Notes (not copyedited)

SOURCE: Guanzhui Uan 4:1435-38; cf. the addendum, ibid., 5:251-252.
EPIGRAPH; Wang Sengru, “Yu HeJiong shu,” Qyan Liang wen 5l.4a.

1. Jiang Yan, “Hen fu,” Wen xuan i6.27b, 28a, 28b, and 2gb; trans. Burton Watson,
Chinese Rhyme Prose, pp. 97-99, modified.

2. Yu Zhengxie, “Ku wei liyi shuo,” Gwisi leigao 13.504-505. Qian’s quotation is actu-
ally a paraphrase.

3. Pei Songzhi’s commentary on Sanyo zbi 21.609, quoting Shi yu.

4. JIM Tangs(iM4A.65-66.

5. Yiwen leiju 29.512.

6. Shi ji9.388andHansfow97A.3938.

7. Yan Shigu commentary on Han sbtt 97A.3939.

8. Shi Nai’an, Shuihu quanzfcuan 25,400; and Wu Cheng’en, Xiyouji 39.535.

9. Yan Zhitui, Yanshi jiaxun jijie 6,91; cf, trans. by Ssu-yii Teng, family Instructions for
the Yen Clan, p. 31.

^  10. Zhu Shuzhen, “Qiuri shuhuai,” Zhu Shuzhen ji 6.103; and “Xiaoyao Ie,” quoted in Li
Kaixian, Ci nue, p. 938.

11. Zeng Zao, Lei shuo 53.2a.

12. Qian notes parenthetically that the quotation of Wang Sengru’s letter in Yiwen leiju

26.481 erroneously gives “Guo Li” for “Zou andJi” (my “Zou Wen andJiJie”), an error he
attributes to a copyist who did not recognize the KongFamily Masters.

13. Kongcongzi, “Rufu,” 8.13.86-87.

14. Liu Yiqing, Shishuo xinyu, “Fangzheng,” 5.26.308 (following Liu’s text); trans. Rich-
ard B. Mather, A New Account of Tales of tile World, p. 164, modified.

15. Lo Yin, “Lei,” Qyan Tangshi 658.7561.

16. Li Yu (Houzhu), “Song Deng wang ershiliu di mu Xuancheng xu,” Qyan Tang wen

17. Han shu 990.4188.

18. Jro Tangshu 171.4443.

19. ChenJiru, Taiping qinghua 2.5b.

20. Jiang Sunfu, “Zeng zhi,” quoted in Yuan Mei, Suiyuan shihua 1.22.

21. Reading “Chenghua” instead of “Chengzheng” (in both Shen’s text and Qian’s
quotation), which must be a mistake. Cf. a similar reference to the Chenghua period earlier
in Shen’s work: Shen Defu, Wanliyehuo bian 21.541.

22. Shen Defu, ibid., 21.549. Qian abbreviates and paraphrases the original,

23. Wang Shizhen, Gufuyu ting zaiu 1.11, following Wang’s text.

24. For Tang Chuanying, see Xianyu bihua, p. 3a-b. For Lin Daiyu, see the citations to
Honglou meng below.

25. MengJiao, “Diao youzi,” Qyan Tang shi 381.4273; and Liu Yong, “Yi dying,” Qyan
Song ci 1:49. Cf. Cao Xueqin, Honglou meng 1.5 and 5.78.

Tears and sincerity


My Dear Revolutionary Comrade-in-arms

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:29 am

Sina has a collection of Chinese love-letters going back to the 50s (via CDT) The ones from the 60’s and 70’s are the most interesting. Lots of Maoist ways of re-stating the same thing. Of course other peoples love letters always seem silly, since mostly they are just re-stating the same thing over and over again,  but these are worth reading.


The Lady’s Army

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:29 am

In teaching the Tang dynasty one thing I like to talk about is the Princess of Pingyang, d. 623 who assisted her father the Tang founder Gaozu in setting up the empire by recruiting an army of 70, 00o bandits (the Lady’s Army 娘子軍) who assisted in the overthrow of the Sui and the establishment of  the new dynasty. One reason to talk about this is that an imperial princess leading an army of 70,000 bandits is a cool story. Unfortunately we don’t know much about her other than that. The Tang Shu (scroll down) biography is quite short, but it does bring up the other event that makes her good to talk about in class. By the Song the old system of aristocratic family-based politics was replaced by a new, more bureaucratic and exclusively male political world. In the early Tang we are still back in the period of disunion in that women were still political actors in their own right. When the princess died some officials pointed out that as a woman she should not have drums at her funeral. 以礼,妇以礼,妇人无鼓吹. Implicitly they are saying that drums are male music. The emperor disagreed saying that drums were martial music 高祖曰:“鼓吹,军乐也1 Given that she had herself used drums to command troops in battle it was quite appropriate to have drums at her funeral. The categories of male and female, general and bandit would be a lot less permiable later in the dynasty


  1. i.e. not necessarily male or female, just associated with the military []


Pearl Buck’s Intriguing Staying Power: Imperial Woman

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 1:40 pm

Parade Magazine (September 14, 2008) asked Laura Bush what she’s been reading: “The Imperial Woman, by Pearl S. Buck. I picked up this book after returning from the Olympics in Beijing. The story of the last empress of Manchu China is fascinating; I can hardly put it down.”

Now from my point of view, the novel’s interest is for the history of American ideas about China, but Buck’s take on “Old Buddha” is not to be taken lightly and her appeal to the public should be respected as a “teachable moment,” not merely scoffed at.

Over the years, Buck’s staying power has intrigued me. Since I have a contrarian streak, I’ve challenged myself to respect her accomplishments (considerable) while keeping in sight her shortcomings (ditto) and to distinguish the two.1

Moyer Bell Publishers has a number of her books in print, including Imperial Woman. They are nicely printed and reasonably priced, including Buck’s translation of Shuihuzhuan (titled All Men Are Brothers), which is listed at $16.95. The translation is heavy going at first, as you have to get used to the labored diction she developed to reflect Chinese style, but hey, the price is right.

They offer other of her novels which are of topical interest: Dragon Seed (1939), for instance, describes the opening of the Second Sino-Japanese War with gruesome details of the 1937 invasion and occupation of the Yangzi valley. It’s not the first thing to read on the subject, but holds its own as an historical novel. Peony (1948) is set in 19th century Kaifeng and interweaves a reasonably accurate history of the Jewish community there.2

  1. Charles W. Hayford, “What’s So Bad About The Good Earth?,” Education About Asia 3.3 (December 1998): 4-7. []
  2. The Moyer Bell catalogue descriptions of Dragon Seed and Peony, however, are switched with the write ups for other novels. They also quote Kenneth Rexroth praising her “renerding” of Shuihu, which I actually prefer to the perhaps correct but less colorful “rendering.” []


The end of polygamy in China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:52 pm

As some of our American readers may know the California Supreme Court has recently ruled that men and men in California can get married. This has led a number of people (Krauthammer) to speculate that polygamy is right around the corner. (Volokh) Most of the arguments about the meaning of marriage make a lot of arguments (usually pretty bad ones) based on evidence from “marriage through history.” Very few people seem aware of how -very-different modern companionate, equal marriage is from the various forms of usually economic and always unequal relationships that have existed throughout human history. It is true that throughout most of history “Bill and Ted are in love so they should get married” was not considered a good argument, but the same can be said of “Susan and Ted.” This makes it tricky to get much useful ammunition for contemporary debates from historical evidence unless you twist the history quite a bit. Still, it is sort of interesting to thing about the disappearance of polygamy, which was pretty common in upper classes around the world before the modern era, and specifically about the end of polygamy in China.

Although an awful lot has been written about attacks on the traditional family in Republican China there has been relatively little on polygamy as a specific issue. I think this is true of Japan as well. Polygamy as such was not really singled out much as one might expect. Nevertheless it died out rapidly. Polygamy seems not to have been a major issue for early feminists like He Zhen although they did mention it. For them the big issue in marriage was equality, which of course does not mix with polygamy. If a husband in a modern marriage gives his wife “everything” (particularly emotionally) how can he do so for more than one woman? 1 That polygamy was out would seem to almost go without saying with modern ideas of marriage.2

It might also matter that most scholarship on Chinese feminism has wanted to focus on women. I would assume that the people making the decision to not have a second wife were men. Being a secondary wife was never regarded as a good thing, so for the educated women who read and wrote for the early radical journals becoming a secondary wife would not really be a threat. The poorer women who might have ended up secondary wives were not reading He Zhen in 1907 or making many other choices about their lives.3 Well-off men were presumably making the decision not to have secondary wives. One presumes that whatever pressure their families may have put on them to have a first wife that fit with traditional ideals (Lu Xun did it) there would be much less pressure to have a traditional secondary wife if they did not want to. Why and how secondary wives became unfashionable (or were replaced with mistresses) would be an interesting study.

I can’t really speak to the legal issue in the U.S. (what legal arguments would the state have to prevent one woman from marrying two men at the same time or whatever) but as a social issue it seems to be a non-starter. Polygamy is tied to a class structure and view of marriage that just don’t exist any more and never will.

  1. A parent can give ‘all’ their love to more than one child, but of course women are not (any longer) children []
  2. To the extent polygamy exists at all today it is in places or subgroups without much of an idea of gender equality. The examples used in discussion are always one man with more than one woman, since while that would fit in with some traditional ideas the opposite would just be bizarre. []
  3. Class and consumption sort of fit here too. In a modern relationship both spouses should be equal in their use of the joint assets. How can you do that with too many of one type of spouse? []


Old folks at home

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:11 am

Guy with bird. Nanjing

Man with bird in Nanjing

Or actually old folks out on the street. I knew that lots of old Chinese people kept birds, and that taking birds for a walk was a popular thing for old men to do early in the morning. But where is the scholarship on Chinese bird-keeping culture? Well, I found some, a study by Ho-hon Leung1Leung did a survey of Hong Kong bird keepers (all over 50, almost all male, most born on the mainland). Most of them lived with their children, who they claimed took good care of them, and most were married. So they are well taken care of, but seem to get little satisfaction out of home life.

This is where birds come in. They need to be raised and trained to sing, and there is a element of expertise here, so you can feel proud of your accomplishment. You can’t do that with dogs and cats, which in any case take up too much room. Plus, birds make it easy to meet people, especially other old men, since you all need to go out and walk your birds and of course talk to them and to the other birdmen. I suppose I could have guessed a lot of this, but I do find it interesting that birds are the chosen pet for this form of male bonding. I know at least in Meiji Japan dog-keeping was a very clear sign that one was a modernizer, and I wonder if anyone has seen anything the evolution of Chinese pet culture.

  1. Ho-Hon Leung “The Lives of Elderly Bird-keepers: A Case Study of Hong Kong” in Chi, et al eds. Elderly Chinese in Pacific Rim Countries: Social Support and Integration. Hong Kong University Press 2001 There is a lot of interesting stuff in it, although it is more social science than a cultural studies approach []


Strawberry Cake

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:48 pm

One of my students is doing an honors thesis on kissing. Specifically she is looking at a series of articles from Ling Long that explain what kissing is and why Shanghai women of the 1930’s should be doing more of it if they want to be modern women. One of the interesting things about Ling Long is that there are lots of pictures of scantily clad women (usually foreigners) in it. She suggests that the pictures (like the text of most of the issues) was intended to present modern, western ideas about sexuality and the role of women to Chinese people in a way that was both intimate and at the same time foreign enough to not be threatening. Thus foreign movie stars were great subjects.

It is an interesting thesis1 in part because it is interesting and in part because I think it offers an insight that helps us to understand some aspects the modern Chinese press. Even fairly serious Chinese papers tend to have a lot of cheesecake shots (almost always women. sorry) like this set of photos of Jessica Alba2 Part of it is just the idea that this will sell papers, but I find the text fascinating, as they seem to be dressing it up as something that will help us (Chinese readers) to understand the West. Here is the caption

中国日报网环球在线消息:Jessica Alba在出演电影《甜心辣舞》中,用热辣的舞姿,加上漂亮的脸蛋,赢取了“美国甜心”的称号。一组Jessica Alba的内衣泳装照,甜蜜诱人好似草莓蛋糕,解释了秀色可餐一词。

An overly literal translation might be: Jessica Alba in the film Honey? used her hot and spicy dancing and  and a beautiful face to win the title of “America’s Sweetheart”3 In this set of photos of Jessica Alba in her underwear and swimwear she is as sweet and tempting as a strawberry cake, looking both sexy and tasty?

Very weird, in part because it is always hard to really translate some types of language, but also because the ‘serious’ American press does not dress up its pictures of movie stars this way. But as long as it helps you to understand Americans I guess it is o.k.

  1. Which she explains much better than this []
  2. No, I have not done a comparative study of the frequency of scantily clad women in the Western and Chinese press []
  3. This is the hook for the ‘story’ and it seems quite wrong []

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