Female Exemplarity and Self-Empowerment in Women’s Writings of 18th-and-19th-Century China

School of Chinese Book Presentation Workshop

Female Exemplarity and Self-Empowerment in Women’s Writings
of 18th-and-19th-Century China

Presenter: Dr. Binbin Yang
Commentator: Professor Grace S. Fong (McGill University)
Moderator: Professor Shu-mei Shih

Time: 4:30pm, April 29, 2015;
Venue: Room 730, Run Run Shaw Tower

Joining the forces of a robust biographical tradition and a vigorously implemented court reward 旌表 system, life stories of “exemplary women” 列女 continued to shape and reshape the constructions of ideal womanhood throughout Chinese history. By the Qing period (1644-1911), this dominant discourse of female exemplarity had helped formulate a set of normative values that were integral to the consolidation of a kinship system based largely on patriarchal authority and patrilineal succession. By promoting women’s fulfillment of their kinship-based duties as key to the prosperity of their (husbands’) families/lineages and the moral good of society at large, it placed women at the fulcrum of the Chinese kinship system.

This book carves out a new terrain of research into the discourse of female exemplarity through a major switch of focus, namely, from the predominantly male-authored biographical tradition to women’s autobiographical practices uncovered from the newly available corpus of their writings. It brings to the fore the discursive productions as dynamic processes in which women actively intervened as writing subjects, particularly by laying down their own terms of how “exemplary” they were and by appropriating the normative values for self-empowerment. Further examining these writings as the female authors’ path to fame and social honor, this book brings alive the broader social trends underlying the publication and circulation of the writings and a wide range of expressive as well as practical needs they served. It also adopts an interdisciplinary approach to examine how the female authors crossed the boundaries of domains that were traditionally assumed to be closed to them – not only the boundaries of genre, but also those that defined knowledge, economic roles, political engagement, as well as ritual and cultural authority.

Dr. Binbin Yang is an assistant professor in the School of Chinese. She has published on women and gender in late imperial China in both Chinese and English academic journals, including: Journal of Women’s History, Modern China, Nan Nü: Men, Women and Gender in China, Frontiers of Literary Studies in China,《近代中國婦女史研究》、《中國社會科學院文學所年刊》、《中央研究院文哲所集刊》. Her monograph, Female Exemplarity and Self-Empowerment in Women’s Writings of 18th-and-19th-Century China, is forthcoming from the University of Washington Press.

All are welcome!