2018 AAS presentation on Kong Shangren


Friday, March 23, 2018 | 12:45 PM – 2:45 PM

My Abstract: Dressing the World of Kong Shangren (1648-1718)

Different genres maintain different distances from the social world, creating a matrix in which an author positions him/herself and the persons in his/her works. This paper revisits the relations between persons, literary writing, and the social world through the perspective of hairstyle and clothing in early Qing China. It asks: in the context of the Ming-Qing transition, how did the theme of dressing help create a literary world in tension with the social world? The paper studies the representation of hairstyle and clothing in three types of writings by Kong Shangren: poetry, essays, and dramas. It shows that different genres afforded spaces with particular dress codes, some real, others imagined. The paper argues that the theme of dressing allowed Kong to probe the boundary between the literary and the social worlds, and to represent different dimensions of being a man of letters in early Qing China. Materiality and literary writing, the paper shows, are mutually conditioning and enabling.

Session Abstract: 120. Sensory Pleasures and Perils in Premodern China

Organizer | Nicholas Morrow Williams | University of Hong Kong

Confucius said that he had never met anyone who loved virtue (de) as much as sensual pleasure (se), tacitly admitting that virtue and pleasure are not easily dissociated. Ever since, the pleasures of the senses have been fraught with profound moral and political ramifications in Chinese cultural tradition. Drawing on the insights of previous scholarship by Ronald Egan, Craig Clunas, Jonathan Hay, and others, our panel sheds new light on the cultural meaning of sensory pleasures. How were the pleasures of the senses––whether tactile, olfactory, gustatory, visual, or auditory––both regulated and also defined by political concerns, and how could cultural norms and ideals be represented materially?

We examine the representation of sensory experience in various literary genres from different periods of imperial China, using both interdisciplinary readings of received texts and also newly discovered or overlooked materials. David Knechtges examines the early discourse of the “perils of immoderation” via a newly discovered Han manuscript, but Hsiang-lin Shih shows how the allure of swords and feminine beauty were used for political ends in the early medieval period. Nicholas M. Williams analyzes the allegorical implications of floral fragrances in Southern Song ci lyrics, while Guojun Wang unveils the materiality of genres via a close study of clothing in the writings of Kong Shangren. By restoring the broader cultural contexts of tangible and mundane experience, our papers offer initial forays toward a history of both the pleasures and perils of the senses in premodern China.