2019 AAS Panel: Bodies in Transition

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My Abstract: Yuan-dynasty dramas (mostly existing in Ming editions) include some special titles about criminal cases such as the well-known piece The Injustice to Dou E and some rarely studied plays such as Bu renshi  (The Virtuous Mother Does Not Recognize the Corpse). Meanwhile, the Song-Yuan period saw the maturation of forensic studies in Chinese history, witnessing the publication of Song Ci’s Xiyuan jilu (Collected Writings on the Washing Away of Wrongs) followed by its different sequels and forensic manuals for local magistrates and their assistants. During the burgeoning period of both Chinese drama and forensic studies, how did theatrical representation and forensic investigation interact with each other? This study answers the question by examining the representation of men’s and women’s dead bodies in some Yuan-Ming plays. The paper focuses on two particular moments in those plays: the transition from a living body to a dead body; and the transition from corpse to legal evidence. It shows that, on the one hand, Yuan-Ming dramas heavily drew from actual practices involving corpses in society; and on the other hand, dead bodies as theatrical devices provided an anchor for plot developments as well as a unique venue to voice and perform concerns about personal identities.

Dean’s Faculty Fellow

It’s my great honor to be named one of seven inaugural Dean’s Faculty Fellows in the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt University for 2019-2021. The fellowship will provide funding and possible leave time that is instrumental for my research for the second book project. I thank my colleagues in the Asian Studies Program, especially Gerald Figal, for the unwavering support!

VU Grant for Digital Teaching and Research

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I’m glad to be recipient of a MacroGrant from The Vanderbilt Institute of Digital Learning (VIDL) to support my teaching/research project “Transcultural Learning through Virtual and Performance Spaces.” Through the project, my students and I will explore the circulation of a classical Chinese drama The Orphan of Zhao in different languages; we’ll also stage a performance of the drama at Vanderbilt U.


CCK Research Grant for Dead Body Project

I am honored to receive a Research Grant from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation to support my book project Bodies That Still Matter: Forensics and Literature in Late Imperial China 屍體之重:法醫檢驗與明清文學 from 2018 to 2020.

The grant will allow me to make summer trips and conduct research in Asia and America. I look forward to working with literary and legal experts and exploring the intersections between crime literature and medical/legal practices in premodern China.


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.