2018 MLA presentation on front matters of Chinese drama prints

Panel info: No. 486. The Power of the Margins: Rethinking Center-Periphery Relations in Premodern Chinese Literature


My Title: The Margin for Reality: Problematizing the Prefatory Space in Traditional Chinese Drama Prints

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Abstract: Theatrical texts are not purely theatrical. Instead, drama prints in traditional China consisted of space for the theatrical (e.g. the script proper) and space for the social (e.g. the front matter and the eyebrow commentary). Scholars have long pointed out the conversational relation between the main text and the paratextual materials in traditional Chinese books. Beyond conversation and contestation, how do different modes of representation in the two types of spaces influence the nature of traditional Chinese drama as a genre of literature and performance? By focusing on one type of paratextual margin––the front matter, this paper explores the relation between the social and the theatrical within the material constitution of traditional Chinese drama prints. In particular, it studies the biographies, authorial prefaces, and portraits of a group of dramas that responded to the historical changes from late imperial to modern China. It shows that whereas the theatrical tradition maintained a relatively consistent way to depict the characters, the space for the front matter incorporated changing representations of reality––most saliently seen through the changing clothes of different characters from the late Ming to the late Qing eras. The paper argues that the different, and occasionally contesting ways of representation in the two types of spaces allowed traditional Chinese drama to bridge the apparent disparity between theatricality and reality, and to reconcile the theatrical tradition with historical changes.

Book Manuscript Workshop

I am extremely grateful to Stephen West, Mark Stevenson, Andrea Goldman, and Tracy Miller, who discussed my book manuscript on costuming in early Qing drama at Nashville on June 1, 2017!

The encouraging and insightful comments will definitely help the book materialize!

Historicizing Spectacle–presentation at 2017 ATHE Las Vegas

Panel: “Embodied Spectacles: Poses, Costumes, and Voices in Asian Theater”

Through the bodily dimension, this panel explores the relation between theatrical spectacles and some significant social-political, gender, and linguistic issues in pre-modern and modern Asia.

8/4/2017 7:30-9:00 PM

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My paper: “Historicizing Spectacle: Clothing and Costuming in Seventeenth-century Chinese Drama”

Abstract: Spectacle has generally been defined as the public display of things, which is based on a spatial relationship of viewing and being viewed. This paper challenges the spatial understanding of spectacle by discussing the historical dimension of the sartorial landscape in the seventeenth-century China. During the Manchu invasion into central China around the mid-seventeenth century, the Manchu rulers forced male Han Chinese to shave their heads and change into Manchu clothing. Meanwhile, they allowed the use of Han clothing to continue in drama performances. The Manchu hair and dress regulations produced a sartorial landscape divided by the stage: off stage, Manchu clothing prevailed; on stage, costumes in the Han style remained and Manchu clothing became a taboo. In addition to the stage, drama scripts and visual materials further complicated the sartorial landscape by introducing different modes to represent clothing. Consequently, clothing and costuming in the seventeenth-century China together created a sartorial spectacle which mediated the negotiations between ethnicities, genders, and political powers. Through examining a body of theatrical materials (scripts, illustrations, performance records) in the seventeenth-century China, this paper argues that theatrical the spectacle is inherently historical: it is a “historical effect” rather than the mise-en-scène of a play.


2017-18 leave on an ACLS postdoc fellowship

A recent Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Program in China Studies will allow me to be on leave during the 2017-18 academic year. I will be based in Nashville to complete my first book on costuming and personhood in the unstageable world that is the early Qing China.

Me: I’m going to be on leave next year and will not offer courses.
My students: Are you going to be on vacation?!

Upcoming presentation at MLA on costuming and chastity in the Qing China

I’ll be presenting a chapter of my book manuscript at the 2017 MLA annual convention in Philadelphia. Below is the info about the panel and my presentation:

Session 755. Bodies, Clothing, and Spaces in Early Modern China
12:00 noon+1:15 p.m. on 08-JAN-17 in 410, Philadelphia Marriott.

My presentation:

Seamless Clothing: Boundaries of the Female Body in a Seventeenth-century Chinese Drama

The Manchu invasion into central China in the mid-seventeenth century disrupted traditional gender relations. Chinese drama in this period constituted an especially rich space for representing this disruption. This paper examines the depictions of the female body in an early Qing drama Hai Liefu chuanqi (Chaste Lady Hai). The drama is based on a real event in 1667 when a lady surnamed Hai stitched together her entire outfit to defend against sexual assault before committing suicide. After her death, Lady Hai received public worship from the local community and commendation from the Manchu state. By looking at the drama’s descriptions of the chaste lady’s stitched clothes, her body, her coffin, her statue, and her shrine, the paper argues that women’s socially constructed body became a mediator to reconcile the ethnic conflicts during the dynastic change in the seventeenth-century China.


Imperial commendation of Chaste Lady Hai,
stele 1667, reproduced in woodblock print 1844


Representing the Other in Traditional China

Post election, I changed the paper assignment in my class “Self and Society in Premodern Chinese Literature” to a poster session. The topic is about “the other” in traditional China. The other involves the relation between people of different gender, ethnicity, geographical areas, and involves communications in culture and technology. We hope those in power will have a decent understanding of the diversity of people and culture in our shared world.

Here are a few examples:


Foreign influence in Chinese history


Resisting the Manchu hair policy during the Ming-Qing transition

Cao Yu’s Thunderstorm in Nashville

I was so impressed by my students’ recent performance of Cao Yu’s Thunderstorm in class. Since we only had one female student in the group, two boys volunteered to perform Fanyi and Mrs. Lu. I especially liked the use of thunderstorm as background music. It was an intensive 50 minutes. So unforgetable.

Artist Wu Fei at my Chinese drama class

On Dec. 5, we were fortunate to have Fei Wu, the renown musician and singer, to perform Chinese music in my class Chinese Drama. Fei is an expert on Chinese guzheng and is familiar with many Chinese performance genres. In our class, Fei performed a kunqu song from the Peony Pavilion 牡丹亭, a song she composed with sanxian (the three string instrument), Summer Palace 頤和園, and the Manchu chaqu 岔曲.


With Abigail Washburn, Fei just performed at the National Immigrant Integration Conference 2016 in Nashville.