2020 was a chaotic year in America, with the presidential election, the pandemic, and so on. I designed and offered a new course titled Overseas Encounters: Reading the World through Students Abroad. We read and discussed the history and literature about international students in the world from the seventh century China to the 21st century America. We also explores themes related to those experiences: religion, culture, gender, language, etc. Below are some projects my students created to document their discoveries.
The Legend of the Red Lantern is one of the eight modern operas during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). It was based on movies and novels produced in the preceding decades. It was a work of art as well as propaganda for decades in contemporary China. The episode performed by Isaiah Degen features the interrogation of a Communist army member by a Japanese military official. Isaiah innovatively plays both roles by himself.
Peony Pavilion is a Chinese opera composed by Tang Xianzu (1550-1616). It is often compared with Romeo and Juliet due to their shared themes of love and death. After discussing part of the drama with a focus on the protagonist Bridal Du’s death caused by lovesickness, a group of students came up with their own ways to dress up and read/perform the encountering in dream between Bridal Du, her lover Student Liu, at the presence of a God of Flowers.
The Orphan of Zhao is a canon in the repertoire of classical Chinese drama. Composed by Ji Junxiang during the 13th century, it is arguably the best “tragedy” in premodern China. It was also the first Chinese drama ever translated into European languages.
During the spring semester of 2020, a group of students in US and Asia collectively produced this play on the platform of Zoom. Because most of the could not meet in person, they made the best use of the online platform to present a virtual version of the ancient historical play.
The Injustice to Dou E is a Chinese opera written by Guan Hanqing during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). the story is about a widow who is wrongfully accused of murdering her father-in-law. The original play was composed for performance with dialogues and arias. A group of students produced an animated version of this play during fall 2020. Because of the pandemic, many of the students could not meet in person so they communicated online and completed this amazing project.
A podcast interview with me on Staging Personhood just came out on New Books Network. Many thanks to the host Sarah Bramao-Ramos for putting in the efforts to make this happen.
During the Covid19 Pandemic, students in my class Self and Society in Premodern Chinese literature created a group of StoryMap projects to explore issues such as gender, ghosts, and poetry of seclusion.
Memory plays a central role in literary production––one writes from memory and writes to make memory. Memory writing is always gendered––from the author’s self-perception to the constructed gender relations in literary works. The entanglement between gender and memory was particularly salient in early modern China (17th–19th centuries) with radical social changes and fast-growing literacy among women. Recent studies have paid much attention to gender-related literary writing of that period, especially in homosexual stories, works by women authors, accounts of female chastity, and writings involving medicine and emotion. However, the gendered construction of memory in pre-modern China is rarely studied. Focusing on cases in Chinese history, this panel interrogates the relationship between gender (sexuality) and memory in literary production. In particular, the session explores how memory writing engenders and enables negotiation with male-dominant literary discourses. The four papers in turn address the roles of memory in homosexual stories, hagiographic essays, garden writings within a family, and collective memories of historical changes.
In the upcoming MLA annual convention, we are holding a roundtable session to discuss four new books on late imperial China. As these works together demonstrate, gender issues figured prominently in various genres of late imperial Chinese literature and history. Furthermore, gender and genre are at the nexus between many important topics that have been addressed by scholars of China, for example, Confucian paradigms (filiality; state vs. family), identities (seen through clothing, family, surnames, village/local association), emotion/affect, and space (social vs fictional). Authors and editors of those works will briefly introduce their books and discuss some of the shared issues together with the audience.
Books for discussion:
- Ihor Pidhainy, Roger Des Forges, and Grace S. Fong, ed. Representing Lives in China: Forms of Biography in the Ming-Qing Period 1368–1911. Cornell University Press, 2018.
The chapters in this ground-breaking volume examine the complex practices of biographical writing in Ming and Qing China. The authors draw on a rich variety of sources to answer some basic questions: Who were the writers of these texts and the subjects of their biographical constructions? What motivated these textual productions and sustained the routes from (re)creations to (re)publications? The informed and fascinating readings illuminate the enduring appeal of representing and represented lives in Chinese history.
- Maram Epstein. Orthodox Passions: Narrating Filial Love during the High Qing. Harvard University Asia Center, 2019.
In this groundbreaking interdisciplinary study, Maram Epstein identifies filial piety as the dominant expression of love in Qing dynasty texts. At a time when Manchu regulations made chastity the primary metaphor for obedience and social duty, filial discourse increasingly embraced the dramatic and passionate excesses associated with late-Ming chastity narratives. Qing texts, especially those from the Jiangnan region, celebrate modes of filial piety that conflicted with the interests of the patriarchal family and the state. Analyzing filial narratives from a wide range of primary texts, including local gazetteers, autobiographical and biographical nianpu records, and fiction, Epstein shows the diversity of acts constituting exemplary filial piety. This context, Orthodox Passions argues, enables a radical rereading of the great novel of manners The Story of the Stone (ca. 1760), whose absence of filial affections and themes make it an outlier in the eighteenth-century sentimental landscape. By decentering romantic feeling as the dominant expression of love during the High Qing, Orthodox Passions calls for a new understanding of the affective landscape of late imperial China.
After toppling the Ming dynasty, the Qing conquerors forced Han Chinese males to adopt Manchu hairstyle and clothing. Yet China’s new rulers tolerated the use of traditional Chinese attire in performances, making theater one of the only areas of life where Han garments could still be seen and where Manchu rule could be contested. Staging Personhood uncovers a hidden history of the Ming–Qing transition by exploring what it meant for the clothing of a deposed dynasty to survive onstage. Reading dramatic works against Qing sartorial regulations, Guojun Wang offers an interdisciplinary lens on the entanglements between Chinese drama and nascent Manchu rule in seventeenth-century China. Through careful attention to a variety of canonical and lesser-known plays, visual and performance records, and historical documents, Staging Personhood provides a pathbreaking perspective on the cultural dynamics of early Qing China.
- Jessica Moyer. Woman Rules Within: Domestic Space and Genre in Qing Vernacular Literature. Brill, 2020.
In Woman Rules Within: Domestic Space and Genre in Qing Vernacular Literature, Jessica Dvorak Moyer compares depictions of household space and women’s networks in texts across a range of genres from about 1600 to 1800 C.E. Analyzing vernacular transformations of classical source texts as well as vernacular stories and novels, Moyer shows that vernacular genres use expansive detail about architectural space and the everyday domestic world to navigate a variety of ideological tensions, particularly that between qing (emotion) and li (ritual propriety), and to flesh out characters whose actions challenge the norms of gendered spatial practice even as they ultimately uphold the gender order. Woman Rules Within contributes a new understanding of the role of colloquial language in late imperial literature.