The Forensic Literature Project


  • Cleansing Grievances: Dead Bodies in Forensic Literature of Early Modern China (in progress)

Dead bodies always reveal significant aspects of a society and its culture. In addition to formulating a systemic way of understanding the living body, traditional China developed comprehensive forensic practices to examine dead bodies. Those practices together with their literary representations reflect the understanding of individuals as biological, social, and legal subjects in late imperial China. The project analyzes court-case literature and related historical documents in 17th–19th-century China. Through an examination of court-case novels and dramas, forensic and legal documents, and visual records, the project delineates the modes of interaction between literary writing and forensic practices in late imperial China.

Support and Honors:
Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Research Grant (2018-2022)
Dean’s Faculty Fellowship, Vanderbilt University (2019-2020)


  • “The Gender of Knowledge in Forensic Drama of Late Imperial China,” NAN Nü 2021.

In late imperial China practitioners of forensic investigation in legal cases were predominantly male. While crime literature frequently features female characters, the question of how this literature represents the gender dimension of forensic knowledge remains unanswered. This paper aims to answer this question with an examination of a number of late imperial era theatrical works that depict how forensic knowledge differed across the male and female divide. It argues court-case literature increasingly valorized male forensic knowledge and its relevance to the state legal system. At the same time, these theatrical pieces signify female forensic knowledge following two literary traditions, namely, the commendation of exemplary women and the condemnation of “wanton women.”