The Dead Body Project


  • Cleansing Grievances: Dead Bodies in the 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 The project analyzes court-case literature and related historical documents in 17th–19th-century China.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.”

  • Gender and Violence: The Multivalent Voices of a Cannibalized Concubine in Late Imperial Chinese Literature (co-authored with Guo Yingde), Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture, 2023, forthcoming.

This paper investigates the relationship between violence and female agency through a case study of literary representations of a concubine who was cannibalized during the defense of Suiyang amidst the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763 CE) in the Tang dynasty. While historical writings before the Ming dynasty frequently praise the concubine’s husband for sacrificing her, a series of dramatic works starting in the Ming feature the concubine character in contention with her husband. Parsing those materials, this paper reveals vastly different characterizations of the cannibalized woman––as a loyal concubine, a female knight-errant, an independent state subject, and a maternal deity.