Course schedule

Here you will find the information for each class: readings, assignments, etc. Please note: due to copyright, FERPA and other legal issues, I cannot host everything on the website. This will necessitate jumping around a bit between the website (your main starting point) and Canvas (subsidiary online location for distribution of material and most things connected to grades), but I will always provide a link to click you through to the right place.

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Recurring task: weekly 5-15 progress report: Submit weekly by Sunday, 11:59pm

Week 15

Preparing your portfolio for grading

  • Changes, rewrites, updates etc. possibly until May 6, 11:59pm
    • If you put in the extra time and effort and make your pieces better, you deserve a better grade!
  • Collect everything in a Google folder and share with me
  • Include the portfolio reflection (use this Google Doc to guide your reflection)
    • This is a very important piece, so take time to think about the contents
    • Without this piece, your grade may be substantially lower than you expect
Wednesday May 1
  • Hong Fincher, Leta. Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China. London: Verso, 2018.
    • Chapter 7: “China’s Patriarchal Authoritarianism” (PDF Canvas)
    • Leta Hong Fincher’s book has been making waves in feminist and China Studies circles since it came out in the fall of 2018. Main questions to think about
      • What is the main point the author tries to make?
      • What has changed for women in China? Has anything changed?
      • Is the story of women in China a story of progress?
    • The book is useful to get a good understanding of the bigger framework in which the current news items are playing out. Here is a google doc with a list of some of the big stories from the past year. You can add more.
    • If you want to keep up to date with the news and activism from and about China’s feminists with links to the queer community, check out Nü voices
  • Overview of final things to do before submitting your portfolio work (due May 6)
  • SIR evaluations
  • Written evaluations (anonymous)

Week 14
Wed. April 24
  • Hong Fincher, Leta. Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China. London: Verso, 2018.
    • Chapter 7: “China’s Patriarchal Authoritarianism” (PDF Canvas)
    • Leta Hong Fincher’s book has been making waves in feminist and China Studies circles since it came out in the fall of 2018. Main questions to think about
      • What is the main point the author tries to make?
      • What has changed for women in China? Has anything changed?
      • Is the story of women in China a story of progress?
    • The book is useful to get a good understanding of the bigger framework in which the current news items are playing out. Here is a google doc with a list of some of the big stories from the past year. You can add more.
    • If you want to keep up to date with the news and activism from and about China’s feminists with links to the queer community, check out Nü voices
  • Presentations from fellow students.
Fri. April 26
  • Reading for playing the game: read the sections between red brackets. There will be a penalty in the game if you haven’t done the reading!
    • Wang, Ping. Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China. Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2000. (Excerpts from Chapter 1 “Three-Inch Golden Lotuses: Achieving Beauty through Violence”) (PDF Canvas)
    • Game guide (Gdrive Link)

Week 13
Wed. April 17

Hershatter, Gail. The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past. Asia Pacific Modern, 8. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. (PDF on Canvas) – Chapter 4 “Activist” looks at the way women are given an active chance to change society; yet their struggle for freedom reveals many contradictions. – The entire book, based on memories of women and long interviews, is available as an e-book through Trexler, should you wish to read more about the twentieth century through such personal experiences. – Questions to ponder: what power do these women activists have? What changes? What remains the same? Is this progress?

Week 12
Fri. April 12: Women’s Script (女書)
  • brief introductory video
    • compare with the information found in the article by Liu Fei-Wen.
  • Liu, Fei-Wen. “From Being to Becoming: Nüshu and Sentiments in a Chinese Rural Community.” American Ethnologist 31, no. 3 (2004): 422-39. (PDF Canvas)
    • Some questions to bear in mind: How does the women’s writing and singing (nüshu, nüge) differ from writings produced by men? What role do these forms of “knowing” and “sentiment” play in the world of these women?
    • The term kelian is central to the argument of this article, and means “pitiable, miserable”
    • There is some theory woven in, but you should be able to extract the core meaning of the text.
    • Try the 3-sentence summary: What is the author’s message for the reader?
  • Idema, Wilt L. Heroines of Jiangyong: Chinese Narrative Ballads in Women’s Script. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009.
    • Story 4: “The Lazy Wife” (PDF Canvas)
    • The book is available as an e-book through the library; you may read any of the other stories in addition to this very brief one.
Wed. April 10: Qiu Jin: Revolutionary and Feminist
  • Autumn Gem. Produced by Adam Tow. Directed by Kanopy (Firm). Adam Tow, 2009. Online Video.
    • Click on “show more”, note at the bottom of the summary the link to “supplementary materials” which has a handy “study guide”, full of useful background information.
  • “The Beheaded Feminist: Qiu Jin”. In The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China. Edited by Wilt Idema and Beata Grant, 767-808. Harvard East Asian Monographs, 231. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2004. (PDF Canvas)
    • Should we describe Qiu Jin as a feminist, or as a revolutionary? What in her writings points you to one or the other of these labels?

Week 11
Wed. April 3: Footbinding

You will receive an e-mail message with your assigned reading. In class you will get a chance to compare notes with other people who read the same article. Make sure to mark the parts you don’t quite understand so you can ask your colleagues. Next you will talk with students who read the other text, and compare how the authors have written about the history of footbinding.

  • Ko, Dorothy. Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2007. (PDF on Canvas) Note: there are illustrations for multiple chapters between pp. 138-139. Some may be useful.
  • Ebrey, Patricia. “Gender and Sinology : Shifting Western Interpretations of Footbinding, 1300-1890.” Late Imperial China 20, no. 2 (1999): 1-34. (PDF on Canvas)
Fri. April 5: Husband and Wife in Late Imperial China
  • Shen Fu, Six Records of a Floating Life. Penguin Classics, 1983.
    • Chapter 1 “The Joys of the Wedding Chamber” (PDF on Canvas)
    • Questions to bear in mind: What do you learn about family dynamics, the place of women in a scholar’s family? How does this memoir compare to earlier course materials?
    • Background information and notes from the text (PDF on Canvas)
Week 10
Fri. March 29: Women in the Song Dynasty
  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. The Inner Quarters: Marriage and the Lives of Chinese Women in the Sung Period. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. (e-book in Trexler)
    • Sign up for 1 chapter on this spreadsheet. First come, first serve.
    • Introduce your chapter briefly (5 mins):
      • contents
      • connections with earlier materials (compare, contrast)
      • questions for clarification and discussion
Wed. March 27: Women as Diplomats?

Two readings, the first is a secondary source discussing princesses as brides in political marriages between ethnic Han and non-Han rulers. The second is a play about such a marriage match, possibly the most famous (and most romanticized) in Chinese history, involving the character of Wang Zhaojun, in the Han dynasty (206 BCE- 220 CE). The play itself was, however, written during the Yuan (1272-1368), i.e. under the rule of the Mongols, one of the many nomadic groups which interacted with the Chinese throughout imperial history, and the first one to conquer China as a whole.

Questions to keep in mind while reading: what are the tensions between the practice (as detailed in Chia’s piece) and the portrayal by Chinese literati in the play? Why did the Chinese resort to this kind of “marriage alliance”, and how did they hope it would stop the threat of northern invasions? Did that work? Why (not)?

  • Holmgren, Jennifer. “A Question of Strength: Military Capability and Princess-Bestowal in Imperial China’s Foreign Relations (Han to Ch’ing).” Monumenta Serica 39, no. 1 (1990): 31-85. (PDF on Canvas)
    • This is a longer text, but remains one of the most authoritative ones on this topic. Focus not on the individual details, but on the general concepts and main questions: why did the Han-Chinese think this would work? Did it work? Why (not). Use (elements of) the individual cases to motivate your answers. Read in detail through the Conclusion.
  • Ma Chih-yüan [Ma Zhiyuan], “Autumn in the Han Palace”. In Six Yuan Plays, translated with an introduction by Liu Jung-en, 189-224. New York: Penguin Classics, 1977.(PDF on Canvas)
    • The play is an idealized, romanticized version of the story of Wang Zhaojun. Bear in mind it was written by Han-Chinese under the reign of the Mongols. What is the message of the writers?
Week 9
Wednesday March 20: Li Qingzhao, lyric poet of the Song dynasty

Among the most celebrated female authors of the imperial period is Li Qingzhao. In a course where we often lament the absence of women’s views and voices, it behooves us to look more closely at this poet, and her work. But how did and do critics look at her work? How does her identity as a female author influence the way her work has been interpreted? Does it matter we know she is woman? What does her work contribute to our understanding of women in premodern Chinese history?

Pick one or two sections from the readings you want to discuss in more detail: for instance a poem that spoke to you, a passage which gave you a new insight in the material, or a connection you made with earlier materials.

  • “Chapter 4: Li Qingzhao.” In The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China, edited by Wilt L. Idema and Beata Grant, 204-243. Harvard East Asian Monographs, 231. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2004. (PDF on Canvas)
  • C. 27 “Wang Zhuo”. In Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism, edited by Kang-i Sun Chang, Haun Saussy, and Charles Yim-tze Kwong, 727-729. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999. The Song dynasty critic Wang Zhuo on Li Qingzhao’s writing; this is briefly mentioned in the other reading for today. (PDF on Canvas) Note: The e-book has a one-user limitation, so I have extracted the PDF for your convenience.
Friday March 22: Be ready for peer reviews
  • Prepare your portfolio for review, using the instructions in this google document
  • Everybody will review two portfolios (as assigned on this Canvas page), but you are welcome to look through and provide feedback for as many of your colleagues as you can fit into your schedule before the deadline of March 25, 11.59PM.

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Week 8
Fri. March 15: Women, medicine, and yin-yang
  • Furth, Charlotte. A Flourishing Yin: Gender in China’s Medical History, 960-1665. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. [e-book via Trexler library].
    • Read pp. 245-265.
    • The author uses a set of case studies published in 1644, centered around a doctor named Cheng Congzhou (Cheng Miaoxian, 1581-?), in Yangzhou in the early 17th century. I invite you to read the entire chapter, but our main focus is pp. 245-265.
    • You may find the technical, medical terms baffling, because they are discussed in earlier chapters in the book. Because our main will be on the social aspect of health, illness and gender, rather than on the medical aspect, don’t get hung up on the medical details. I have included a few links and texts that may be useful if you want to investigate this topic further.
    • Questions to focus on: How you do see gender (male/female) coming into play in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases? How do traditional gender relations in society shape the medical profession?
  • Possibly useful background information:
Wed. March 13: Women as demons, spirits and other nefarious creatures: Part 2: Snakes

Women, demons and animal spirits were often conflated together in the medieval and late imperial imagination. Let’s compare Miss Ren, the nice fox lady from the late Tang, with the White Snake, who seems to cause no end of trouble for her human lover. The story of the White Snake is set during the Song dynasty (960-1279) but only recorded in the seventeenth century.

  • Feng Menglong, “Madam White is Forever Kept under Thunder Peak Tower”. In Stories to Caution the World: A Ming Dynasty Collection. Vol. 2. Translated by Shuhui Yang and Yinqin Yang, 474-505. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 2005.
    • e-book, story 28; or PDF Canvas)
  • Wilt, Idema, The White Snake and her Son: A Translation of The Precious Scroll of Thunder Peak with Related Texts, xi-xxiv. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2009.
      • Only the Introduction: (PDF Canvas)
  • The author shows how the story starts to lead a life of its own after Feng Menglong. What influenced that development?

TASK: Pick two passages (sentence, or a couple of sentences) from Feng Menglong’s version on which you want to focus in class. Be prepared to explain why they draw your attention: what do you find interesting about them? Do they connect or contrast with materials we saw earlier? You can also contrast with the versions mentioned in Idema’s “Introduction”

General question: How do you think works of fiction like “Miss Ren” or “Madame White” are useful for a historian?

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Week 7
Fri. March 1: Nefarious Creatures part 1: Foxes

There is a long history of associating demonic beings with women (and vice versa). Here we look at a first (stereo)type: the fox spirit who enchants her male victims. Note that there are also male foxes, but the female ones are most widely known (and feared). Questions to ponder: why were these foxes feared? what do they represent?

  • Kang, Xiaofei. The Cult of the Fox : Power, Gender, and Popular Religion in Late Imperial and Modern China. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.
    • “Chapter 1: Foxes in Early Chinese Tradition” only. (e-book via Trexler Library)
    • How did the idea of the fox change throughout Chinese history? What human weaknesses did male and female foxes exploit?
  • “Miss Ren, or the Fox Lady” (Renshi zhuan). In An Anthology of Translations: Classical Chinese Literature. Vol. 1: From Antiquity to the Tang Dynasty. Edited by John Minford and Joseph S. M. Lau, 1024-1032. New York: Hong Kong: Columbia University Press; The Chinese University Press, 2000. (PDF Canvas)
    • A chuanqi (short story lodged between literature and history, with a supernatural twist) from the late Tang dynasty (618-907). Miss Ren is a fox! But she is not quite what you expect from that kind of devious creature.
    • How does the author play with the expectations of his readers, based on the genre of the fox tale? What makes Miss Ren remarkable?
  • Optional extra: If you cannot get enough of fox stories: here are two other famous ones, from Late Imperial China: Pu Songling. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, translated by John Minford. London: Penguin Books, 2006. (PDF Canvas)

Slides (Gdrive)

Wed. Feb. 27: The Brilliant Emperor and Precious Consort Yang

This is one of the most well-known stories in Chinese history. The events take place half a century after Empress Wu Zhao came to power. Emperor Xuanzong (Hsüan-tsung in the first document) was the young man who helped bring an end to the rule of the princesses and empresses in 710 (see week 6). His reign started in 712 and was brought to an abrupt end in 755 with the outbreak of the Rebellion of An Lushan. An was a general of mixed Turkish-Sogdian heritage (Central Asian), who controlled massive frontier armies along the northeastern border; he also was a favorite of the emperor, and the emperor’s favorite concubine, the Precious (or Prized) Consort Yang (Yang guifei). There were rumors of an affair between Yang and An, and it does not surprise that the Precious Consort was blamed for the outbreak of the rebellion.

Questions to ponder: What is the attitude of the writers towards the Precious Consort? How do the poems and literary texts correspond or differ from the historical account? Why is this such a powerful story? And how does this clash of women and politics compare to other situations we have seen earlier in the course?

  • Historical background on the Rebellion of An Lushan:
    • Jay, Jennifer W. “An Lushan (An Shi) Rebellion.” In Berkshire Encyclopedia of China: Modern and Historic Views of the World’s Newest and Oldest Global Power, edited by Linsun Cheng. Berkshire Publishing Group, 2009. (link (Trexler library login required)
  • Kroll, Paul. “The Flight from the Capital and the Death of the Precious Consort Yang”. T’ang Studies 1985: 25-53.(PDF Canvas)
    • Translation of a section of the massive Comprehensive Mirror as an Aid to Government (Zizhitongjian). This is an official historical account of Xuanzong’s flight from the capital during An Lushan rebellion. The translation starts on p. 28, but the introduction is useful. There are copious notes. The translation tries to preserve something of the original style of the Comprehensive Mirror, so it may feel a bit strange and stilted.
    • How does the historian Sima Guang present the emperor? Is this history? Is this literature?
  • “Interlude: Xuan-zong and Yang the Prized Consort”. In An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911, edited and translated by Stephen Owen, 441-458. New York: Norton, 1996. (PDF Canvas)
    • A selection of poems and stories reminiscing on Precious Consort Yang, and her relationship with the Brilliant Emperor (ming huang), the nickname for Emperor Xuanzong, during whose reign the Tang reached unprecedented heights in political power and cultural achievements.
    • How can historians use this text as a source?


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Week 1
W. 1/16: Getting to know each other, discussing topics and plans for the course.

Just come to class with pen and paper (optional laptop and tablet) and we will get started on building a course that serves your educational and intellectual needs and desires.

F. 1/18: Basic exploration
  • Read: Chang, Jung. Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. (pp. 21-35)  (PDF: chang-wild_swans)
  • Read: Buck, Pearl S. The Good Earth. New York: John Day, 1931. (pp. 3-35) (PDF: buck-the_good_earth)

Compare the experiences of the two women in the opening passages of these two novels. Where are the differences? Where are the similarities? What can you find out about the authors? Does that knowledge change the way you read the story?

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Week 2
W 1/23: Electronic devices; the beginnings of Women’s History
  • Bring to class, or share electronically before the start of class: hst124-questionnaire
  • Electronic Devices Policy:
    • Studies show that your laptop use distracts those around you, and students who use laptops end up with a lower grade on average compared to those who don’t.
    • Read through these two articles (abstract/main ideas), and then write down your thoughts and suggestions in answer to these questions (link to Google doc), and bring to class. We will use this as a basis for further discussion on a good laptop policy.
  • Lerner, Gerda. The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
    • “Autobiographical Notes, by way of an Introduction” and “New Approaches to the Study of Women in American History” (PDF on Canvas)
    • Read carefully: take notes, use a dictionary and look up concepts or ideas in other books or encyclopedias. Indicate which passages you are uncertain about, so we can analyze them together in class. Indicate passages you want to spend more time with in class: something you find strange, interesting or revealing. This can be a sentence or paragraph, or you can formulate discussion questions.
F 1/25: Portfolio Workshop

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Week 3
Wed. 1/30: Fu Hao, or Lady Hao of the Shang dynasty
  • Have you given feedback to your classmate’s proposals? Please leave your comments on their Canvas page before the start of class on Wednesday: encourage your peers, tell them what you like, suggest an improvement or point out they crowd too many deadlines together,…
    • add your comments in [ ] or { }, and please include your name. Please do not delete anything you did not write. If you made a mistake or accidentally deleted something, you can always revert to an earlier version.

Texts to read for Wednesday’s class

  • “Fu Hao, earliest female general, Shang dynasty.” In Bennett Peterson, Barbara. Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century. Routledge, 2015. (pp, 13-17) (PDF on Canvas)
    • This is a general description in a series of biographical portraits of women throughout Chinese history.
    • Why is it important for us to study Lady Hao?
  • Haapanen, Minna. “The Royal Consort Fu Hao of the Shang, circa 1200 BCE”. In Hammond, Kenneth J, ed. The Human Tradition in Premodern China. Human Tradition Around the World, No. 4. Wilmington (DE): Scholarly Resources, 2004. (pp. 1-14) (PDF on Canvas)
    • This is a reconstruction, based on archaeology and epigraphy [inscriptions] from the Shang dynasty. The final pages contain more information about the author’s method.
    • Does this particular text belong to history? Why (not)?
    • What can we learn from this kind of reconstruction?
  • Jiao, Tianlong. “Gender Studies in Chinese Neolithic Archaeology.” In Arnold, Bettina, and Nancy L Wicker. Gender and the Archaeology of Death. Gender and Archaeology Series, V. 2. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2001. (pp.51-62) (PDF on Canvas)
    • This is an overview of some of the challenges in understanding issues of gender in archaeological contexts without written documents. Although for Lady Hao we have inscriptions, it remains difficult to understand fully the lives of women during the Shang dynasty, let alone in earlier periods.
    • What was the position of women in Chinese neolithic cultures? What do you identify as the key challenge(s) in the study of gender in pre-historic China?
  • Slides (Gdrive link)
Fri. 2/1: Women’s education in early imperial China
  • Hinsch, Bret. Women in Early Imperial China. 2nd Ed. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011.
    • Chapter 6 only: (“Learning”). Available as an e-book through the library.
    • This provides background to education and ideas about learning in the early Imperial period. The whole book is quite interesting for our course, may be useful for your projects.
    • Note: I ask you to read texts that are available as e-books through the library website (you can download a chapter PDF), so the library can keep better statistics on book use. This helps tremendously with collection development. Thank you for your understanding!
  • Ban Zhao. “Instructions for Women”. In The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature, edited by Victor Mair, 534-41. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1994. (PDF on Canvas)
    • See the small print of the first note (not numbered) for a bit more background on Ban Zhao. This was a key text in the education of women.
    • For a bit more background information on Ban Zhao, see this brief entry.

Guiding questions: what were women supposed to learn and know? What changes and continuities do you see with our other readings so far (Shang dynasty, early 20th century China)? And as always: what is remarkable, surprising, interesting about these texts and their information?

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Week 4

If you haven’t done so yet, please submit your brief reflection on the process of designing your own portfolio. (For instance: What did you learn about grading, assignments, how did your portfolio evolve through dialogue with your fellow students?…)

  • 1 page, not graded, required time appr. 30-60 mins
  • Bring to class or send by e-mail before 11am on Wed, Feb. 6
Wed 2/6: Exemplary Women (Lienü zhuan)
  • Liu, Xiang. Exemplary Women of Early China : The Lienü Zhuan of Liu Xiang. Translated by Anne Behnke Kinney. Translations from the Asian Classics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. (e-book)

Check your e-mail inbox for your personalized reading assignment: you will only read part of the book, and present your findings in class.

Note: If you have trouble accessing e-books, please get in touch with the reference library desk, but copy me in: I often have a PDF handy to help you out in the short term.

Fri 2/8 Mulan and her time

The Disney animation is based on a traditional Chinese story, but a few liberties have been taken. The oldest versions suggest that “The Ballad of Mulan” is set during the Northern Wei, when the Xianbei, a northern people, ruled the northern part of China. Multiple versions have survived, as the story was told and retold over centuries, and adjusted to fit the times.

  • In Lan, Dong. Mulan’s Legend and the Legacy in China and the United States. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011. (E-book, library)
    • We only read Chapter 2: “Heroic Lineage: Military Women and Lady Knights-Errant in Premodern China”
    • This is a secondary study on the phenomenon of female fighters: Mulan was not alone! What is the general thread that connects the stories of these women? How are they able to defy the conventions of their time and take on a very yang/ male role?
  • Owen, Stephen. An Anthology of Chinese Literature : Beginnings to 1911. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. (PDF Canvas)
    • The earliest of the extant versions of the story of Mulan, to be used with the next selection for comparison.
  • Kwa, Shiamin and Wilt Idema. Mulan: Five Versions of a Classic Chinese Legend with Related Texts, xiii-xvi, xx-xxviii, 5-7; 31-51. (PDF Canvas)
    • Main text is pp. 5-7 and 31-51; the introduction is included to provide you more historical context and information on the nature of these texts.
  • Your knowledge of the Disney version: bring it along!

In class we will (among other things) compare the different versions of the story of Mulan, from the 5th century to the present. What are differences and continuities between these versions? A key question throughout is why is a woman who upsets all the rules of proper behavior celebrated as a heroine?

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Week 5
Wed. Feb. 13: Mulan (continued)
  • refresh your memory on the different versions of Mulan (use the worksheet)
  • Lan, Dong. Mulan’s Legend and the Legacy in China and the United States. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011. (E-book, Trexler library)
    • We only read Chapter 2: “Heroic Lineage: Military Women and Lady Knights-Errant in Premodern China” This is a secondary study on the phenomenon of female fighters: Mulan was not alone! What is the general thread that connects the stories of these women? How are they able to defy the conventions of their time and take on a very yang/ male role?
    • And (for the second half of the text): why were some of them not seen as heroic exemplars?
    • What happens when we appy the idea of “dynastics” instead of “patriarchy” to these women (the good and bad models alike)

Slides (Gdrive)

Fri. Feb. 15 Female Deities
  • Lullo, Sheri A. “Female Divinities in Han Dynasty Representation”. In Gender and Chinese Archaeology, edited by Katheryn M. Linduff and Yan Sun, 259-287. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2004. (PDF link to Canvas)
    • Already in the Neolithic period there are signs of worship of female, or feminine deities (See earlier). Female deities remained important, but there were changes to the way they were perceived, and portrayed, as this article shows.
    • What is the evidence the author uses to track the changes in the status of these deities? Are you convinced by the explanations? Why (not)?
    • If women were during the Han dynasty considered to be of lower status, how should we interpret the power of these female deities? Do the deities share the same lower status as human women? Why (not)
  • “The Classic of Mountains and Seas” and “Nüwa”. In Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period through the Song Dynasty, edited by Robin Wang, 92-99. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub, 2003. (PDF Canvas)
    • Extracts from two primary sources which were widely known during the Early Imperial period (Qin-Han, 221BCE-220CE)
    • What is remarkable, interesting, strange about these snippets?

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Week 6
Fri Feb. 22: Wu Zhao (aka Wu Zetian, Empress Wu, r. 690-705), China’s only female emperor

Although there was no specific law against a women being the head of state in China, there was only one woman who proclaimed herself emperor (huangdi). That was Wu Zhao, the empress-dowager and widow of the third emperor of the Tang dynasty. In 690, she appropriated all imperial prerogatives, proclaimed her own dynasty (Zhou), and began to use her own reign titles. The historiography of Empress Wu (Emperor Wu, if you prefer) is fraught with problems, because the scholar-officials who wrote the history of her reign were influenced by the Confucian ideals of a woman’s ideal position.

General questions to bear in mind while reading: What do we learn about the relation between women and power in medieval China in general? How should we approach sources that deal with Empress Wu and her reign?

Texts to read:

  • Ebrey, P. B. “Wu, empress (624/627-705)”. In K. M. Wilson, & N. Margolis (Eds.), Women in the middle ages: an encyclopedia Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004. (link requires login to Trexler Library)
    • Basic background info, may be useful as reference or introduction.
  • Dien, Dora Shu-fang.Empress Wu Zetian in Fiction and in History: Female Defiance in Confucian China. New York: Nova Science, 2003. (E-book, Trexler)
    • Read only chapter 5 “Empress Wu’s Achievements” Was the Empress really trying to destroy the Tang dynasty by proclaiming her own Zhou dynasty (690-705)? Here is one view, which not all historians agree with.
  • “Shangguan Wan’er: Ghost Writer for Two Empresses”, in The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China, edited by Wilt Idema and Beata Grant, 61-72. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2004. (PDF Canvas)
    • The Empress Wu also appointed several women in her bureaucracy. Shangguan Wan’er’s epitaph has recently been uncovered but not yet translated. This chapter covers what we know from the historical texts.
  • Worksheet (Gdrive link)

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