Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

4 - How to Write a Woman’s Biography in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century China: Formats and Surname Usage

Saturday, July 7
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Jacaranda I, First Floor

Women’s biographies appeared in China more than 2,000 years ago. This paper explores the views of scholars on how to express Chinese women’s lives in the historical record in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The issues of writing women’s biographies in late imperial China had many different aspects, e.g. categories, criteria, resources materials, and naming. In this paper, I concentrate on the naming and order of writing a woman’s biography in order to highlight the contention over the writing of women’s lives in Qing China. By the Qing period, women’s biographies became a scholarly battle, especially over how to name the female subject — whether to identify her by her maiden name or to use her husband’s surname. At the heart of the dispute was women’s travel from an unmarried to a married state, which could lead to the loss of their name and with it their self-determination. The debate about which surname or form of address to be used in a woman’s biography represents a split in approaches to biographical writing as well as in approaches to the female agency. While some members of the elite wished to emphasize women’s obedience as faithful wives and wrote their biographies using their married names, others wished to underscore their self-determination and identified them with their maiden names. The paper argues that women’s biographies, thus, were more than simply a retelling of their virtues or a critique of their deeds; they became a means to delineate the rightful place for women in Chinese society.

Jolan Yi

National Taiwan University, Taiwan

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4 - How to Write a Woman’s Biography in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century China: Formats and Surname Usage



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