China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Imagining Region: Space in Nineteenth-Century Drum Ballads

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Washington Room 1, Exhibit Level

Regions of China can be defined in many ways, often based on administrative, economic, or linguistic ties. This paper investigates how people in North China imagined their own region in the nineteenth century through popular drum ballad texts (guci). Drum ballad texts evoke what was once one of the most popular of performance genres in North China, allowing us to look at a “literary geography” of the region. Inspired by Franco Moretti’s Atlas of the European Novel, this paper examines the depiction of space within ballads primarily produced in Beijing and Shandong. How do ballad stories conceptualize the region? How do depictions of the familiar and unfamiliar and the relationship between this region and the capital change over time? As stories that developed in the region, ballads about Judge Liu and Judge Shi are particularly suited to investigating these issues. Their depictions of space provide a glimpse of a “mental map” from an insider’s point of view. The drum ballads demonstrate the multiple, shifting connections between the region and the empire during the Qing. Early manuscript ballads portray effective officials and strong ties between North and South. Woodblock ballads display tensions between the capital and the region. These differences may be partially attributable to where the ballads were produced or to historical changes in transportation and government. The drum ballads suggest that during the nineteenth century, spatial identity in North China shifted from a sense of belonging in a unified world of empire to a view emphasizing the local.

Margaret B. Wan

University of Utah, Utah

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