Beyond Tradition and Modernity:
Gender, Genre, and the Negotiation of Knowledge in Late Qing China

March 3-5, 2005, Rice University

Opening Remarks by Professor Werner Kelber and Professor Richard J. Smith
Rice University 


Friday, March 4, 2005, 9:00am-11:40 am, Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library

Chair/Discussant  Susan Mann   
University of California at Davis

Harriet Zurndorfer
University of Leiden
Beyond Good Wifehood and Good Scholarship:
The life and times of Wang Zhaoyuan (1763-1851):
Historian, classicist, poetess, and calligrapher

Among those learned women whom the late Qing reformer Liang Qichao (1873-1929) repudiated in his famous essay "Women's Learning" (first published in Shiwu bao, 1897) was the Shandong native Wang Zhaoyuan.  Liang castigated her as an example of the uselessness of both the concept cainu (talented woman) and the literati-gentry culture which produced her.  Had Liang pursued a less contrived portrait of this extraordinary woman, he might have realized that Wang Zhaoyuan embodied exactly those feminine qualities which he considered essential to the making of a modern nation, i.e. women who could nurture good citizens and who could articulate the ideals of public culture.
            This paper focuses on the biography of Wang Zhaoyuan and the world in which she lived, and argues that the mis-representation of Wang and other talented women like her has contributed to modern misunderstanding of the role of literate women in late imperial China.  To accomplish this goal, this essay first narrates how Wang, who was of humble origins, became one of China's leading female scholars through her marriage with one of  the most prominent kaozheng experts Hao Yixing (1727-1825; js 1799).  Second, it examines how the compatible marriage of Wang and Hao fostered a working partnership resulting in new editions of a number of historical and classical texts, and how that union set the background for Wang's own commentary to the Lienu zhuan, the Lienuzhuan buzhu (1812).  

Dorothy Ko
Barnard College, Columbia University
Embroidering Modernity:
Shen Shou and the Status of Women’s Material Culture in the Early Twentieth Century

This paper investigates the life, work, and reception of expert Suzhou embroiderer Shen Shou, director of the “Center for the Transmission of Women’s Work” (Nugong zhuanxi suo).  Established by industrialist Zhang Jian in his native place Nantong, Jiangsu in 1914, the Center sought to revive the commercial and artistic potential of embroidery, women’s traditional livelihood, by updating its technique and artistic appeal.  As such it was part of Zhang’s ambitious plan of modernizing the nation by way of local industrial development.
            Focusing on The Way of Embroidery (Xiupu), a manual Shen dictated to Zhang on her death bed, and Shen’s extant works housed in the Nanjing and Nantong museums, this paper seeks to locate the significance of her efforts in three contexts: transformation in the nature of women’s handiwork, collapse of the household mode of economic production, as well as shifts in the relative value of word and things.  Transitions in the status of women’s things—things that they made and things that made them—are most emblematic of China’s modernity.  This story remains to be told. 

Hu Ying
University of California at Irvine
Arts of Mourning: Wu Zhiying and Her Calligraphy

Wu Zhiying (1868-1934) was primarily known in history as one of the two women who risked political persecution to bury Qiu Jin (1875?-1907) after the latter was beheaded for anti-Manchu revolution. To her contemporaries, Wu was better known as an avid art collector and enjoyed a reputation as a fine calligrapher. At the back of Qiu Jin’s tomb is the old stele that Wu wrote in 1908. Less well known was a ten-juan hand-copy of Surangama Sutra, a kind of “votive copying” that combines the religious with the aesthetic.
           This paper aims to show how a woman educated in a particular set of artistic and religious practices used these skills to interpret and participate in a rapidly changing world. From the choice of a particular script to the self-presentation of the artist, from the public role of epigraphic art to the interpretation of women’s participation in political affairs, Wu Zhiying’s practice of the art showcases the rich cultural resources that she laid claim to at the end of imperial China as well as a vigorous intellectual energy that pointed to possibilities of imagining a different kind of modernity.

Grace S. Fong
McGill University
Inscribing Cosmopolitan Space and Time:
Lü Bicheng's Travel Writings from the Shanghai Period (1912-26)

Lü Bicheng (1883-1943), a famous poet of the ci genre, broke away from the sheltered life of a young lady in a scholar-gentry family to become one of the first women journalists and educators in the last decade of the Qing dynasty. From the start of her career, she self-consciously adopted a cosmopolitan position in relation to race and ethnicity. By the early Republican period, she managed to amass a fortune through conducting business in Shanghai with Western merchants and turned to pursue an extravagant lifestyle that combined the social and artistic pursuits of traditional literati, such as painting, poetry, and travel to scenic sites, with the luxuries of Western-style living and conspicuous consumption available in cosmopolitan Shanghai. It was in this period of her encounter with Westerners and contact with colonial power and global culture in the local/Shanghai context that Lü began to publish her travel essays and poems in literary journals and collections of her own writings. In this paper, I explore the contested space-time of cosmopolitanism in Lü's travel poetry and essays, in which desire and resistance, classicism and modernism, global and local are simultaneously inscribed. While her travel poems are structured along more conventional literati representations of space and  perceptions of time, her travel essays, in particular the record of her sojourn on Mount Lu, though written in literary Chinese, evince an unstable and ambiguous subjectivity emerging in a cosmopolitan context.


Friday, March 4, 2005, 1:00pm-3:40 pm, Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library

Chair/Discussant  Theodore Huters
University of California at Los Angeles

Joan Judge
University of California at Santa Barbara
Mediated Imaginings:
Western women's biographies and their Japanese sources in late Qing China

Western women’s biographies which were prominently featured in late Qing textbooks and journals, highlighted the importance of genre and gender in this era of cultural flux. The celebration of these foreign women’s lives built on the two millennia old Chinese tradition of exemplary female biography. At the same time, it expanded the parameters of this highly conventionalized genre and disrupted its fundamental gender norms. While Western men’s biographies--which were also produced in important numbers in this period--underscored Chinese notions of masculinity and encouraged Chinese men to perform their recognized roles more effectively, biographies of Western women destabilized Chinese principles of normative femininity and made previously unimaginable feminine social and political roles thinkable.
           These Western women’s biographies did not tell straightforward stories, however. Chinese editors and compilers rarely worked with original Western-language biographies but were dependent on translations of Western texts published in Japan. Chinese, Japanese, and Western selection strategies were thus layered on one another as the Chinese selectively appropriated biographies which the Japanese had culled from Western biographical collections which were themselves the product of editorial and ideological choices. At the same time the meaning of a Western woman’s life story was serially translated both literally into new languages and substantively into new cultural registers and historical contexts.
            This paper examines these processes of cultural translation, mediation and accomodation by tracing biographies which appeared in new style textbooks and journals--the two most effective media for transmitting Western ideas in this period----to their various Japanese textual sources. Closely reading the Chinese and Japanese biographies against one another, it demonstrates that the end product of these multiply mediated processes was not only a distortion of the “host” biography(ies) but a new creation, not merely a product of cultural borrowing but of the Chinese cultural imaginary.

Ellen Widmer
Wesleyan University
The Twilight of Qing?
Zhan Kai's Bihai zhu of 1907 in the Context of His Other Writings

This paper builds on the last one I did in Houston, which was a comparison of Zhan Kai's "courtesan sketches" (roughly 1900-07) and his "new novels" (both of 1907). This time my topic is Zhan's Bihai zhu, or Jewels on an Azure Sea, also of 1907. Bihai zhu is a novel in classical Chinese. I begin by summarizing the plot, then I compare it to the two sets of materials noted above. Because two of its four main subjects are courtesans, and for other reasons, I conclude that it is more like the "sketches" than the "novels." However, it is definitely fictionalized. The other two main characters are a young man who encounters the courtesans and the narrator, the young man's friend, to whom the young man tells of his experiences with the two courtesans.
            My analysis takes up three aspects of Bihai zhu: stylistic matters, historical context, and the plight of individuals caught between an old, feeling-based way of conducting romances and more patriotic types of behavior.

Jing Tsu
Harvard University
Assassins and Inventors:
Fantasies of Technology and Female Heroism in late Qing Science Fiction

My paper examines the conception and deployment of women as assassins and scientists in late Qing literature.  Reflecting an era of not only great political uncertainty but also possibilities, the unusual role of women as agents of political assassinations and technological salvation marks an imaginative space where their often inept male colleagues rely on their rescue.  Taking on the imperatives of saving the nation, female chivalry takes a different turn in the late Qing cultural imagination, crossing gender and cutting across different genres of fiction, such as utopian fiction (lixiang xiaoshuo), social fiction (shehui xiaoshuo), and science fiction (kehuan xiaoshuo).  This paper examines the concomitant rise of defining genres (late Qing distinctions of literary genre are unlike those before or after) and delineating a “political” femininity.  Using literary texts such as Huang Xiuqiu, Xin jiyuan (New Century), and Dian Shijie (Electric World) and journalistic articles on and visual representations of science and technology, my paper focuses on the notion of literary fantasy as a way of constructing real and viable alternatives of politics, technology, and femininity.  

Catherine Vance Yeh
University of Heidelberg
The Theatricality of the Tragic Female :
Politics, Mass Media, and the Rise of the Female Impersonator (1904-1919)

During the late nineteenth century an unlikely new personality came into the public limelight, the female impersonator known as the dan. Represented by the two most famous figures Ouyang Yuqian (1889-1962) and Mei Lanfang (1894-1961), it was a phenomenon that accrued simultaneously both with in the new spoken drama movement and in the Peking opera. It involved two centers, Tokyo and Shanghai. This shift in artistic and social values coincided with the rapid expansion of the mass media. The female impersonator, a figure long associated with private love-boy of elite society, was now adored by the general public. Was it a pure historical coincidence that both in the “new” and “old” theater scene the dan actor became the dominant figure in new artistic experiments and that the most famous dan acted as leaders in the different theater reform movements?
            This paper will study the rise of the dan as national star in regards (1) to the emergence of a new type of tragic female character on stage; (2) the relationship of this new female tragic figure to theater reform movement; (3) the translation of new political ideals through this new tragic dan role as precondition for their acceptance by the public; (4) and as precondition for the rise of a new kind of patronage culture in both the political and commercial press.
            It will argue that the rise of the dan to prominence and his supplanting the laosheng or old man role in Peking opera and the sheng or young man role in early drama was due to the particular capacity of this role to carry an image of the oppressed people and their heroic struggle against all odds. In this figure the traditional wenren, the new intellectuals and the public saw their self image. The beautiful young males in the role of powerless yet upright and lamentable female thus staged the new interpretation of China’s fate.


Saturday, March 5, 2005, 9:00am-11:40 am, Humanities 117

Chair/Discussant  Benjamin A. Elman
Princeton University

Joachim Kurtz
Emory University
Liu Shipei and the Reinvention of China's Intellectual History

In the decades surrounding the year 1900, the classificatory schemes in which knowledge had been organized in China for centuries were unsettled and gradually superseded by a Western-inspired disciplinary matrix. The institutionalization of new curricula of higher learning and the abolition of the civil examination system unmistakably marked the demise of the old regime of learning. In the natural sciences, the transition quickly led to an almost complete denigration of endemic knowledge. In the realm of the humanities, the transformation was more complex. In order to assert the universal validity of ethical insights contained in canonical as well as some noncanonical writings, late Qing scholars suggested multiple ways to translate classical Chinese learning into Europeanized taxonomical frameworks.
            One of the earliest and most consequential attempts to secure a place for China’s embattled moral sciences within the new disciplinary matrix was formulated by Liu Shipei in the context of the ‘National Essence’ (guocui) movement. Drawing on argumentative strategies of the discourse on the ‘Chinese origins of Western learning’ and an untested academic vocabulary imported from Japan, Liu outlined a masterplan for a new grand narrative of ancient China’s intellectual history that raised questions which none of the more self-assured histories of ‘Chinese philosophy’, ‘Chinese religion’, etc., with which we are familiar today, could ignore. The aim of this paper is to reconstruct the key elements of Liu’s radical effort and the violent transformations necessary for its completion in order to highlight the complex dynamics of conceptual change in late-Qing discourse.

Xia Xiaohong
Peking University
He Zhen’s Perspectives on Women’s Rights and Late Qing Anarchism

Anarchism was introduced into China at the beginning of the twentieth century and gained currency for a temporary period. Among all related perspectives, He Zhen’s arguments from the position of women were published in the Tianyi bao (Journal of Heavenly Justice) that she and her husband had edited and published since 1907. As the think tank of the Association for the Vengeance of Women (Nüzi fuchou hui), Tianyi bao focused on women’s revolution and also advocated racial, political, and economic revolutions. This approach systematized He Zhen’s thinking about women’s rights.
           Different from most of her contemporary advocates for women’s liberation who focused primarily on issues of women’s education and footbinding, He Zhen’s ideas appeared more theoretically dimensional. Upholding a “thorough liberation for women” as her fundamental purpose, He Zhen contended to abolish government as the final solution for women to acquire equal rights with men. Her approach of women’s liberation was formed through her close communication with Japanese anarchists such as K_toku Sh_sui and her familiarity with Western theoretical resources; both became possible during her long-term stay in Japan. 
            This paper will examine how the alliance of anarchism and feminism in late Qing enabled the profundity of He Zhen’s consciousness of women’s revolution and social revolution.

Richard John Lynn
University of Toronto
Modernization and Tradition in the Thought and Writings of Huang Zunxian While in Japan (1877-1882)

Huang Zunxian, who resided from 1877 to 1882 in Japan as Counselor and Secretary to the first Imperial Chinese Legation to Tokyo, became acquainted with prominent Japanese bunjin (literati) of the time, a mixture of high-ranking government officials dedicated to modernizing the new Japanese state and cultural conservatives who often regarded modernization with suspicion and the loss of tradition with regret.  These two types of bunjin did not constitute a simple dichotomy, for both identified with classical learning, epitomized by the expression siwen/shibun, “This Culture Of Ours”—shared by all Chinese and Japanese literati alike. The essential question facing such Japanese modernizers, the more inflexible cultural conservatives aside, and certainly Huang himself, who clearly belonged to the new progressive, reformist camp in China, was how to accommodate the pressing needs of modernization within the matrix—largely but not exclusively Confucian/Neo-Confucian—of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual values and sensibilities associated with classical learning and tradition.  Huang’s experiences with these bunjin provide an extremely valuable window of information and insight into the intellectual atmosphere of early Meiji Japan and its effect on a representative progressive late Qing Chinese intellectual reformer.  Huang was at once a visitor who could comment on things from an outsider’s point of view and yet had first-hand access to the modes of discourse and thought of his hosts through the ubiquitous kanji culture (Chinese characters as medium of communication) of the Japan of those days.  Huang’s writings at the time—poetry, prose, and brush talks (bitan/hitsudan)—also bear witness to his own changing attitudes towards modernization as they developed within the context of his continuing commitment to the ideals of tradition.

Michelle Yeh
University of California at Davis
Revolutionizing Chinese Poetry:
The Dialectic of Form and Content on the Cusp of the 20th Century

This paper focuses on the transition from the ‘revolution in the poetry domain’ (shijie geming) at the end of the Qing Dynasty to the ‘literary revolution’ (wenxue geming) of 1917 which gave rise to modern vernacular poetry.  In order to answer the question: Was modern vernacular poetry inevitable? I propose to examine the successes and limitations of the earlier revolution and further advances made by the latter revolution.  By analyzing the relation between form and content, I hope to illustration why and how the introduction of modern vernacular poetry was the final and necessary step in revolutionizing Chinese poetry. 

Xiaoping Cong
University of Houston
Transformation of Women’s Education and State-Building:
Female Teachers’ Schools in the Late Qing, 1895-1911

This paper traces the early development of female teachers’ schools during the waning years of the Qing dynasty.  It documents and analyzes the competing pressures and goals that eventually led to the establishment of public schools for girls and the ideological changes that made this radical change not only acceptable but desirable.  The paper argues that the rise of women’s modern education was a continuity of traditional female education which extended to public domain under a strong nationalist sentiment and integrated into state-building project.  The State built female normal schools, which became the only post-primary public schools open to women, under the slogan, “Women’s education is the foundation of citizen’s education.”  These schools were seen as an urgent part of the agenda for building a modern State.  The traditional idea that mothers taught their own children for the sake their family’s prosperity, however, was transformed into the idea that female teachers taught young citizens for the sake of nation’s prosperity.  During the transformation from mothers to the teachers of citizens, traditional ideas of women as the primary educators of young children served as a foundation for the establishment of modern schools for women in late Qing China.  Women’s traditional duty in domestic domain thus was emphasized, expanded and transformed into public as a part of modern nation-state building.  The building women’s teachers’ schools by the government after 1907 further confirmed women’s position in public life as professional teachers. 


Saturday, March 5, 2005, 1:00pm-3:20 pm, Humanities 117

Chair/Discussant  Josh Fogel 
University of California at Santa Barbara

Rudolf G. Wagner
University of Heidelberg
Publishing women writers, attracting women readers:
Strategies of Ernest Major’s Shenbaoguan 1872-1889

With its multimedia empire, Major’s Shenbaoguan pursued a ‘betterment’ agenda that put great emphasis on attracting women readers, on publicly addressing issues such as foot-binding, women’s education, and women’s intellectual and creative potential, and  on publishing works by women authors. The paper will study the roots of the Shenbaoguan policies, arguing that while they interacted with domestic Chinese trends since the eighteenth century, they took their basic values from Scottish enlightenment as well as the situation in the British Isles. At the same time it was an important strategy for a publishing conglomerate to broaden its reader and author base.

Nanxiu Qian
Rice University
The Mother Nü xuebao versus the Daughter nü xuebao:
Generational Differences between 1898 and 1902 Women Reformers

Chen Xiefen’s 1902 Nü Xuebao (Women’s Journal) has long been mistaken as the earliest journal by and for Chinese women. In fact, however, the first Chinese women’s journal, also titled Nü Xuebao, appeared during the heyday of the 1898 reforms. Its 12 issues were edited and published by its all female editorial board from July 24, 1898 to the end of October, 1898. Literally and metaphorically, the 1898 Nü Xuebao can be viewed as the mother of the 1902 one; several daughters of the contributors of the 1898 Nü Xuebao wrote for the 1902 Nü Xuebao. A close reading of the two journals show remarkable differences between the two generations of women reformers. The 1898 Nü Xuebao continued the Chinese cainü (women of talents) tradition, putting women’s self-strengthening through knowledge acquisition above national empowerment; the 1902 Nü Xuebao boasted a raging nationalist discourse and instigated the xia’nü (heroic women) sentiment that foreshadowed later women revolutionaries. The 1898 Nü Xuebao opened more to the Western influence; the 1902 Nü Xuebao was under strong Japanese sway. The 1898 Nü Xuebao negotiated between vernacular and classical Chinese; the 1902 Nü Xuebao mainly used vernacular language. This paper intends to explore why such radical change could take place in a mere four-year span, so as to emphasize the importance of examining sub-periods within the general category or rubric of “late Qing.” 

Siao-chen Hu
Academia Sinica, Taipei
Writer’s Garden, Toilet Case, and the
Theory and Practice of Women’s Literature in the 1910s

This paper will deal with the theory and practice of “women’s literature” in the late Qing and very early Republican era. “Women’s literature” in the Republican era as a topic has been discussed by Wendy Larson in her Women and Writing in Modern China. In this paper I will shift the focus to the 1910s to highlight the coexistence of continuation and disruption between Ming-Qing talented women and the emerging new paradigm of women’s writing. My major source will be the first six volumes of the Lady’s Journal, published between 1915 and 1920, but other literary magazines will also come into view. I will discuss how the editors, the authors, and the readers respectively understood the idea of women’s literature and then cooperated to build a discursive system, while it began to complicate itself from the beginning. I will use the ideas of the writer’s garden, the toilet case and the Kasumam to represent the core, the divergence and the transformation of the concept of women’s literature.

Chen Pingyuan
Peking University
Girls’ School and Girl Students in Late Qing Pictorials

            Rising during the late Qing period, education for women enabled a quick increase of girls’ schools throughout China. The formal publication of the regulation for girls’ schools by the Qing government in March, 1907, acknowledged the legitimacy of education for women, and hence effectively changed social understanding of this new trend. Numerous fictions and pictorials appearing in late Qing included a great amount of depiction and discussion of girls’ schools and girl students. Taking urban citizens as their implied readers, pictorials enjoyed broader circulation than regular newspapers and periodicals. Works of fiction, intended to improve people’s intellectuality, directly reflected and influenced contemporary social reform. The two, pictorials and fictions, were deeply associated but also had subtle differences. This paper will examine the images and texts in reference with historical records, so as to look into the change of the attitudes of the late Qing populace towards education for women, as well as the special functions of fiction and pictorials in “enlightening” the public.   


Sunday, March 6, 2005, 9:00am-11:30am, Warwick Hotel

Chair: Grace Fong

Benjamin A. Elman
Josh Fogel
Theodore Huters
Susan Mann

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