Emotions in China

Doing Research on the History of Emotions
2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room 2

  • Organised by Angelika C. Messner
  • Angelika C. Messner, Chair
  • Angelika C. Messner, “Doing Emotions & Experiencing Pain in 17th Century China”
  • Sharon Sanderovitch, “Voice, Visage, and the Imperial Person/a: On the Construction of Royal Emotions in Imperial Edicts and Panegyrics of the Han Dynasty”
  • Rodo Pfister “Inner Cinnabar, Introspection and Body Maps—The Medieval Chinese Selbstgefühl (Self-Consciousness)”
  • Valerie Pellatt, “Baring the Chinese soul: Depiction of Emotional States and Character Traits in the Stage Directions of huaju of the Early Twentieth Century”
  • Lee Cheuk-yin, Discussant

Sinologists so far contributed extensively to the emotion lexicon in the Chinese past, recognizing that emotions are differently perceived and conceptualized in aesthetic, philosophical and medical contexts. However, what is extremely missing, are microscopic-like close readings of texts that refer to everyday experiences and related practices. Refraining from any haste abstraction and generalization this panel aims at exploring practices and narratives in relation to emotions and their role in exploring new spaces of knowing. Each of the four papers presents particular moments in Chinese history by discussing their emotion-related relevance.”

Angelika C. Messner, “Doing Emotions & Experiencing Pain in 17th Century China“

The memory narrative Yangzhou shi ri ji 揚州十日記 (Record on the Ten Day [Massacre] at Yangzhou, 1645) reveals insights into the ways people experienced pain and suffering in the course of the traumatic experience of a massacre upon the city population during the dynastic fall. In this text, physical pain due to cruel injury as well as emotional despair (tong 痛 and shang 傷) are expressed throughout in terms of visceral processes and changes. Medical texts on the other hand hardly ever refer to qing 情 (emotions, love) from a meta-perspective, but rather tackle the issue of the basic fabric of daily life from the perspective of a logic of the concrete.  Dwelling on the meticulously studied cases of emotional suffering as they are presented in the writings of Chen Shiduo 陳士鐸 (1627–1707), my paper seeks to integrate concepts and words with corporeal realities of emotion and suffering. Tracing the various techniques to resolve crisis and suffering and by bringing them together with the collective terms for the heart, lung, spleen, liver and the kidneys, and with the related technical terms denoting the physiological functions of generating and storing qi 氣 and related pathological changes, I shall argue for new ways to doing research on emotions in history. 

Sharon Sanderovitch, “Voice, Visage, and the Imperial Person/a: On the Construction of Royal Emotions in Imperial Edicts and Panegyrics of the Han Dynasty”

Recently, the relation between rulers’ projected emotions, strategies of power, and monarchic government has received formal acknowledgement from scholars of both the history of emotions and monarchic institutions. A section on “Monarchies” in the recently published Early Modern Emotions: An Introduction (2017), and a chapter on “Ruling Emotions” in the new Routledge History of Monarchy (2019) are one indication for this reciprocity. Informed by this developing sensibility in the global, mostly theoretical discourse, I examine the construction of royal emotions in Han edicts and panegyrics—that is, in representations of the imperial voice and in poetic portraits of the imperial figure. Centering on two periods in the long span of the Han dynasty—the reigns of Wendi 文帝 (r. 180–157 BCE) of the Western Han and Zhangdi 章帝 (r. 75–88 CE) of the Eastern Han—I highlight two points of importance for the study of early-imperial Chinese monarchy and the history of emotions more broadly. First is the role of emotions of self-assessment (guilt, remorse, fear of misperfomance) in the construction of the Chinese monarch’s authority, in addition to joy, grief, and paternal love that are more familiar from discussions of early-modern European monarchies. The other, complimentary point of analysis concerns the cultural and institutional practices that supported the construction and projection of royal emotions in textual products that were thereby cast and perceived—to draw on Peirce’s typology of signs—as indexes of the imperial person rather than icons of the imperial persona.

Rodo Pfister, “Inner Cinnabar, Introspection and Body Maps—The Medieval Chinese Selbstgefühl (Self-Consciousness)”

Su Shi (1037–1101 CE) evokes a hanging scroll—a “Master Yan Luo”—as a lifestyle element in his heptasyllabic regulated poem Travel to Zhang’s Mountaineer Garden. He furthermore transmits the Treatise on the Oral Instruction about Nourishing Life, wherein such a depiction of the inside of the male torso is used to visualise in meditation the inner topography of one’s own living body. The mediative use of such body maps is documented for the period of at least the 11th c. to the 15th c. CE (Pfister 2016). For literati and high officials alike these were a means to cultivate and modulate their bodily feeling of oneself (Selbstgefühl, Frank 2002). Chen Pu (fl. 1078 CE?) describes in his psychologic masterpiece Mister Chen’s Instructions on the Inner Cinnabar nine phases of transformation. With a high grade of specificity the adept is guided through the learning process. This includes altered states of consciousness, changes of the integral bodily self, or the interpretation of inner light experiences (phosphenes and visuall hallucinations), occurring during meditation in the calm room, where sensory input is reduced. The concept of the bodily self (shēn 身) forms the base of the lived experience and emotions. As the feeling of oneself it can be modulated by the mere-exposure effect of body maps, or by prolonged training of meditative techniques.

Valerie Pellatt, “Baring the Chinese Soul: Depiction of Emotional States and Character Traits in the Stage Directions of huaju of the Early Twentieth Century”

The spoken Chinese drama which evolved from the beginning of the twentieth century created a need, and an opportunity, for Chinese playwrights to explore overtly and in some depth, the personality traits and transient emotions of the characters they created. The need arose from the raising of the fourth wall, and the absence of the traditional prologue, self-introduction and asides customary in traditional forms. The newly introduced spoken drama (huaju) required actors to express themselves fully as characters without any third person explication. This constraint, however, gave playwrights a platform to tell the director and actors exactly what they intended the character to be. Without the traditional costume, symbolism and gesture which informed the audience of the age, occupation, rank and gender of the roles, there was a need for some prescription. No longer reliant on symbolism, the actors had to represent realistically the personalities of the characters they played, from their own experience, or that of the playwright or director. Cao Yu’s directions focus on the nature of people, not only on how their appearance reveals their inner turmoil, but also on explicit labelling of what troubles them. The establishing directions at the beginning of acts and scenes, and the parenthetic directions within the dialogue became a new theatrical vehicle and, perhaps unintentionally, a window onto the Chinese psyche. The stage directions of the drama of the early decades of the century invite a detailed analysis in psychological terms.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room 2
Doing Research on the History of Emotions