Papers on Premodern Literature IV

Women and Bodies
2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room D

  • Wenting Ji, “Her Feet Hurt: Rediscover Female Body and Pain in Zaishengyuan (Destiny Of Rebirth)”
  • Rubén Jesús Almendros Peñaranda, “Foot Binding in Jin Ping Mei: A Foucauldian Reading Of Sex Control And Body Normalisation Mechanisms”
  • Mariana Zorkina, “Dialogue with The Canon: Digital Methods as A Tool To Articulate Gender Biases In Traditional Chinese Literary Criticism”

Wenting Ji, “Her Feet Hurt: Rediscover Female Body and Pain in Zaishengyuan (Destiny of Rebirth)”

Zaishengyuan (Destiny of Rebirth) written by Chen Duansheng (1751–1796) is a famous work of tanci which centres on the adventure of a cross-dressing female protagonist. Evolving from storytelling performance, tanci as a genre is usually rich in volume, rhymed in language, and dominated by female writers from the Jiangnan area in late imperial China. Being overlooked for decades, tanci has received few discussions especially on individual works, language expressions, and nuanced cultural connotations. Building on existing scholarship which focuses on gender studies, this paper approaches Zaishengyuan from sensory studies and investigates its representations of female body and sensations, especially feet and pain. Conducting close readings on foot-related plots and keywords tong and teng (both mean pain in Chinese), this paper argues that Zaishengyuan endeavours to demonstrate how women experienced the outside world with their body and sensations, and how bodily pain shaped the way the society and women themselves identified femininity. The story repeatedly associates physical pain with the female-exclusive practice foot-binding, while at the same time puts the bound feet into spotlight to address the female protagonist’s identity crisis that causes the psychological pain. Also, the involvement of mother in female body’s modification showcases the significance of maternal family lineage and the female community around tanci. Moreover, by contextualizing female pain in both the cinematic cross-dressing plots and the performative nature of tanci, Zaishengyuan reveals the embedded theatricality in gender identifications and redefines the realm of gender in fantasy as well as in reality.

Rubén Jesús Almendros Peñaranda, “Foot Binding in Jin Ping Mei: a Foucauldian Reading of Sex Control and Body Normalisation Mechanisms”

Jin Ping Mei (金瓶梅, c. 1610) is the Ming dynasty erotic novel par excellence. From the very first modern reading by Lu Xun in the 1920s, ‘Jin-ology’ research has been focused on the obscenity of the novel, the misogynist ideology under the authorship and the gendered hierarchical relations between Ximen Qing and his concubines. However, it is rare to find a systematic reading of Jin Ping Mei concerning the power relationships issued by a social control system subjacent to sexual encounters. The aim of this paper is to use the thinking of French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926–1984) about the relations between power and sex, mainly developed in his History of Sexuality (1976–1984), in order to analyze our novel in terms of sex control and body normalization mechanisms. Among the various body practices present in the novel, the paper will concentrate on the foot binding of women, a recurrent practice in imperial China, whose main objective was to reduce the free mobility of women and to stimulate male sexual desire. From the Foucauldian concept of body normalization and the feminist reading of Jin Ping Mei by Naifei Ding (2002), this paper will examine the obsession of Ximen Qing with Pan Jinlian’s small feet in order to prove that foot binding is an external representation of a “biopower” which tries to normalize the body of the female population.

Mariana Zorkina, “Dialogue with the Canon: Digital Methods as a Tool to Articulate Gender Biases in Traditional Chinese Literary Criticism”

The notion of quantitative approaches in the humanities is not new—they exist for over a century, bloomed with the Russian school of formalism in the first half of the 20 century and since then experienced several periods of revival, often connected to advances in computer technologies. However, until today the capability of digital approaches to go beyond simple quantification is often questioned. This paper showcases how statistics can be combined with traditional literary analysis in order to engage with the widespread ideas in Chinese traditional literary criticism and how in many cases simple quantitation in literary analysis can produce meaningful insights into the texts. As a primary example, the paper examines how literary critics of imperial China were describing female poets and their works—and in what aspects the criticism was based on personal biases rather than reality. For that end, this study uses stylometry, that is most commonly used for identifying authorship and distinguishing personal styles of writers. Works of female and male poets in the biggest available collection of Tang poetry—Quan Tangshi—are compared. The results of the analysis are juxtaposed with some of the statements about female poetry in traditional Chinese literary criticism. While accounts were not necessarily dismissive, some tropes—like describing women’s poetry as “emotional” or setting it against the “learned” tradition of writing—persisted. But, as the stylistic analysis shows, these statements can be questioned.

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Room D
Women and Bodies