Premodern China Lecture Series

This lecture series brings to Columbia University each year prominent scholars in the fields of literature, history, art history, and religion to present on their current research.

All lectures will be held in 403 Kent Hall.

Spring 2012

Friday, March 2, 2:00PM Christian de Pee (U. of Michigan)

Telling Lives in Para/texts: Chen Yunlian (ca. 1810-after 1860) and Her Poetry Collection Xinfangge shicao

Scholarship on Chinese cities of the imperial period has long proceeded in the shadow of Max Weber’s essay on The City, published in 1921. Weber’s concern with urban autonomy and civic institutions has shaped the categories, not only of the proponents of his work, but also of its critics. As a result, both proponents and critics of Weber have neglected the urban texture of their sources—the geographic orientation of literary genres, and the continuity between writing and the experience of urban space. When the Chinese city emerged into writing in the eleventh century, it appeared not as a creation of human artifice, but as an extension of nature. People filled the streets at sunrise and retired at sunset, goods circulated in accordance with the seasons, and the city flourished and faded in an annual cycle of festivals. This organic city may not have resembled Weber’s medieval towns, but it bears a striking similarity to the metropolises of the nineteenth century, whose cultural expression was both parallel to the cultural expression of Song-dynasty cities and directly connected to it.

Thursday, April 12, 4:00PM Catherine Yeh (Boston University)

The Mass Media and the Cult Around the Star Actor in Early Republican China (1910s-1920s)

During the first two decades of the Republican period, the mass media played a pivotal role in propelling actors into the national limelight and promoting a start cult around some actors. While Shanghai as the media and commercial center had since the 1870s taken the lead reshaping Peking Opera around the star actor, it was in Beijing that some of these actors became major figures in the mass media that started to flourish there after the Republican revolution. Beijing now developed a new kind of public patronage culture with the newspapers acting as platform, magnifier, and power broker. It was here that factional fights between supporters of different female impersonators known as dan found their outlets. Passions ran high and also reached the young independent critics who began to articulate theater criticism in the news media.

My lecture will focus on this particular development of the star cult in the Beijing press. In particular, it will focus on the rise of Mei Lanfang to national stardom during the pivotal years of the early Republican period. It will first outline the activities of various Beijing newspapers, including JifuGongyenbao(1908 -), Yaxiyaribao(1913 -), Shuntianshibao(1905- ), and Xijuxinwen(1916 -) in their efforts to promote the dan; it will then focus on the Gongyenbao(1917-1920), a major daily newspaper at the time. The central questions the lecture addresses are the particular ways in which the newspapers shape the image of the star, and the impact of these media on the form of the star culture took.

Thursday, April 19, 4:00PM Christopher Rea (University of British Columbia)

Fall 2011

November 3 Grace Fong (McGill University)

Telling Lives in Para/texts: Chen Yunlian (ca. 1810-after 1860) and Her Poetry Collection Xinfangge shicao

In Late Imperial China we can see a marked increase in materials that frame or present literary collections - what French critic Gérard Genette terms “paratexts.” Poetry collections by women in this period are often “packaged” by multiple paratexts, such as prefaces, inscrip-tional poems, biographies, marginal and interlineal notes or commen-taries, and colophons. These framing devices constitute discursive sites of influence on the public’s reception of the author’s life and work that stand in dialogic relation to the author’s self-representations. This pa-per examines the paratexts and texts in the poetry collection of the woman poet and painter Chen Yunlian. This case study exemplifies the complex, layered, complementary as well as conflicting para/textual strands in the construction of a life history and the assertion of agency.

December 8 Katherine Carlitz (University of Pitssburgh)

The Murderous Mothers-in-Law of Three Ming Chastity-Martyrs: Gender, Family Structure, and the Bureaucratization of Virtue

When we study a different culture from another time, we need to find fruitful points of entry—materials that show us not only the ideals a culture draws on to produce and maintain social harmony, but also the strains that the culture represses or disguises. I will discuss three Ming History cases that expose the strains inherent in the filial ideals and virilocal marriage pattern of the patriarchal, patrilineal Chinese family. In each of these cases, a licentious mother-in-law causes the death of a daughter-in-law who tries to remain virtuous—and who refuses, even on the point of death, to commit the unfilial act of bringing her mother-in-law to justice. Two millennia of Chinese texts had described the ideal society as a harmonious hierarchy rooted in the filial bond, but beneath the ideal harmony seethed avarice and lust—or at any rate, the fear that avarice and lust might break through the idealized surface. Since women came into the family from outside, they were perennially mistrusted as agents of disorder, provokers of desire who could completely overturn the normative structure. And yet patriarchal society required the importation of women into the patriline, to produce descendants. What we’ll see in this presentation is a sort of homeostatic equilibrium—constant stresses within the society, but a system of incentives, rewards, and repressive mechanisms that are just enough to counter the stresses and keep society stable. Women’s chastity-ordeals were a quantifiable measure that could be used by localities and the state in a rational, “modernizing” way, but as we will see from fiction, drama, and folklore, this bureaucratization contained but did not eradicate the fears inherent in the traditional structures. In these stories and in the Ming History cases themselves, fearsome female sexuality stands in for a host of other dangers.

December 13 Jack Chen (UCLA)

The Shishuo xinyu as Data Visualization: Reading a Medieval Chinese Anecdote Collection through Graphs and Maps

Information visualization, in recent years, has taken on increasing prominence within the humanities and social sciences. What is it, however, that visualization provides for disciplines traditionally focused upon discursive and rhetorical analysis? And is the time that is required for the data preparation of a single graph worth it, when the outcome is uncertain, or even perhaps completely obvious? The following paper explores the visualization of the early medieval anecdote collection, Shishuo xinyu, as a test case for such computational approaches. I will try to show how visualization may aid in textual analysis, as well as examine more generally the principles underlying information visualization.