2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 110

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Men in Mourning: Bereavement, Memory, and Gender in Late Imperial - Sponsored by the Society for Ming Studies

Organizer: Martin W. Huang, University of California, Irvine, USA

Chair: Robert E. Hegel, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

Discussant: Grace S. Fong, McGill University, Canada

This panel explores the relationship between gender and mourning. As in many traditional cultures, in traditional Chinese culture, most writings about women were produced by men rather than women themselves and most of the images of women accessible to us today were constructed through the mediation of male consciousness. Probably nowhere was such mediation more prominent and more complex than in the elegies and epitaphs on the deceased women written by their grieving husbands. It should offer us an interesting opportunity to examine how womanhood was constructed by men in a polygamous society and how such male reflections on womanhood in turn helped define these grieving authors’ own manhood in relation to their spouses and their male peers. Both Carltiz and Huang look at the deviations from the “biographical norms” as a result of the biographer being also the mourner of his female biographical subject in terms of “the inflection of the language of mourning” and “re/negotiating wifely exemplariness;” examining the late Ming writer Song Maocheng’s elegiac writings, Struve focuses on the central role of his wife as “a maternal perpetuator of the patriline, preserver of household harmony and resources, and devoted spouse;” Barr explores the implications of the “voice and person” in several early Qing writers’ elegiac writings and the possible reasons behind the choice of a particular elegiac form. Composed of historians and literary scholars, this panel contributes to a better and more nuanced understanding of how late imperial men mourned the deaths of their female family members.

Voice, Person, and Form in Early-Qing Tributes to Wives
Allan H. Barr, Pomona College, USA

Focusing on a cluster of works by seventeenth-century authors, this paper examines elements that mediate male authors’ expressions of grief and shape the images of their deceased wives. In these works the male voice tends to dominate, although the wife’s words are often recalled and sometimes even take pride of place. Person is a second variable, as references to the wife in the third person may give way to direct forms of address using second-person formulae that convey emotional weight. Finally, the choice of literary form—biography, epitaph, elegiac address, poem, etc.—has a significant bearing on the effect achieved, with authors sometimes writing in multiple genres and creating a complex interplay between them. The texts studied include a biography and poem by the Zhejiang scholar Chen Que (1604-77); epitaphs written by the Jiangxi Ming loyalist Xu Fang (1619-71) and the Shandong author An Zhiyuan (1628-1701); a funeral oration by the Guangdong poet Chen Gongyin (1631-1700); and commemorative writings by the writer of strange tales, Pu Songling (1640-1715). These texts present illuminating accounts of women's lives, set against the backdrop of the turmoil of the Ming-Qing transition, paying pay close attention to what are presented as distinctively female virtues, often contrasted to flaws or foibles on the part of their husbands. A comparison to memorials dating from the final years of the Ming period, in the form of Ye Shaoyuan’s (1589-1648) tributes to his wife Shen Yixiu (1590-1635), helps to highlight what is distinctive about these early-Qing texts.

Tropes and Personalities: How did men inflect the language of mourning for their mothers, sisters, and daughters?
Katherine Carlitz, University of Pittsburgh, USA

This paper studies the language used by six mid-Ming men as they mourned the deaths of their wives, mothers, and sisters. I will look at writings by Wang Jiusi (1468-1551), Kang Hai (1475-1541), Li Mengyang (1475-1529), He Jingming (1483-1521), Li Kaixian (1502-1568), and Gui Youguang (1506-1571). My earlier work on epitaphs by all of these figures will give me a basis for examining special characteristics that emerged when they wrote about the women in their own families. I will ask whether there are tropes in commemorative language that all of these men share, and I will see whether there are consistent characteristics that mark these writers off from each other. My basic hypothesis is that there was a fairly standard mid-Ming language of mourning for women, but that these tropes could be inflected quite differently depending on the personality of the writers. The language of mourning was also a language of display, in which the writers intended to make their own qualities known to a public of their peers.

Song Maocheng’s Matrixes of Mourning and Regret
Lynn A. Struve, Indiana University-Bloomington, USA

Through the many poems of loss and commemorative essays in the collected works, Jiuyue ji, of Song Maocheng (1569–1620), we can discern three matrixes of association among the author and his deceased loved-ones: (1) a patrilineal matrix in which the a salient theme is the rupture or felt-failure of paternal and avuncular care and guidance of male children in the patriline; (2) a female-domestic matrix in which losses engendered feelings of guilt, either for partial responsibility in the deaths or for inability to properly recompense female care and self-sacrifice within the household; and (3) a female-sensual matrix in which the loss of feminine sympathy, comfort, and beauty—whether to death or to parting—dominate the aesthetic. These three matrixes overlap in the wife’s roles as maternal perpetuator of the patriline, preserver of household harmony and resources, and loving, devoted spouse unto death and beyond. The centrality of the wife’s role is reflected most strikingly in the long, moving “Eulogy, with Preface” that Song wrote for his first wife, née Yang , who died in Song’s absence shortly after giving birth to his first son in the third year of their marriage. Despite remarriage and the acquisition of multiple concubines, Song also wrote five sets of poems in memory of his first wife, who frequently entered his dreams for many years after her death.

Negotiating Wifely Exemplariness: Guilt, Redemption and Grieving Husbands in 17th-century China
Martin W. Huang, University of California, Irvine, USA

In traditional China the biographical account of a person’s life was often justified in terms of his or her exemplariness. I am particularly interested in the question how the narrative of a woman’s life could be shaped differently when its author happened to be someone who had enjoyed an intimate relationship with her such as that between husband and wife. In other words, I am intrigued by the gender implications of the biographical act aiming at a female subject while this act was also part of a mourning (daowang) process on the part of a bereaved husband and how, consequently, the Confucian biographical norms were circumvented or even challenged. I will focus on the elegiac writings of several seventeenth-century writers, such as Ye Shaoyuan (1589-1648), You Tong (1618-1704) and Zhang Zhen (1737-1712), to look into the process in which “wifely exemplariness” was negotiated or redefined by a biographer/husband in mourning, whose deep sense of personal loss and guilt as the surviving husband might have caused him to depart, sometimes inadvertently, from the Confucian biographical norms of the exemplary and enabled him to look at his deceased spouse from a different perspective, betraying aspects of himself as a Confucian man otherwise not obvious to others or even himself.