2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 222

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Rhetorics of Eroticism in Chinese Art and Literature, Song to Ming

Organizer and Chair: Tamara H. Bentley, Colorado College, USA

Rhetorics of Eroticism in Chinese Art and Literature, Song to Ming This panel addresses connections between the rhetoric of Chinese pictorial representations and erotic literary sources, including poetry, drama, and novels. The papers consider paintings and prints from the Song through the late Ming, drawing out the intertextual and intermedia strategies that enrich these works. The first paper focuses on a particular trope, the makeup mirror, examining the implications of its inclusion in Song fan paintings of elite women. The makeup mirror was a motif familiar from traditions of love poetry, where it not only indicated a woman's longing for an absent lover, but also suggested the importance of both interiority and surface in the construction of an idealized feminine persona. Women likely used such paintings as part of a gendered performance. The second paper draws connections between the rhetoric of palace-style poetry and ci poetry and Chen Hongshou's late Ming images of women, particularly his four printed illustrations to the Jiao Hong ji romance drama. Printed back to back with the images, the playwright Meng Chengshun's ci poems on a single object specifically address Chen's pictures and reinforce multivalent symbolisms. Chen's paintings also associate women with complex erotic feelings, underscoring the late Ming interest in qing (emotion). Finally, the third paper examines the appropriation, in late Ming erotic novel illustrations, of decorative borders from designs for letter papers. These reinvented motifs add secondary and tertiary layers of meaning to late Ming illustrations of eroticizing works such as Sui Yangdi yanshi (1631), and complicate our understanding of these narratives.

Interiority and Surface, Gender and Performance: Mirrors and Makeup in Song Dynasty Painting and Poetry
Lara C. W. Blanchard, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, USA

Interiority and Surface, Gender and Performance: Mirrors and Makeup in Song Dynasty Painting and Poetry This paper considers three Song dynasty fan paintings: A Lady at Her Makeup Table (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston); Embroidered Cage, Morning Mirror (National Palace Museum, Taipei); and Lady Watching a Maid with a Parrot (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). These works focus on the unhappy connotations of the theme of the woman at her makeup mirror, a trope familiar from collections of erotic poetry, including palace-style poetry and song lyrics. I examine how these images play upon the tension between interiority and surface, arguing that the successful negotiation of the duality of inner and outer was crucial to the construction of an appropriately feminine persona. The trope of the makeup mirror draws meaning from two separate concepts: first, the connection between examining one’s appearance and cultivating one’s character, and second, the idea that feelings were manifested upon the face. In poetry and painting, not only the superficial aspect but also the heart/mind of a female figure who peers into a mirror should be understood as fully exposed. Makeup has a different rhetorical function than the mirror: where the mirror suggests self-awareness, makeup emphasizes the expression and performance of femininity. Fans had certain public functions, reflecting and presenting – or, alternatively, constructing -- some aspect of the bearer’s identity. Because the fans under discussion engage with the notion that the superficial representation of a woman’s interiority might be essential to the performance of an idealized femininity, I suggest that these paintings potentially had greater significance for a female audience.

Reentangling Word and Image in Chen Hongshou’s Eroticizing Images of Women
Tamara H. Bentley, Colorado College, USA

Reentangling Word and Image in Chen Hongshou’s Eroticizing Images of Women Splitting Chen Hongshou’s late Ming eroticizing images of women from their poetic framework divests them of much of their flavor—therefore my goal in this paper is to reentangle Chen’s images with related literary materials. I begin with Chen’s four printed illustrations to the Jiao Hong ji romance drama (1638), each illustrating the figure of the heroine posed against a blank background holding a single object. The four respective objects are: a flute that closely resembles a ruyi scepter; a Buddhist fly whisk; a feather fan; and a bronze mirror. A ci poem by the Jiao Hong ji playwright Meng Chengshun accompanies each image, addressing each object in turn. Both the images and the poems draw upon the conventions of yongwu ci. In ways clearly tied to Lara Blanchard’s paper, the poem on the mirror begins with the female persona striving to hold up her exterior image (her makeup); while closing with a description of her makeup streaked with tears due to inner emotional distress. The poet revels in the depth of the heroine’s confused emotions , an orientation tied to the late Ming fascination with feeling (including erotic connection). A concluding section links Chen’s paintings Lady Batting at a Butterfly and Woman Leaning against a Perfumer to erotic precedents in palace-style poetry and ci poetry. It considers also the rhetoric of Chen’s images of women which place one art form (such as a folding screen or a painted fan) within another; suggesting parallels with the structural ironies of contemporaneous dramas.

The Pleasure of Reading: Pictorial Commentary in Erotic Novels of the Late Ming
Suzanne E. Wright, University of Tennessee, USA

Letter paper designs preserved in Luoxuan biangu jianpu (1626) and Shizhuzhai jianpu (1644) document a type of visual language seemingly specific to this genre, the use of a single or small number of objects to reference a more complex narrative. This use of synecdoche apparently intrigued other print makers of the period, for imagery inspired by letter paper design appears in a number of other contexts in the 17th century where it provides a secondary, or tertiary, visual commentary. Letter papers are identified as the source for one element in the illustrative program of Sui Yangdi yanshi (Romance of Emperor Yang of the Sui), an erotic historical novel of about 1631. In this narrative, illustrations are paired with poetic excerpts framed by the type of borders found on many stationery papers; each of these frames is made up of imagery that somehow comments on the other pictorial and textual elements. Two other publications with a similar illustrative scheme are Bian er chai, (Cap and Hairpin), and Yichun xiangzhi (Pleasant spring and fragrant character), two collections of homoerotic tales published in the late Ming. These contain narrative images paired with decorative borders surrounding reproductions of single objects, groups of objects, or fragments of scenery. The deliberate obscurity of meaning of many of the designs suggests a certain challenge to the reader where the pleasure of riddling out the relationship of the text and various types of imagery may provide a visual counterpart to the reading of the erotic text. ***PLEASE NOTE REGARDING DISCUSSANTS** We are hoping to ask five or six members of the audience to prepare 5-minute comments on issues of eroticism in Chinese art and literature from their perspective, and also relating to our papers, so we do not have any formal discussants. This is a creative format we would like to try.