The Tangyue Memorial Archways (棠樾牌坊群) in Sexian County, Anhui province includes an archway dedicated to a woman who refused remarriage and and raised her stepchild after the death of her husband.
The selection above:
Variations of the image above appear frequently in Chinese-language searches of "Li Bai and Du Fu."
Guest speaker on Li Bai and Du Fu in Chinese literary culture (Lei Pan)
Guided analysis (philosophy):
Pair analysis (gender analysis):
Homework: Assignment #405
Background (3-5 minutes)
“Yingying’s Story” is credited to Yuan Zhen (元稹, 779-831) due to the extended poem in the latter part that is introduced by Stephen Owen, the translator, with the phrase “I, Yuan Zhen of He-nan, completed . . .” (Owen, 547). The first person reference is not present in the original (“河南元稹，亦續生 . . .”), though this may be a reasonable reading at a time when deliberate ambiguity may have served to shield the author from being dismissed for engaging in such a trivial pursuit as short-story writing. It is even possible that this is something of “an autobiographical work” (Owen, 540). Today, Yuan Zhen is remembered for what Victor Mair describes as “perhaps the most celebrated of all classical-language short stories. . . [and] probably the best known of all Chinese love stories” (Mair, 851).
In today’s class we will tackle three tasks: (1) mapping the story, (2) identifying gender norms, and (3) working in a team to develop your own lesson plan connecting the story to gender analysis.
Mapping the story (20 minutes)
Using the chart in the linked Google Doc, work together as a class to map out the story. By default I have divided out the story into 5 parts, though feel free to use anywhere from 4-6 depending on what you feel is appropriate. After providing a brief section title, give a 1-2 sentence summary. If you want to add links to images or other materials please do so. You will have about 20 minutes to complete this task.
Gender analysis (20 minutes)
Now that you have mapped out the story, consider what you can learn about Tang-era expectations about gender and sexuality based on this story. I have provided you three key words: virtue, desire, and shame. Your role, again, as a class, will be to agree on 6 statements (2 for each theme) backed by corresponding evidence. You will again have about 20 minutes to complete this task. Please continue your work on the shared Google Doc.
Lesson plan (30 minutes of preparation plus time remaining for presentation and reflection)
In the second half of class, you will tasked with taking over the role of the teacher by conceptualizing a lesson plan that could plausibly be used in a future iteration of “Living China’s History.” For the purpose of this exercise, imagine that all other parts of the course are unchanged: our learning goals are the same from the perspective of the course and the unit. If you were to be tasked with planning a 45-minute lesson related to “Yingying’s Story” around the broad topic of gender in the context of the Tang era, how would your lesson unfold?
You will have 30 minutes to prepare a lesson plan with additional time allotted for presentation and a group debrief. Please work in your “Three Kingdoms” groups.
Your lesson plan should include:
Student presentation on Yang Guifei (Chloe Powell)
Historian Natalie Davis: “Our goal is to understand the significance of the sexes, of gender groups in the historical past. Our goal is to discover the range in sex roles and in sexual symbolism in different societies and periods, to find out what meaning they had and how they functioned to maintain the social order or to promote its change.”—Natalie Zemon Davis, “Women’s History in Transition: The European Case,” Feminist Studies, 3 (Winter 1975-76), 90.
Gender in China
One pattern that repeats itself in relation to the study of gender and sex is the notion of binaries. China is no exception, and the male/female split is reproduced through at least two other important dichotomies:
Separately but relatedly, there are common tropes of elite positioning and imperial intrigue, namely:
Gender in Yang Guifei's story
All of the above factors collide in the story of Wu Zhao’s grandson, the Emperor Xuanzong (玄宗), whose “long reign, from 712 until 756, marked both the high point of Tang power and Tang culture as well as the dramatic beginning of a long and tortuous period of decline. In the early years of his reign, Xuanzong seemed to embody all the virtues of a great Chinese emperor, a philosopher-king who was both a conscientious administrator and a brilliant intellectual. Xuanzong’s court became the center of high culture in the mid-Tang. He established schools and libraries, presided over elaborate and beautiful state ceremonies, and patronized poets and artists, all without forgetting his duties in setting fair taxes, keeping government expenses under control, and maintaining social order and peace on the borders.” —Paul S. Ropp, China in World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 59-60.
So what changed? The An Lushan Rebellion broke out (755-763):
What did Yang Guifei have to do with this?
“Clearly Yang Guifei’s is a myth of womanhood that conflates the collapse of the empire with the sexual fall of the ruler, comparing the seductive powers of a woman to the treacherous powers of a general, and rendering the narration of the dynastic cycle in sexualized and even romantic language. Many historians, in fact, locate the major turning point in Chinese history at precisely this moment in time, the outbreak of the rebellion of An Lushan, placing Yang Guifei at history’s linchpin.”—Susan Mann, “Presidential Address: Myths of Asian Womanhood,” The Journal of Asian Studies 59, no. 4 (2000), 835-62.
As far as I know, if there had been a standard tune to accompany “The Song of Lasting Regret” (長恨歌) by Bai Junyi (白居易), it has been lost through time. However, YouTube contributors are doing their best to recreate the feel. Let’s listen to about a minute of the opening lines.
Next, take a moment to process what you have heard from Chloe and from me. Review the poem with a peer to:
Finally, we will return around the table to consider these questions together and further explore the broader theme:
Homework: Assignment #404
Student presentation on Wu Zhao (武曌) (Huy Do)
Next, we will review the questions above together and then proceed to take up a few areas related to our “consider” questions, specifically:
Homework: Assignment #403
Debrief on Parent’s Weekend
We left off in 280 and will not pick up story again until 618. What happened in the middle?
What should we note about this period?
Yan Hongzi (嚴宏滋), “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove,” 18th century, Princeton University Art Museum.
Map: “The World of Asian Buddhism” in Robert Strayer, Ways of the World: A Brief Global History with Sources (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011), 400.
Sui reunited country through conquest in 581.
Succeeding Tang (618–907) and Song (960–1279) dynasties viewed in different ways as “Golden Age” due to:
Maps: “Tang China” (above) and “Shifting South” (below) in Patricia Ebrey, The Cambridge Illustrated History of China, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 110 and 137.
As you can see, much we could cover. We will focus mainly on gender while continuing our crossover between history and literature with examination of a Tang-era short story and some examples of celebrated poetry
Approaching Gender in Chinese History: Group work and discussion
Today, we are going to break out into four groups examining short selections drawn from Patricia Ebrey, “Women, Marriage, and the Family in Chinese History,” in Paul S. Ropp, ed., Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 197-223.
First, read the selection relevant to each group:
When we return as a group, we will share our findings and work toward a common understanding on the following topics:
Homework: Assignment #402