May 9, 2021, 12:00:00 AM
Poetry and the Literacy of Imperial Women in the Ming Dynasty
Presenter / Panelists
Ellen Soulliere , Honorary Research Associate, School of Humanities, Massey University, University of New Zealand
Cynthia Brokaw, Chen Family Professor of China Studies, Professor of History and East Asian Studies, Brown University
The first empress of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) had such humble beginnings, her impoverished family gave her away to be raised in the household of a local military leader in present day Anhui Province, towards the end of the Yuan dynasty. In 1352, she married an insurgent soldier of equally humble origins, Zhu Yuanzhang. He went on to become the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty and she the empress of a dynasty that would last nearly 300 years. Her literacy and that of many other women who were members of the imperial family and the imperial household became an important part of the narrative of the history of the Ming dynasty. The ability to read and write poetry was a key facet of women’s literacy.
In recent years, scholars have identified a dramatic increase in the number of collections of poetry published by Chinese gentry women and courtesans from the middle of the 16th century onwards. They have also drawn attention to the high levels of literacy of imperial women poets of the Tang and Song dynasties. A handful of poems can confidently be attributed to imperial women and women officials of the Ming dynasty. A close reading of some of these poems provides new perspectives on their literacy and insight into their thoughts, feelings, and distinctive voices within complex and rapidly changing historical contexts from the 14th to the early 16th century.
Please join us for an exploration of women's literacy and their self expression through poetry during a fascinating period in Chinese history.
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