Wai-yee LiNov 24, 2014
Women and Trauma in Late Imperial Chinese Literature
Harvard University Asia Center 2014
Wai-yee Li's new book explores writing around the Ming-Qing transition in seventeenth-century China, paying careful attention to the relationships of history and literature in writing by women, about women, and/or in a feminine voice. In a series of chapters that showcase exceptionally thoughtful, virtuosic readings of a wide range of texts, Women and National Trauma in Late Imperial Chinese Literature (Harvard University Asia Center, 2014) considers how conceptions of gender mediate experiences of political disorder. The first two chapters trace, in turn, the appropriation of feminine diction by men via a poetics of indirectness, and the use of masculine diction by women as a means of creating a space for political and historical engagement. The book continues from there to consider tropes of avenging female heroes, courageous concubines and courtesans, poet-historians and female knight-errants, chastity martyrs and abducted women, massacre and redemption. The conclusions to each chapter follow these seventeenth-century threads of discourse as they continue to weave themselves into the literature of modern China. It is a thoughtfully conceived and elegantly written study that serves simultaneously as a compellingly argued story and a reference packed with detailed readings of gorgeously translated primary texts.