5. "The Customs of Various Barbarians" by Li Jing (1251 - ?)
Translated by Jacqueline M. Armijo-Hussein
This description of minority peoples from a Yuan dynasty official’s record of his experiences in Yunnan province illustrates how views of gender relations and especially sexual practices served as a measure of the level of civilization among non-Han populations.
6. Selected Writings by Luo Rufang (1515 - 1588)
Translated by Yu-Yin Cheng
In these writings scholar and philosopher Luo Rufang celebrates women who pursue intellectual and philosophical interests. He also champions the virtue of motherly nurturance and love, which he considered as important as the central Confucian virtues of filial piety and brotherly respect.
7. Final Instructions by Yang Jisheng (1516 - 1555)
Translated by Beverly Bossler
Composed in prison, these notes instruct Yang’s wife and sons how to get along without him. His foremost concerns are three: that his family not become the subject of ridicule, that his sons get along with one another, and that his wife—who had already proven herself the moral conscience of the family—not commit suicide.
8. "Record of Past Karma" by Ji Xian (1614 - 1683)
Translated by Grace S. Fong
This autobiographical essay by the woman poet Ji Xian , with its powerful descriptions of dreams, visions, and personal illness, is unusually self-revelatory of the tensions between her personal religious desires and her obligations to her family.
9. "Letter to My Sons" by Gu Ruopu (1592 - ca.1681)
Translated by Dorothy Ko
Having seen to it that both sons married capable and learned wives, Hangzhou poet Gu Ruopu, virtuous widow and matriarch of the Huang family, decided to divide the family property and establish separate households for them. In this letter Gu outlines her support for the Confucian ideal of familism, but admonishes her sons to recognize women’s indispensable roles in the male-centered kinship system.
10. Personal Letters in Seventeenth-Century Epistolary Guides
Translated by Kathryn Lowry
The large number of epistolary guides and collected letters published in the late Ming include models for letters to family members as well as a few examples of love letters and provide a unique view of the social universe of that period. The love letters translated here show how this genre can be read as a sort of epistolary fiction and raise questions about how people might have consulted letter-writing manuals for reasons beyond social etiquette.
11. Letters by Women of the Ming-Qing Period
Translated by Yu-Yin Cheng
These short letters, written in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, reveal the erudition and wit as well as the spiritual and aesthetic sensibilities of highly educated upper-class women.
12. Selected Short Works by Wang Duanshu (1621 - after 1701)
Translated by Ellen Widmer
These short selections from the works of one of the earliest anthologists of women’s writings display the extraordinary range and breadth of her learning, while revealing her personal, aesthetic, and scholarly sensibilities.
13. Two Ghost Stories from Liaozhai’s Records of the Strange by Pu Songling (1640 - 1715)
Translated by Judith T. Zeitlin
The ghost story, authored by men and narrated from the male point of view, is one of the privileged spaces in Chinese literature for exploring fantasies of gender and sexuality. Such tales often involve a passionate affair between a young scholar and a beautiful female ghost who possesses a surprising degree of corporeality. The two late imperial tales translated here share two related themes: the power of love to triumph over death and the cosmic power of male generativity.
14. Two Biographies by Zhang Xuecheng (1738 - 1801)
Translated by Susan Mann
These biographies by one of the most distinguished scholars of the Qing period breathe life into views of women that are sometimes dismissed as mere conventions or stereotypes. In both texts we see, through men’s eyes, how women took responsibility for setting the standards to measure and criticize men’s behavior.
15. Poems on Tea-Picking
Translated by Weijing Lu
These poems about women at work, written mostly by men and spanning the dynasties from Tang through Qing, display the varied meanings of women’s work in the poetic imagery of elite writers and point to the ways in which women as literary subjects supplied a ceaseless range of possibilities for inventive poets over time. The poems also show the subtle relationship between poetry as social criticism and poetry as aesthetic performance in the culture of the late imperial elite.
16. Drinking Wine and Reading "Encountering Sorrow": A Reflection in Disguise by Wu Zao (1799 - 1862)
Translated by Sophie Volpp
In this dramatic tableau the playwright casts herself as the sole speaker. She poses before a portrait of herself cross-dressed as a male scholar and sings to the portrait a sequence of lyrics describing her frustrations as a woman of talent. The text concludes that none but her cross-dressed self-image is a match for the writer herself. Hangzhou poet and official Chen Wenshu, a noted patron of female writers, wrote a collection of poems celebrating this work.
17. A Brief Record of the Eastern Ocean by Ding Shaoyi (fl. 1847)
Translated by Emma Jinhua Teng
During his eight-month stay in Taiwan in 1847 Ding Shaoyi wrote the Brief Record, which treats sixteen topics, among them: taxes, schools, coastal defense, local products, "savage" villages, "savage" customs, and marvels. When he returned to Taiwan in 1871 he appended new material to each item in his original account. The passage translated here is Ding’s 1871 supplement to his original entry titled "Savage Customs."
18. The "Eating Crabs" Youth Book
Translated by Mark C. Elliott
This anonymous bilingual text, in Manchu and Chinese, reflects the complex ethnic picture in late imperial China, particularly in and around Beijing. Youth books were a form of oral performance very popular in the Qing capital. In this particular one, the story is told of a hapless Manchu bannerman and his shrewish Han Chinese wife who run afoul of a pot of feisty crabs.
Glossaries and References