Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Insatiable Women and Transgressive Authority: Constructions of Gender and Power in Early Tang China
by Doran, Rebecca Esther, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2011, 0; 3462771
Abstract (Summary)

My research explores conceptualizations of female power in late seventh and early eighth century China. The period spanning the second half of the seventh century through 713 represents a unique political-cultural space in Chinese history. During this time, the government was dominated by powerful female figures. I analyze the self-presentations of these women in contemporary court literature and the ways in which they were interpreted and portrayed in historical, semi-historical, and fictional accounts in the decades and centuries after their deaths. I analyze the nature and constitutive elements of their (re)construction as literary-historical figures, focusing on the development of archetypes of their power as women and the gradual consolidation of their images in the overarching narrative of history.

My first chapter traces the development of narrative prototypes of female power through detailed analysis of the ways in which earlier female rulers have been portrayed. My second chapter explores the self-image of these women through analysis of the surviving corpus of prose and poetry attributed to them and their courtiers, who were intent on pleasing them through their literary output of praise pieces. The next three chapters treat retrospective constructions of Tang female power-holders in the decades and centuries after their deaths by historians, compilers, and writers. These chapters are organized by theme and deal, respectively, with accounts of their manipulation and/or misinterpretation of cosmic signs, conspicuous consumption and relationships with male consorts.

My study moves beyond the issue of historiographical sexist bias to probe the cultural lenses through which gender roles and expectations become rhetorically codified. I attempt a systematic analysis of the way in which these figures have been negotiated in the literary-historical tradition: what they represent in the moral-cosmic schemas forming various historical and literary narratives; how their legitimacy or de-legitimacy as women rulers is interpreted and appropriated by historians and compilers; and how archetypes of gender and power develop over time and influence their portrayals.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Owen, Stephen, Tian, Xiaofei
School: Harvard University
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 72/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian literature, History, Asian Studies
Keywords: China, Chinese women, Cultural history, Gender construction, Medieval China, Tang dynasty, Transgressive authority
Publication Number: 3462771
ISBN: 978-1-124-73763-8
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