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Organizer: C. D. Alison Bailey, University of British Columbia
Chair: Bonnie S. McDougall, University of Edinburgh
Discussant: Katherine Carlitz, University of Pittsburgh
This panel will explore the paradox of disorder as a creative and ordering force in a variety of texts and cultural practices in Ming and Qing China. Confucian orthodoxy has always emphasized order and social harmony, and the fear of disorder seems deeply embedded. The strong cultural anxiety engendered by disorder is underlined by the many social and textual strategies devised to contain it. The panel examines various devices employed to control disorder and restore an ideal(ized) harmony. Certain major moral imperatives will be considered against an emergent hierarchical pattern whereby a greater disorder is often contained by a lesser. The rubrics order/disorder frame a related series of paired concepts touched upon in this panel: containment/excess; public/private; romantic sentiment/excessive desire, society/self; world/text. All four papers explore the creative tension produced through the interplay of these concepts and show how disruptive forces and violations of the status quo are necessary paradoxically not only to undermining that equilibrium, but also to constituting it. The role of disorder seems thus to be constructive, rather than destructive, in shaping textual and cultural practice. And yet disorder, by its very nature, suggests a space where orthodox hierarchies are turned upside down and order subverted. It is the creative potential of disorder that interests the paneliststhat transgressive, potent site where certainties are questioned and dangerous voices have their say, if only for a moment.
Keeping Desire in Order: Qing and Yu in Two Eighteenth-Century Chinese Erotic Novels
Martin W. Huang, University of California, Irvine
This paper will deal with two eighteenth-century full-length novels, Guwangyan (Story Told Just for the Sake of Telling) and Yesou puyan (The Humble Words of an Old Rustic). Both works are only beginning to receive critical attention (especially Guwangyan which was only published for the first time in 1996). I will focus on the issue of qing (romantic sentiments) versus yu (lust, or excessive desire) as it is represented in these two works. Both novels contain lengthy explicit descriptions of sex and both dwell persistently on various phenomena of moral disorder. And yet the idea of qing (pure romantic sentiment) is always invoked to be contrasted with yu; here qing is presented as an ordering force to contain desire, or to bring order to the world of chaotic desire (yu). It is remarkable that these two works full of erotic details should be so obsessed with the vindication of the values of qing. I will focus on the examination of the different strategies these two works adopt to dramatize the tension, and to problematize the distinctions, between qing and yu. I will also look at the question of how these two works are related to Hongloumeng (The Story of the Stone, or, Dream of the Red Chamber) in terms of the representation of qing and yu.
A Fantasy of Perfect Order and Success: The Case of Ruyijun zhuan
Hua Laura Wu, Huron College
The Qing vernacular novel Ruyijun zhuan or The Story of Ruyi narrates a story of perfect order and success. Its protagonist is a prodigy who wins the zhuanyuan title in civil and military examinations at 15; a loyal minister who succeeds in purging enemies at court and pacifying rebellions on the border; a dutiful patriarch who regulates an orderly household, fulfilling his responsibilities as a filial son, a loving husband, a kind father, and a just and fair master.
Structurally, the novel is also an orderly text. The novelist endeavors to incorporate elements of diverse interest and various subgenres into a neatly executed form. It has a narrative rhythm based on 10-chapter demarcations, contrived symmetries among three overarching units, resonating correlations between the prologue and epilogue, as well as certain other schemes of spatial and temporal patterning. Obviously, the novelist attempts to emulate the structural model of previous masterworks. The authors contrived (and deliberate) efforts reveal a profound desire and deep-rooted cultural value that favor order in social and aesthetic terms. Ironically, this fantasy of perfect order and complete success undermines the very credibility and readability of the novel. By investigating the failure of the Ruyijun zhuan, my paper will examine the paradoxical relationship between disorder and aesthetic pleasure, and argue that instances of disequilibrium or insufficiency and their transformation are the very source and momentum from which a successful narrative arises.
Wild Justice? Revenge in Literature and the Law in Late Imperial China
C. D. Alison Bailey, University of British Columbia
Michael Dalby called revenge in China "a very special crime" because it places the filial obligations of the individual at odds with the law. In China the moral obligations of vengeance are tied to issues of filial piety, loyalty, and righteousness, creating a dilemma for Chinese lawmakers themselves inculcated with those central virtues. Vengeance almost invariably calls for retaliatory death, for what Francis Bacon calls, "a kinde of Wild Justice" which "puts the law out of office." Homicide was a serious matter in Chinese law. Yet to take a life in the name of filial piety or loyalty was condoned by many at every level of society. Vengeance was both praised and feared: disorder was perceived to exist until revenge was accomplished, yet the abrogation of state powers by private individuals, except in special cases where the law failed to act, represented another form of disorder. In contrast to their predecessors, the Ming and Qing Codes specified detailed provisions for revenge cases, restricting the circumstances under which private revenge was justifiable. The purpose of this paper is to examine the playing out of revenge in legal and literary texts (particularly drama and huaben stories) in the Ming/Qing transition to see what gaps or tensions might exist between the letter of the law and social and literary practice. Two forms of revenge will be considered: that of the child for its parents and of brother for brother.
Signifying Bodies: Self-Inscriptions and the Female Embodiment of Violence
Grace S. Fong, McGill University
Cultural and historical studies have shown that the female body was a potent site of meaning production in imperial China. From the self-mutilated face of resistance, the sliced-off flesh of filial medicine to the disciplined bound feet, the signification of the female body has been linked to many and shifting levels of representation. This paper explores the relationship of the female body and self-inscription through examining a particular cultural and textual practice in late imperial China. Specifically it studies the phenomenon of death inscriptions produced by "anonymous" women who committed suicide or died violent deaths under varying circumstances. These inscriptions are in the form of poems, the eternalizing voice of self-identity in imperial Chinese culture. Inscriptions relevant to this study include with the poem(s) a self- or autobiographical preface. These prefaces offer details concerning the material medium of inscriptionpaper, silk, wall, cliff, ink, blood, and the manner in which they were produced and to be disposed.
The specific conditions under which these inscriptions are produced are disorder or violence in various formscultural, social, and familialthat threaten the integrity of the female body. These formal and systematic inscriptions construct the integrity and identity of female bodies in/out of disorder by textualizing and transforming them into cultural bodies inscribed with value and order; they are symbolic extensions of the body-self. That these symbolic bodies can be recorded, circulated, and transmitted raises issues on the limits and meanings of female agency.