AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 295

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Session 295: Studies of Lives in Early Modern East Asia: How Selves Were Constructed and Unraveled in China and Korea

Organizer: Ihor Pidhainy, University of West Georgia, USA

Discussant: Kenneth J. Hammond, New Mexico State University, USA

This panel is an exploration of the frenetic interest toward creations of fascinating and intoxicating selves that arose in the early modern period in China and Korea. The reasons for this and the purpose of these created selves are multiple, but there are a few underlying features. These include a need for the self as an expressive aspect of new forces in society – whether those of aesthetics and interest in genres – or whether they were careful construction of decent antecedents in one’s building one’s (family) name. The use of new or expanded forms of writing to capture these – genealogies, gazetteers, autobiographical and occasional writings – allowed the literati to pursue these issues to great lengths. Our papers explore these constructions of selves in a variety of manners. Alison Bailey examines questions concerning genre and the autobiographical fashioning of self in an early Qing writer. Adam Bohnet works out the discovery of Ming loyalists in the genealogies of marginalized migrant lineages in Korea. Ihor Pidhainy reveals the various creations later scholars made of a mid-Ming poet and exile. Lidu Yi examines the uses that a Ming artist made of the landscape and his environment in constructing his own existence. George Zhao questions both the official Korean and Chinese state histories in their portrayals of a Korean Empress of the Yuan Emperor. In sum, these five studies shine light on how selves were constructed in both biographical and autobiographical writings in order to present new persons to the changing world about them.

Interstitial Memories: The Forensic Life of Wang Mingde (fl.1674)
C. D. Alison Bailey, University of British Columbia, Canada

According to Wu Pei-yi the golden age of Chinese autobiography was in the seventeenth century when writers forsook the historiographical model to craft a more fluid genre influenced by vernacular literature. While some self-narratives in this era are couched as nostalgic journeys towards enlightenment, others are more fragmented, surreptitiously slipped into other texts as interlinear commentary, travel literature, or informal jottings. One, albeit unusual, example is Wang Mingde’s Dulü peixi (A Bodkin to Unravel the Law). Wang, a prominent jurist working in the Board of Punishments, inserted into the final part of this highly theoretical text his Supplement to Washing Away of Wrongs, a forensic manual that becomes a space where the personal erupts in interesting ways. It is here that we learn something of Wang’s childhood and where the figure of Wang as meticulous jurist is transformed into a story-teller and memoirist, interspersing his recommendations for cures and advice on how to read forensic signs with tales of ghosts and foxes and memories of his own and family servants’ injuries and illnesses. Wang’s anecdotes combine natural observation, experimentation, practice, hearsay and memory. Much is elided: there is no journey towards self-knowledge, no introspection, nor do the momentous events of the Qing conquest impinge. Instead Wang’s experiences and values are linked specifically and associatively to the forensic problems he outlines in a format that is simultaneously liberating and confining. This paper seeks to interrogate the generic boundaries of autobiography through an examination of Wang’s forensic life.

A House Divided Against Itself: Competing Strands of Ming Loyalist Biography
Adam C. Bohnet, University of Western Ontario, Canada

Both monarchs and elites in Late Choson Korea defined themselves as the last remaining heirs to the fallen Ming dynasty. Biography – of glorious Choson defenders of the Ming, or of Ming Loyalists who took refuge in Choson – was a key aspect of this Ming Loyalist tradition. Late Choson Ming Loyalism was a contested tradition, with court, prominent factions and fallen yangban alike treating loyalty to the Ming as vital even as they asserted their own superior claims as representatives of this loyalty. This is visible especially in the biographies of Ming Loyalists found in the Sohwa oesa, an early nineteenth century Ming Loyalist history. This text, which was produced by a descendent of a Korean martyr to the Ming cause, includes in an appendix a collection of biographies of famous Ming loyalist migrants to Choson. Interestingly, this prosopography quotes from both official histories and from seemingly spurious and seditious accounts, making the biographies, and the selves described in these biographies, represent competing understandings of loyalty.

Lives and Legends of Yang Shen – Creating a Man for All Seasons
Ihor Pidhainy, University of West Georgia, USA

This paper explores the use that the biographies of cultural heroes were put to in the Chinese tradition, focusing on the stories and representations of Yang Shen as seen through the lenses of later Ming and early Qing writers. Yang Shen became in their eyes (and through their brushes) a man who inhabited a special space that only cultural heroes of the past had access to. Whether a great libertine, a wonderful poet, a heroic semi-martyr or a lousy forger and word-smith, Yang appeared almost ubiquitously throughout the later imperial tradition. Those whose gaze lasted longest included Wang Shizhen, the well-known literati whose production as a writer was an attempted match of Yang; Li Zhi, the iconic philosopher who found in Yang a kindred soul; and the mid-Qing scholar Li Tiaoyuan who spent a lifetime promoting and publishing Yang’s papers.

"He wore flowers in his hair" - Understanding a late Ming painter through his mid-Ming subject
Lidu Yi, Florida International University, USA

Reading beyond the visual surface, this paper examines the symbolic meaning of flowers, and of men wearing flowers in Chen Hongshou’s (1598-1652) “Shen An Wearing Flowers in His Hair”. It explores the inner world of Chen Hongshou and attempts to understand the message the artist meant to convey to his intended audience. Looking into the subject matter of the artwork, the paper also investigates how the life experience of Yang Shen (1488-1559) echoed that of the artist. The paper argues that “Shen An Wearing Flowers in His Hair” reflects the artist’s lament about Ming society and politics and it symbolizes the contradictory aspects of Chen’ life at the end of the Ming dynasty.

Life of a Korean Woman at the Mongol Imperial Court: Lady Ki and Her Political Involvement in the 14th Century
George Qingzhi Zhao, Skidmore College, Canada

Korean women played important roles at the Mongol Yuan Imperial Court in the 14th Century. They were initially sent as “tributary women” (Ko. kongnyo) to serve in the Mongol imperial harems and were offered the opportunity to rise at the Yuan court. Yet very few of them left a trace in history and only one particular Korean woman, Lady Ki, was represented fully in a biography in the Yuanshi, the History of the Yuan Dynasty, and she was held to be responsible for the decline of the Mongol dynasty. In the Koryosa, or Korean History, she and her family were accused of “abusing their power to threaten the king” and interfering in Koryo government operations, thus her whole family was annihilated. To explore her life I will investigate these biographies as well as those in unofficial histories (yeshi). In this paper I will argue that Lady Ki’s political involvement at the Mongol court was in fact a means of self-protection while the Korean King Kongmin’s excuses for exterminating her family seem nothing but fabricated lies as the “revolt” never happened.