The Burden of Female Talent: The Poet Li Qingzhao and Her History in China

The Burden of Female Talent: The Poet Li Qingzhao and Her History in China

by Ronald C. Egan


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Widely considered the preeminent Chinese woman poet, Li Qingzhao (1084-1150s) occupies a crucial place in China's literary and cultural history. She stands out as the great exception to the rule that the first-rank poets in premodern China were male. But at what price to our understanding of her as a writer does this distinction come? The Burden of Female Talent challenges conventional modes of thinking about Li Qingzhao as a devoted but often lonely wife and, later, a forlorn widow. By examining manipulations of her image by the critical tradition in later imperial times and into the twentieth century, Ronald C. Egan brings to light the ways in which critics sought to accommodate her to cultural norms, molding her "talent" to make it compatible with ideals of womanly conduct and identity. Contested images of Li, including a heated controversy concerning her remarriage and its implications for her "devotion" to her first husband, reveal the difficulty literary culture has had in coping with this woman of extraordinary conduct and ability. The study ends with a reappraisal of Li's poetry, freed from the autobiographical and reductive readings that were traditionally imposed on it and which remain standard even today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674726697
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 02/17/2014
Series: Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series , #90
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 896,172
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Ronald C. Egan is Professor of Sinology in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford University.

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Maps viii

Abbreviations and Editions ix

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Women as Writers in the Song Dynasty 9

Courtesans as Poets 14

Literati Women as Poets 20

Poets of Repute 27

Chapter 2 Writing and the Struggle for Acceptance 44

Li Qingzhao on Reading and Writing 45

The Early Critics on Li Qingzhao 55

Li Qingzhao's Shi Poetry and the Masculine Mode 64

"On Song Lyrics" 75

Chapter 3 Song Lyrics Preliminaries 91

The Authenticity Question 91

The Autobiographical Reading Problem 105

Why Are Women Poets Read That Way? 109

Why Did Zhao Mingcheng Not Send Letters Home to Li Qingzhao? 114

Chapter 4 Widowhood, Remarriage, Divorce 130

Fleeing the Jurchen and the Death of Zhao Mingcheng 131

Remarriage and Divorce 145

Larger Issues 158

Chapter 5 Writings from the Aftermath 163

Poems Addressed to Emissaries 164

Writings on Capture the Horse 175

Chapter 6 The "Afterword" 191

Looking beyond the Text 200

Other Aims and Considerations 207

Chapter 7 The Beginnings of "Li Qingzhao": Reception during the Southern Song and Yuan 213

The Misery of Her Later Years 213

Devotion to Zhao Mingcheng 217

Stories in the Unofficial Biography 221

The Epitome of the Lonely Woman 227

In Early Anthologies 231

Chapter 8 Saving the Widow, Denying the Remarriage: Reception during the Ming and Qing 237

The Ming-Qing Rise of Women's Writing 237

The Iconic Woman Poet 240

Wang Shizhen's Matching Song Lyrics 243

The Multitalented Woman, "Genuine" Words 247

The Remarriage of Widows, Yuan through Qing 251

Moral Condemnation of Li Qingzhao 258

Disbelief and Exasperation 262

Denying the Remarriage 264

The Reconstituted Li Qingzhao in the Late Qing 277

Chapter 9 Modernism, Revisionism, Feminism: Reception in Modern Times 283

May Fourth Period Histories of Chinese literature 283

The Remarriage Controversy, 1957-2010 288

The Concubine or Other Woman Question 305

Chapter 10 Song Lyrics, Part 1 322

Rewriting Earlier Lines 325

The Outdoors 335

A Peculiar Mood 339

Women in Song Lyrics by Male Writers 346

Chapter 11 Song Lyrics, Part 2 356

Songs of Flirtatiousness 356

Other Late Attributions 367

Contours of Affection and Preconceptions 373

Conclusion 385

Appendix 1 Song Lyric Piece Numbers and Finding List 393

Appendix 2 Recent Interpretations of Particular Poems on the Concubine Issue 395

Works Cited 403

Index 415

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