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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Panel: Discourses of Chastity in Early Modern Vernacular Literature and Culture
3: Chastity and Female Sainthood in Religious Vernacular Literature
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Nanjing Normal University, United States
This paper explores the representation of chastity in religious vernacular literature by looking at vitas of religious women in Ming-Qing popular religious narratives. Focusing on a 19th century morality book, Nanhai ji (Story of the South Sea), revelation of Guanyin produced in a spirit-writing séance, as well as a few of its literary predecessors, it explores the motifs of female hagiographies such as violence, threat, sacrifice, austere fasting, sexual temptation and pollution. It reexamines the recurrent patterns of female religious experience, asking whether the bodily sacrifice, such as gegu is always successfully executed, and whether there is always a reconciliation with the family. It pays attention not only to faithful maidens who resisted marriage or rape, but also to pious wives and mothers who lived in chaste marriage in their search for spiritual enlightenment. It investigates the dimensions of female sainthood and probes the differences between physical chastity and spiritual chastity. It also asks whether and why saintliness rises from chastity, and how the virtue of chastity as well as the role of gender in constructing sainthood represents cultural beliefs.