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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Justice Through the Looking Glass: Fiction, Technology, and Law in Late Imperial and Modern China
3: The Gender of Knowledge in Forensic Drama of Late Imperial China
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Vanderbilt University, United States
In premodern China, women’s knowledge was usually associated with domestic work, textile production, various forms of entertainment, and, occasionally, medical practices. Forensic investigation in legal cases was largely considered as outside of the field of women’s knowledge. While crime literature in premodern China frequently features female characters, how do those works represent the gender dimension of forensic knowledge? By examining a group of theatrical works produced mostly in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, this paper demonstrates different depictions of male and female forensic knowledge. It suggests that theatrical works in late imperial China increasingly valorized male forensic knowledge, and at the same time represented female forensic knowledge following two traditions, namely, representations of exemplary women and the construction of shrews. Placing those cases at the interstices between court-case literature, women’s history, and forensic history, the paper suggests that the gendered representations of forensic knowledge in Chinese drama accord with major developments in the history of women and gender.