To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
China and Inner Asia
In Session: Negotiating Ethnicity and Gender on Imperial Frontiers: A Multidisciplinary Lens on Intersectionalities in Tang China
3: Man Men: Nanzhao Masculinities in the Stele of Transforming Virtue and Illustrated History
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, United States
The Nanzhao Kingdom (640-903), centered in what is now Yunnan province, occupied a strategic position between Tang and Tibet. As Nanzhao expanded over the eighth and ninth centuries, its court produced two important records of its politico-religious role: the 766 Dehua bei (Stele of Transforming through Virtue) justified Nanzhao's new alliance with Tibet by pointing to the deceitful behavior of Tang officials, while the 899 Nanzhao tuzhuan (Illustrated History of Nanzhao) offered a visual and textual narrative of how the first Nanzhao rulers received their mandate from none other than the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. This paper argues that the Nanzhao court’s Confucian and Buddhist self-representation not only engages Tang ethnic discourse about man (southern “barbarian”) identities, it also engages discourses of masculinity. In fact, these two works demonstrate how gendered and ethnic discourse necessarily intertwine, even when texts do not explicitly discuss either topic. The Dehua bei presents the Nanzhao ruler and his court as being virtuous, educated Confucians who have been wronged by the supposed standard-bearers of Confucian masculinity, the Tang court, and its officials. Later, the Nanzhao tuzhuan adds to this image by further incorporating images of Indian Buddhist masculinity as another source of political authority, while still taking care to visually distinguish Nanzhao rulers and officials from some of their subjects, who illustrate the martial masculinity often associated with man men. This paper brings together work on ethnicity in medieval China by Shao-yun Yang and Marc Abramson, as well as Kam Louie’s work on masculinities in Chinese history.