China and Inner Asia
Session Abstract: Contemporary discussions of race, ethnicity, and gender in premodern China often gloss over the complexity and nuance of these problematic issues, especially in the medieval period when foreigners traveled to and from China along the Silk Roads. Chinese, who then identified with a patriarchal social order and Confucian culture, often found in women and ethnic minorities a perplexing, threatening, and sometimes desirable “otherness.” We gather four scholars in social history, art history, religious studies, and literature to explore contested understandings of gender and ethnicity that reshaped the biopolitical and ethnocultural landscape of the Tang frontiers. Ping Yao examines the signatories in female associations in the patriarchal society of the Tang’s multi-ethnic border town of Dunhuang. Megan Bryson demonstrates how masculinity played a role in ethnopolitical struggles between the Tang and Nanzhao kingdoms. Ingrid Furniss explores visual and textual representations of pipa-playing, animal-riding performers, which exhibit Tang attitudes towards gender and ethnic identity. Baoli Yang presents the transformations of the Dunhuang Wang Zhaojun prosimetric text to illustrate how gendered affects ultimately rejected the Han Chinese’s supremacy. We examine the impact of Chinese patriarchal and imperial pressure in domestic and interethnic contexts, as well as the role that representational politics played in developing the “image” of women and ethnic minorities in the Tang dynasty. We also investigate self-empowering and self-censoring strategies that such suppressed individuals and groups might have adopted. We aim to use this gendered and multi-ethnic kaleidoscope of Tang China to provide reflective lessons for our modern world.
Paper Presenter: Baoli Yang – Brown University
Paper Presenter: Ping Yao – California State University, Los Angeles
Paper Presenter: Megan Bryson – University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Paper Presenter: Ingrid M. Furniss – Lafayette College