China and Inner Asia
Session Abstract: This interdisciplinary panel brings together four presentations on female chastity in early modern vernacular literary and cultural contexts, including jiefu (chaste widows) and zhennü (faithful maidens). Covering a wide diversity of baojuan (precious scrolls), shanshu (morality books), tanci (prosimetrical fiction), and qin (zither) songs from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century, this panel explores how fictional and historical heroines’ personal aspirations for chastity find manifold expressions in vernacular religious narratives, wartime fictional narratives, and women’s self-endorsing zither songs. Female chastity, rather than being treated merely as the expression of a woman’s passionate display of devotion to a husband or deceased fiancé through suicide or celibacy, could be a vehicle channeling a woman’s devotion to express filial love, religious devotion, moral fortitude, or aspirations of social justice. How do vernacular imaginations of chaste heroines portray women’s religious pursuits and renovate their status in the Confucian family system? How do female sainthood and religious experiences contribute to more nuanced understandings of women’s physical and spiritual chastity? In what ways could a zither song express and validate the moral aspirations of a pious widow? How did war, disorder, and displacement transform a female author’s visions of women’s chastity, martyrdom, and political loyalism? Ultimately, this panel invites attention to the specific differences in the ways devout widows and faithful maidens were fashioned in various early modern vernacular traditions, and how such vernacular discourses of female chastity could yield more situated insights about historical or fictional women as adept, active, and autonomous subjects.
Paper Presenter: Zeyuan Wu
Paper Presenter: Li Guo – Utah State University
Paper Presenter: Xiaosu Sun – Nanjing Normal University
Paper Presenter: Katherine Alexander – University of Colorado, Boulder