3: Qing Woman Writer Xu Xishen's Taichang Butterfly and the Poetics of Loss
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 312
Florida State University, United States
The butterfly is a significant symbol for connecting the dead and the living in Chinese culture. This image often bears religious significance in many literary texts. This paper will analyze the late imperial Chinese woman writer Xu Xishen’s (1858–1916) poetry and prose on a specific type of butterfly, the Taichang butterfly. The immortal butterfly from the Court of the Imperial Sacrifices (Taichang si) became a prominent literary image among Qing literati. Xu found the link between the butterfly and the human soul pertinent to her writing, for in real life she had lost her two daughters, including a young poet daughter. As the major component of her collections, her writing on the death and afterlife of her daughters represents her interpretation of the absurdity and absence that confronts one who has suffered such untimely loss. In her poems and prose works concerning the immortal Taichang butterfly, Xu creates a compelling literary afterlife of her beloved daughters to fill the void left in her own life. She mixes religious, especially Daoist, elements to transcend the death of her daughters and the despair that haunted her family. While facilitating Xu Xishen in constructing her unique literary images and expressing her personal concerns, the butterfly image also demonstrates Xu’s engagement in the Qing literary fashion regarding the Taichang butterfly.