1: Changing Notions of Gender in the Context of Sixth-century Cosmopolitanism
Sunday, March 27, 2022
9:00am – 10:30am EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 323C
University of California, Los Angeles, United States
Late Northern Wei Luoyang was a dynamic urban centre characterized by a multi-ethnic population and an explosion in the building of Buddhist infrastructure. As regent from 515–528 CE, the infamous Empress Dowager Ling (née Hu) 靈太后胡氏 (d. 528) is emblematic of the city’s vitality as well as its chaos. A woman of Han descent working within a Tuoba imperial line and perhaps, also, Luoyang’s most fervent patron of Buddhists and their projects, the Empress Dowager manifested a new form of womanhood on the rise in the 6th century—a cosmopolitan womanhood whose boundaries were flexible and whose sources were diverse. This paper will explore the ways in which Luoyang’s urban cosmopolitanism enabled a marked change in the lives of women that built upon a creative synthesis of the three heritages of Han imperial structures, Xianbei notions of the public lives of women, and the burgeoning presence of urban Buddhist nuns, many of whom were literate and deeply involved in the cultural and economic life of the city. This creative re-envisioning of what it meant to be a cosmopolitan woman allowed for a certain challenge to then-existing patriarchal social structures, which had both serious and long-lasting consequences throughout Chinese history: Empress Dowager Ling attempted to place girl child on the throne and, 150 years later, another cosmopolitan women with Northern Wei connections, Wu Zetian 武則天 (r. 690–705), was able to take the throne herself.