Gender, Ethnicity, and Empire in Late Imperial and Republican China
3: The Image of Burmese Women in Late Imperial and Republican Chinese Representations
Sunday, March 27, 2022
10:45am – 12:15pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 322B
University of South Carolina, United States
This paper examines late imperial and Republican Chinese portrayals of Burmese women by looking at both verbal and visual texts, including travelogues, poems, biographies, exploration reports, stories, illustrations, and albums. In particular, I explore how the presence of the British, which conquered Upper Burma in the 1885 Anglo-Burmese war, shaped Chinese representations of the Mianren (Burmese) and other indigenous groups in the borderlands. Burmese women had long been depicted as China’s cultural Other. The threat imposed by the British in the region, however, led to a significant change in their image in Chinese representations. In earlier works, despite their alleged barbarity, they are still imagined as having the potential to be “civilized” and “sinicizd.” Some local gazetteers even include accounts of exemplary “barbarian” women who remained steadfast in their loyalty to the Ming even when their male kin switched sides between the Ming and the Mian. The British expansion in the region led not only to territorialization but also to the rise of national and border consciousness among the Chinese. As a result, the figure of the Burmese woman transformed from the “sinicizable” other into the foreign other. In different accounts, she takes on different images—as the cause of the Konbaung dynasty’s fall, as the embodiment of the failed nation of Miandian, or as the victim of British imperialism.