2: The Death of My Talented Sister: Family Loss in Personal Accounts during the Taiping Civil War (1851–1864)
Saturday, March 26, 2022
4:00pm – 5:30pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, United States
Diary on Escape from the Rebels (Bikou riji 避寇日記) is representative of personal accounts about the Taiping Civil War in terms of its direct portrayal of an individual’s experiences during a time of chaos. Emphasizing the materiality of this manuscript and contextualizing it with other historical sources, this paper explores how a member of the male elite struggled to cope with the loss of his elder sister and to negotiate the personal and the public in his commemorations of her in a local gazetteer in the post-war period.
The author of the accounts, Shen Zi (1833–1888), was a native of Zhejiang province. His account runs from March 1860 to September 1864, a period during which his hometown, Puyuan, endured repeated military occupation. The manuscript of his account is composed of fragments and bears the traces of multi-layered editing. In his writings, Shen Zi both bears witness to experiences of women in his family and serves as witness to their testimonies. This paper studies his detailed account of the death of his elder sister, Shen Fen (d. 1860), a woman locally known for her painting and calligraphy. Shen Zi’s revisions of their last conversations demonstrate his struggles to cope with his role as witness of both Shen Fen’s recounting of her tragic experiences and of his own experience of loss. His efforts to manage this loss continued after the war, as shown by the biography he wrote for her that was printed in a local gazetteer.