Women in the Early Modern City: Suzhou and Paris

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Monday, November 7, 2022
12:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Bunche Hall 6275

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This in-person event features two speakers: 

Peng Xu, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance, University of Hawaii at Manoa. 

Ryan Hilliard, Assistant Professor of History, Clemson University.


The Courtesan’s “Role Portrait” and the Suzhou Marketplace in the Late Ming

What is a late Ming courtesan’s portrait? Given the rarity of visual examples that come down to us from the late Ming, what do we talk about when talking about a courtesan’s “portrait?” I argue that it is a role portrait that combines a female icon with a specific erotic story, a static beauty icon that can be animated into an actress with virtuosity in singing and dancing. Mediating between reality and fiction, such a prop portrait can cross the bounds of the physical stage. To the late Ming consumers, it remained suspended, waiting to be reanimated by the copier or the admirer. The meiren tu genre, without being sexually explicit, is erotic, because, for the owners of the copies, eroticism would arise from imagining the painted beauty’s reanimation, a theater of the mind.

Peng Xu teaches Chinese drama and theatrical culture, Asian theater history, and directs Chinese stage productions in the Department of Theatre + Dance at UH Mānoa. Her research and scholarly activities have been sponsored by Henry-Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Society, Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges Fund, and the Center for Chinese Studies at UC Berkeley, among others.

An award-winning singer, she was trained by a master of Peking opera, Mr. Liu Zengfu (1914–2012), in a vocal style popular in the early twentieth century. She also studied with great amateur artists of kunqu opera in the Beijing Kunqu Learned Society.


Sharing a Home, Sharing a Life: Single Women’s Domestic Alliances in Early Modern Paris

In eighteenth-century Paris, unmarried women formed domestic alliances as strategies of survival and alternatives to family. While these associations ranged from long-term cohabitation to affective relations, their defining characteristic was their voluntary nature. Nonetheless, singlewomen’s domestic arrangements resembled and replicated kinship during a period when household membership shifted from coresidential characterizations toward consanguineal qualifications. By coopting language, patterns, and privileges associated with kinship, unmarried women offered legitimacy and even legal protection to their chosen relations. In doing so, they negotiated an increasingly rigid and exclusionary family model without being defined by it.

Ryan Hilliard is a historian of women, gender, and sexuality in early modern France and an Assistant Professor of History at Clemson University. Hilliard received her Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Los Angeles in the spring of 2020. Her research explores the social and cultural history of single women in early modern France, focusing primarily on working-class and bourgeois Parisians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Using court, notarial, and police records, she reconstructs unmarried women’s lived experiences, social networks, and survival strategies to demonstrate their significance in early modern French society. Her research has been supported by the Fulbright Commission, the Social Science Research Council, the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, and the FACE Foundation.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies, UCLA History Gender & Sexuality Colloquium