Images and Roles of Gentlewomen

A. Portraits of Gentlewomen

Note: this whole chapter is old text; will have to be heavy revised to consider possibility of some pictures of gentlewomen having been painted principally for other women, in line with my "Paintings for Women?" article. Also recent writings on increased participation in cultural activities by guixiu, gentlewomen, from early Qing. These are taken account of in PUP, not so much here. References are generally old, sometimes incomplete. If, as we have seen, portrayals of courtesans and concubines as objects of desire exhibit identifying characteristics, so do paintings of "respectable" women, those from gentry families, principal wives and daughters, who are portrayed in different guises and circumstances from the concubines and for different purposes. They are often identified in accompanying inscriptions as the wives or daughters or sometimes mothers of notable men--it is less common for them to be presented independently of any relationship to a male. Gentlewomen appear in their portraits, as we might expect, in proper, often conventional images; they have prepared themselves for public viewing and are introduced to us decorously, as the women themselves might be to guests, situated in the private but not intimate spaces of gardens and reception halls. (Fill in when ptgs located & photos available: Proper portraiits of women in interiors: one in Nelson Gal.? heavy-set woman w. necklace, fig. 3/1. One in Nanjing Mus.? fig. 3/2. Two in gardens: one early 18th century in date, by Gu Fang & Shen Ying, Nelson Gal., represents an unknown woman, fig. 3/3; other, dated 1790, portrays the woman poet and artist Wang Yüyan painting orchids, fig. 3/4. Both are collaborations between professional portraitists and landscape artists who filled in the settings. ) Zeng Qing and Yü Zhiding, prominent portraitists of late Ming & early Qing, respectively, don't seem to have ptd women? (any real portraits by either of them? But Chen Hongshou did, portrait of Lai Lu-chih, 1637 (considered below) Long insc.: give gist.] [Here: brief discussion of women portrayed as looking out at viewer, continuing from end of ch. I. Gentlewomen & meiren have this in common, but different implications: along w. pose, settings, other elements, induce us to read them differently. Both can be cool stare; in meiren, often involves challenge, engagement; gentlewomen more aloof, both postures & faces deliberately inexpressive.] [Some leakage: gentlewomen in ptgs of them, or portraitists portraying them, can adopt some limited, relatively innocuous features of meiren ptgs: woman in Gu/Shen ptg, for instance, holds Buddha's-hand fruit; another holds ju-i scepter. Not invitational, in this context. Refer to passage in early part of PUP Ch. 5, where question of portraits vs. meiren dealt with—in literature, one often mistaken for other, but this is literary convention.]

The major portrait specialists of the Ming-Qing transition, such as Zeng Qing and Yü Zhiding, seem not to have painted serious portraits of individual women, but these appear increasingly in the 18th century and later, a development that parallels the well-studied increase in the rate of literacy and opportunity for individual achievement by women in this period. Add: Become stronger, more individualized, generally finer in later 19c--examples by Ren Bonian (working in collaboration w. portraitists) etc. Figs. 3/5, 6, 7, 8. Bright little girl? IYiyuan Duoying 10, 26. For this, cf. Susan Mann in Engendering China p. 32-34: on precocious little girls. Double portraits of man & woman from Ming onward. Good example from early Qing: Yü Zhiding No--other artist in Palace Mus., Beijing, fig. 3/9. Interior. Woman holds hand of little boy, who holds peach; they watch two cats playing w. another peach. Man and male servant; female servant lower l., ladling wine? from pot. Find this, identify. Outdoor one: large horiz. ptg with seals of Hu Yung, unident. Christie's auction, June 4, 1986, no. 110; ink and colors on paper, 94 x 161.5 cm. Two seals of Hu Yung. Fig. 3/10. No: just make ref. to section on family portraits in PUP, including this (Fig. 4.19 there). In this early 19th century family group portrait by a minor master named Hu Yung, the wife is given a distinct identity, equal to that of the husband; she dominates the further porch, with her daughters around her, as he does the nearer one with his sons. Anon. ptg. in BM, family group portrait: no sig. or seal, fig. 3/11. (= PUP 4.18) Naive but charming. Late 18c? Six main figures: three men, father & two sons? and three women, presum. their wives, plus children (all boys?) and servants. Handscroll ptg. in Tientsin Munic. Mus., known to me only in small, unclear reprod, fig. 3/12 and 3/13. (= PUP 4.17.) But even from this, appears to be important addition to body of works of this type: agrees in all features w. productions of "urban professionals." Artist given as a certain Ch'ang-yin, unidentified. Hope to see & study. This is surely depiction of particular household, done to be treasured w/in it, shown to guests; kind of group portrait in setting of rich villa. This all belongs in discussion of portraits of families in their domestic settings—in PUP Ch. IV. The women in these true portraits, especially when they are shown alone or with servants, are presented as relatively self-sufficient, with projects of their own, and as individuals--this in contrast to the generic paintings of beautiful women, in which the aspect of waiting sets them into a provisional status, and the very requirement of ideal beauty more or less precludes individualization, dictating instead conformity to a currently favored type. Even in dual or group portraits, however, when the wife was young and assumedly beautiful, or when she was perhaps a second wife or concubine, she was always in danger of being subsumed into the generic type. (But see passage toward end of "Ptgs for Women?" in which it is suggested that this was what women preferred.) Two portraits by Yü Zhiding, painted in 1697 (fig. 3/14) and 1705 (fig. 3/15), exemplify along with many others what we might term the "real man and artificial woman" pairing, in which the female participants, while they must represent particular people, are reduced to playing roles (holding his baby, playing the qin (zither) to entertain him), and serve along with other elements of his surroundings--the sword, the cypress tree, the books--to characterize and aggrandize the man.

Their images conform so completely to artistic conventions that they appear to belong to the realm of art, along with the rocks and trees, and are denied the real-world status that the men can claim by their substantial presences and individualized faces. Chinese representations of women, as we will continue to note, often accord them only a kind of contingent existence. The visual separation of levels of seeming reality is even more complex in a portrait handscroll painted jointly by the late Ming figure master Chen Hongshou and two others, in which the three participants in the garden scene are represented in three separate modes (fig. 3/16.) At the two extremes, both within the picture space and on the scale between reality and artifice, are the subject, a certain He Tianzhang, and the servant playing a flute: He Tianzhang projects a real-life substantiality that is totally absent from the diminutive image of the flute-player, who is rendered in Chen Hongshou's archaistic linear manner with elongated head and unarticulated body. Occupying a position midway between these two in location, in size, and in mode of representation is the young woman, presumably Ho's wife or concubine (detail, fig. 3/17.) The argument might be made that in portraying the woman as a perfect exemplar of current criteria of beauty, the artist is flattering her. But again, it is rather the man who is being flattered, for possessing a consort of such loveliness; she is presented more as an attribute of his than as an individual. The branch of blossoming plum on the fan she displays pertains more to him than to her, standing for his continuing virility, like the plum tree which even in old age flowers each spring. Again see passage twd. end of "Ptgs for Women?" "Move this practice from victim column to agent column?" When, by contrast, Chen Hongshou (working again in collaboration with a professional portraitist) does a true portrait of Lou Yüede (1599-1651), the wife of one of his relatives, he allows her to be plainer but also to be a real person (fig. 3/18.)

The bamboo painted on the fan she holds represents sterner Confucian virtues of uprightness and integrity, and presumably attributes those virtues to her. B. Roles and Occupations of Gentlewomen in Paintings A survey of Ming-Qing paintings in which women appear permits us not only to identify the sets of conventions that separate pictures of gentlewomen or respectable women (I drop the quotation marks without meaning to accept all the implications of the term) from those of courtesans and concubines, but also to make lists or repertories of the roles and activities considered suitable for each. Respectable women, to begin with, appear regularly in family scenes, performing almost always the same role: looking after the children. In the large, anonymous example considered in the previous chapter (fig. 2/32)(= PUP 4.5), the man whose birthday is being celebrated properly dominates the gathering by his size and centrality. The man's older sons, wearing caps that indicate they will follow in his footsteps as scholar-officials and so continue to enrich and empower the family, bring him auspicious and symbolic gifts. The women, who presumably include domesticated concubines along with the principal wife, have no active part in all this, but simply take care of the smaller children. Confucian texts of the period stress this role while discouraging the women from attempting most others. No painting of a woman in the center of a comparable composition survives, to my knowledge, but the early 16th century master Tang Yin is recorded as having done a commemorative painting for the 80th birthday of a "worthy mother," Mme. Zhou, with her sons beside her and scholarly guests approaching to do her honor. Similarly, in an outdoor village scene by Hua Yan, a highly accomplished master active in Hangzhou and Yangzhou mainly in the second quarter of the 18th century, the men are strongly differentiated (even to the inclusion of a hunchback and a dwarf) and play out role-images of rustic ease, while the two women again appear as types and again mind the babies (fig. 3/19.) The same pattern can be found in many other group figure paintings. (Put in here: teaching children, i/o simply looking after them. Move up from "learned women" sec'n, refer back there. A painting by some follower of Hua Yan in the 18th century pictorializes this ideal in a simple way (fig. 3/20), as the 19th-century master Ren Xiong does with greater sophistication in a woodblock print from a book published in 1856 (fig. 3/21). (Bring in: Dorothy Ko on women as educators, pp. 165-6.) (These are role models, exemplars. Hessney, "Beyond Beauty & Talent" p. 215, cites Arthur Wright in Confuc. Personalities on use of these, applies to women's roles: in ptgs, women tend to be seen acting out these roles.) The other traditional occupation for women, along with child-rearing, was the production and ornamentation of textiles. Pictures of women preparing newly-woven silk, resting after embroidery, making clothes for warriors away at battle, and related subjects make up a substantial part of surviving early paintings of feminine subjects, works of the kind associated with the Tang masters Zhang Xuan and Zhou Fang and their successors.

The many versions of the Gengzhi tu, "Pictures of Ploughing and Weaving" or rice and silk production, make it clear that the latter is woman's work. (Very early: ritual plowing for emperor, mulberry-picking for empress.) In a painting by Chen Hpngshou in the British Museum (fig. 3/22), the lady holds a robe with a design of dragons and mountains, while her maids bring a censer for perfuming it, hooks for hanging it, and (at left) a needle and thread. An anonymous Ming picture (fig. 3/23), although its ostensible theme is "Spooling Thread," is a predecessor of the Qing-period meiten paintings, since the graceful bearing and elegant hairdo of the woman draw more attention than does her occupation. (Fill this out. Where? Slide?) A cool, neo-classical composition painted by Wen Zhengming in 1551 depicts two ladies in Tang costume picking mulberry leaves to feed silkworms, an activity with both ritual and practical functions (fig. 3/24). (These celebrate women's involvement in these occupations. Li Yü put needlework fourth on his list of "talents": see Dorothy Ko p. 265. Also p. 345 n. 64.) Ren Bonian in 1885 gives us a haunting picture of a woman who has come out into a grove of bare trees, probably in early morning, to wash thread (fig. 3/25).

It may refer to a story in which the famous beauty Xishi is encountered washing silk on a stream bank by a high official of the Yüe state; but Ren makes no specific pictorial reference to the story, and the painting can be read simply as a sensitively-observed genre scene. [Others: ptg in one of tulu vols. (= Zhongguo lidai shuhua tulu) of woman sewing in interior: seems to be by one of urban-profes. artists. Identifiable? some illusionism, e.g. in bamboo seen through translucent blind. Fig. 3/26.] This was deleted from PUP. Within the large myth of "women waiting," needlework was merely one of the ways they passed their time; but textile production and sewing were in real life important sources of income for families and for individual women. We read stories of courtesans who supported impoverished lovers with their needlework, and it has been argued that some of the repressive restrictions placed on women in the later periods were meant to thwart the potential for economic independence created by their money-earning engagement in textile production. The paintings, of course, betray no such tensions, remaining always idealized and unproblematic. Refer to book on textile production by women—Hill Gates? C. Images of Learned and Talented Women A category of Ming-Qing pictures that does seem to reflect contemporary changes in women's social position is representations of learned and scholarly women, talented women, women participating in artistic and literary pursuits: it is clear from surviving examples that these proliferate in the later centuries, and become more varied and interesting. If we look for images of scholarly women in the Ming, two come to mind immediately. One is the daughter of the third century B.C. scholar Fu Sheng: when the old man was giving lectures to a scribe sent by the court on an historical text he had preserved through the book-burning of the first Ch'in emperor, she interpreted his explanations because his antique speech was impossible to understand. She is shown serving in this capacity of intermediary in paintings of the scene, such as the one by the mid-Ming master Du Jin (fig. 3/27.) The other is Lady Xuanwen Jun, a fourth century woman portrayed by Chen Hongshou in his well-known painting done in 1638 for the 60th birthday of his aunt and flattering her by association with this learned lady (fig. 3/28.) Xuanwen Jun was invited by her ruler to give lectures to 120 students on a classical text, in the interpretation of which her family had specialized. Ellen Laing has pointed out, however, that she was invited only as the sole surviving authority on this text, all the males having died. In each case, the woman is more a transmitter of learning than a producer of it. Still, these are respectful images that allow women to take part in a sphere of activity from which they were customarily excluded.

A less-known painting, unsigned but apparently from its style a work by the Ming master Zhang Lu (ca. 1490-ca. 1563), portrays two women, wearing identical fur-lined hats and robes, seated on rugs in a winter landscape examining an ink painting of bamboo (fig. 3/29). Richard Barnhart, who first published the work, recognized that one of the women was probably the Yüan-period artist Guan Daosheng (1262-1319), who specialized in ink paintings of bamboo, a genre she probably learned from her husband Zhao Mengfu. Jennifer Purtle, in an unpublished paper, took the further step of identifying the other woman as a mythical older sister named Guan Taogao, who was invented in Ming writings so that she could serve as Guan Dapsheng's zhiyin or "audience of one." The addition was more than a simple deception: it responded to an increase in women's literacy and a desire to see this reflected in literature and art; but even more, to the growth of audiences of women for the literary and artistic productions of other women. Ellen Widmer writes about the appearance during a slightly later period, the Ming-Qing transition, of a "loose literary network" of women writers who "encouraged one another's endeavors." Zhang Lu's painting can best be read as an early pictorial expression of that new phenomenon; one can speculate, but no more, that it might have been done for someone who was herself involved in such a network, perhaps for presentation to another. (bring into discussion somewhere: ambivalence abt this; well-known saying about "A woman w/o talent is a woman of virtue", artistic talent as kind of "evil omen," examples of association of lit. talent etc. w. misfortune: Chang & Chang 209 ff.etc. Dorothy Ko p. 160 ff: "To be virtuous is to be untalented." She puts in perspective: signified "anxieties over the erosion of social and gender boundaries." Handlin on literacy, 28: saying widespread in late Ming: "Only virtuous man talented, only untalented woman virtuous." Read again: Kang-i Sun Chang article in Culture and State volume. Widmer 27 top: preference for beauty over talent. 28-29: ambiguous messages from men, don't read too much, become learned. But remember always that men are stressing their ideal, doesn't corres. w. reality.

All this needs complete rewriting. Useful: Rowe, Saving the World, 320 ff: Chen Hongmou on women’s freedom etc., complaining. 314: Yuan Mei defends practice of concubinage “because of inherent inferiority of females to males.” Good: Xiao-chen Hu in David Der-wei Wang and Shang Wei, ed., Dynastic Crisis and Culural Innovation 227-231, "Late Ming Thought and the Status of Women." (Insert here? ptg pub. as Cui Zizhong, woman in garden writing? at desk. Late Ming, anyway?) A few other individual artists deserve recognition for having gone beyond stereotypes, no doubt partly in response to new conditions of their time, in their portrayals of women. One, certainly, is Chen Hongshou: the female figures in his paintings do not play music only to entertain men, but play for each other, or for themselves, and generally display more independence and initiative than they are usually accorded in paintings. Chen reportedly did some of his paintings as gifts for courtesans, who can be assumed to have been educated women, and paintings of this kind may have been intended for them. In one late work it is the man who holds the wrapped pipa--traditionally her instrument, associated with singing girls and popular songs--and the woman who reads the book (fig. 3/30.) What Chen intended by this seeming role reversal we cannot say--he is often enigmatic--but it is in the right direction. Another painting by him, which similarly bears only a terse inscription with no clue to its meaning, is usually taken to represent "A Scholar Instructing Girl Pupils in the Arts"--one young woman arranges a branch of blossoming plum in a vase, the other examines a painting of bamboo, while the assumed mentor looks on (fig. 3/31.) However we read the group, it is certainly the man who dominates; but this picture, too, bends the conventions and leans in the right direction. It might be seen as anticipating a popular print from the early 20th century celebrating the new age in which, as the title states, "women seek education" (fig. 3/32.) [Develop this a bit. The two works span the period when... (etc.) Susan Mann, "Grooming a Daughter for Marriage," 214: by Qing times, upper-class women could be trained in needlework, poetry, painting, calligraphy, and "music-making." Dorothy Ko p. 266 (ms) ff: 3 arguments for educating women: role as moral guardian; poetic & artistic achievements increased "cultural capital" of family; men wanted companionate wives.."increased her cachet in the marriage market."] An observation that will be developed in a later chapter is that the Ming artists who give us the most sympathetic portrayals of women, Wu Wei and Chen Hongshou, and the Qing writers who are notably supportive of women's engagement in literary composition, Li Yü and Yüan Mei, all have reputations themselves as womanizers. We can, as we choose, regard this two-pronged affection for femininity as representing positive and negative aspects of the same attachment, or feel that the men's respect for the intellectual and artistic capacities of women casts their sexual adventures in a more favorable light. Ren Bonian in the late 19th century is another whose images of women grant them dignity and a degree of independence, as in his picture in which the wife reads poems to her husband (fig. III/32), or his portrayal (done with a professional portraitist) of a certain Yang Jixian at the age of 75 (fig. 3/33.) (Work over insc. Yang Jixian is same person portrayed in 3/5!) Ren Bonian is not known as having himself had any special fondness for women, and his sympathetic portrayals of them might be seen simply as a function of the period in which he worked: by his time old restrictions were even more breaking down, and his success in portraying women may simply be a matter of his response to new conditions.

Also to be credited, however, is Ren Bpnian's extraordinary sensitivity to human feelings--he is even today not fully understood or appreciated as a painter, being too often dismissed as a maker of popular and decorative pictures. Whether and how women should be encouraged to engage in the arts at all was an issue that could generate considerable tension in Ming-Qing times. Some reflection of it can perhaps be seen in a handscroll painted by the Ming master Dai Chin in 1460 (fig. 3/34.) The gathering depicted was a poetry party held in 1353 on the shore of the West Lake at Hanzhou, in the villa and garden of a man named Mp Jingxing, at which the most distinguished guest was the renowned litterateur Yang Weizhen (dates). Dai Chin was commissioned by one of Mo Jingxing's descendants to do the work as a frontispiece for the surviving copy of the series of poems composed on that occasion. Dai Chin's composition focuses the central figure group on a red-jacketed woman, presumably a courtesan, writing a scroll--poems, calligraphy?--while the male literary figures watch. Since Yang Weizhen was notorious for consorting with prostitutes, this decision of the artist, probably based on his knowledge of Yang's proclivities and perhaps also on some record of the event, was taken to impart a somewhat scandalous tone to the picture, and the family was not pleased, as Mo Jingxng's descendant reveals in his inscription on the scroll. By the time of the Ming-Qing transition, women painting and writing calligraphy are not uncommon in popular stories and plays, and appear in illustrations to them, for instance in one of a set of playing cards based on the Pipa Xing or "Lute Song" , in which the woman prepares to paint a hanging scroll (fig. 3/35) or Gai Qi's early 19th century woodcut illustrations to Hong Lou Meng or "Dream of the Red Chamber" representing Xichun, the half-sister of the hero Baoyü, about to do her painting of the Daguan Garden (fig. 3/36.) A play by the early Qing litterateur Li Yü titled "Ideal Love Matches" illustrates comically the ambiguities that still beset this practice, however, in the public mind. The principals of the play are two courtesan-painters who earn money doing forgeries of the prominent literati artists Dong Qichang and Chen Jiru. One of them is forced to paint before an audience of townspeople, to dispel their suspicion that her paintings were really done by a man. Even while watching her paint they comment on the beauty of her face and voice instead of on her painting, and are not satisfied until the maid draws aside the curtain before the table so that they can admire her tiny bound feet. The play has a "happy ending," which Li Yü must have written with tongue firmly in cheek: the two meet Dong Qichang and Chen Jiru and eventually marry them. [Add note after working over Marsha's passage on Dong's inscription. See also Dorothy Ko, p. 184, on this play. Also Li Waiyee on them: Writing Women 59 ff. Also Ko in same vol, 79 bottom & later.) (Chang & Chang p. 114: quote someone writing sympathetically about a woman, saying "too bad you aren't a man." And note that once more, they aren't producing truly original work, but imitating Chen and Dong.] In spite of this ambivalence, expressions of admiration among literary men for the cai-nü or talented woman, and instances of her portrayal in fiction and painting, continued to grow in number and interest.

Several imaginary portraits survive of the most famous Chinese woman poet, Li Qingzhao (1084-ca. 1151). (On her, see Dorothy Ko, p. 184.) In one of these, by the 18th century figure painter Cui Hui, the poet reclines on a rock and looks out at us, but not invitingly (fig. 3/37.) Although this picture of Li Qingzhao is in some respects akin to the beautiful-woman paintings, such as the "Leng Mei" painting in the British Museum (fig. 1/8), the differences are more telling: a posture devoid of sensuality, clothing buttoned up around the neck, a garden rock instead of a bed. It is the painters of the generic beautiful-women pictures who in fact appear often to have appropriated the image of the literary woman to heighten the appeal of their pin-ups for men attracted by the prospect of rubbing minds along with pudenda. One may be reminded of Woody Allen's story "The Whore of Mensa," which imagines an intellectual call-girl service: the client phones, and shortly afterwards a Barnard girl comes to his apartment and discusses Kierkegaard with him. (Ref.) Cf. to "real Mme. Hedong," similar. (But on desirability of educated women as sex partners, see also Susan Suleiman, 75 ff: quotes Barthes. (See my sheet, in "notes") Also 82: "prototypical figure in the male imagination, the woman who is sexual because her sexuality is male in its values...") Sex w. educated woman transgresses Confuc. norms in several ways, has excitement of transgression.) (Bring in here somehow? story of Su Shi's (fictitious) younger sister and her marriage to Qin Guan--apocryphal, impossible, but expressive of male feeling about perils & pleasures of being involved with woman smarter than oneself.) . A coolly elegant painting of a woman in her study in the Palace Museum, Beijing is Cui Hui's imaginary portrait of the Sung poet Li Qingzhao (fig. 3/38.). The woman rises from her desk, where she has been reading, as if to greet a visitor. The spare furnishings, the rootwood stand and bronze duck-shaped censer, testify to the woman's austere and antiquarian taste. The style is correspondingly formal and precise; western-derived elements in it underly the lucid spatial scheme and the depiction of furniture and architecture, but these elements are not at all intrusive, having been absorbed into a Chinese mode with which the artist seems entirely comfortable. Note that she pulls chair back & points to it: inviting husband? a woman visitor, fellow poet? to sit down? Note also that there is some resemblance in the face, hairdo & ornament, drawing of dress, with signed Cui Hui/) One more imaginary portrait from the Qing dynasty concludes our brief series. Kang Tao, a figure master active around the middle of the 18th century, portrays a woman named San Niangzi, a sixteenth century Mongol princess of exceptional beauty and intelligence who was literate in Chinese and deeply respectful of Han Chinese culture (fig. 3/39.)

As the consort successively of three Mongol nobles and generals, the first of them her own father by whom she bore three sons, she played an important role in improving Mongol-Chinese relations and resolving border conflicts. Kang Tao presents her as a self-assured and capable woman with a foxy look. The ambiguous feelings that Chinese men can have had about a woman of this strength and complexity, how these might be reflected in Kang Tao's painting, and what kind of recipient the work might have been intended for, are questions on which we can only speculate. D. Goddesses and Ghosts Insert here: brief section on goddesses, such as Magu (Jade Terrace p. 173); Guanyin; goddess of moon, weaving maid, etc.--in Zhe/Wu school ptg. No more than three additional illustrations: 3/40, 41, 42. On ghosts, only Luo Ping? Note paper by Karin Myhre of our DEAL, paper for 1994 symposium, my binder under D. Judith Zeitner's article Yale '93 conference. E. Other Late-Period Images of Women, Strong and Frail Although Ming-Qing Chinese men could admire and portray literary and cultivated women of the past, the involvement of gentry women of their own time in literature and the arts aroused more mixed feelings. It was even felt by some to reduce the femininity and attractiveness of the women. In opposition to the arguments of Yüan Mei and others that women should receive the kind of education directed toward aesthetic refinement and literary cultivation, a sterner Confucian view, advocated by writers from Lü Kun in the 16th century to Zhang Xuezeng in the 18th, held that their education should be of the traditional, classical kind that would inculcate virtue, equip them better for the practical tasks of running the household, and fit them to start their children on the path to moral learning.

That attitude is reflected in pictures such as the two introduced earlier (fig. 3/20, 3/21) in which women are seen teaching their sons. Representations of women in late period China, then, can be found that answer to virtually any of the positions being taken in the ongoing arguments about the proper status and roles of women, how much and what kind of education they should receive, and so forth. But the arguments, in turn, are mostly better read as responding, often with alarm, to the transformations in women's situations that were actually taking place than as seriously affecting them; they cannot be taken as unambiguous indicators of social realities. Neither, of course, can the paintings, especially those of the generic meiren type, since these were made for male consumers as projections of their desires. When we encounter, for instance, a painting of what appears to be a militant woman, such as the one (signed by?) an artist named Ho Qing (fig. 3/43, Nelson Gal.?), in which the woman is rolling up the sleeve of her gown in preparation for wielding the sword on the couch behind her, we may be reminded of the popularity of woman warriors such as Mulan in Ming-Qing literature and sometimes paintings, or of late Ming courtesans who practiced swordplay, or of how one of them, Xue Su-su, could do feats of marksmanship with a crossbow while galloping on horseback, or of how Liu Yin took part in gatherings with Qian Qianyi and his literary friends dressed in male clothing; we want to read a breakdown of gender distinctions and roles into the pictures. Then we remember that Xue and Liu were courtesans, and behaved and dressed as they did partly to please their patrons (Liu Yin, when she arrived at Qian Qianyi's studio in male garb, reportedly made sure that her tiny bound feet protruded from beneath her robe); and we realize, reluctantly, that the images of literary cultivation or militancy or cross-dressing among our meiren pictures similarly cannot be read simply as celebrating strength and independence in women, but must be seen primarily as reflecting different versions of sexual attractiveness in the eyes of their male viewers. The painting, then, which is stylistically another example of the westernized-illusionistic manner from the late 18th or early 19th century, is probably only a variant (or deviant) meiren picture, intended for male consumers of a particular taste. (Put in here? other militant-woman images; Mulan etc. On her: Handlin on literacy, p. 24. Ayscough Ch Women 214-222. She is subject of play by Xu Wei! ("Hua Mu-lan Joins the Army in Her Father's Name.") See Robertson in Writing Women 214 ff. She was a "Tang dynasty girl who took her father's place in the army at the northern border. Though she served for twelve years, no one ever learned she was a girl, and thus her virginity was preserved." Alb. leaf in CKMHC 15: she prepares to go off ... but not interesting. Ren Bonian's, good, in Tientsin People's Art vol. of his ptgs, 6. Androgenous ptgs: women in male dress. Fig. 3/44-45.) Li Waiyee in Writing Women pp. 62-3 on women soldiers. Kou Mei (fig. 4.1) was "excellent swordswoman," acc. to Nanjing Mus. Portraits 2, no. 24 notes. Eric Chou 61-2: woman who joins lover in fighting Khitans, in Gaozong's reign. Dorothy Ko, p 342 n. 13: refers to her own article "Complicity of Women" on loyalist women warriors. See also Betty Ecke article? Move some stuff from "androgenous" in 5. See also Li Waiyee in Writing Women p. 59 below.

Coexisting with these images, outnumbering them by far, and representing a sharply contrasting ideal are the countless paintings from the later 18th and 19th centuries of willowy, strengthless beauties who seem to need to lean on trees or desks to remain upright, and to have no articulated bodies under their dresses. They embody the counter-ideal of absolute suppleness and submissiveness, the woman who may have exquisite aesthetic tastes but cannot cope alone with the real world. This image of women was traditional in poetry; Ann Birrell, for instance, writes that the typical beauty in Six Dynasties love poems should "strike a pose of appealing emotional vulnerability and pathetic physical weakness." Its prevalence as an ideal in the Qing might be seen as an attempted reassertion of Confucian constraints on the mobility and self-sufficiency of women, a reaction against what was actually taking place. A typical example of its manifestation in painting is a hanging scroll by Min Zhen dated 1779 (fig. 3/46). This frail, over-delicate type is epitomized in the romantic figure of Lin Daiyü in Hong Lou Meng, as she is seen in another of Gai Qi's woodblock-printed illustrations to the book (fig. 3/47.) Too over-refined and sickly to take charge of her own life, she can only compose poetry, sweep up and bury fallen blossoms, languish and die. She remains nevertheless everyone's favorite among the women of the Hong Lou Meng. Absent for the most part from this book are the meiren paintings from what is customarily seen as the peak period for this genre, the first half of the 19th century, when specialists in them such as Gai Qi (1744-1829), Jiang Xün (1764-1835), Ku Luo (1763-after 1837) and Fei Danxu (1801-1850) produced the works that come most readily to mind when we think about the type at all. Jiang Xün's shoulderless beauty touches her little fingernail to her lips, in the familiar gesture (fig. 3/48); Gu Luo's lady in a garden, winsomely cross-eyed, looks pensive and slightly melancholy as she waits for her lover (fig. 3/49.) These are better-than-average examples; most others slip into further depths of vapidity, presenting the women in highly conventionalized settings and postures with vacuous expressions, and betray a falling-off in quality and originality from the meiten pictures of the 17th and 18th centuries, a slide into orthodoxy that parallels the general decline in landscape painting of this same period. A few individual artists of the later 19th century attribute more dignity and character to women in their portrayals of them; we have already credited Ren Bonian as one of these. Another was his teacher Ren Xiong, whose 1856 "Lady with a Fan" presents the woman, although she is probably to be understood again as a courtesan displaying herself in a window, as provocative but without coyness, her face and stance suggesting a cool intelligence (fig. 3/50.)

The Shanghai master Wu Jiayou similarly manages in an album of 1890, without discarding entirely the old imagery of beauties languishing in their boudoirs and gardens, to impart a degree of self-sufficiency to the women, a sense that theirs are not lives of total boredom, their occupations not trivial (fig. 3/51.) The imagery is already fundamentally transformed, to be sure, by the appearance of up-to-date costumes and furniture and settings, and by a new influx of westernization in the style, which among other things makes the women's bodies more substantial. Wu is best known for his pictorial journal Wu Ruoyu huapu in which pictures of topical events were published in lithographic prints. His ladies, in spite of their bound feet and sequestered lives, stand at the threshhold of being liberated, becoming modern women. In their costumes and their demeanors they overlap with real women seen in photographs from the same period. The Qing dynasty would be succeeded by the Chinese Republic two decades later, the May Fourth Movement would further transform China a decade after that. (No, leave the following out.) We are far past the time of our proper concern, and conclude this quick survey of the late period with two pictures of the new woman in China, popular prints made in the early 20th century during the transition from the fall of the Qing dynasty to the Chinese Republic, representing girl students of that time, who have better things to do than sit about looking pretty; they wear stylish western hats and shoes, read up-to-date books, ride bicycles (fig. 3/52, 53.) Images of this kind did not, of course, drive out the meiren forever; they would be revived in popular pin-up chromolithographs of Shanghai prostitutes and dance-hall girls in the 1930s and 40s (ref.), and make a "high-culture" reappearance in paintings by the highly respected master Chang Ta-ch'ien. (ref.) Interesting as it would be, however, to chart in these the uses of familiar conventions, and to build on that basis an account of the survival of old attitudes into recent times, such a project would raise too many issues that are beyond the scope of this study, and is best left for someone else to pursue. F. Women Portrayed by Women (Insert some introductory & transitional matter here.)

Maybe quote Linda Nochlin article on "Women, Imagery, and Power": representations by men can scarcely avoid reflecting male assumptions abt. their power over women; images that escape this typically by women? But is this true in China? A study of this subject, depictions of women in paintings by Chinese women, was presented at a recent symposium by Li Shi, a young specialist in the Palace Museum, Beijing, who intends to pursue the topic in greater depth. My own account will accordingly be brief. [To be analyzed: how women turned to their purpose, "negotiated," conventions & topoi and imagery long estab in ptgs by men. Anomaly: a trad. of literature and ptg about women in which women normally played no part: produced & "consumed" by men. Women, for instance, are real subject of Jin Ping Mei, but the book was taboo for women in its time & afterwards. Poetry: male poets writing in male personae were taken to be reporting their real feelings & experience; this accepted more or less unproblematically by Chinese readers & critics. But when male poets compose in personae of women--a convention from early times--this also felt to be natural, and went unquestioned; inconsistency between two readings went unnoticed. Men felt to be providing "poetic voices" for women, whose emotions/longings would otherwise go unexpressed, or only obliquely, symbolically, in "feminine" ways. By the time composition of poetry by women becomes widespread, conventions fixed, hard to avoid; but they managed to alter them, deflect their usual implications. (Resist temptation to slip into "subaltern theory" etc. here. No ready-mades please.)] A good beginning is a painting by Qiu Zhu herself: a young woman portrayed in a garden setting, beside a pond or stream, with rocks and peony bushes nearby (fig. 3/54.) It probably belongs to the "women waiting" genre, which, as will be outlined in the last chapter, usually includes symbolic indications of sexual desire in the woman. Nothing in Qiu Zhu's picture imposes erotic overtones except, perhaps, her undone hair, and even that only classically and decorously, in keeping with the cool air of the whole composition. Several paintings with signatures of Qiu Zhu represent groups of ladies in palace gardens, and belong to the mode popularized by her father Qiu Ying. In one (fig. 3/55), an empress or imperial consort watches while a serving woman teases a parrot with a stick--the implications of "provoking the parrot" will be touched on later. Qiu Zhu does not, probably could not, depart radically from the patterns established by male artists; at most she could "rewrite" those models, "controlling or neutralizing the gaze that structures the literati-produced feminine voice," as Maureen Robertson characterizes the corresponding project in women's poetry. Qiu Zhu's paintings, and those of other women artists, are on the whole free of those features designed to facilitate visual access to the women portrayed, and visual appropriation of them. [Note Dorothy Ko book p. 466-7: women praise same attributes in other women as men do.] [Insert: sec'n on portrayals of women-by-women engaged in lit. & arts. **Two Qiu Shi leaves from Shih-erh chia; another, women in garden writing? 3/56, 3/57.

Fan Xueyi in Tientsin (she's in Jade Terrace.) 3/58. Jin Liying (1772-1807), Portrait of Li Qingzhao (after Wang Yi etc.), KK/B. 3/59. (Note that same woman, gazing at orchid, appears as "portrait of Zhao Wenshu by her daughter Luyün" copied by modern woman ptr, in Yilin Yuekan vol. 9 p. 2. And various others that purport to be portraits of Li Qingzhao, Cui Yingying, etc.--anon. Sung to Wang Yi to Tang Yin etc.--see my CA sec'n in Ptgs binder. A "Tang Yin" version of "Cui Yingying" portrait"see Suzuki index II, S1-008, Hua Shu-ho. This must be last plate in my "Ptgs for Women"!)) Also other subjects that portray strong, talented women. Fan Xueyi, Kangxi period, in album of scenes involving women (CL ming-hua 15, Shanghai, 1925), includes: Mu-lan Going Off to War; "Painting Eyebrows." Neither interesting enough to reprod.] (This must be album now in Gugong, two leaves in PUP.) The feminine form of the Bodhisattva Guanyin is a frequent subject for women painters, who were drawn to it for reasons that will be obvious. Among the many powers of the goddess was that of the Child-giving Guanyin who granted prayers for easy childbirth, or a handsome son or beautiful daughter. On the other hand, Guanyin in her divine purity represented for women an ideal of (as Yü Chün-fang puts it) "freedom from the hardships imposed on a wife, daughter-in-law, and mother ideal for which they could feel admiration or even envy--her appeal, Yü speculates, "might be…to rebellious women who wanted to liberate themselves from domestic and societal restrictions." Among the women artists who painted the subject were Qiu Zhu (fig. 3/60) and the late Ming courtesan-artist Ma Shouzhen (fig. 3/61) In this connection we can note also that Guanyin was the patron saint of prostitutes, and in one form brought about the salvation of males by offering herself to them sexually (cf. fig. 2/38.) Anyone unfamiliar with the special character of the courtesan culture of the Ming-Qing transition might expect to see, in paintings by the noted courtesans of the time, sexual subjects and sensuous styles. The qualities we find in their works are in fact at the opposite end of the spectrum: a chaste coolness of style, themes emblematic of purity.

The paintings, that is, are presented as embodiments of the same fastidiousness and reserve that was admired (as we saw earlier) in the women themselves. Like their counterparts among male literati-amateur artists, the courtesan-painters depict the Chinese orchid and bamboo in ink monochrome; when they portray women it is in images nearly devoid of sensuality, as we observe in Dong Bai's picture of the moon goddess Chang'e holding a rabbit (fig. 3/62), and in Liu Yin's of palace ladies on a terrace (fig. 3/63.) Even when the subjects carry erotic messages, the pictures themselves remain chaste. Xue Wu or Xue Su-su, who mostly painted orchids, portrays in her sole surviving figure painting a beauty in a garden playing a flute (fig. 3/64.) For anyone aware of the implications of playing the flute in Chinese paintings of women, the poetic couplet she has inscribed on her picture will be subtly titillating--it might be rendered "When the [his?] jade flute can bear to be played on [handled,] / The man is in the Phoenix Pavilion [that is, in paradise]." A fan painting by the 18th century woman artist Fan Shu (detail, fig. 3/65) represents Yang Kuei-fei emerging from her bath, but treats this theme with far more of finesse and restraint than typical depictions of it by men (cf. fig. fill in.) Chinese women artists, even those who made their physical persons available to men, seem to have refused in their paintings to play to the scopophilic urges that meiren paintings by male artists are on the whole designed to gratify. Gu Fang (active 1690-1720, pupil of Wang Hui) & Shen Ying, see Eight Dynasties #258, p. 350. Pan Gongshou and anon. portraitist, 1790, see Vinograd p. 97 and Fig. 55 for info. What? Handlin on literacy etc. Christie's auction cat., June '86, #110. Present whereabouts unknown. Ellen Laing, in her unpublished paper "Notes on Qiu Ying's Figure Paintings" (paper for "Symposium on Painting of the Ming Dynasty," Art Gallery, Institute of Chinese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, November-December 1988), p. 16, lists the diversions of palace ladies to be seen in paintings of them, including Qiu Ying's. Her list will overlap somewhat with what follows, although I am not especially concerned, at this point, with women of the palace. Clapp, T'ang Yin, pp. 57-58. Note on the book. Reprod. in Ellen Widmer, "The Epistolary World," p. 2, from Wang Ling, ed., Yü-Yüe xian-xian xiang zhuan zan (Commemorative Portraits and Biographies of Former Worthies of the Yüe [Zhejiang] Region), 1956. Copy in Harvard-Yenching Library. E.g. Lin Shuen-fu, Transformation, p. 204, poem by Jiang Kuei, 13th cent.:"The letters after parting,/ The needlework after parting,/ My lonely soul follows my love to the distance ..." Levy Warm/Soft p. 120: story of woman who helps support her impoverished lover in this way. Hill Gates, "Commodification," pp. 820-32. See Morris Rossabi, "Kuan Tao-sheng: Woman Artist in Yuan China," in Bulletin of Sung-Yuan Studies 21, 1989, p. 73. Rossabi argues that although there is no evidence of Guan's studying painting with Zhao, the facts that he taught his sons and grandchildren, that her earliest paintings are dated to the period after their marriage, and that in an epitaph for her Zhao described her ability as a painter as "received from Heaven," all make it likely that she did. Barnhart, Painters of the Great Ming, cat. #73, pages 245-247.

Barnhart, while he convincingly identifies one of the women as Guan Dao-sheng, attributes the work tentatively to Wu Wei. In my own brief account of this painting, I have used also an unpublished paper by Jennifer Purtle, "Two Women Looking at Paintings: Women as Audiences and Patrons at the Ming Court," presented at a Symposium on the History of Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, on April 8, 1994; I am grateful to Purtle for giving me a copy. Purtle believes, as I do, that the work is by Zhang Lu. Ellen Widmer, "The Epistolary World of Female Talent in Seventeenth-Century China," in Late Imperial China vol. 10 no. 2, December 1989, p. 3. See also Dorothy Ko, "Pursuing Talent and Virtue: Education and Women's Culture in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century China," in Late Imperial China vol. 13 no. 1, June 1992, pp. 9-31 For a discussion of this scroll, see Mary Ann Rogers's essay in Barnhart, Painters of the Great Ming, p. 188. The information on her comes from the Liangchao ping-rang lu or "A Record of Pacifying the Land during Two Reigns," compiled by Zhugu Yüansheng in 1606-7 (in Mingdai shiji hui'an, Taipei, 1969), v. 5, pp. 55-64. Her biography is appended to a chapter dealing with military skirmishes between the Ming troops and invading forces. Widmer, Epistolatory World, p. 29. She notes that "most of the gentry women of talent" considered in her study "are presented in at least one biographical notice as unattractive or unfeminine," and speculates that these references to their unattractiveness "may reflect conventional wisdom to the effect that when women of high social status indulged in reading and painting, they lost some of their appeal." Handlin, "Lü K'un's New Audience"; Rowe, "Women and the Family," 26-29. See also Susan Mann, "Women's Learning" (ms.) and "'Fuxue'" Handlin, "Lü K'un's New Audience," p. 24. Ecke, p. 202. Dorothy Ko, book ms., ch. 4 p. 295. Also Lee Waiyee, Writing Women p. 60. Kathy Carlitz, "Desire, Danger, and the Body," in Engendering China, p. 112. She refers there to several other literary cases of Chinese women who lived in disguise as men without compromising their honor, and points out that two of them were rewarded with husbands at the end of their deceptions. Birrell, New Songs, p. 8. Widmer 34, citing Waley 180.

Strictly speaking, Ren Xiong was only in a limited sense Ren Bonian's teacher, since, after meeting the young man in a famous (and perhaps apocryphal) incident, he turned over his further training to his own younger brother Ren Xun, a painter of distinctly lesser talent than either. But Ren Xiong was a major model for Ren Bonian, and the innovator of many artistic motifs and elements of style that the younger master was to develop brilliantly. Ref. to Li Shi's paper, and publication of it in KKPWY yüankan. Yü Chün-fang, "Feminine Images of Kuan-yin," Journal of Chinese Religions 19, Fall 1990, p. 61-89, especially p. 85. Susan Mann, in "Learned Women in the Eighteenth Century" pp. 43-44, writes about women of Ming-Qing times who turned to Buddhism. See Chün-fang Yü, "Guanyin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara," in Marsha Weidner, ed., Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism, 850-1850, pp. 151-81, especially 166-69: "Guan-yin as Seductress." A representation of Guanyin with the boy pilgrim Sudhana by the woman artist Jin Liying in which she is portrayed in a manner close to the meiren model is in the Zhejiang Provincial Museum, Hangzhou; see [Zhongguo Meishu?] Quanji 10, no. 203. This phenomenon is discussed in my "The Paintings of Liu Yin," pp. 106-109. (Volume ed. by Marasha Weidner) Ref. to Ecke article on her. Xue Susu is probably referring here to the story in the Liexian Zhuan or "Biographies of Immortals" about Npngyü, the daughter of Duke Mu of Qin (7th century B.C.) who married the flautist Xiaoxhi and learned from him to play the flute; their playing together in the Phoenix Terrace was so skillful that it attracted phoenixes, with whom they eventually flew off as immortals. See David Roy, The Plum in the Golden Vase, or, Chin P'ing Mei, vol. 1, Princeton, 1994, p. 508-9

Latest Work

  • Conclusion Conclusion
    VI Conclusion It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but...

Latest Blog Posts

  • Bedridden Blog
    Bedridden Blog   I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to...