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Chen, Jiani (2018) Misty Flowers in a Floating World : Images of Courtesans in Ming Dynasty Nanjing. PhD thesis. SOAS, University of London. DOI:

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The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) witnessed a surge in enthusiasm for anthologizing and compiling courtesans‘ writings, which diversified and vitalized the conventional poetic theme of courtesans by presenting courtesans‘ images from perspectives of both self and other. This dissertation maps the production, circulation, and reception of Ming Nanjing courtesans‘ images in the broader context of a floating world which resulted from the collapse of a fixed social hierarchy and encouraged the communication, appropriation, and adaptation of diverse cultural productions in the Ming. After identifying different layers of anthological space, this study traces the process of anthology-construction with respect to collecting and editing source materials, setting selective standards, and framing literary images within paratexts. Based on a spectral survey of the writings and images of Ming Nanjing courtesans in anthologies ranging from combined male and female writings to women‘s anthologies, chapter one demonstrates that the anthologists strategically utilized transferability of amorous imagination, aesthetic appreciation, poetic appraisal, and scholarly discussion to carve a niche for courtesans within anthologies. By looking into the two courtesans‘ anthologies, chapters two and three investigate images of Ming Nanjing courtesans which were created through the dynamics of courtesans‘ writings, paratexts by male literati, and categories and orders designed by compilers. I argue that courtesans‘ anthologies played a leading role in establishing and developing the repertoire of Ming Nanjing courtesans‘ images and writings which had influence beyond regional and temporal realms. By focusing on the compiling and anthologizing of the poetic works of a Ming Nanjing courtesan, chapter four examines the epitome of an image which transforms from that of a courtesan to gentry woman via its own volition. This image and others situated in different historical contexts can ultimately stimulate novel appraisals of gender relationships and their connection with political and social discourses in late imperial China.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Tian Yuan Tan
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 06 May 2020 11:25

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