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Culture and Identity: Literary Women of the Pearl River Delta in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century

Sat, June 25, 8:30 to 10:20am, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 104


On the southern margins of the Qing empire, Guangdong has been seen as an evolving site of regional culture, education, and commerce, particularly in the Pearl River Delta counties surrounding the provincial capital Guangzhou in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While anthropologists have uncovered a working-class women’s culture in this region, educated women from the counties of Panyu, Shunde, Xinhui, and Zhongshan were a significant but as yet understudied part of the elite culture.
This paper aims to explore the relationship of elite Guangdong women’s writing to the construction of regional culture and identity before the Western powers had a significant impact through trade and missionary efforts beyond the Canton trading zone. To what extent were literary women part of a regional culture in Guangdong in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? Using both biographical and textual data and analyzing the paratexts, poetic themes and topoi, and regional and social networks contained in fifteen individual works by Qing women writers from Guangdong, I will examine in what ways a regional or local culture, if any, was constructed in these textual productions, and, if so, how? Do the hopes and desires, social and cultural activities, reflections and ambitions of these Pearl River Delta women show difference from or similarity to their contemporaries, the well-known elite educated women in the cultured Yangzi River Delta?