The Fallible Body in Early Medieval China
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CitationLi, Xiaoxuan. 2020. The Fallible Body in Early Medieval China. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation examines one of the most important assumptions inherited by early medieval China: that the physical body functions as a valid and readable source of knowledge about individuals and the world they inhabit. It considers the continuity and evolution of this assumption during the period of the Six Dynasties (3rd - 6th centuries CE), and argues that it is contested across various genres of textual representation. I identify the emergence of a “fallible” body in three clusters of texts. First, I discuss how the late third century idea of “knowing others” (zhiren 知人) diverges from an earlier physiognomic tradition, and I interpretseveral rhapsodies (fu 賦) in the context of this zhiren paradigm. I explain their choice of rhetorical strategies, most centrally the conceit of a ventriloquized body part, as rooted in a challenge against the regime of interpreting one’s physical appearance for ability and status. Second, I examine the relationship between representations of the female body and knowledge of interior subjectivity in the rhapsody tradition from the Han (206 BCE-220 CE) through the Liang (502-557 CE), and locate in the shi (詩) poetry of the fifth and sixth centuries a new interest in the disjunction between the inherited literary discourse of this relationship and its basis in economic and social realities. Lastly, I discuss the motif of the anomalous body in zhiguai (志怪) collections, and through a comparison between Buddhist apologetic sources with more heterogenous compilations, show how certain tales question the status of bodily markings as evidence for both narrative and moral resolution.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365538
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