The abstracts posted below are for information only: please do not quote or cite without the author's permission. They are listed in alphabetical order by the author's surname. For further information on the workshop, see under News.
Literary politics in China for nearly four decades obliged writers to restrict their work to representations of "objective history", in which the fictional lives of individuals were depicted and interpreted as allegories of the nation-state. Personalised stories began to re-appear in Chinese fiction from the end of the 1970s in underground and unofficial literature. The individual became the main subject of the narrative, and both conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings were explored at length. Nevertheless, close analysis still reveals an attribution of historical significance to fictional events and issues. Even as writers reverted to the depths of private experience, they were still unable to break away from reconstructing political allegories. Further experimentation in subjective fiction took place in the 1990s in novels by He Dun, Qiu Huadong, Shu Ping and others.
Tie Ning's semi-autobiographical novel, Big-bath woman (2000), illustrates how difficult it is for Chinese writers to leave aside national allegory. Set in the world of writing and publishing, the novel relates the story of a young woman and two older men who are both in love with her. The narrative alternates between first- and third-person as the protagonist connects her love affair to her memories of her teenage years, showing how she achieves strength through the interweaving of her private and her public lives. In this rich and complex narrative, the author's strong sense of morality (substituting for political consciousness) serves both to sublimate individual desire and also resurrect the collective history of the recent past.
This paper proposes an inquiry into the broad range of appearances of the letter genre. The approach is three-fold:
With reference to the editorial history of letters by a number of modern authors, I shall also hyperbolically argue that private, intimate usage of the letter might be found in those samples physically destroyed.
I will attempt to unpack the notion that in late Ming elite society the body was the last frontier of the self. Is it the case that to find a zone of purely personal privacy within the private life of Chinese family and kin group one must look to bodily practices? We do not need Foucault when we have Confucius to teach that one's body belongs not to oneself but to one's parents and by extension to society and community. I will argue that medical norms, the gender system and the scholar's practices of self cultivation all powerfully support an analysis of the Chinese body as social.
I will look at the social relations of healing as shown in medical cases histories; the organization of male-female relations through the spatial practices of sex segregation according to the doctrines of inner and outer and the conventions of female modesty; and the inner life of scholars in their studies and meditative retreats. All of these practices were understood within the framework of a cosmology linking individual human bodies to the cosmic macrocosm and allotting to the inner sphere of family and household public social functions of labor and governance.
In this elite world it may be that privacy must be reconfigured as concealment, as in the ritual hiding of the female sexual body and bound foot; or in the tacit understandings that legitimized silence as a mark of forbearance, and withdrawal (or even suicide) as a mode of protest. However, the fullest license for "the privacy of thoughts" may have been found in the scholar's study as an alternative to the marital bed and its social duties of procreation and in the popular midnight exercises of inner alchemy dedicated to a purely personal bodily regeneration.
A final question to be resolved is how far these practices of solitude, silence and concealment functioned as zones of personal autonomy rather than disciplines ultimately serving to reinforce social norms.
This paper intends to investigate the Chinese concept of privacy in practice as well as in words. It shall employ Ming-Ch'ing family records and biographical data to examine the changing mother-son relations in order to reveal the social cultural mechanism behind domestic bonds as well as the individual liberty in negotiating his/her personal space. It begins by describing how mother-son ties were formulated throughout different phases in a mother's and a son's life course, to look at the many faces, various possibilities that people were allowed to operate this pivotal family ties in the Ming-Ch'ing environment. Secondly, the essay goes on to demonstrate how in actuality, a motherly devotion way may not be equivalent to all womanly needs, just as the sonly duty could not limit ambitions in a manly life.
The added question then is to ask what kind of intimacy was created for either the mothers or the sons in this domestic environment. How this personal intimacy was prescribed and nurture by social ethics and the cultural wave of the time. Whether this sense of closeness demanded an enclosed, sealed, and concealed physical and social space in order for it to grow, and whether it tend to enhance or diminish as time went by. In other words, as historians, how may we understand the construction of these primordial social relations structurally by situating it in its original context both objectively and subjectively? Could the inner workings of these human emotions touch upon not only the particular historical conditions of Chinese domesticity understood in Ming-Ch'ing terms but also the very definition of "privacy" as appreciated up to now mostly in western (European-American) historical development?
The question "did people have a private life in pre-modern times" has been debated for a long time1. The scholars of "privacy" in every region and period in question meet a lack of documentation and methodological and epistemological difficulties. Thus my presentation will focus on these problems.
In the first part I will discuss some assumptions and methodological approaches elaborated by Russian scholars of private life with regard to their applicability to the study of Ancient Chinese cases. In the second part I will discuss a possibility of examining the "private life" of people in ancient China as early as in pre-Warring States period, and the admissibility of demarcation between "private" vs. "public", or "official" spheres. I believe that, despite the paucity and character of available sources, such problems deserve due consideration. I will regard the extant documents related to the history of the 1st half of the 1st millenium BC with respect to their reliability for the study of "privacy". It is my opinion that such materials as the ritual bronze inscriptions and the poetry of the Shijing may be used for the study, while taken as complementary to each other.
In the third part I will sketch out some features of ancient Chinese representations of privacy, obtained through analyzing the bronze inscriptions and the Shijing. In particular, I will expand on the theme of the "private circle" of ancient Chinese nobles: its composition, boundaries and their possible shift under the period studied.
1 In particular, this problem has been a subject to the sessions of the periodical workshop "The History of Private life before the New Time", presided by ac. Yuri Bessmertny, in the Institute of General History of Russian Academy of Sciences, in which I have been involved in 1997-2000.
Women's Privacy Literature (nüxing yinsi wenxue) has been a publishing hot spot and media favourite throughout 1990s China. Originating with semi-autobiographical writing that focused on women's personal life, including their sexual experience, women's privacy literature has always been a convenient yet also problematic concept. The collective hype surrounding such literature during the 1990s has involved various social forces under the present dual-track political and economic system. And the newly emerging commercial publishing industry has been right at the centre of this storm of hype. By examining closely the publishing process and circulation of two books, Lin Bai's A War With Oneself (1994) and Wei Hui's Shanghai Babe (1999), my paper will follow the trajectory of the social formation of "women's privacy literature". I will argue that, while the consumer-oriented market has appropriated women's writing for its own ends, women writers have also played varied, complicated and changing roles in the commodification of their own literature.
In the first half of 1990s, commercial publishers exploited many serious works by women writers through distorting and misleading editing, packaging and promotion. Indeed, the very label of "privacy literature" and the social controversy surrounding it illustrates how the publishing industry packaged women's writing in a way designed to maximize its market appeal, thereby restricting women's literature to certain narrow and crudely delineated categories. However, by the end of 1990s, when "women's privacy literature" had stored up a degree of "marketable value", it was no longer merely publishers who were sensitive to market demands and profit. I will demonstrate how a new generation of young women writers have begun consciously to exploit their own "invisible capital," and have willingly cooperated with the publishing industry and mass media to capitalize on their own sexual identity and personal experience.
Studies of privacy often assume that concepts of privacy are uniform within and unique to nation-states or cultures. One reason is the lingering influence of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which maintains that thinking is shaped by language. This argument tends to be used selectively; few English speakers claim that European countries with terminologies that differ from English (e.g. Dutch, Swedish and Finnish) have different concepts of privacy, but it has been claimed that Chinese lacks an equivalent terminology and hence concept of privacy.
A second reason is that cross-cultural comparisons between instances of privacy tend to focus on differences in expression or awareness of privacy experiences, whereas comparisons in terms of functions, mechanisms and values are more likely to reveal common characteristics. We may also distinguish between a sense of privacy (which exists universally, whether or not there is a word for it in any particular language), a concept of privacy (evidence for which is lacking in preliterate cultures) and a right of privacy (normally found at the later stages of a civilisation). Another problem concerns the location of private experience: it may be supposed, for instance, that only the single, solitary person experiences privacy. In practice, it may be observed that privacy can be shared, that it can be experienced in a crowd by retreating into a private mental space, and that in certain respects the location is not the individual but the family.
Finally, the widespread acceptance of post-colonial theory has also made sinologists anxious to avoid imposing Western notions of privacy, so that the absence of an indigenous academic discourse has inhibited research.
This paper examines some recent English-language research on premodern Chinese history and literature with respect to privacy. It concludes with a brief analysis of a well-known Chinese text, Fu sheng liu ji [A drifting life; six chapters].
The correspondence between Lu Xun and Xu Guangping from 1925 to 1929, revised and published in 1933 under the title Liang di shu [Letters between two], shows how they sought and valued privacy in their relationship. Lu Xun in particular was fearful of gossip, and the publication of their love-letters was their attempt to control information about their love affair rather than leave it in the hands of the gossip-mongers. The letters show how they tried to keep the secret of their relationship to themselves up to the time that Xu Guangping became pregnant, and how they longed to escape from the public intrusions to live a life of seclusion together. At the beginning of the correspondence, they shared the common view that in the gong-si [public/private] dichotomy, gong stood for public service and was always a positive virtue, while si implied selfish interests that could not easily be defended. As their intimacy developed, they came to write more favourably of si and long for shared seclusion. To highlight the functions and values of privacy as expressed in their correspondence, the paper compares the unpublished and published version of the letters in the context of their times.
My paper is on the emergence of private-life secrecy in the sphere of religion in 17th- and 18th-century Japan.
As is well, known, the Tokugawa state aggressively persecuted Christians during the early decades of the seventeenth century and sought to proscribe the creed. What is less well known is that the Tokugawa state similarly persecuted proponents of the fundamentalist fujufuse movement in Nichiren Buddhism and likewise sought to proscribe the movement.
In my paper, I propose to show briefly how the state sought to proscribe these movements, and how proponents of these creeds devised strategies which enabled them successfully to take their religious practices "underground." I then propose that as the state recognized its (at best) limited ability to enforce its religious policies, it confronted the limits of its own power and eventually retreated from enforcement of much of its legislation in the religious sphere. I further contend that in this retreat, the state tacitly opened a de facto sphere of "private-life secrecy" for individuals in the practice of their religious beliefs. This sphere, in turn, is significant for the emergence of a heretofore unacknowledged level of individual subjectivity in Tokugawa Japan.
This paper seeks to increase our understanding of privacy in China by analysing letter writing from Zhou times through to the early Qing dynasty, focusing on periods when there were significant new developments in the forms or functions of letters which would seem to be significant in any discussion of the 'private' in China. An obvious difficulty with this topic is how we determine when a letter might be said to be 'public' and when it might be said to be 'private'. This difficulty arises not only from the problems associated with using these terms in a Chinese context, but also from trying to determine the 'epistolary context' of a letter from a distance of many centuries. One of the contributions this paper hopes to make is to propose some approaches which might be used to carry out such analyses.
I will argue that the most important changes in letter-writing practice which relate to the study of privacy before the modern period took place in, approximately, the late Han, the Song and the late Ming. While public letters continued to be written in great numbers throughout Chinese history, each of these periods witnessed important developments towards the expression of the 'private' in letters, though these developments are complex and most Chinese letter-writers remained guarded in their expression of 'private' thoughts.
English definitions of privacy involve notions of seclusion and freedom from intrusion; of concealment and secrecy; of exclusivity; of the personal as opposed to the public. When conducted in comparison to the literacy and literature of men, the study of women and literacy in Chinese culture, whether of the Jiangnan poets of the late imperial period or the practitioners of nüshu, the women's script of southern Hunan, provides fertile ground for exploration of Chinese notions of privacy. The concepts si [private] and gong [public] are correlative to nei [inner] and wai [outer] and even yin and yang, with all their attendant connotations. To talk about the ways literacy and literary practice are gendered is to invoke notions of both the accessibility and the exclusivity of literacy across particular relations of power, and to recognize that this distribution is not value-neutral. Hanzi literacy, by virtue of its inherent difficulty as well as the sumptuary laws and economic preconditions governing its access, is relatively exclusive and inaccessible, whereas nüshu is exclusive to women and girls but nonetheless relatively accessible because it is essentially a phonetic syllabary. The ways notions of accessibility and particularly exclusivity (and its relation to secrecy) inform questions of gender and power vis-a vis Chinese literacies and literatures provide promising ground for locating Chinese notions of privacy.
The notion(s) of privacy may be (a) Western concept(s) and at this stage I would not know of an equivalent in the classical or tradiitonal vernacular languages of China, but this should not prevent us from using it to think about other cultures as well. Stories about people overhearing Sima Guang reciting on the toilet and quite generally what we know about toilet-customs in China today should suffice to indicate that we in the West do not (nowadays) have the same concepts of what "privacy" refers to. This does not mean that they did not also have areas where they would apply a concept or at least actions that we could then interpret as equivalent to our notion(s) of "privacy" . A good example of this is the taboo on male doctors touching more than the pulse (or not even that) and looking at the tongue of female patients. This could be interpreted as corresponding to our notion of "privacy", although it should be noted that these are the main part of the diagnostic apparatus in Chinese school medicine anyhow and not much more would be done in the case of male patients either. In my paper I wish to look in a very cursory way at this kind of examples to get a more general view of what could be corresponding notions to our own notion(s) of "privacy".
Nearly all Western conceptions of privacy are based on the idea of autonomy of the individual. Privacy in the Western world can therefore be construed as epitomizing one of the the core values of liberalism and a distinctly liberal conception of the self. The paper 1) discusses some of the most influential privacy accounts that have been proposed in the philosophical literature of the last three decades, 2) reviews some of the internal objections to them, and 3) articulates some problems with a liberal conception of privacy from a communitarian point of view.
The radical transformation of China's cities in the past two decades has profoundly impacted Chinese conceptions of privacy. In this paper I develop a profile of privacy based on contemporary fictional accounts dominated by protagonists preoccupied, above all, with maintaining their autonomy and individuality in the perpetually modernizing metropolis.1 In these narratives subjectivity is closely associated with the flux of metropolitan crowds, patterns of destruction and urban renewal, altered economic configurations, and the introduction of new technologies of transportation, communication, and socialization.
In my reading of a sampling of post-Mao urban novels, I conclude that shifting urban spatial configurations shape Chinese conceptions of privacy in several ways. First, protagonists often maintain a reserved public persona to mask a sense of repulsion and alienation from the city and its masses; in turn, their private lives are dominated by obsessive desire. Second, fictional characters regularly construct their own private utopias in order to offset the exterior chaos of the metropolis and regain an integrated, autonomous sense of self. Third, this self-imposed privacy often results in psychopathic symptoms of paranoia and melancholy.
While this new urban fiction has been criticized by many of China's literary pundits for depicting idiosyncratic views, I argue that the recent creative obsession with subjectivity is a common stratagem for addressing global concerns. These writers privilege the private, the local, and the feminine, precisely as a means of speaking to universal issues of modernity.
1 I examine the following novels: Heide xue (Black snow, 1986) by Liu Heng (b. 1954), Huxi (Breathing, 1993) by Sun Ganlu (b. 1957), Yuwang de qizhi (Banner of desire, 1996) by Ge Fei (b. 1964), Siren Shenghuo (Private life, 1996) by Chen Ran (b. 1962), Yige ren de zhanzheng (One person's battle, 1996) by Lin Bai (b. 1958), Shenme shi laji, shenme shi ai (What's Trash, What's Love? 1998) by Zhu Wen (b. 1967), Yingyan (Fly eyes, 1998) by Qiu Huadong (b. 1969).
The relationship between gong [public] and si [private] has received considerable attention and it is well known that the English terms "public" and "private" map poorly onto gong and si. It is also well known that terms like yinsi and si and cognates like sishenghuo [private life] and sishi [private affairs] possess negative connotations generally lacking in their English equivalents. However, this paper stresses that modern--and ambiguous--concepts of privacy emerge in the late Qing (c. 1880-1912) by examining si not as a residual category (non-gong) but as a marker of particular political values.
This paper examines a modern discourse of privacy in China in its own terms but including a consideration of translingual elements. The origins of this discourse of privacy lie in political developments as the imperial system collapsed. The emperor had long represented gong and the public spirit of the realm [tianxia]. Criticism of the monarchy as si [selfish/private] reemerged in the late Qing as intellectuals began rethinking the functions and role of the emperor. This paper then traces the gradual legitimation of si, ironically, as the traditional cosmology came under increasing pressure. Yan Fu and Liang Qichao, among others, gradually discovered that for all the value they placed on the public realm [gong], the citizenship ideal they favored could not function without si. This eventually led to a full-fledged rights [quanli] discourse, though this paper focuses on the initial emergence of both the evil and the good si out of the collapse of the monarchy.
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