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Tales of self empowerment: reconnoitering women's Tanci in late imperial and early twentieth-century China
Theses and Dissertations
  • Li Guo, University of Iowa
Document Type
Date of Degree
Degree Name
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Degree In
Comparative Literature
First Advisor
Maureen Robertson

This dissertation has examined the narrative genre of tanci in late imperial China while keeping a close eye on the theme of women's self-empowerment. I have analyzed three voluminous tanci works, Destiny of Rebirth; Dream, Image, Destiny; and A Histoire of Heroic Women and Men, respectively published in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. I have proposed that these tanci works, by depicting women's crossdressing, self-portraits, and homoerotic sensitivities, presented a transgressive potential to disrupt dominant social and cultural discourses of womanhood in late imperial China. Particularly, tanci works present women who leave their cloistered lives and travel while crossdressed as men. These women are the very opposite of the Confucian feminine ideal (the filial, chaste, and obedient woman who follows the prescribed codes required of a daughter, wife, and widow). Writing such challenging stories was itself a transgressive act for late imperial women authors, whose literary practices were under strict social regulation in the patriarchal society. For women readers of the time and for those of the contemporary period, reading these stories was and is an empowering experience. By identifying with the heroic protagonists, historical and contemporary readers alike may be inspired to envision a life of autonomy and freedom outside the domestic space. Tanci works, I propose, validate women in their immediate historical and cultural landscapes and project rich possibilities for women to reform social reality. The historical task of contemporary readers of tanci is therefore three-fold: to retrieve the voices of earlier authors from obscurity, to empower themselves with the help of these voices, and to integrate the predecessors' insights into a vision of new possibilities of social change.

  • Gender,
  • Performance,
  • Place,
  • Tanci,
  • Visuality,
  • Women's narratives
vi, 291 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 279-291).
Copyright 2010 Li Guo
Citation Information
Li Guo. "Tales of self empowerment: reconnoitering women's Tanci in late imperial and early twentieth-century China" (2010)
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