(Harvard University Press, 2004)
The extremely rich and diverse tradition of women’s writing in the imperial period of China is the focus of a new volume of literary translations by Beata Grant, Ph.D., professor of Chinese and of Religious Studies, both in Arts & Sciences.
The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China is co-authored with Wilt L. Idema, Ph.D., professor of Chinese literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University.
The book includes writings drawn from two millennia of imperial China (221 B.C.-1911), with contributions from Chinese women such as Ban Zhao (circa A.D. 60-115) and Qiu Jin (1875-1907). The Red Brush traces the lives and works of a surprisingly diverse range of writing women, including empresses, palace ladies, daughters of the elite, courtesans, nuns, peasant wives and cross-dressing revolutionaries.
“We tried very hard to make this book not only informative but also readable and engaging,” Grant said, “not only for undergraduate audiences but also for anyone intrigued by the fact that the story of women in premodern China was not necessarily one of unrelieved oppression.”
The volume offers an ambitious and illuminating sampling of poetry, prose, drama, and fiction, as well as memorials, letters, religious writings, and other documents by women writers of imperial China, all in new translations. Many of the writings are of substantial literary quality, and all offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of women writers of this period.
The study of Chinese literature has been enriched in recent years by the rediscovery of a strong writing tradition among women living in Confucian China, a society that perhaps more than any other is known for its patriarchal tradition.
Because of the burgeoning interest in the study of both pre-modern and modern women in China, several scholarly books, articles, and even anthologies of women’s poetry have been published in the last two decades. This anthology differs from previous works by offering a glimpse of women’s writings not only in poetry but in other genres as well, including essays and letters, drama, religious writing, and narrative fiction.
The authors have presented the selections within their respective biographical and historical contexts. This comprehensive approach helps to clarify traditional Chinese ideas on the nature and function of literature as well as on the role of the woman writer.
“This book focuses on women’s writing and writing women and it is not a social history,” Grant said. “However, I think readers will find themselves learning a great deal about the worlds in which these women lived, as well as appreciating their diverse literary responses to those worlds.”
— Gerry Everding