Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Comparative Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Women have often been treated as marginal figures or powerless victims in historical accounts of late imperial China, although recent decades have seen a significant rewriting of women during this period. This dissertation, which focuses on the women martyrs and women writers of the Zha family of Tianjin, contributes to this more nuanced understanding of women and gender relations in late imperial China, while also shedding new light on Tianjin’s cultural history. While both the cult of female chastity and the burgeoning of women writers have recently attracted considerable scholarly attention, the Zha family’s intriguing cases complicate the perceptions on both of these phenomena. In 1644, seven women of the Zha family died in a group suicide to protect their chastity against potential threats. However, it was not until several decades later that the family began to heavily promote these women martyrs’ posthumous reputation, culminating in a large collection of writings that was compiled in 1740, nearly a century after their martyrdom. The first half of the eighteenth century also saw the family nurture several women poets. This dissertation explores this large-scale but belated promotion of the Zha family’s women martyrs; it also looks beyond the Jiangnan area—the predominant focus of most scholarly works on late imperial women writers—into the writing activities of the Zha family women. By doing so, I seek to illustrate the struggles to both celebrate and make sense of stories of chastity martyrs, the conflicting forces at play beneath women’s literary practices in a part of China not particularly known for supporting women writers, the various roles played by women and ghosts of women in the rise of a wealthy merchant-turned-scholar family to cultural prominence in eighteenth century Tianjin, and finally, the literary scene in a fast-changing commercial city.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Beata Grant

Committee Members

Robert E. Hegel, Zhao Ma, Steven B. Miles, Jamie Newhard,


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/mxgf-ya70

Available for download on Monday, September 04, 2023