Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

East Asian Languages and Culture: Chinese

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation studies the representation and self-presentation of concubines in literati households in late imperial China, with a focus on their interrelations with the cultural and intellectual trends during that period, such as the rise of the talented women’s culture, the identity crises of male literati, and the transformations of marital modes and gender norms. By offering contextualized analyses of a number of concubines’ biographies, anecdotes, and tales authored by men of letters, I explore how the male construction of the concubine’s image fitted into male literati’s self-identification and communal building projects. I also study how the cultural tradition of the scholar-concubine romance in previous times came to affect late-imperial scholars’ contemplation of their relationships with their concubines, and how literati writings on concubines in the early Qing were received and adapted by scholars of later generations as a means to connect with their literati-predecessors and consolidate a sense of community. By gender and social status, concubines were double-marginalized and have commonly been regarded as a group deprived of agency and subjectivity in modern times. My study argues against this stereotypical notion. Although concubines’ life experiences and mentalities were largely influenced by the (male) ideologies and sentiments of their times, and their literary vocations often dependent on the support of the male and female elites in their families, they managed to exert a degree of autonomy and, in some cases, choose the lives that they desired. My close reading of a small but illustrative selection of poems attributed to concubine authors also shows that literary talent might enable them to transcend class boundaries and receive a considerable amount of affection and respect from the elite members in their families. However, it could, sometimes, lead to their husband-masters’ feelings of insecurity and harm their marriage.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Beata Grant

Committee Members

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


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/08jm-1x25

Available for download on Tuesday, August 15, 2119

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Asian Studies Commons