Marginal Writing in Seventeenth-Century China: Ye Shaoyuan and His Literary Family

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2010

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 focuses on the writing and identity (re)construction of Ye Shaoyuan 葉紹袁 (1589-1648) and his literary family based at Fenhu 分湖, a small town in Wujiang 吳 江, Suzhou 蘇州 prefecture during the late Ming and the Ming-Qing transition. Emphasis is given to both their collective writings in the printed family corpus titled Wumengtang ji 午夢 堂集 (Collections of the Midday Dream Hall) and Ye’s more personal autobiographical writings. I argue that through the appropriation of various forms of collective writing and having the family corpus printed privately and circulated among a small group of relatives and close friends, through the employment and deployment of the trope of poverty and moral integrity, through the practice of and participation in the planchette spirit writing (fuji 扶乩), and by writing a gazetteer of the locale that he identified himself with, Ye Shaoyuan as well as his family members had found ways to claim their moral and intellectual superiority. This helped them transcend their sense of marginality and survive emotionally the traumatic years of personal and communal traumas during last years of the late Ming and the Ming-Qing transitional period.

The period that Ye Shaoyuan and his family lived through was one of the most dynamic periods in Chinese history marked by commercialization, monetarization, and social iii mobilization. Their sense of marginality came partially from their declining economic situation, but more from the family members’ frustrations in the civil service examinations, over the deteriorating social morals, rampant bureaucratic corruption, and the commercialization of a large number of literati during the late Ming and the Ming-Qing transition.

In the concluding part I attempt to redefine marginality in literary and cultural studies. I call for a methodology combining external and objective analysis with more subjective and empathic exploration while studying literati culture and literature of late imperial China. Such a perspective of hybridity, I contend, is particularly necessary and productive when we approach minor figures like Ye Shaoyuan. It is through these minor literary figures, however, that we are likely to come by a comprehensive picture of Chinese literary and cultural tradition.

This dissertation is informed by contemporary theories of literary studies, cultural studies, sociology and anthropology. Of course, I have carefully added necessary qualifications when applying these theories to Chinese texts and cases. In addition, I tried to approach my primary sources through interdisciplinary perspectives in order to render this dissertation a project of hybridity, a literary, historical, social and cultural study simultaneously. It is my hope that this dissertation may add knowledge to the studies of the field of cultural production, the identity studies, and the studies of literati and family culture in late imperial China.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Robert E. Hegel

Committee Members

Beata Grant, L. Letty Chen, Pauline Lee, Steven B. Miles, Steven N. Zwicker


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7PN93JT

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