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"Gender and Friendship in Ming-Qing literature," Wai-yee Li, 1879 Professor of Chinese Literature, Harvard University. This talk on Li’s recent research on gender and friendship in late imperial China is the keynote lecture of the fourth annual conference of Southeast US Scholars and Friends of Late Imperial China (SEUSS-FLIC).

Wai-yee Li is a scholar of impressive range and depth with more than ten published volumes and over sixty essays and articles that engage Chinese history, literature, and culture from early times up to the 20th century.

Winner of the Joseph D Levenson book prize for Women and National Trauma in Late Imperial Chinese Literature (2016) and the Patrick D. Hanan book prize for translation for Plum Shadows and Plank Bridge; Two Memoirs about Courtesans (2022), her exploration of the discursive and imaginative spaces inhabited by women through the tumultuous Ming-Qing transition (ca. 1618-1683) have traced how notions of gender mediated political association and identity.

The most famous examples of friendship in the Chinese tradition are male. The importance of friendship for the political imagination and the moral imagination means that the exclusion of women from the classic discourse of friendship also reflects their marginalization in conceptions of political agency or moral self-cultivation. Gender enters the discussion of friendship in new ways in Ming-Qing China, drawing attention to new dimensions of sociality, interiority, agency, literary self-consciousness, and the awareness of gender roles and gender boundaries in writings by and about women.

This talk has been made possible by an award from the James P. Geiss and Margaret Y. Hsu Foundation and has been supported by the Office of the Provost, the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, the Center for Asian Studies, and the Department of Comparative Literature and Intercultural Studies.

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  • Karin Myhre

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