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Qing Women's Poetry on Roaming as a Female Transcendent

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Youxian shi (poetry on roaming as a transcendent) has long been a conventional poetic genre in Chinese literature. It has been the common conception that youxian poetry was most popular from the Wei dynasty (220-265) through the Tang dynasty (618-907), and up until now, scholarly studies on the genre seemed to focus exclusively on Tang and pre-Tang periods. This gives the impression that after the Tang nothing of interest was written in this particular genre. Consequently, very little scholarly attention has been given to the youxian poems composed in post-Tang periods. This article examines youxian poems by Qing (1644-1911) women, specifically those poems entitled Nü youxian (roaming as a female transcendent). With the increasing consciousness of "self," the rise of groups of women writers, and the popularity of women's culture in late imperial China, youxian poems provided a unique literary space for women's poetic and autobiographical voices, certainly deserving more scholarly attention. I argue that by presenting female transcendents or women pursuing transcendence at the center of a poem and re-inscribing the traditional literary images, the poets created a stronger female subjectivity that reflected women's desires in their intellectual and spiritual lives. I also propose that nü youxian was a new subgenre of youxian poetry, emerging only in the context of the efflorescence of women's poetry.

Affiliations: 1: Florida State University


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