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Enchantment, Charming, and the Notion of the Femme Fatalein Early Chinese Historiography

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In a number of well-framed speeches recorded in the Zuozhuan, women, especially beautiful women, are viewed as the femmes fatales, or women who cause calamities. Among these speeches is a rare record of a famous doctor’s diagnosis of a Spring-and-Autumn-period hegemon’s illness. How could illness be connected with the notion of the femme fatale? In examining the correlations between this Zuozhuanaccount and related information in some newly excavated manuscripts, I argue that as far as the medical approach is concerned, both the Zuozhuanand the excavated texts share a common cultural basis at least partly retained in the extant texts after a long course of oral and written transmission. Based on the similarities between those transmitted and newly excavated texts, the illness from which the local ruler suffered can be identified as a kind of sexual disease caused in the lord’s bedchamber. This evidence, and the high ratio of sex-related illnesses reflected in the Western Han doctor Chunyu Yi’s biographical account, further suggests that the Spring-and-Autumn-period hegemon’s illness was not a single isolated case, but rather represented a broader common problem of the patriarch’s sexual excess in early Chinese polygamous families. Some of the Zuozhuanaccounts of ritual and medical principles are also closely related. This leads me to further suggest that the Zuozhuanhistoriographers, who knew well both medical knowledge and problems taking place in their contemporaries’ bedchambers, chose to condemn the femmes fatalesunder an abstract principle, that of ritual propriety, as the solution to sex-related diseases in early Chinese polygamous families.

Affiliations: 1: State University of New York New Platz


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