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Family “Drama” and Self-Empowerment Strategies in the Genealogy Writings of Yuan Jingrong 袁镜蓉 (1786–ca.1852)

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This article focuses on a genre of late imperial women’s writing that has rarely been explored, namely, genealogy writing. By “genealogy writing,” I refer not only to family histories composed of lists of descendants and ancestors’ biographies, but also, more broadly, to writings specifying the terms for ancestral rites. This genre of writing conferred ritual and moral authority, especially during a time when ancestral worship became the defining attribute of a lineage and was held in supreme importance by local families and lineages. Women, however, almost never enjoyed such authority. My selection of the case of Yuan Jingrong (1786–ca.1852, wife to the Vice Minister of Rites, Wu Jie) is based precisely on this concern of genre. By appropriating the authority conferred by genealogy writing, Yuan Jingrong gained the upper hand in her family’s dramatic shifts of fortune and power, and pushed women’s self-empowering strategies to extraordinary proportions.


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