Empresses, Art, and Agency in Song Dynasty China
The Song led China to unrivaled intellectual, socioeconomic, scientific, and urban advances. A flourishing printing culture helped spur a dramatic expansion of literacy that benefited women, whose talent in learning was often paired with virtue and was exemplified by the Song imperial women. Paralleling these developments was an unprecedented level of imperial patronage of the fine arts, including painting and calligraphy. However, while individual emperors such as Huizong (r. 1100–1125) have long been recognized for their importance in this arena, the role played by imperial women has remained largely hidden, subject in part to the biases of Chinese historiography. Drawing against the backdrop of their formidable presence in court politics, Hui-shu Lee recounts and reveals the stories of their lives and art.
Lee focuses on such Song empresses as Liu, Wu, and Yang Meizi, artists and powerbrokers whose skill and influence helped shape the development of temple construction, sculpture, painting, and many other aspects of arts and culture. Acting in the shadow of the notorious female emperor Wu Zetian of the Tang dynasty, early Song imperial women began to define themselves through images and modes of expression that purposely concealed their power. In the process, they helped forge an effective and lasting model of female agency in China. In her exploration of Song imperial arts, Lee looks at ghost-writing, art collecting, didactic art, and the use of calligraphy and painting as gendered modes of expression. She draws on a number of disciplines, including art history, literature, history, and gender studies, to provide a unique account of the vital role of empresses in shaping Song art and culture.
"A major contribution to the fields of Chinese art history and women's studies. . . . [A] wealth of information . . . and . . . astute analysis of often-marginalized works of art . . ."—Lara C. W. Blanchard, Journal of Asian Studies, May 2011
"A fascinating discussion of Chinese huiwen, texts that can be read forwards and backwards but that spell out different messages-often even more than two."—Art History Newsletter
"Groundbreaking in scope and fascinating to read, this well-illustrated volume fills a gap in knowledge of art, women, history, and culture in Song (960-1279) China. Pioneering in its study of the empresses' cultural influence and of the artistic modalities of the Song dynasty, and in the light it sheds on the world of imperial female power, this volume will provoke further study. Highly recommended."—Choice
"This is an important book that breaks new ground in several scholarly areas and does so in a way that is readable, informative, and well argued. Highly polished."—John Chaffee, Binghamton University
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