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Visualizing Self-Inflicted Violence in late Imperial Chinese Religions

The Center for East Asian Studies Center at the University of Chicago presents a talk by Jimmy Yu.

October 14, 2011 4:00pm to 6:00pm

Jimmy Yu, Assistant Professor, The Florida State University

This paper examines two distinct practices of blood writing and female chastity mutilation and suicide in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries China. Thousands of men and women during this time exercised the instrumentality of their bodies to accomplish different goals. Nearly all gazetteers in every part of China produced during this time had sections devoted to pious children and chaste widows who engaged in self-inflicted violent practices. Graphic illustrations of these practices can be found in religious tracts, illustrated books, popular literature, fiction, and poetry during this period. Why did Buddhists and non-Buddhists slice open their tongues and fingers to copy scriptures with their blood? Why did young, chaste widows cut off their noses to permanently undermine their eligibility when forced to remarry? Why were these practices so alluring that writers and illustrators enthusiastically represented them? Visual and textual representations of self-inflicted violence both validate and complicate the supposed sanctity of those practices; they were multiple ways of reading acts of self-inflicted violence that contributed to their popularity in late imperial China. This paper provides a window into the lives of specific performers, their social-cosmic relationships, their conceptions of the potentials of the human body, their practices that affected the world around them, and the ways in which these practices were visualized and represented.

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