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Title: The late Ming courtesan Ma Shouzhen (1548-1604) : visual culture, gender and self-fashioning in the Nanjing pleasure quarter
Author: Merlin, Monica
ISNI:       0000 0004 2746 4104
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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Ma Shouzhen (1548-1604) was a cultured courtesan who lived in the famous pleasure quarter along the Qinhuai River in Nanjing, the southern capital of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). She was talented in dance and music, painting and poetry, and surprisingly for her time, she was also a playwright. Although she was a celebrity of the prolific Nanjing cultural milieu and there is a good corpus of extant material by and about her, the particular contribution of Ma Shouzhen - her character and her work - have been marginalised, or even neglected, by the previous scholarship. This thesis is a cross-disciplinary study of Ma Shouzhen and is the first in-depth scholarly investigation into the entirety of her activities. It employs material and methods traditionally pertaining to the disciplines of sinology, history, art history, literary and drama studies. The thesis has a dual aim: first, to provide a nuanced understanding of the courtesan, her cultural production and social practice; second, to reclaim the agency and legacy of her character within the cultural milieu of late Ming Nanjing and beyond. These aims will be achieved through two main research objectives: (1) recovering and re-evaluating visual and written sources by and about the courtesan; (2) investigating those sources in order to comprehend her modes of self-representation and strategies of self-fashioning, analysed especially through the lens of gender. The main body of the thesis is composed of an introduction, five core chapters, and an epilogue; the chapters are structured so as to provide as complete a picture of Ma Shouzhen as possible. Chapter Two explores the space of the pleasure quarter, Ma’s biography and its entwinement within the complexities of the historical moment. Chapter Three focuses on her painting, Chapter Four considers her poetry, and Chapter Five explores her theatre practice; Chapter Six extends the investigation to focus on the construction of Ma’s historical character in later decades. In its content and aims, this thesis contributes to women’s and gender history, as well as to studies in visual culture and literature.
Supervisor: Clunas, Craig Sponsor: Florey-Henkel European Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Painting & paintings ; Visual art and representation ; Asia ; History of Asia & Far East ; Chinese ; Performance ; Women ; Social mobility ; History of art and visual culture ; Chinese visual culture ; women's history ; gender ; visuality ; self-fashioning ; social networks ; courtesan ; early modern courtesanship ; Ma Shouzhen ; Chinese women artists ; Chinese painting ; Nanjing