Dangerous women in China, another vision of the Chinese history

Dangerous women in China, another vision of the Chinese history.

Here are some excerpts from the Preface of the author.

This is a study in the private language of women. In traditional China, such a lan­ guage was given voice by female outsiders: by geishas, grannies, warriors, re­ cluses, and demons. From their outside space, we hear an old woman ridicule a patriarch, a virago berate a husband, or a performer refuse to entertain. These women, of necessity, look at China from the other side of the mirror; their speech is the unsanctioned reflection or the overheard phrase. They reflect chaos and instinct, tell of life in a minor key; we hear them as shadow characters speaking out of turn, as they create the inside-out of the public text. Public language in China recommends and rewards, enumerates patriarchal benefits, and projects a world ordered by will, good intentions, and enforced decency. Public language, however, though serviceable (as Howard Nemerov said), can provide a false lead: “Public language . . . imposes upon us a public dream, a fantasy written in a language that is neither right nor wrong . . . but makes no avail of our freedom of thought by telling us what we must have thoughts about, and by progressively and insensibly filling us with a low, dull language for thinking them.”1

Of course, some would say private voices have little importance; jibes and complaints seem a petty canon, one that can safely, in the interests of Great Thoughts, be ignored. Others discount this priority; they assert that the feminine counterpoint is, in fact, the one that makes sense. Henry Adams thought that the language of the silenced feminine had more authority than all the symbols of greatness that modernity was constructing.

Retrieving her language—“tracing the channels of her energies,” as Adams put it—has been one task of this book. I have sought to reassemble her image from private journals and local histories, from popular fiction and Imperial accounts; and, indeed, despite her very unofficial and even heterodox life, she has survived in print with a powerful persistence.

Having asserted that she was shoved aside, I must acknowledge that history in fact abounds with her: granny-healers, granny comics, granny troublemakers, and granny dowagers; magicianadepts, warrior-adepts, recfuse-adepts, and reclusive poets. Like time-lapse photo studies, each myth has multiple identities, as if recreating itself in flattering self-mimicry, making shadow images and variations of itself. My goal has not been, however, to list her multiple incarnations, but rather to show them off, to frame them sharply for the reader, to place them in their worlds so that they will speak coherently to the modem; for although these incarnations are not shy of direct speech, they do need context. For these dangerous women, the context is twofold: the uni versais of myth and religion, and the verities of the cultural landscape.ç

Although, like Adams, I am convinced of the high importance of these women, to plump up my explanations with high discourse might only serve to mask the women’s own natural elegance and impede their vivid ways. So after locating them in the patterns of myth and culture as well as in the finer texture of specific events, I have sought to move out of the way and let them speak for themselves, with the hopes that, as they look down at us from myth and play out in history and culture, we might be attuned to the fine expressiveness of their lives; and that, as we turn aside briefly from that “low, dull” grammar of the public text, we will hear rather those asides and complaints and challenges and reservations—all those charming heroics of the dangerous.

Cass, Victoria. Dangerous Women- Warriors, Grannies, And Geishas of the Ming. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (1999).

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