Introduction to the Online Digital Archive of Ming-Qing Women’s Writings
Chronological Range of the Publications:
The online digital archive of the McGill-Harvard-Yenching Library Ming-Qing Women’s Writings Digitization Project contains digitally scanned images of 90 titles of collections of writings by women that are in the holdings of the Harvard-Yenching Library.1 Roughly half of the titles are part of the Hart Collection housed in the Rare Book Room. In addition, several titles printed between the late Ming (1600s) and the Qianlong period (1736-1795) also come from the Rare Book Collection. The remaining titles are located in the regular Chinese collection of the Harvard-Yenching Library.
These 90 digitized titles provide a significant chronological range of printings, with the earliest title being the collection of classical Chinese verse composed by the Korean woman poet Hǒ Kyǒngbǒn (Ch. Xu Jingfan 許景樊; also known by her style name Hǒ Nansǒrhǒn, 1563-1589), published in 1608 in Korea, and the latest a collection of critical remarks on women's poetry (shihua 詩話) by Tiaoxisheng 苕溪生(pseud.) published in the 1920s. The online digital archive contains the following groupings by chronological range:
|4 titles||Late Ming (1608-1628)|
|11 titles||Eighteenth century|
|52 titles||Nineteenth century|
|6 titles||Last decade of the Qing (1901-1911)|
|13 titles||Early Republican period (1912-1920s)|
|4 titles||Publication date unknown, but pre-1930|
From these groupings, we can further observe finer subdivisions that suggest a burgeoning of publications in the second half of the nineteenth century, particularly after 1864 in the post-Taiping Rebellion period (1851-1864). This publishing boom of women's writings suggests tantalizing relations to the larger reconstitution of ethnic, regional, class and family identities during the turbulent social and political history of the late Qing.
Types of Publications:
Our digital archive offers examples from a variety of types of publications prevalent in late imperial China. As one might expect, the largest category of publications - separate collections of poetry (some with prose) (bieji 別集) by individual women writers - correlates with the recognition of women as individual authors in this period. Women’s literary status is also reflected in the several large anthologies of women’s poetry (zongji 總集) published between the 1620s and 1830s, including the landmark anthology, the Guo chao gui xiu zheng shi ji 國朝閨秀正始集 (1831), compiled and edited by the woman scholar and poet (Wanyan 完顏) Yun Zhu 惲珠 (1771-1833), and its sequel Guo chao gui xiu zheng shi xu ji 國朝閨秀正始續集 (1836), co-edited by Yun Zhu’s granddaughter Wanyan Miaolianbao 完顏妙蓮保. 2 The five examples of the genre "remarks on poetry" (shihua 詩話), that is, critical notes on poems - here all focused on poetry by women - published in the Republican era (1920s) also suggest interesting cultural intersections in this modernizing period.
Two other formats of publications unique to printing practices in imperial China deserve mention. One is the "joint" or "combined printing" (heke 合刻 or huike 彙刻), a format which includes individually titled collections under one collective title. Often these are family publications, that is, the literary collections of individual women in a family are published together in a set. But we also find large sets of "joint printings" such as the Xiao tan luan shi hui ke bai jia gui xiu ci 小檀欒室彙刻百家閨秀詞 (1896), compiled by Xu Naichang 徐乃昌 (1868-1936), which is dedicated to collections of ci 詞 (song lyrics) and includes a total of one hundred individually titled collections by one hundred women. The other format is the collection which is "appended" (fulu 附錄) to another. Usually these consist of the literary collection of a wife appended to her husband's collection. Not surprisingly, these women's writings are often overlooked. "Buried" or "subsumed" under their husbands' names and works, their own names are usually not listed independently as "authors" of collections. But we have made an effort to identify these in our digital archive.
Finally, our digital archive also contains single examples of some categories of works that represent particular genres of writing, such as the verse novel by women (tanci 彈詞). Below is the break down of the publications by format and genre category: 3
- 46 separate collections (bieji) by individual women authors
- 12 "appended" collections (fulu)
- 7 collections by individual women included in collectanea (congshu)
- 10 anthologies (zongji) - 9 of poetry, 1 of letters
- 8 joint printings (heke, huike)
- 5 collections of "remarks on poetry" (shihua, cihua)
- 1 collection of biographies of women (zhuan)
- 1 verse novel (tanci)
The Online Scholarly Apparatus and Search Interface:
The analytic fields of information in the Ming-Qing Women's Writings database on this website supports detailed research related to many aspects of women’s literature and culture. This online resource provides materials and data for important areas of research. For example, by making accessible online editions of women's writings in varied forms and quality from different regions and different periods, researchers can investigate issues related to printing and publishing in late imperial China. Two individual collections each having two editions not far separated in time are included for comparative interest.4 The comprehensive, searchable database supports statistical research on women's social and marital status, ethnic identity, their geographical location, family and regional networks, male involvement in women's publication, and many other issues related to the social and cultural history of women.
The database also supports detailed literary research, whether on a textual level with a formalistic, stylistic, or thematic orientation; or on a contextual level with respect to critical or theoretical issues. Not only can users browse through the scanned images of each text by using the page turner device, more importantly they can conduct analytic and statistical queries in many fields. In addition to the basic author/title search, the contents of each collection are analysed and entered into a large set of searchable categories. These categories include front and back matters such as prefaces and colophons, titles of individual poems in each collection, and ci (song lyric) tune patterns. Each piece of writing, in whichever genre, is keyed to individual authors. For example, all prefaces written for individual collections are keyed to authors. Furthermore, if a woman wrote a preface to her own collection — a self-preface (zixu 自序), it is identified as such. Given the prevalence of poetry writing by women, each poem is categorized according to one of the classical poetic forms (e.g., five-character ancient style verse, seven-character regulated verse, etc.) (Browse by poetic form index). Each song lyric is identified by the tune pattern (Browse by ci tune pattern), and the text of its subtitle, if there is one, is searchable. In collections which include selections from prose genres, each prose piece is also categorized by genre, of which there are thirty-nine (browse by prose genre index).
While all the individual poetry collections in our online archive are by women of the Ming and Qing, several large anthologies of poetry and prose are diachronic in coverage and include selections by women from legendary and high antiquity all the way down to the period of compilation. Thus, the several thousand "women authors" in the database span the complete dynastic chronology of Chinese history. These vast anthologies, searchable by author and poem title (or prose title), also enable the researcher to do various types of comparative studies: variations in selections, textual variants, and editorial changes when the same poem is included in the original separate collection and in anthologies, to name a few possibilities. A poem by Yuan Ji 袁機, (1720-1759), younger sister of the famous poet and scholar Yuan Mei 袁枚, (1716-1797), entitled "Wen yan 聞雁," provides an illuminating example when we can see the radical changes Yun Zhu made in the version she included in her anthology mentioned above in comparison to the version in Yuan Ji's collection published by Yuan Mei, the Suwen nü zi yi gao 素文女子遺稿. The textual emendations demonstrate Yun Zhu's interest in the moral dimension of poetic expression. Try to search for the two versions of the poem and see for yourself.
The innovative potential for research provided by our online digital archive and search interface awaits your use and discovery. We encourage you to try it in your research and we look forward to your comments and suggestions for improvement.
Grace S. Fong
Dept. of East Asian Studies
- back to text Several titles, particularly the shihua or "remarks on poetry", are writings by male authors about women's poetry.
- back to text Romanization of titles follows the Library of Congress system.
- back to text This project is carried out in two phases. Some titles in Phase II are not yet available.
- back to text Baibao Youlan 百保友蘭. Leng hong xuan shi ji. 1875.
Baibao Youlan 百保友蘭. Leng hong xuan shi ji. 1882.
Kong Xiangshu 孔祥淑. Yun xiang ge shi cao. 韻香閣詩草. 1886.
Kong Xiangshu 孔祥淑. Yun xiang ge shi cao. 韻香閣詩草. 1889.