The Humanities Research Center is proud to sponsor Assistant Professor of Chinese Language at Duke Kunshan University, Wenting Ji’s “Destiny of Rebirth and Late Imperial Chinese Culture.”
This academic event introduces an 18th century Chinese tanci 彈詞 fiction Zaishengyuan 再生緣 (Destiny of Rebirth) written by Chen Duansheng 陳端生 (1751–1796). Set in the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) while reflecting the social norms in the high Qing era (1683–1799), this fiction takes a detour from a typical cross-dressing female protagonist’s adventure and fleshes it out with distinguished depictions of character development and nuanced emotional changes. Written by a female author for the gentry women’s community, Destiny of Rebirth demonstrates the creativity of late imperial Chinese women and provides a glimpse into their rarely showcased inner world and real concerns. Besides, tanci fiction is written in rhymed language and is considered a predecessor of today’s Suzhou pingtan 評彈 (storytelling and ballad singing in Suzhou dialect), and the story of Destiny of Rebirth also inspires popular pingtan performance titles like Meng Lijun 孟麗君, making it a significant cultural symbol for the Jiangnan region, even until today.
This event consists of a series of activities, including launching an open-to-the-public website to publish polished English translations and various cultural notes of the text of Destiny of Rebirth, holding reading groups on specific cultural issues discovered in the work, and inviting guest speakers specializing in the study of tanci to give themed lectures. We aim to raise the awareness of tanci as a literary genre closely tied to Jiangnan culture and promote Destiny of Rebirth as an encyclopedic work that provides a fun and accessible way to approach late imperial Chinese history and culture.
Wenting Ji is an assistant professor in Chinese language at Duke Kunshan University. She received her Ph.D. in Chinese Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her M.A. in Chinese Literature from National Taiwan University. Her area of expertise is late imperial/early modern (16th–19th century) Chinese literature, with a focus on how literati and gentry women reconciled the relationship between self and the world and constructed their identities through writings of sensory experiences. She is especially interested in the representation of senses in genres such as tanci (plucking rhymes), xiaopin (vignette), and yiyu (reminiscent words). Her teaching interests at Duke Kunshan include advanced-level Chinese language, classical Chinese, early modern Chinese literature, and Jiangnan culture.