Student Research Project: Weiran Li’s “Herb and Beauty: Aromatic Female in ‘Dream of the Red Chamber'”

Weiran Li is one of the nine winners of 2022 Freedom Lab’s Shirley Graham and W.E.B Du Bois Award.

Her research project is highlighted below. Read other student researcher’s projects here >>

Supported by Professor Wenting Ji

Project title:
Herb and Beauty: Aromatic Female in “Dream of the Red Chamber”

Project summary:
Through a close reading of the poems and descriptions of Daguan Yuan’s female in Dream of the Red Chamber, I mainly explore two questions in this project: How does herb in Dream of the Red Chamber construct female identity? How does the nature-female correlation narrative style embody the feminine space and feminine discourse in the book? Theories related to sensory experiences, eco-feminism, and traditional Chinese medicine will also be referred in the project.

Interests in this topic:
In the twentieth chapter of the 18th- century Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber, Jia Baoyu, an important male character in the book, explain his views on nature and women: the essence of mountains, rivers, sun, and moon are concentrated in female, and only those “flesh and bones made of water” can inherit the warmth and harmony of natural beauty. Besides the claim here that female has close relationship with nature compared with male, various kinds of correlation between female and nature, such as female’s poems, Baoyu’s sensory experience, and the fate of the characters before they were born, etc., also exist in the book. Having huge interest in both ecofeminism and late imperial Chinese literature, I found this topic interesting and worth exploring as a signature work.

Current stage:
The aim of this research is to result in original thesis on Herb and Beauty: Aromatic Female in Dream of the Red Chamber in the form of an approximately 40-page academic paper. I will later use it as my writing sample for graduate school applications. Submitting this paper to relevant academic journals is also part of the plan. I am currently doing close reading of the primary source while writing literature review.


Weiran Li

Weiran Li is from class of 2023 pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Global Cultural Studies (world literature track) at Duke Kunshan University. As a young creative writer and interdisciplinary researcher, her research interests include female identity in late imperial/early modern (16th–19th century) Chinese and Japanese literature, public literary communication, and immersive theater. Working at Anthropocene XR Lab, her responsibility is to write the interactive text for the AR project under the guidance of Prof. Choi and in the process explore how AR technology affects interpersonal interactions as well as the relationship between human beings and the environment they live in.