The emaciated soul : Four women's self-inscriptions on their portraits in late imperial China

Yuanfei WANG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This article examines the emaciated self-images of four women's self-inscription poems on their own portraits. They are Huang Hong (early seventeenth century), Xi Peilan (1760-after 1829), Tan Yinmei (fl. mid-eighteenth to early nineteenth century) and Zheng Lansun (1819-61). These women similarly describe their self-images as qiaocui (emaciated), alluding to the legendary girl poet Feng Xiaoqing. Inherently ambivalent, qiaocui could imply sexual and erotic appeal, the virtuous mind of a recluse, sickness, ordinariness, melancholy, as well as aging and death. The article argues for the importance of the rhetoric of qiaocui and the topoi of Feng Xiaoqing in the self-inscriptions by women in Hangzhou and the broader Jiangnan region as a medium to construct their female subjectivity. This article suggests that, initially a persona publicly circulated in the late Ming, the topoi of Feng Xiaoqing came to define the women's personhood in private spaces in late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-69
Number of pages34
JournalNAN NU
Issue number1
Early online date8 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020


  • Emaciated persona
  • Feng Xiaoqing
  • Personhood
  • Portraits
  • Self-images
  • Self-inscriptions


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