What hangs on a hairpin : inalienable possession and language exchange in two marriage romances

Yuanfei WANG*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

2 Citations (Scopus)


This paper discusses the figuration of the purple jade hairpin as inalienable possession in the Tang author Jiang Fang’s (792–835) marriage romance “Huo Xiaoyu’s story” and the Ming playwright Tang Xianzu’s (1550–1616) dramatic adaptation of the story, The Purple Hairpins (1595). Examining how the hairpin’s materiality and symbolism intersects with the tradition of classical poetry and marriage laws, the paper shows opposing poetics — the critical and the lyrical — of the two marriage romances. Whereas the selling of the hairpin in the Tang romance indicates the loss of Huo Xiaoyu’s identity and the culture of romance — a true social order of exogamy based upon language exchange — the circulation of her hairpins in The Purple Hairpins authenticates her identity and the culture of romance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-28
Number of pages26
JournalMing studies
Issue number84
Early online date7 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The original draft of this paper was written when I was studying a graduate course taught by Dorothy Ko on visual and material culture in late imperial China at Columbia University. Since then, I have been grateful for her introducing me to the fascinating fields of women’s literature and material culture. In revising this paper, I am grateful for Haun Saussy who helped polishing my translation of Zichai ji and provided insightful feedback on my close reading and theoretical discussion of inalienable possession. I also hope to thank Matthew Sommer and Beverly Bossler for answering my questions on laws and women in imperial China. Finally, I thank the two anonymous reviewers and the editor of Ming Studies, Ihor Pidhainy, for helping with publishing this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Society for Ming Studies 2021.


  • classical poetry
  • hairpins
  • inalienable possession
  • language exchange
  • marriage laws
  • marriage romance
  • materiality
  • props
  • women’s identities


Dive into the research topics of 'What hangs on a hairpin : inalienable possession and language exchange in two marriage romances'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this