How to Write a Woman’s Life Into and Out of History: Wang Zhaoyuan (1763–1851) and Biographical Study in Republican China

  • Harriet T. Zurndorfer


In Chinese historical writing before the twentieth century, the genre of biography included several distinctive forms, of which the two most common were the standard biography (zhuan) and the chronological biography (nianpu). In addition, epitaphs, either in the style of tomb epitaph (muzhiming), grave notice (mubiao) or sacrificial ode (jiwen) also provided information, sometimes in great detail, about a person’s life.1 The standard or official biography became a staple literary form in imperial China. These were highly formal, and whatever anecdotes they did feature were often stereotyped and might even be false. This genre of life writing was intended to reveal the character of the person, because the entire purpose of biography in traditional historiography was didactic: the subject’s success (or failure) was an illustration for future generations to follow, or as the case may be, to avoid. The emphasis was on a person’s virtue and, most commonly, how that virtue related to administrative success.2


Chinese Woman Qing Dynasty Chinese History Woman Writer East Asian Study 
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© Harriet T. Zurndorfer 2013

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