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Heroines of Jiangyong Chinese Narrative Ballads in Women's Script by Wilt L. Idema

Heroines of Jiangyong Chinese Narrative Ballads in Women's Script


Heroines of Jiangyong Chinese Narrative Ballads in Women's Script by Wilt L. Idema

Heroines of Jiangyong is the first English translation of a set of verse narratives recorded in the unique women's script (nushu) of rural Jiangyong County, Hunan, in southern China. This selection of Chinese folk literature provides a rare window into the everyday life of rural daughters, wives, and mothers, as they transmit valuable lessons about surviving in a patriarchal society that is often harsh and unforgiving. Featuring strong female protagonists, the ballads deal with moral issues, dangers women face outside the family home, and the difficulties of childbirth.The women's script, which represents units of sound in the local Chinese dialect, was discovered by scholars in the late twentieth century, creating a stir in China and abroad. This volume offers a full translation of all the longer ballads in women's script, providing an exceptional opportunity to observe which specific narratives appealed to rural women in traditional China. The translations are preceded by a brief introduction to women's script and its scholarship, and a discussion of each of the twelve selections.


... provide fascinating glimpses into the trials and tribulations, as well as the ideals and aspirations, of rural women... the protagonists of these ballads, while they may weep, lament and wail, also shout and curse and scold and, for the most part, do indeed emerge as 'heroines'... translations such as these... should be especially welcomed by those who teach China in the classroom. For the language of these ballads, deftly conveyed by Idema's translations, is lively, earthy and often... refreshingly vivid. * The China Quarterly * Idema brings a sensitive literary perspective to nushu texts. The result is a set of translations through which, it is easy to believe, the Jiangyong women's voices may be heard . . . . The Heroines of Jiangyong is a valuable contribution to English language studies of nushu. * Journal of Folklore Research * Heroines of Jiangyong provides a paradigm for Chinese feminists to better understand and recognize the hidden tensions of traditionally imposed gender roles in China in order to move toward gender equality. * On the Issues * The book provides a wealth of comparative thematic, topical, and motif material for folklorists, ethnographers, and anthropologists, and is highly recommended. -- James H. Grayson * Folklore * The book represents a significant contribution to Chinese history, language, and culture, as well as to global literature and women's studies. -- Jeana DelRosso * Feminist Formations * A valuable addition to contemporary scholarship of Chinese literature, especially regarding studies of Chinese peasant women and changben. . . . Heroines of Jiangyong serves as an excellent point of departure for exploring rural women's complex lifeworlds . . . -- Fei-wen * Nan Nu *

About the Author

Wilt L. Idema is professor of Chinese literature at Harvard University. He is the translator of Meng Jiangnu Brings Down the Great Wall: Ten Versions of a Chinese Legend and the author (with Beata Grant) of The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China.

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Book Info

Publication date

16th February 2009


Wilt L. Idema

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University of Washington Press


192 pages


Poetry anthologies (various poets)



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