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The Power of the Phoenix Crown: Imperial Women and Material Culture in Late Ming China Open Access


Other title
Material culture
Imperial women
Imperial court
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Song, Yuxian
Supervisor and department
Jennifer Jay (Department of History and Classics)
Examining committee member and department
Jennifer Jay (Department of History and Classics)
Lisa Claypool (Department of Art and Design)
Beverly Lemire (Department of History and Classics)
Ryan Dunch (Department of History and Classics)
Department of History and Classics
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Arts
Degree level
My thesis holds that Ming imperial women used political opportunity and agency to formulate a strategy of building relationships with male officials and inner court residents. Other than feminine virtues, the extent to which they succeeded in the strategy decided their reputations in the historical records. My project presents Empress Dowager Li (1545-1614) and Imperial Concubine Zheng (1565-1630) as representative cases of Ming imperial women. Through a scrutiny of both official and private records, I present their life cycles and examine their political opportunity, agency, social relationships and social activities. In addition, I present evidence of material culture and daily life in the Ming court, a perspective not seen in the official records. Material evidence illuminates a fuller picture of imperial woman’s life. Through their clothes we are able to look at their creativity in court fashion. The material evidence and records of their social activities reveal the everyday life of imperial women and the variety of ways in which social and political communication took place between men and women of the inner court. In analyzing the life of Empress Dowager Li and Imperial Concubine Zheng as daughters, wives, and mothers, we observe them as individuals and as women making connections with male officials in the outer court and female residents in the inner court. The course of their lives shows both opportunity and restrictions imposed on Ming imperial women.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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