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Alternative Title

Portrayal of marginalized womanhood in south Song China

Publication Date


First Advisor

Barbara Kellum

Second Advisor

Sujane Wu

Document Type

Honors Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Chinese paintings, Guiyuan poetry, Southern Song dynasty, Paintings of Shinü, Gender roles, Social class, Femininity, Concubines, Inner quarters, Literati Society


This thesis examines the portrayals of female figures from the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1276) to present how the symbolism employed in Shinü paintings ultimately permits a comprehensive view of the construction of a concubine’s femininity. I intend to reclaim the images of concubinage in this era by attentively looking at the depictions of these understudied women in Shinü paintings that are predominantly populated by elite families. Because of their versatility as entertainers, courtesans, and members of domestic staff, concubines were ever-present in upper-class households. And yet, elite women and male literati often criticized them on moral grounds, which resulted in their precarious social-domestic standing. I argue in this thesis that paintings of Shinü reflect this precarious standing and illustrate a compound imagery conveying the judgement of, and desire for, the femininity of concubines.

This research is organized into three chapters. Chapter One, “The Cultural Reception of Women and Their Imagery,” investigates the array of Song-era social expectations and conventions of femininity by viewing all female members of an upper-class family together. Chapter Two, “Serving The Inner Quarters,” analyzes the depiction of a concubine in the presence of the mistress by foregrounding the legal wives’ absolute authority within the inner quarters. Chapter Three, “Between the Feminine Space and the Literati World,” examines the double image of fluidity and turbulence manifested in the portrayals of a concubine through her interactions with men. This thesis contributes new interpretations of the metaphorical and tangible forms of interaction among women and men to the literature on Southern Song Shinü paintings, as well as a more comprehensive view of the construction of concubine femininity in this era through the analysis of symbolism in artworks and poetry.


©2021 Yixuan Doris Tang. Access limited to the Smith College community and other researchers while on campus. Smith College community members also may access from off-campus using a Smith College log-in. Other off-campus researchers may request a copy through Interlibrary Loan for personal use.




iv, 112 pages : color illustrations. Includes bibliographical references (pages 82-87)