Distinguished Speaker Series

"The Story of the Western Wing: The Social Life of a Cultural Icon," by Xiaoqiao Ling (Arizona State University)

Time: Oct. 1, 2019

Location: White Hall 101, 301 Dowman Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322

Free and open to the public

The Story of The Western Wing (Xixiang ji)—a rollicking play on the romance between the talented Student Zhang and beautiful Yingying—was a highly recognizable cultural icon in commercial printing throughout late imperial China, with no fewer than sixty woodblock editions from the Ming and ninety from the Qing. There were also a plethora of popular reading matters (drama miscellanies and encyclopedia) that not only featured selected parts of the play, but also presented fragments of the story in popular tunes, drinking games, and riddles. This talk investigates this phenomenon by asking three questions: 1) How do we identify a cultural icon? 2) What were the dynamics that helped the play harness cultural capital? 3) How did various practices of consumption enrich the iconography of the play? By tracing the social life of The Story of the Western Wing, this talk aims at understanding what sustained the play’s popularity in late imperial China and in the East Asian Sinosphere (especially in late Chosŏn Korea).

About the speaker

Xiaoqiao Ling is Associate Professor of Chinese at Arizona State University. She got her Ph.D. from Harvard University. Her main field of interest is late imperial Chinese literature with a focus on performance texts, vernacular fiction, and the print culture. She has published in both Chinese and English on fiction and drama commentary, legal imagination in literature, memory, and trauma in 17th-century China. Her first book, Feeling the Past in Seventeenth-Century China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2019), explores traumatic memories and their transmission across generations during the Manchu conquest of China. Her current book-length project is on the romantic play The Story of the Western Wing, which investigates how the play's social life sustained its iconic status in early modern East Asian cultural sphere.