Rebecca Shuang Fu
University of Pennsylvania
Mair, Victor H.
East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Female literacy is an issue with both historical and contemporary relevance. My dissertation traces women’s engagement and involvement in text-based activities back to the second half of the 1st millennium, a period during which the written word played an ever-increasing role in people’s day-to-day lives.
By introducing the concepts of “literacy practices” and “literacy events” into this work’s analytical framework, I expand the scope of my research to encompass women who used literacy without necessary being literate themselves.
This view of literacy is concerned less with an individual’s unaided ability to read or write than with their understanding of and ability to use the power of writing.
The use of certain types of primary materials underutilized in the field of Chinese literature, such as Turfan and Dunhuang manuscripts and Tang dynasty tomb inscriptions, helps bring into focus the generally overlooked category of non-elite women. My dissertation develops a new approach to the decoding of Chinese manuscripts. Rather than restricting my examination to the content of the written word, I pay special attention to a manuscript’s material and social properties, as well as its specific physical features. These “extra-textual” features offer testimony, not mediated by the literate male elite, to women’s ability to manipulate the powerful tool of writing to achieve their ends.