Personal Diaspora And Identity----Tsai Yen's Songs of Grief and Indignation
Yu Tsai(Department of Chinese Literature, National Tsing Hua University)
Tsai Yen, the female poet born to a literary and musical family in late Han Dynasty, was renowned for her brilliant literary works and extraordinary personal experience. This essay traces her personal diaspora in the age of wars and ethnic confrontations, and by embedding her life in racial, class, and gender complexities, tries to reconstruct her identity issues. The upshot of this reconstruction brings it to light that, as a female intellectual going through both Hu (northern barbarian) and Han cultures, she constantly faced the ruptures of transition and the angst of choice, and that thanks to the ethnocentrism and male chauvinism of the Han people who could not tolerate anything other than a linear, unitary national identity, returning to the Han society later in her life only alienated her all the more and repressed her deeply seated desires for richer, multifarious identities.
The essay argues that only through such a subjectivity-oriented reading, one that highlights her own experience and the female point of view, can we unravelthe debates around the authorship of the poems, “Grief and Indignation” (Bei Pen Shi), that some attributed to Tsai Yen. This approach not simply allows us, through re-reading women’s literary work, to “hear” the unheard female voice eried out in their real life struggles and strategies of resistance. More importantly, it also reveals the dangers of being falsified and silenced that women’s literary works faced in the tradition of Chinese Canon. In the case of Tsai’s “Grief and Indignation”, these dangers grew out of the Sung’s poet su Tung-Po’s suspicions concerning the authorship of these two poems. The debate continues into contemporary literary research. Based on the Canonic reading of these poems and other historical documents, the suspicions have ignored the marginalized other-experience of their writer and, as shown in the essay, attempted to snuff out Tsai Yen’s cries in her work.
Identity, Subjectivity, Gender, Race, Class, Women's Literature.