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Chinese Women in Art

24 July 2020

3 mins

Author: Karra Hough

My personal interest in the Chinese culture, language, and history undoubtedly influenced my choice of dissertation topic. This interest was first sparked when I visited China and was able to experience and appreciate China’s history and art in person. Writing a dissertation allowed me to explore this interest further.

My dissertation explores how Chinese women belonging to the Qing Imperial court were portrayed in traditional Chinese paintings. To accomplish this, I analysed fifteen Chinese paintings of women, also known as meiren paintings. I conducted a visual analysis of each painting, identifying common symbolism and motifs (such as plants and animals), commenting on the use of certain colours, and any shared physical characteristics between the women.

From this, I was then able to argue and explore three ways in which Qing court women were represented in Chinese paintings. In my dissertation, I argue that Qing Imperial court women were portrayed as;

  • Sexual objects used for viewing pleasure
  • Possessions that belonged to the Qing Imperial court and the Qing emperor
  • Idealised images of what was considered to be the ‘perfect’ woman from a male perspective

Further research into Qing meiren paintings revealed that this area of Chinese history was neglected, with limited scholarship dedicated to the subject. While I acknowledge and praise research that does discuss meiren paintings, I felt that there was still much to be explored and so, through my dissertation, I aim to highlight the importance and value of studying Chinese paintings in history and contribute to the discussion of Qing meiren paintings.

I began the research process by scouring my university’s library and the internet for books and articles that discussed my dissertation topic. While this was a difficult task in itself given the scarcity of such sources, the literature that I did discover was incredibly useful. It helped me understand how I wanted to structure my own dissertation and how I could contribute and build upon existing research on meiren paintings.

A significant part of my research process was also dedicated to learning about Chinese culture, particularly Qing culture, in order to aid my analysis of the symbolism and the hidden meanings behind them. I also relied heavily on my knowledge of the Chinese language to help my analysis.

I credit the module for this dissertation for supporting and guiding me through writing my dissertation. This module helped me to improve my ability in finding credible academic sources and how I should use them in my own work. It also supported me in developing the necessary skills to critically discuss and analyse other scholars’ work.

Writing a dissertation was an incredibly challenging, yet rewarding, experience. While there were moments when I doubted myself and my dissertation, I am sincerely grateful to my family and my dissertation supervisor for believing in me and for supporting me throughout this journey.

Bio: My name is Karra and I am a Loughborough University 2020 graduate with a BA degree in History. I am a very career-driven person with ambitions to teach English as a foreign language in China and South Korea. Studying foreign languages is a passion of mine. I have been studying Mandarin for three years as part of my degree, as well as also self-studying Korean. I love exploring and learning about different countries and cultures, and in my downtime I enjoy watching Netflix, napping and cooking.

Photo by Robert Nyman on Unsplash

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