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China Humanities Seminar featuring Ariel Fox – Every Man a Merchant: Plays of the Suzhou Circle and the Making of an Early Modern Economic Subject
March 6 @ 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Speaker: Ariel Fox, Assistant Professor of Chinese literature, University of Chicago.
This talk explores the way in which commercial identities are recast and recreated in the plays of the Suzhou circle, a group of collaborative playwrights active in the mid-seventeenth century. In plays that center the denizens of the marketplace, the Suzhou circle brings to the fore those who were often pointedly excluded from the roles of romantic lead, Confucian exemplar, or heroic adventurer. The refashioning of the merchant from anxiety-producing object to sympathetic subject appears across late Ming philosophical and literary discourses, but more than just a genre-specific iteration, these plays make use of the conventions of chuanqi drama to deconstruct and open up the nature and meaning of merchanthood. Through a reading of three plays—Zhan huakui 占花魁 (Winning the Prize Courtesan), Shiwu guan 十五貫 (Fifteen Strings of Cash), and Qingzhong pu 清忠譜 (Register of the Pure and Loyal)—I argue that the merchant is recuperated not only as a moral figure but as a universal and sublime one. At a moment of unprecedented commercial penetration, such a transformation of the merchant-role becomes a site for the early modern subject to elaborate a more fluid self-conception.
Also via Zoom. Register at https://harvard.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYvc-mqqzwpG9Ua1fmcmUZXivD3TBu0WLMX