Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

Subversion from Within: Power of Supernatural Female in Pu Songling's Liaozhai Zhiyi

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

Subversion from Within: Power of Supernatural Female in Pu Songling's Liaozhai Zhiyi

Article excerpt

PARODIC REDEPLOYMENT OF PATRIARCHAL DISCOURSE

Although women are traditionally viewed as vulnerable groups that are normally more inclined to be exposed to oppression, tangible or intangible, they are not completely silent recipients of injustice, but subjects with agency who are able to proactively redeploy the dominant discourses over femininity. Despite the fact that under the patriarchal circumstances, they cannot afford to be litigious, they manage to transform that law to make the most of it. As Judith Butler would suggest, power can neither be withdrawn nor refused, but only redeployed, a true subversive force can only be gained through "a parodicredeployment of power rather than on the impossible fantasy of its full-scale transcendence" (Butler 1990, p. 124). In other words, as she states elsewhere in Gender Trouble, "If subversion is possible, it will be a subversion from within the terms of the law, through the possibilities that emerge when the law turns against itself and spawns unexpected permutations of itself." (Butler, 1990, p. 93) It is precisely in this sense that Nancy Fraser concludes Butler is correct in claiming that "a culturally constmcted subject can also be a critical subject"(Benhabib et al., 1995, p. 69), that people (women) can also have "critical capacities"which enable them to rewrite the script. However, it is worth noticing that the power derived from redeployment has no universal form, it may manifest itself in different even contradictory forms, and as situation-bound as male dominance, it may vary according to concrete context. It is in this sense, therefore, thatlexpect some particular feature of women's subversive potential exhibited in Pu Songling'smetamorphosis narrative.

Research on Pu's metamorphosis stories has paid scant attention to the female bondings by which female powers are awakened and enhanced. While it is an apparent fact that the male bondings constitute a main source of women's oppression, women's power is not entirely paralyzed by this heterogeneous joint force; the often neglected female bondings, although as a marginal force, may also pose destabilizing power unto the male-centered culture. With the following metamorphosis stories, I will examine how women's awareness of their own female power can be raised in a woman's alliance with another, to secure a more desirable position that is possibly allowed in that structure.

The female fox spirit in the story of "Hengniang" (Pu, 1992, p. 1418) serves as a perfect example to start this discussion. Hengniang (the fox spirit)is the first wife of a mercer.Although plain-looking, she somehow manages to enjoy her husband's full attention ( (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)), and thus keeps her husband away from his concubine who is much younger and more beautiful than her.2Hengniang's mysterious charm greatly intrigues the interest of Ms. Zhu, Hengniang's new neighbor who is suffering from her husband's long neglect because of the distraction of his concubine, even though Ms. Zhu is the one who has a much more pleasant face to look at ([(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)). With aneager hope to win her husband back, Ms. Zhu seeks advice from Hengniang, asking her what kind of magic she possesses to keep her husband away from a conventionallymuch more desirable concubine. Composedly,Hengniang replies, it is not her husband's fault for ignoringMs. Zhu, on the contrary, Ms. Zhu is the one to blame for been estranged from her husband, thus indicating that this relationship is supposed to be under her own control. Then Hengniang works out a plan to help Ms.Zhu out of this dilemma. In the first stage, Hengniang asks Ms. Zhu to stop intervening in her husband's activities, and deliberately reject him if he comes to visit her. Ms. Zhu follows every instmction she has been given; she allows more time for her husband to spend with his concubine and resolutely rejects him when he comes to perform a husband's dutyperfimctorily. …

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