Re-interpreting a female Chinese Emperor: a post-structural feminist analysis of Wu Zetian
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 13:54 authored by Queenie Chan
This thesis has two complementary parts-a written treatise and a graphic novel biography-both of which take a feminist view of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history. Wu is a controversial figure who has failed to fit into the prescribed social roles for women in a patriarchal society, and as such, is viewed with a fascination that extends well into modern times. Widely-known in China but little known internationally, she began life as a commoner, before becoming an Imperial concubine, an Empress, and finally usurping the throne. Due to her flouting of established gender norms, much of her history has been distorted, yet these distortions remain unchallenged in the many popular representations of her in China. Despite the myriad of depictions, nearly all of them adhere to the same 'Evil Dragon Lady' archetype. For that reason, the first part of my research is a post-structural analysis of gender bias in Wu's historiography. This was done via the case study of an existing graphic novel called Wu Zetian: The Mighty Woman Sovereign of China, which was used as a basis to deconstruct the more problematic aspects of popular stories about Wu. Using the insights gleaned from that process, the second half is my own graphic novel biography of Wu's life, intended to be a reconstruction-and therefore a revisionist history-that proposes an alternate version of events. I make no claims to essentialist truth in my graphic novel biography. Instead, it is meant to offer other possibilities for certain incidents, and to sidestep any cultural or political conditions in modern China that make such a variant of Wu's story difficult to produce. A gap exists regarding creative non-fiction depictions of Wu's life that challenge the established narrative, and my research is intended to fill it, while also enlightening Western scholars on this unusual female monarch -- abstract.