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Music-making in Realms of Pleasure: Songs, Sentiments, and Seduction
in Ming Era Courtesanship (1368-1644)

WANG, SHIYUN (2024) Music-making in Realms of Pleasure: Songs, Sentiments, and Seduction
in Ming Era Courtesanship (1368-1644).
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The Ming era in China (1368-1644) witnessed a thriving courtesan culture, which this dissertation explores through detailed original analysis of diverse primary sources including poetry, lyrics in song books, woodblock illustrations, novels and short stories, and treatises and commentaries by Ming period theorists. Here, the focus is especially on the later period (1572-1644) in the Jiangnan region, widely recognised as the heartland of courtesan culture. The current study approaches this topic from a variety of perspectives, applying interdisciplinary lenses to address the following issues and generate new insights: What genres, forms, topics, and themes were explored within the Ming courtesans’ song repertoire? What contexts did the courtesans perform in, and what styles, modes of performance, and instruments prevailed? What emotions were expressed and elicited via the courtesans’ music? What sounds characterised the courtesans’ lived-in soundscapes, and what sentiments did they signify? How were courtship processes structured, and what seduction strategies were commonly used by the courtesans? Chapter 2 presents the first comprehensive examination of a much over-looked yet crucial songbook relating to courtesan-ranking activities in Ming era Suzhou, Wu Ji Bai Mei (Seductive Courtesans of the Suzhou Area). Chapter 3 considers the full range of contexts in which courtesans performed, offering a new system of categorisation and pinpointing the types of interaction that characterised them. Chapter 4 revisits the definitions of qing (emotion) and related concepts, innovatively identifies a love process between courtesans and clients, explores different expressions of emotion through the medium of poetry and song texts. Using Jin Ping Mei as a cast study, Chapter 5 delves into the soundscapes in which courtesans lived, investigating some of the most symbolic elements such as the calls of birds. Employing modern human behaviour and courtship studies, Chapter 6 identifies a five-phase courtship process and probes the courtesans’ use of seduction. Through this broad yet in-depth study, I seek to reveal how songs, sentiments and seduction interacted with each other and were embedded in the realms of pleasure where these female entertainers lived and worked.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Ming dynasty; courtesans; music-making; songs; emotions; seduction
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Music, Department of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Apr 2024 17:13

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