Rhetoric of Walls
For this post I am actually drawing on Francesca Bray’s Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China. This book was one of the readings for my Eng 467 class. In this book, Bray discusses how gender is constructed in Imperial China, specifically during the Song Dynasty. Bray discusses how a space can serve as the identity for gender. I was interested in that a wall around the home of a family’s home had a lot more to it then keeping unwanted persons out. In a sense, it marked the domain of the wife, not that she held dominant power within the walls, but that the affairs within the walls, even the husbands concubines, were her responsibility. Beyond the wall was the domain of the husband. The wall also served as a status marker for the family. Bray alludes to the idea that one family sees the wall from the inside, but two families see the wall from the outside (92). Ornate gates and high walls were symbolic of a prosperous family.
The physical design and layout of the wall can also be ritualistic. Imperial Chinese not only believed that the walls would keep out unwanted strangers, but also ghosts and spirits. The paths through the wall twisted and turned because of the belief that ghosts and spirits had to travel in a straight line.
Also, placement of paper or announcements above gates celebrated or mourned various occasions. A white paper above the main gate with a name on it would signal that that person had died. Remember from my Japan lecture (though another Asian culture it has strong ties to China) that white signified death or the world beyond or a red paper (signaling joy and celebration) for the new year or birth of a son.
There is quite a bit more that I could say on how a wall, a seemingly simple construct in our society, meant much more to this culture. But let me conclude by pointing out that by studying a wall, we are able to examine the religion, class, and social practices of families in the Song Dynasty. There is a lot of culture deliberately tied to this construct, and where there is culture, there is strong deliberate rhetoric which creates it.
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