2020/21 Yip So Man Wat Memorial Lecture with Professor Wai-yee Li

Wednesday January 20, 2021 - Friday January 22, 2021
4:30 PM - 6:30 PM

The 2020/21 Yip So Man Wat Memorial Lecture
with Professor Wai-yee Li (Harvard University)

Lecture: Elegance and Vulgarity: The Promise and Peril of Things in Ming-Qing Literature


Image of Suzhou Landscape

Graphic by Anh Luu.
Image credits: “The Landscape of Suzhou” by Shen Zhou (Ming Dynasty) 明沈周蘇州山水全圖 卷 
“Landscape in Snow” by Shen Zhou 明沈周雪景山水


How is value assigned to things? What is the line between the refinement of good taste and the force of obsession? Is elegance compromised by self-consciousness? How can an object of appreciation be both commodity and anti-commodity (inasmuch as true appreciation and the greatest worth are not measurable in economic terms)? Are elegance or vulgarity determined by affirming social consensus or challenging it? How do the fellowship and competition among connoisseurs drive the definition of elegance? Why are “elegant things” associated with nature and reclusion but also embedded in social relations among the rich and the powerful? Can good taste become bad taste, and vice versa? Professor Wai-yee Li will discuss the figure of the vulgar connoisseur in Jin Ping Mei, the contradictions of elegance in a story by Li Yu (1611-1680), and the implications of redefining elegance and vulgarity in The Story of the Stone.

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021
4:00pm-6:30pm (Pacific Time)
Online via Zoom

Free & open to the public. Registration is now closed.

Events in Conjunction

Research Seminar: Objectifying People and Humanizing Things in Chinese Literature


How are the discourse on things and the discourse on subjectivity and moral agency intertwined?  References to things (wu) multiply as the vocabulary of inwardness develops during mid to late Warring States (ca. 4th-3rd century BCE). The flowering of aesthetic thought in the Six Dynasties (3rd to 6th century) is marked by a new interest in “being moved by things” (ganwu) and “giving form to things” (tiwu). Moral self-examination relies on “the investigation of things” (gewu). Agency and self-sufficiency are threatened by “taking pleasure in things” (wánwu) and superfluous things (zhangwu). Professor Wai-yee Li will reflect on the philosophical ruminations on the promise of mastery and transcendence through things, the specter of the dangerous pleasures of things, and the negotiation of boundaries between these two poles. The discussion will then turn to the idea of objectifying people and humanizing things, using Jin Ping Mei (late 16th century) and The Story of the Stone as examples.

Friday, January 22nd, 2021
12:30pm – 2:30pm (Pacific Time)
Online via Zoom

Free & open to the public. Registration is now closed.

Dr. Wai-yee Li

Dr. Wai-yee Li of Harvard University. 

About the Speaker

Wai-yee Li teaches Chinese literature at Harvard University. She has written on Ming-Qing literature and early Chinese thought and historical writings. Her recent publications include Women and National Trauma in Late Imperial Chinese Literature (2014), an annotated translation of Zuozhuan (in collaboration with Stephen Durrant and David Schaberg, 2016), Keywords in Chinese Culture (in collaboration with Yuri Pines, 2020), and Plum Shadows and Plank Bridge, two Memoirs about Courtesans (2020).

About the Yip So Man Wat Memorial Lecture

The Yip So Man Wat Memorial Lectures are made possible by the generous support of Messrs. Alex and Chi Shum Watt in honour of their mother, the late Mrs. Wat, and her passion for Chinese literature and culture. Please visit the full lecture list here.