Analysis of Texts on Gender and Sexuality in East Asian History


There exist a wide variety of research that has been written and published in the form of books and articles by various authors for various reasons. The desire to preserve a certain aspect of history is one of the reasons, which can be done by authors who lived during the time, or those who have taken it upon themselves to research and compile information about the historical events. Even after being written, these historical documents need to be well preserved and passed from one generation to another. However, it is always important to critically analyze them to find out the authenticity of the information that is being passed down to generations. This can be done by looking into who the authors are, their authority in writing about their selected topics, and if the information is in line with other existing historical content. In this discussion, an analysis of two historical books about gender and sexuality in East Asia will be conducted.

Poetry by Tang Women

Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women’s Poems from Tang China

Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women’s Poems from Tang China is a book that was written in 2005 by Larsen, a professor teaching creative writing at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.[1] She has expressed special interest in poetry from the Ancient Chinese, having already completed three poetry publications, and a translation book.[2] For this specific publication, the author settled on collecting some of the poems that had been written by 44 women during the Tang Dynasty (608-917) in China. This was probably because she felt that the place of women in the history books was being erased deliberately by a patriarchal society, which led to only the works of few talented Tang women surviving to date. At the time, despite having been taught about literature, women engaging in poetry were viewed as immoral and a disgrace to the society, regardless of whether their work were masterpieces. [3]

In addition, Larsen was proud of women and wanted to ensure that their poems stood out and reached a wider audience worldwide. This was due to the fact that the original manuscripts were written in the Chinese language and preserved in an enormous eighteenth century anthology containing poems from over 2200 poets.[4]  More specifically, the author posits that her selection was conducted over a seventeen-year period, a period during which she was able to identify the poems that could be carried into English, and those that she had found an inner connection with.[5] To have them preserved, copies of the poems were presented to friends and families in secret, while some anthologist safeguarded their favorite poems.

In her book, Larsen purposed to include her own analysis of some historical information that pertained to the women poets of the time, thus enabling the audience to get an overview of where the poems originated from, and how they came to be in the modern day. From this, it was evident how the Tang women were divided into different classes in terms of their status in the society such as an imperial lady, and this had an effect on the contents of their poems. The poems from the women were also classified according to the different statuses that the women held in the society. Other factors that were found to have significant impacts on the themes of the poems were the life experiences, and the different expectations of their poetry.[6] The common themes from the poems were heartbreaks and different aspects about natural world.

Autumn Willows: Poetry by Women of China’s Golden Age

Other English translations of Tang women’s poetry was published in the Autumn Willows: Poetry by Women of China’s Golden Age, and it was a compilation of the poems of three renowned ancient female poets from China.[7] The authors were the first ones to translate these poems into English, given their expertise in the translating writings from the Chinese language.

Unlike Larsen’s book which focused on 44 poetesses, these authors only majored on the poems by three Tang women. This is partly due to the high regard that they hold the three women in, when it comes to ancient Chinese poetry. It was during the Tang dynasty that the golden age of China’s culture matured through it highly refined poetry and art that was being displayed by the locals.[8] The authors appreciation for excellent works of literature, and their desire to preserve history are some of the major reasons that led to the translation and publication of this book.

In this book, the authors are mostly optimistic about the situation, portraying the women as having the freedom to do almost anything that they wished, for instance, expressing their emotions and thoughts through poems.[9] According to one historical source, the society at the time valued the education of their women, focusing on topics such as ethics and virtues, music, literature, Confucian classics, women’s work, and calculation. [10] Thus it was not uncommon for the women to engage in poetry, as seen by the large numbers who wrote and read about poems.

The women are also celebrated for having stood out to practice what they enjoyed most, perhaps a message to the audience that they should always enjoy what they like to do in spite of any challenges. On top of the usual heartbreaks and themes that focused on the mysteries of the natural world, some of the poems criticized the powers that the regime at the time had, leading to the murder of the author.[11]


The two books that have been analyzed contained translated poems that were written by Chinese women during the Tang dynasty. These translations have opened the poems to other historians who might want to study the Chinese culture during that period. It is possible to know vital information regarding the roles of the men, women, and children, as well as many other cultural practices of the people. However, translation has been known to distort some information and so the historians must be weary of such discrepancies.

Despite both books referring to women from the same time period, the two books give partly different accounts of the political and social situation that prevailed, specifically the freedom of women to engage in certain practices. These differences arose probably because of the different historical sources of their background information. They could also be a result of the context, which affects the image that the authors are trying to portray to their audience.


Chow, Bannie, and Thomas F. Cleary. Autumn Willows: Poetry by Women of China’s Golden

Age. Ashland, OR: Story Line Press, 2003.

Hollins University. “Jeanne Larsen.” Hollins. Last modified 2017.

Larsen, Jeanne. Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women’s Poems from Tang China. Rochester, N.Y: BOA Editions, 2005.

Shum, Ching-man, O. “A study of women in the families of government officials in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).” Renditions 64 (2005), 38-67. doi:10.5353/th_b3039788.

[1] Jeanne Larsen, Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women’s Poems from Tang China (Rochester, N.Y: BOA Editions, 2005)

[2] Hollins University, “Jeanne Larsen,” Hollins, last modified 2017,


[3] Ching-man, O. Shum, “A study of women in the families of government officials in the Tang Dynasty (618-907),” Renditions 64 (2005): xx, doi:10.5353/th_b3039788.


[4] Larsen, 13


[5] Larsen, 13

[6] Larsen, 13


[7] Bannie Chow and Thomas F. Cleary, Autumn Willows: Poetry by Women of China’s Golden Age (Ashland, OR: Story Line Press, 2003)


[8] Chow and Cleary, 18


[9] Chow and Cleary, 18


[10] Shum, 47


[11] Chow and Cleary, 19

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