Campus: LOS ANGELES -- April 19, 2006

6,038 Epitaphs to Yield Women's Tales of the Tang Dynasty

Cal State L.A. scholar to compile stories of kinship, courtship in ancient China

Taking a fresh look at thousands of epitaphs penned a millennium ago, a California State University, Los Angeles researcher is uncovering portrayals of women's lives in ancient China, finding tales of marriage, morality and the major events of their lives.

Ping Yao, an associate professor of history at Cal State L.A., is comparing the epitaphs - 4,478 for men and 1,560 for women - to challenge conventional wisdom about the 300-year Tang Dynasty (618-907) and to examine how historical changes affected both genders.

Yao's project, "Women's Lives in Medieval China: An Anthology of Epitaphs from the Tang Dynasty (618-907)," is supported by a $40,000 award from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). She is one of only eight professors in the nation to receive this year's NEH Faculty Research Award.

"By focusing on epitaphs, my project contributes to the analysis of an understudied source for Chinese history," says Yao, a resident of South Pasadena. "During the Tang Dynasty, epitaph-writing was an important form of record and a distinctive literary genre."

She adds, "A typical Tang epitaph described the person's family background, early experience, major events in his or her life, the person's achievements and virtues, his or her spouse and children, and included details on burial arrangement and a poetic eulogy. The inscriptions will provide not only a record of personal histories, but a reflection of any discourses on morality, social order, kinship, and more importantly to this study, gender roles and relations."

According to Yao, this is the first systematic introduction and translation of these important sources for Tang history and women's lives, which she hopes will serve as a resource for scholars of Chinese history and women's studies.

In earlier work, Yao, who received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has surveyed Tang practices of courtesanship, concubinage, cousin marriage, spiritual marriage, childbirth, naming and initiation, religious orders, as well as perceptions of love, parent-child relation, and afterlife. Her articles have appeared in several leading academic journals, and she recently coauthored Biography in World History, expected to be published by Houghton and Mifflin in 2007. Yao also authored several Chinese books; one of them, Women's Lives in Tang China, won a prestigious book award in China last year.

NEH is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities.

Contact: Sean Kearns, Media Relations Director, (323) 343-3050 OR
Margie Yu, Public Affairs Specialist, (323) 343-3047

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