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The Masculine Bee in Classical Chinese Literature

Posted By admin On 02:21 PM In Past Events 2020-21 | Comments Disabled

2020-21 School of Chinese Online Seminar

The Masculine Bee in Classical Chinese Literature

Professor Olivia Milburn
Seoul National University

Date日期: May 11, 2021 (Tuesday)
Time時間: 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon
Venue地點: via Zoom
Language演講語言: English英文

https://hku.zoom.us/j/92859787654?pwd=NjFqcXVobm8xWTBIZDNVOVhPdnFmUT09 [1]
Zoom Meeting ID: 928 5978 7654
Password: 099410

From antiquity to the present day, the products of honeybees are crucial to many industries and aspects of human life. As a result, honeybees have been the subject of intense study and interest, but this has not necessarily served to advance understanding about lifecycle of these insects. Bees are in fact eusocial insects, divided into three castes: queens, drones, and workers. As with other eusocial creatures, all castes have to be present for the colony as a whole to survive. However, in China, from the Jin dynasty onwards, literature about honeybees stressed that all bees were male. Observers had noted egg-laying and mating behavior, but in poetry and prose Chinese literati continued to write about bees as male insects, living in an ideal patriarchal society without any female involvement. This paper will explore literary representations of “king bees” (fengwang) / queens; “prime minister” (xiangfeng) or “general bees” (jiangfeng) / drones; and “vassal bees” (fengchen) / workers to show how these insects were used to idealize a militarized patriarchal society. However, some writers found such representations profoundly alienating, and instead turned to Buddhist images, where honeybees were an allegory for study and effort.


Olivia Milburn is currently Professor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, Seoul National University. Her major publications include a study of the history of the kingdom of Wu, and gazetteers for the city of Suzhou. In addition, she has translated a number of classical Chinese works into English, such as the Yuejue shu and Yanzi chunqiu. Her translations from contemporary Chinese literature include novels by Mai Jia, Feng Jicai, Jiang Zilong, and Fang Fang. Olivia Milburn’s research concentrates on the history and culture of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, and also literary presentations of marginalized people.


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