søndag 7. april 2024

Tomb Readers: Epitaphs Tell the Tales of Tang Women

Tombstones from the Tang dynasty offer insights into the era’s highs and lows, and the dramatic shift in attitudes toward the characteristics and behaviors of “good women.” Epitaphs etched into ancient tombstones can sometimes tell stories overlooked by historians. This is especially true of epitaphs for women. A prime example are memorials from the Tang dynasty (618-907), a period that brought enlightenment, prosperity, and great tumult, as well as saw the rise of China’s first and only female emperor.

More people had epitaphs in this era than any other dynasty, with texts often stretching well beyond simply recording the dates of birth and death or marital status. Some carried details of extraordinary lives.

In her book, “Women’s Lives in Tang China,” historian Yao Ping writes about her research into 1,560 epitaphs for women, the vast majority of which were written for married women, with the rest largely commemorating singletons, nuns, and palace maids.