Gender and Entertainment at the Song Court

Beverly Bossler

in Servants of the Dynasty

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780520254435
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520941519 | DOI:
Gender and Entertainment at the Song Court

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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The extraordinary story of Emperor Zhenzong and Empress Liu reveals much about the interaction of gender, pleasure, and power at the Chinese court. Although Empress Liu was unusually successful in parlaying her entertainment skills into political power, she was far from unique. Yet entertainers—especially female entertainers—were highly anomalous figures at the court during the Song dynasty of China: they fell outside (or in between) regular categories of court women; they moved freely between the court and the outside world; they were among the most despised of social groups, but they circulated among the highest reaches of Song society. They were deployed as symbols of power and prestige, and invoked as signs of decadence and decline. The power of entertainers to attract imperial attention, together with the helplessness of the outer court in the face of such attraction, is nowhere more evident than in the biographies of two women who entered the court as entertainers and rose to become empresses of the realm: Empress Liu and Empress Yang.

Keywords: Empress Liu; Empress Yang; China; entertainer; gender; pleasure; power; Song dynasty; Chinese court; court women

Chapter.  8721 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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