This article examines the unusual life of the poet and painter Wang Liang (ca. 1720–1790). Granddaughter of a prominent Jiaxing bibliophile and collector, she lost her father in infancy and married into a respected Huzhou family of officials only to witness their demise amidst a very public sex and corruption scandal in 1740, which also implicated her own wealthy merchant family. In the wake of this disaster, she and her husband severed their family ties and lived out their years in genteel poverty, childless. Surviving her husband by over twenty-five years, she fashioned an independent life and a self-image, echoed by observers, of Daoist detachment from the proverbial dust of the world while cultivating relationships with prominent male mentors and female artists across Jiangnan. As poet, painter, and player of the zither and the game of Go, Wang Liang at times articulated a vision of explicitly ungendered artistic perfection resembling aspects of the androgynous ideal associated with the culture of the Ming-Qing transition. Yet she was also poignantly aware that she was still embedded in relationships that pulled her back into family obligation, gendered hierarchy, and social exchange. I delve into her extant poetry and commentary about her to present her life and art as a contrapuntal play between embedded and transcendent modes of identity and expression.

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