Recent studies of Chinese history and literature have revealed the important role of violence—actual and representational—in constructing gendered subjectivities in late imperial China. This article investigates the relationship between violence and female agency through a case study of literary representations of a concubine who was cannibalized during the defense of Suiyang amid the An Lushan Rebellion (755–763) in the Tang dynasty. As a result of that event, the ethically questionable act of cannibalism engendered an assortment of writings down through late imperial China. Although historical writings before the Ming dynasty frequently praise the concubine's husband for sacrificing her, a series of dramatic works starting in the Ming feature the concubine character in contention with her husband. This paper parses those materials to reveal vastly different characterizations of the cannibalized woman—as a loyal concubine, a female knight-errant, an independent state subject, and a maternal deity. We suggest that authorship, generic traditions, family-state dynamics, ethnic relations, and religions together influenced the representations of the concubine. In particular, moving further away from the literati writing tradition, literature and performance derived from the story ascribed increasingly potent agency to the concubine character in late imperial China.

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