Ma Xianglan and her literati partner Wang Zhideng are remembered as one of the late Ming romantic pairs between a faithful courtesan and her talented scholar. Many Ming-Qing writers wrote about the Ma-Wang romance, and yet Ma Xianglan’s voice is missing from her stories. This essay reconsiders the romance by investigating the relationships between literary and theatrical representations and their social contexts. It focuses on Ma Xianglan’s performance tour to Suzhou in 1604. Most historical sources treat this tour as Ma’s celebration of Wang’s seventieth birthday and thus evidence of Ma’s faithful love for Wang. This essay excavates less-circulated sources and examines the competing narratives of multiple literati writers and of Ma Xianglan herself. By revealing the contradictions in the narratives of the Ma-Wang romance, this study inquires into a specific historical context, the Longwan era (1570–1620), when the story of Ma and Wang unfolded. It asks how the romance served as a vehicle in cultural and commercial networking during the Longwan era and in the construction of Ming loyalism in the Ming-Qing transition.


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pp. 122-151
Launched on MUSE
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