The Columbia University Buddhist Studies Seminar, the Center for Buddhism and East Asian Religion and the Columbia University Seminars would like to invite you to the following talk:
"Posthumous Divorce: Buddhism, Filial Piety and Spousal Disjointed Burial in Late Medieval Chinese Entombed Epitaphs"
A Talk by Jessey Choo (Rutgers University)
Thursday, February 16, 2017, 5:00 PM
Columbia University, Faculty House (room TBA)
In late medieval China (500-1000 CE), burying a husband and wife together was the norm. Yet, many elite women rejected such an arrangement. Rather than joining their husband in burial, known as spousal joint burial, or hezang 合葬, they opted instead for a separate one, known as spousal disjoint burial, or fengzang 分葬. In entombed epitaphs, wherein some selected aspects of the deceased’s life and death were commemorated, a woman’s choice of fenzang was often presented as being entirely her own and as the cause of great anxiety among the couple’s children. In a society where family members were typically interred in one graveyard and thereby symbolically reunited, the choice pitted filial piety against familial loyalty and filial devotion to the mother against that to the father, thus introducing the need to explain how the deceased came to this decision and how her children implemented it. Reasons often offered were the deceased’s Buddhist practices and desire to leave the secular life while living. These explanations added the chance of salvation to the already hefty weight of conscience on the children. This talk examines the rhetoric of filial piety and Buddhist renunciation in the discursive field of spousal joint/disjoint burial. Drawing on entombed epitaphs, records of court debates, and women’s Buddhist burials, it argues that fenzang was tantamount to a posthumous divorce. To some women, it seemed, one lifetime with their husband (and in-laws) was quite enough.
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