Blind Singing Girls and the Respectability of Livelihood in Early Republican Guangzhou, 1911-1927
Friday, October 19th, 3-5 p.m.
Location: CEAS 319 (1155 E. 60th St.)
Discussant: Weichu Wang (PhD Student, History)
On October 19th from 3:00pm to 5:00pm the Art and Politics of East Asia workshop will host Chao Wang (PhD Candidate, History). He will present Blind Singing Girls and the Respectability of Livelihood in Early Republican Guangzhou, 1911-1927, a chapter of his dissertation. Chao Wang offers the following abstract:
This chapter shows the transformation of self-help among blind singing girls (guji 瞽姬) in early-Republican Guangzhou (1911-1927). These disabled women were sold at an early age by their families to be raised and trained under the tutelage of a foster mother, the elderly former guji who operated private training institutes (tangkou 堂口) in neighborhoods adjacent to business centers. Once they have reached a level of proficiency in singing, young guji will start their career as professional entertainers who were invited to perform in public festivals and family banquets. Republican-era expansion of commercial theatres promoted the social respectability of blind singers by introducing them into bourgeoisie-style teahouses (chalou 茶楼) and securing them with cultured patrons. However, the shifted consuming preference to sighted singers (nüling 女伶) in the 1920s had pushed many blind women out of employment in the teahouse and left them singing on the street. The lower-class guji were forced to engage in sex work for a living. The decline of guji’s respectability, I argue, originated from the negotiation between commercial interest and state regulation, which significantly challenged the moral economy of self-help and pressured a skilled profession to finally degenerate into prostitutes due to survival. Moreover, I demonstrate from the evolution of ableism in the urban entertainment that specific ideas and practices of femininity were constituted by the reconfiguration of a disability.