Watching and Being Watched: Gender and Space in the Painting of the Qianlong Emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour with a Comparative View


This article explores the female space in the painting of Qianlong Southern Inspection Tour, which depicts the daily life and activities of the eighteenth-century Chinese city Suzhou. From the observation of the painting, there are semi-open spaces along the streets in which females stand and watch the imperial parade. Women tended to be invisible in the public circumstance during feudal periods: this research analyses the presence and role of these female spaces and whether they can be seen as a step towards the modern space in the process of early-modern China. In analyzing these spaces, it focuses on the relation between the women’s watching and being watched in the space, and how it represents the evolution of feminism consciousness in space in feudal times and, sequentially, how it evokes the consideration of feminist role in modern practice. The study shows that the semi-open space that hosts the female activities can be regarded as an epitome of negotiating space and gender in the urban context. Women in the painting were exposed to the public to a certain extent, while they were still within mental and physical boundaries in the female social structure of the Emperor Qianlong period. These negotiations indicate the transition of gender and space in the late Imperial China and present parts of the process of spatial modernization in the Jiangnan region. From the comparative perspective, this research further investigates the relationships of gender and space by focusing on the space along the streets in the Qianlong Southern Inspection Tour, located within the homogenous space of the Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival of Ming dynasty seen Canaletto’s paintings of eighteenth-century Europe and Dianshi Zhai’s pictorials of the late Qing period. The research traces space in these paintings and how it represents the feminism consciousness and the evolution of female space in different historical and cultural backgrounds by looking at the social relations of the production of the specific history of people’s daily lives and the differences of social classes and nations.

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