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Reading Objects 2019: Student Edition

Image of item
Court Lady, ca. 618-704
funerary sculpture; ceramic (object)
26.04 x 6.35 x 6.35 cm (10 1/4 x 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches)

Kathy Nguyen

Undergraduate- English and Sociology

Class of 2021

Ladies in China

The Tang Dynasty was supposedly
A bright period for women in retrospect
Because a Confucian revival had not arrived yet
To tell men to bind
Their women’s feet into lotuses.
But concubines were still selling well
And graced royal beds.
One day a clever upper-class girl was born,
Pale and witty and small.
She became the emperor’s concubine
And then his son’s and she was very cunning
And I heard she strangled her own daughter
To frame the emperor’s wife
And after he died, she took the throne
And terrified her son the crown prince
Into submission.
Wu Zetian, Empress of China
Was a wicked woman.
Children, nod and repeat: This is
An evil lady who wraps her legs
Around you so you can do her bidding.

(Perhaps this faceless court lady
Graced her halls? I can see it now.
She was taken from the countryside as a child
And her soft weeping filled the carriage.
They plumped her up on meat
And dolled up her face
And made her dance in silken robes
With other trembling girls.
Clean leftovers of families better off without them.
During the day she cleans and cooks
And at night dreams of a courteous man
Who will not lift her skirts
And pinch her bottom so tightly.
Does he exist? No? Then one day
Her rage will flow from every orifice of her
Soiled body
And she will finally strike back. Spitting.
In the morning her tears have dried
And she tells herself, one day I’ll…
But today, I smile.)

(I smile at you like a terracotta doll.
I hope you remember me fondly.)