Prof. Shiau-Yun Chen’s research focus is inter-relationships of law, culture, family authority and family violence in Ming China, with a special focus on wives and concubines.

Prof. Shiau-Yun Chen received her Ph.D. from Cornell in 2019 and recently published “Jealous and Violent: Constraining and Celebrating Wifely Jealousy in Mid-to-late Ming China” in Ming Studies (volume 79, 2019). Her focus is inter-relationships of law, culture, family authority and family violence in Ming China, with a special focus on wives and concubines. Prof. Chen is specialist in women’s and gender history and has published articles in Chinese language journals.

How would you describe your perspective on teaching?

When designing my syllabus, I think about what kind of learning experience I want my students to have in my courses, and I think about what kind of transferable skills they might have after they leave the classroom. In my previous teacher training course, the professor showed us a video. The comedian in the video proposed an idea called “five-minute university.” In other words, within five minutes, he can teach you all the things that college graduates remember five years after they left their school. The comedian, of course, is exaggerating to make jokes. But after watching the video, when I tried to recall what I still remember about what I learned in my college years, I don’t remember much of it. I majored in history when I was an undergraduate, and I am a professor in history now. Yet I can only remember very limited historical details from among those that I spent so much time memorizing in my college years. This is on the one hand frustrating, but it is also mind-blowing on the other. I might not remember all the historical events and timelines, but I have internalized all the skills and world views that my history professors brought to me through examining historical archives and studying historians’ scholarly works. The teacher training course changed my teaching philosophy completely. I learned to prioritize concepts before historical details, and this approach helps students make connections that enable them to absorb those details.

Are you working on any projects at the moment?

I am currently working on my book manuscript, which is based on my dissertation, “Legitimating and Constraining Womanly Violence in Ming China (1368-1644.)” In this book manuscript, I argue that, concomitantly with the formation of the patrilineal corporate lineage in late imperial China, certain forms of women’s violence emerged as integral to the very structure of Chinese families. I am investigating violence performed by women in positions of authority—mothers, wives, and female “masters”—in families from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries in China. I use a wide array of primary sources (including the legal code, legal cases and commentaries, imperial court records, official historiographies, biographical writings, familial instructions, medical recipes, anecdotes, myths, fictional stories, and dramas) to identify apparatuses that legitimated—and in certain contexts constrained—women’s violence.

In addition to my book manuscript, I am also working on a paper focusing on the disease of jealousy in Ming China. In late imperial China, jealousy and depression were prominently considered to be pathological emotions that routinely produced such ailments in women as lumps, lesions, and infertility. Simultaneously, a new archetype of female exemplars appeared in biographical writings: wives who were consistently placid when dealing with difficult relatives and when disciplining misbehaving children and servants. This project illuminates the deep interconnections between social contexts, constructs of gendered illnesses, and experiences of illness.

What are you currently reading, if anything?

I have had the habit of listening to audio books for a while. I want to give my eyes a break while I am taking a break from researching and teaching, which already involve a lot of reading. The book I am currently “reading” is Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears. I really like Pear’s work, especially his Art History Mysteries. One of my friends does not like this author’s sarcastic tone in his novels, but I enjoy it a lot. But what I really love about Pears’ work is how he compares history with the detective work in his stories. Many historians I know enjoy detective novels. I think that we all see the interesting similarity between our own work and detective work: finding the connection behind each piece of evidence.

Who are your biggest role models?

I have learned so many things from different great people over the years. It is hard to just pick one or two role models. As a scholar in history, it is not surprising that my role models are also historians. However, they are my role models because they are kind, considerate and empathetic. I respect them not only because they are great scholars, but also because they are wonderful, inspiring people, friends, colleagues, and teachers.

What is a piece of advice you would offer students?

Communicate with your professors! Professors are more than happy to answer your questions and offer you help, but you need to ask! When I say ask, I do not mean asking to have your grade changed (which is rarely going to happen), but asking questions in class and asking questions when you have trouble understanding the concepts and content introduced in class, and asking for a break if you need one. In other words, spot your own issues and solve them before it is too late. Focus on what you can learn from your courses instead of what grades you can get. Be an active learner and ask challenging and critical questions when you read or when you are in class. You will find learning much more interesting that way, compared with passively agreeing with your professors and repeating what they say.

Prof. Chen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Women’s and Gender Studies. She’s teaching Modern China 1600 to Present and Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies.