Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 19, December 2008
Anne E. Mclaren

Performing Grief:
Bridal Laments in Rural China

Honolulu, University of Hawai'i Press, 2008
notes, glossary, bibliography, index, pp. x + 209
ISBN 978-0-8248-3232-2 (hardcover)

reviewed by Vibeke Børdahl

    A World in Drops of Tears
  1. This book is about the oral culture of Chinese women from the poor coastland south-east of modern Shanghai as it has existed well into the twentieth century. Among the largely illiterate population of this forlorn area of the Lower Yangzi delta—the people of the sands—as they used to call themselves, oral traditions of singing during work and leisure were part of daily life, and the women were culture-bearers of age-old bridal and funeral laments that were sung at epic length during the important stages in life of ’taking leave.’ In her study of the bridal laments Anne E. McLaren is opening virgin soil for the Western reader and is allowing us a many-faceted view of a whole world in drops of tears.
  2. The young brides of this rural land would for days before being married out of their natal home engage in the performance of weeping and wailing woven together with versified lamentations. Through her deeply fascinating study the author spreads out before our eyes the world of social relations, work conditions, material culture, customs and rites, myths and legends, as they are embedded in the tearful songs of the girl and her female ’supporters’ during the several days of marriage ceremony. This performance genre was transmitted by word of mouth from the older to the younger women and contained formulary language and stock material based on the rules and habits of the local milieu. At this critical point of transition from daughter to married woman the local-traditional expression of sorrow and furore was combined with a certain possibility for individual expression of both gratefulness and anger directed at the future home as well as the old home of the girl. The conventions of the genre did hardly allow expressions of joy and happiness in connection with the imminent event of the girl’s union with her future husband. On the contrary: the exodus from her natal home to the future home of the husband’s family was bewailed like a first experience of ’death.’
  3. The book is highly recommended for the general reader as well as for scholars in oral tradition, literature, anthropology, sociology, history, gender studies and studies of the humanities in general.


Intersections acknowledges the assistance of the Gender Relations Centre, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University in the hosting of this site.
© Copyright
Page constructed by Carolyn Brewer.
Last modified: 24 November 2008 1014

This page has been optimised for 1024x768
and is best viewed in either Netscape 2 or above, or Explorer 2 or above.