China and Inner Asia
Wide use of epitaphs/muzhiming as historical sources in the last few decades has greatly changed our understanding of imperial China, especially in the areas of marriage, women’s and family life, the ruling class, and literary and religious practices. This roundtable features five scholars whose work has drawn extensively on epitaphs. Patricia Ebrey will open the panel with a general overview of the scholarship and the rest of the panelists will draw on their experience to discuss why they are attracted to the genre, what they are working on, and what they see in epitaphs for future research. In examining Tang epitaphs for children and youth, Ping Yao suggests that the sheer quantity of extant epitaphs will enable scholars to combine big-data approaches with textual analyses that go beyond prosopographical reading of biographies. Having successfully identified broad social changes based on shifts in generic conventions in muzhiming, Beverly Bossler will further explore the unexpected and often very revealing information muzhiming provide about the existence of people and relationships not documented elsewhere. Ellen Zhang will outline some major developments in muzhiming writing in the Northern Song, especially in terms of epitaphs as a form of filial expression, the relationship between the deceased and the funerary biographer, as well as the complexity of family dynamics. Martin Huang will focus his discussion on new trends in epitaph writing during the late imperial period, and especially its increasingly complicated relationship with other related genres. In addition, he takes on the issue of "authorship": to what degree can we still consider someone who wrote an epitaph to be its author if he knew very little about his subject and copied substantially from others' writings on the individual, as many epitaph writers routinely did? Our ultimate goal is to assess the possibilities and limitations of muzhiming as primary sources as well as the current state of the field. Toward that end, we will circulate our materials in advance to all those committed to attending the panel and welcome pre-conference questions and communications. Each panelist will speak for ten minutes only, leaving ample time for discussion.