Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2003
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
East Asian Studies, Princeton University
Mad speech, mad acts, and mad people in Chinese legal and medical practice under the Qing dynasty (1644-1911)

This project studies how distinct objects "madness" were elaborated in Qing-dynasty law, medicine, and literary trials. Throughout, I take distinctions between mad acts, mad speech, and mad people a guiding thread to reveal how each field conceived of what was relevant, paying particular attention to the diverse meanings and roles given to 'mad speech.' My starting point is the emergence of new laws on 'killing because of madness' in the 18th and 19th centuries. I compare these laws and the way they change with the dissimilar concerns and categories of medical practice and literary trials: irreducible but interrelated objects 'madness' could co-exist in a plurality of contexts whose concerns, categories, constraints, and logic were all different. My project will lead to new insights on the importance of imperial control over symbols of legitimacy, on the nature of fantasies in Qing China, and on the ways deviant acts and speech were treated in a wide variety of contexts. Finally, the theoretical reflection necessary to turn an unstable and context-sensitive object like 'madness' into a valid topic for research will contribute to developing complex research objects that include at once discourses, the institutional matrix from which they emerge, and the ways they were deployed in practice.