Were plump women really preferred during the Tang?
Posted 15 April 2010 - 07:23 PM
Posted 15 April 2010 - 11:36 PM
Posted 16 April 2010 - 05:04 AM
I'm sure it had biological explanations too, like mentioned by Jinmo, since too thin a woman would look scrawny and sickly, not good for producing healthy sons.
Many cultures had a 'plump' ideal of feminine beauty, only lately its all starting to change because of this ultra thin ideal that has spread now around the world. What was just normal healthy curvy beauty before has become 'fat' today. In that sense, I'm sure that Tang people probably preffered plumper women. There is a saying: a man is not a dog - he needs more than just bones.
Posted 16 April 2010 - 09:02 PM
Before Yang Guifei, Emperor Xuanzong's favourite was the talented Lady Mei. After Guifei entered the palace, he often had the two women for company. The two women on the surface treated each other as sisters but in private, they were bitter rivals. Emperor Xuanzong liked buxom women so it could be said that Yang Guifei emerged as the winner.
Even figurines from the Tang Dynasty, especially women, were depicted as buxom beauties.
Edited by WuXiaHer0, 16 April 2010 - 09:06 PM.
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Posted 16 April 2010 - 11:19 PM
I've heard and read time and time again that during the Tang dynasty, plump women were preferred over slim women. If this is true, it would be an anomaly, since the traditional view of feminine beauty is a thin body shape. So what evidence is there to suggest that plump women were preferred during this period?
It's not an anomaly. Only recently did we start preferring thin women. Plump women was seen as beautiful in classical Greece to Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. There is a biological threshold on how men prefer women: morbidly obese or dangerously malnourished would never be preferred in general. But anything in between is up to human culture(the type of environment that we are raised in).
In fact, you might even say that modern culture is an anomaly. The "ideal" female body many prefer today is too thin for optimum health, which sadly leads many women into becoming anorexic. That is not to say that Tang dynasty's "ideal" body is in perfect health. They are overweight in terms of optimum health.
Edited by Mei Houwang, 16 April 2010 - 11:25 PM.
Posted 17 April 2010 - 03:24 PM
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Posted 17 April 2010 - 04:33 PM
So, I'm not convinced. What about textual evidence? If it is true that plump women were en vogue during the Tang, then this ought to be depicted in Tang poems which talk about feminine beauty. Is it? I haven't begun examining Tang poetry for this yet, but the Tang would be a great place to find such references, if they exist. The latter half of the Tang witnessed a blossoming of courtesan culture and an openness in expressing love about women that hadn't existed much before.
The suggestion that a preference for full-figured women during the Tang is not anomalous, is false. The poetic imagery of the Chinese beauty is that of a waif-like, fragile figure, willowy, and delicate. Think about Zhao Feiyan or Xi Shi or Lin Daiyu. In fact, what other historical or fantastical beauty, aside from Yang Guifei, is depicted as plump, or full-figured, volutpuous, however you want to describe it? If a preference for plumpness was regular, then why is it brought up at all among descriptions of Tang life and culture? The only reason is to distinguish the preference from the preceding and following dynasties.
Consider the following, from Howard S. Levy's "The Career of Yang Kuei-fei":
It is impossible to reconstruct her face and figure at the time she reached maturity, but careful reading of the early texts reveals that she was fully developed and sensuous in appearance. An impression still exists among contemporary Chinese that she was stout, but I do not think that this was necessarily the case. We know that the typical Chinese beauty was slender to the point of fragility. Hsuan-tsung once visited the harem of the Heir Apparent and was dismayed to find that it was unkempt and deserted, with its musical instruments gathering dust. He ordered his chief eunuch Kao Li-shih to secure five women from the populace and to present them to his son, and requested that he secure those who were slender and light-skinned4. This was the norm for a harem beauty, and it was one which the lady Yang exceeded. She was an excellent dancer and musician, and must have been a woman endowed with a healthy physique. By modern standards, she might be considered pleasingly plump, but not stout.
A story of doubtful authenticity tells of the harem rivalry which developed between Yang Kuei-fei and an earlier imperial favorite called Mei-fei ("The Plum-blossom Consort"). "Plum-Blossom" was ousted from the main harem because of her rival's jealousy, we are told, and sent to an auxiliary harem in Loyang. There she pine away in solitude and jealousy, and once exclaimed, apropos of her abandonment, "If he is afraid to love me for fear of arousing that fat woman's ire, is that not dismissing me?"1. We know that Yang Kuei-fei suffered from the summer's heat, a discomfiture associated with overweight which may, however, have been aggravated by excessive alcoholic indulgence2. One might say, then, that her figure has been criticized by th Chinese because it did not conform to the accepted standard of fragile femininity.
The second paragraph relates a story that Levy thinks might be fictional. Even if the story is true, it at least shows that Yang Guifei was an anomaly; she is being ridiculed for being "fat", indicating that she is different from the other court ladies. It is also worth noting that neither the Old Book of Tang nor the New Book of Tang characterize Yang Guifei as being plump (neither mentions her body shape at all).
Levy, Howard S. "The Career of Yang Kuei-fei". T'oung Pao, Second Series, Vol.45, Livr. 4/5 (1957), pp. 451-489. Brill.
The first footnote (4), says: Tzu Liu-shih chiu-wen vol 2., 15a.
The second footnote (1), says: Edwards, Chinese Prose Literature, vol. 2, p.118. Miss Edwards translates the biography called Mei-fei chuan ("Biography of the Plum-blossom Consort"). My researches disclose that this consort is not mentioned in any other T'ang reference, and I believe that the biography may be entirely fictional and may have been composed in order to discredit Yang Kuei-fei and her clan.
The third footnote (2), says: See K'ai-yuan T'ien-pao i-shih vol. 2, 26a.
Edited by JohnD, 17 April 2010 - 04:34 PM.
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