Violence, Vigilantism, and Virtue Reassessing Medieval Female Avenger Accounts through the Study of Narratives about Xie Xiao’e

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Kelsey Granger



While less common than narratives about their male counterparts, accounts of female avengers are scattered throughout Chinese literature and historiography. Nevertheless, despite being included in a variety of genres and modes of writing, the extant corpus of Tang and pre-Tang female avengers appear to share remarkably similar tropes, tensions, and outcomes. In this article, I will explore how three tensions are apparent across Tang and pre-Tang female avenger accounts through the case study of narratives about Xie Xiao’e 謝小娥, a woman who seeks revenge after her father and husband are killed by bandits. Supernatural elements, cross-dressing, and judicial proceedings all seek to reduce the power and autonomy of the heroine, presenting us with a fascinating and rich example of the limits of revenge. It has been previously assumed that this is the sole example of a female avenger account preserved in two modes of writing, but this is not the case. A detailed comparison of the versions relating to Xie Xiao’e will act as a springboard to recategorize the corpus of female avenger accounts and in turn more amply reveal the variety of methods used to curtail, control, and Confucianize these women.

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