三从四德

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si
de
 

This tetratych was inspired by 三从四德 (sān cóng sì dé), an ancient, Confucian, moral injunction for women. Specifically it refers to how women ought to obey three male figures (father, husband, and son) while following four virtues (morality, beauty, diligence in needlework, and propriety in speech).

The phrase itself carries subtle connotations that women are merely dependent objects, meant to be possessed. While the phrase itself is outdated and not in use anymore, one can find nuances of this sexism in modern Chinese and Chinese-American households.

As the eldest daughter in a Chinese-American family, I have noticed microaggressions that point back to 三从四德. Whether it was a small quip to behave more "ladylike" and less "rebellious" from my concerned parents, or a matchmaking attempt by my grandmother to introduce me to a "smart, wealthy, Chinese-American man," or the fact that our ancestral burial stone in China is engraved with only the male names in the family, there are indicators that though 三从四德 is not heard colloquially, it is still deeply embedded in Chinese society.

This project is an exploration of my attempts to grapple with 三从四德. ‘三从四德’ debuted at the Smith Warehouse in Spring of 2017.

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‘三从四德’ is a mixed media piece that is derived from the intersection of modern photography and ancient calligraphy. I shot the images with my DSLR and used the calligraphy skills that my grandfather taught me to paint the characters and render them digitally.

The red veil that is gradually destroyed throughout the tetratych is a visual motif that alludes to the tradition for Chinese brides to hide their faces behind red veils on their wedding days. The veil symbolized the woman’s virtue, and the groom was supposed to lift the veil to reveal her face (oftentimes, this would be the very first time he laid eyes on her in person), signifying a transfer of the woman from her family to his.