The 2023-24 Frederick W. Mote Memorial Lecture: The Sacrificial Body of Moye: Affect and Materiality in the Forging of Wu-Yue Swords
October 4, 2023 · 4:30 pm—6:00 pm · 46 McCosh
Dorothy Ko, Columbia University
The story of the swordsmith couple Ganjiang 干將 and Moye 莫耶 from the late Warring States period (fifth-century BCE) is so enduring that school children in the Chinese-speaking world can still recite its plot: Charged by the king to cast the deadliest sword, the couple became desperate when the metal would neither melt nor flow. They completed their task only when Moye leaped into the furnace and immolate herself. In this talk, we revisit this classic lore of the sacrificial wife by putting three mediums into conversation: Material remains of swords from late-Warring States Wu-Yue tombs; the textual tradition of the lore from the first-century Wu Yue chunqiu 吳越春秋 to the modern writer Lu Xun’s short story Zhujian 鑄劍 (Meijian chi 眉間尺); and the animation work of Chinese-American artist Hong HUO 霍弘 featuring Moye as the protagonist, Melt 鎔. In so doing, we examine the gendered politics of Moye’s metamorphosis through the ages while taking stock of the power of emotions as an agent of historical change.