From Zhuangzi’s Gourd to Cinderella’s Pumpkin

Gua 瓜 as a Vehicle for the Imagination
Christopher Rea
- | Wolf Humanities Center Conference Room
Williams Hall 623
255 S. 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Please join us for the next lecture in the EALC Speakers' Colloquium.

The Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi tells us that one remedy for a lack of imagination is to take your gourd for a ride. Confucius makes a point about usefulness by comparing himself to a calabash. Gua —which include gourds, melons, pumpkins, squash, and bitter melon—abound in Chinese philosophy, art, poetry, historiography, and storytelling, notably in late imperial novels such as Jin Ping Mei, Journey to the West, and Story of the Stone. Why? Christopher Rea argues that gua have several qualities that account for their enduring popularity in the figurative imagination, including their sound, shape, seasonality, variety, and abundance.

This talk shares examples of how the cucurbitaceae—a vast family that is as diverse in its metaphorical usages as in its species—has been used in Chinese and other contexts as a vehicle for the imagination. The humble gua has been used to represent ideas of consequence, both physical (human anatomy, China, the earth) and conceptual (moral peril, wealth, glory days). Gua are a vehicle for rethinking the taxonomies that drive cultural historiography, the distinctions scholars make between here and there, this and that. In particular, this talk will focus on why gua associations tend to be overripe, and on how Chinese and non-Chinese sources have used melons and their kin to represent time itself.

Lunch will be served.