AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 556

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Session 556: Dynastic Chinese Literature I

Li Bai, Du Fu, and Tang Cosmopolitanism
Xin Wei, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

The philosopher Peter Singer opens a chapter of his recent One World with a citation from Mozi (fl. 5th C BCE): “Appalled at the damage caused by war in his era, Mozi asked: ‘What is the way of universal love and mutual benefits?’ He answered his own question: ‘It is to regard other people’s countries as one’s own.’” The answer highlights an irony about the global ethics Singer conceives in his book: to extend the concept of home beyond one’s origins or current location results in a condition of ethical, if not actual, homelessness. This irony plays itself out throughout the Chinese Tang dynasty (618 - 907), an era widely considered to be China’s most “Chinese” period, and its most cosmopolitan one. This paper explores the embodiment of the irony of at-home/homelessness in Tang literary traditions by focusing on their most representative poets, Li Bai and Du Fu. Innumerable scholars have written about Li Bai and Du Fu’s representative role as the Tang greatest poets. But they have rarely discussed the ways in which the two Chinese poets par excellence present us, both in their biographies and their poetry, with a particularly vivid imagination of the relation between homelessness and home. Li and Du thus symbolize the irony of Tang: Chinese/cosmopolitan and at-home/homeless. This essay reads their poetry in order to draw larger conclusions about the cultural labor of the Chinese cosmopolis in the Tang period, and closes by extending those conclusions to contemporary debates on cosmopolitan ethics.

To Release the Pain in Phantom LimbsReading Shen Jiji’s “The Tale of Lady Ren”
Jing Wang, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, USA

This paper demonstrates how the discordant qualities in the Tang tale writer Shen Jiji’s (ca.750-800) “The Tale of Lady Ren” interestingly resembles the symptom of imagery pain in patients with amputated limbs, how the author’s literary piece and his historical writings reflect the same and consistent pursuit, and how a Confucian official historian find a way to release his intellectual pain in another genre and religious realm. Shen’s tale has been acclaimed for its vivid description of a humanized fox lady who was “faced with the force but not lose her purity, to follow one man until death.” However, some discordant qualities, i.e. the evil side of the fox lady, obviously contradict and weaken the perfect image of a virtuous supernatural being and have troubled the commentators. This paper argues that the discordant qualities reflect the development in the characterization of the fox image since the six dynasties. The humanized aspects of the fox lady emerge from two sources: the original tradition of fox images before the Han dynasty and a parallel story orally circulating a little earlier. By glorifying the virtuous principles of a fox, Shen Jiji demonstrated in his tale a tendency to resume the old literary tradition of fox stories. Such an effort was in accordance with his endeavor in historiography. The tale shows the same pursuit of virtue and the old tradition in a metaphorical way with an evocative fox lady image that Shen’s historical writings directly expressed and advocated.

Suppressed Voices of Women Poets in Early Medieval China
Qiulei Hu, Whitman College, USA

“Boudoir Reproach” 閨怨, often featuring a lonely wife longing for her absent husband, has become the most common theme associated with women’s poetic voices since the sixth century. The real world of women’s writings in early medieval period, however, was far more complex and diverse. Despite there is never lack of records about successful female writers in dynastic histories, the great majority of their works had been long lost. Among those that did survive through popular literary anthologies, most deals with themes that by and large fall into the “Boudoir Reproach” category. But we also have fragments of early poems by women preserved in encyclopedias. The comparison between these two venues of preservation yields interesting discoveries. These fragments in encyclopedias often express sentiments other than resentment and romantic longing, as frequently seen in the “Boudoir Reproach” theme. This paper explores the reasons behind this interesting contrast and examines how literary anthologies and criticism of the sixth century influenced and even determined the ways the female voice was understood and reused in later generations. When it comes to the selection and evaluation of women’s writings, aesthetic value is probably not the only criterion held by early medieval (male) scholars. But why did some poems by women writers survive whereas others were forgotten? How does the nature of available literary sources affect our understanding of literary history? I hope my study will provoke reconsiderations on the received version of literary history on women’s writings in early medieval period.

Overheard in Chang'an: Writing and Reputation in Yuan Zhen's "Yingying's story"
Jeffrey Rice, University of Pennsylvania, USA

In Yuan Zhen’s chuanqi “The Tale of Yingying”, romance is removed from its usual location in the demimonde, and the anxiety of financial concerns prevalent in Tang romantic tales is eclipsed by the value of literary concerns. The worth of romantic love is denominated in terms of poems and letters, which are appraised by both those to whom they are revealed within the narrative and by the audience reading the narrative itself. Fundamental to these appraisals is the value of sincerity: poetry which intentionally displays one’s feelings is cheapened, while that which accidentally reveals one’s love is dearly sincere. This paper explores the interplay between desire, sincerity, and the exchange of literature revealed by “Yingying’s story.” This dynamic is not just revealed within the story, it is also a dynamic in which the story itself participates. Chen Yinke has argued convincingly that scholars composed and circulated chuanqi tales to establish their literary reputations in Chang’an. In much the same way that Yingying’s writings circulate within the tale to establish her reputation as a true beauty, Yuan Zhen’s tale circulated in Chang’an to establish his reputation as a true talent. And just as any overt desire for love undermines Yingying’s authenticity within the tale, any overt desire for reputation would undermine Yuan Zhen’s talent. Identifying Yuan Zhen with the character of Yingying, rather than with student Zhang, this paper develops a picture of the complex interplay among desire and sincerity, writing and reputation in Yuan Zhen’s Chang’an.

Knots in the tree of wen: on indeterminacy in Liu Xie’s Wenxin diaolong
Dinu Luca, National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

In a text as rich figuratively as Liu Xie’s Wenxin diaolong (WXDL), ambiguity abounds: many concurrent readings can often authoritatively claim exclusive legitimacy, with what appears to be overwhelming evidence marshaled in their favor. Some of the contexts in the WXDL are, in fact, duly indexed as contested terrains in dictionaries (Zhou Zhenfu, 1996) and other synthetic works (Zhang Deng, 1995) dedicated to Liu’s text; they are also commonly revisited in articles and book-length studies. Most commonly, however, dragonologists seem to dismiss figurality altogether, and attempt to strip the WXDL to the bare bone of its theoretical framework and insights; paraphrasing replaces reading, and ambiguity is exiled to the familiar realm of the ‘contested terrains’ mentioned above. My paper concentrates on what I take to be a specific case of ambiguity, in which two readings not only coexist, but also seem to necessarily do so in order for Liu’s text to transition smoothly from one point to another. Commonly unacknowledged as ambiguous and thus ignored in current dragonology, these instances constitute, I argue, complex textual joints where the ambiguity of the referent (textual or intra-textual vs. extra-textual or ‘real’) leads to complete interpretative indeterminacy. Focusing on several examples taken primarily from Liu’s chapters 1 and 50, this paper attempts not only to verify the existence and highlight the significance of such figures in the WXDL, but also stress their fundamental structural role in the architectonics of Liu’s text at all levels.

Across the Disciplinary Boundaries: Wang Duan as a Poet-Historian
Sharon Shih-Jiuan Hou, Pomona College, USA

Northrop Frye once observed that literature is the central division of the humanities, flanked on one side by history and on the other by philosophy. As literature is not itself an organized structure of knowledge, the critic has to turn to the conceptual framework of the historian for events, and to that of the philosophy for ideas (Anatomy of Criticism, c 1957, p.12). To a certain extent, that statement would have described well the spirit and practice of the intellectual endeavors of China’s nineteenth-century woman poet, critic and anthologist Wang Duan (1793-1838). Her main approach to Ming (1368-1644) poetry is that of socio-historical analysis, her critical theories and standards deeply rooted in the “Great Preface” and the “Lesser Preface” to the Book of Songs, as well as the Mencius. Her poems on subjects of figures and incidents in history and sites of historic interest, heavily invested with her individual evaluation, praise and censure, which form the bulk of her extant verse collection, claim respectable ancestry in the Spring and Autumn and carry on much of the tradition of China’s later historical writing and historiography. Far from static as Frye’s statement may have suggested, however, the relations of poetry, history and Confucian philosophy in Wang’s case involve a dynamic, harmonizing process in which she must find ways to maneuver between generic differences and reconcile other disparate elements. Her finest works are reflective of the statecraft-through-learning trend beginning to emerge in her time. By way of transmission to posterity they also help resolve a more personal anxiety about immortality - that elusive Confucian goal of life particularly difficult for women in imperial China to attain.