AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 169

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Session 169: Rethinking China in the Third Century

Organizer: Pauline Lin, Yale University, USA

Chair: David R. Knechtges, University of Washington, USA

Discussant: Robert Joe Cutter, Arizona State University, USA

This multi-disciplinary panel will utilize a wide range of sources to reconfigure our understanding of the third century — a crucial period in Chinese history which, even today, impacts modern Chinese culture through television series, films, and video games. This century is best known for the beginnings of classical Chinese poetry, with poems in five-syllable lines from the period considered foundation texts in the Chinese poetic tradition; and as a period of conflict among the states of Wei, Shu, and Wu, whose well-known intrigues were popularized in the fourteenth century novel, Sanguo yanyi. However, these labels have impeded a more nuanced view of this complex period. We will reconsider the third century in two ways: by reconstructing the time through previously ignored objects or landmarks, and by rediscovering the period through later cultural writings (anthologies, historiographies) that have shaped our singular understanding of the time. Tseng will use the visual program and textual inscriptions on a lower-class official’s sarcophagus to weave a public and private story of a local elite. Lin will recreate the Fragrant Grove Park -- often mentioned in Jian’an literature -- through archaeological, geographical, and visual sources. Centering on the ideas of food and memory, and through later anthologies, Tian will investigate the retrospective construction of the literary Jian’an. Finally, focusing on historical rewritings of the Sanguozhi, McLaren will explore the previously overlooked link between private histories and fiction. This panel will illuminate cultural discourses on the third century, and uncover plurality that has been repressed.

A Marginal Voice: The Sarcophagus for Wang Hui
Lillian Lan-ying Tseng, New York University, USA

The Jian’an period (196–220) is best known for gifted court writers and elites active in the metropolitan center of Ye; however, there is very little scholarship on the voices of ordinary people in areas away from the heartland. This paper will focus on a sarcophagus dating from 212 for Wang Hui, a low-ranking functionary from a dependent state on the southwestern border of the ailing Han Empire. The reliefs on the sarcophagus will reveal how artisans synthesized various funerary expressions into an organic whole, and how the visual program informs us of the local attitude toward death and the afterworld. Analyses of the inscription on the sarcophagus will illuminate the operation of social networks at the local level and the convergence of private and public spaces in a stone coffin. As a representation of a marginalized voice, the text and image on the sarcophagus reveal new insights into our understanding of the Jian’an period.

From Utilitarian to Aesthetic: Fragrant Grove Park and a Changing Garden Aesthetic in Third Century Luoyang
Pauline Lin, Yale University, USA

The well-known Fragrant Grove Park (Fanglin yuan) is often mentioned as a setting of the Jian’an poets’ gatherings, yet little has been written on the formation and maturation of the park itself during the third century. This paper will reconstruct the park through textual, visual, and archaeological sources, and will explore the physical and social spaces of the famous garden. Located in Luoyang, purportedly first built by Cao Cao, the Park was made important by Cao Pi in 224 when he created the Tianyuan Lake, and was greatly expanded upon by Cao Yu between 226-239. We find that the intentions for constructing and expanding the garden shifted from Cao Pi’s need for a political and cosmological symbol, to Cao Yu’s desire for an aesthetic space for entertainment. Geographic and archaeological sources allow us to reconstruct the garden’s design, which, by Cao Yu’s time, included multi-colored, patterned stones from Mount Taihang, a meandering water channel designed for poetry composition during banquets, an imperial stone seat in the middle of the lake, and various specialized gardens within the park. This park, as was conceived and constructed in the third century, embodied a new way of structuring and looking in a relatively limited space; it represented a break from earlier imperial gardens in Ye and foreshadowed the design of later Chinese gardens beyond the third century.

Food and Memory: Rethinking Jian’an
Xiaofei Tian, Harvard University, USA

There are two Jian’an eras in Chinese history: the historical reign of the last Han emperor from the 196th to the 220th year of the Common Era, and the legendary literary age that constitutes the true origin of classical Chinese poetry. All origins are created in hindsight, but the literary Jian’an is, in more than one way, a retrospective construction. In this sense the title of this paper, “rethinking Jian’an,” is intended to convey a double message: it is an invitation both to reconsider the era of Jian’an and to consider Jian’an as always already an after-thought. As a literary term, “Jian’an” took shape in the recollection of people who were dead and events that were long gone. At the center of this dark recollection there is a merry gathering, with music, words, drinking, and food. This paper aims to trace the creation of the literary era of Jian’an as itself a literary construction, characterized by nostalgia for a fullness of experience that never existed except in memory and imagination. It also attempts to answer why the feast is so central to this remembrance. Is eating simply one of the most sensuous and personal experiences, so that taste and smell alone, as Proust so eloquently put it, could help one retrieve the essence of the past? Or is eating, in this case communal eating, a powerful social institution that performs important cultural and literary functions in the discourse of the empire—and if yes, how?

Creating Unity from Division: The Three Kingdoms Era in Historiography and Fiction
Anne E. McLaren, University of Melbourne, Australia

The official history known as Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi), by Chen Shou (233-97), is a key source for the political events of third century China. In later ages, the Three Kingdoms era (220-265) became a rhetorical trope for the negotiation of conflicting understandings about the operation of political legitimacy in periods of dynastic breakdown and civil war. As explored in this study, Chen Shou’s Chronicle became central to the contestation about how best to represent the events of this period. The unprecedented tripartite format of the Chronicle, which reflected the division of the Chinese polity into three warring kingdoms, offended later notions of legitimacy based on a single dynastic succession. It is argued here that the intervention of private historians of the Song and Yuan eras was central to the reconfiguring of the third century in the later imperial period. This study will trace how these private historians experimented with the conventions of historiography and the emerging medium of print to create a perceived unity from political fragmentation. Their radical rewritings and abridgements of the Chronicle created a new conception of the third century, one that later inspired the author of China’s first historical novel, the Sanguo yanyi.