Panel 1. Language, Mind and World

Chair: Martin Kern (Princeton University)


Schaberg, David

University of California, Los Angeles

Style Machinery in Early Prose


In this presentation I will discuss how small and large passages of parallelism are used thematically and reflect on implications for our dating of early texts and their uses.


Chen, Jack W.

University of Virginia

“Poetry, Form, and Cognition (in Medieval China, for Example)”


The Chinese literary tradition has long understood the shi genre as “articulating” (yan ) “what is intently on the poet’s mind” (zhi ). A skillful reading of a poem should therefore give us access to the poet’s mind, and through a metonymic hermenuetical process, allow us to comprehend the world that shaped the poet and caused him to give rise to the utterance in the first place. However, what does it mean for a poem to give access to the poet’s mind? In this paper, I want to examine how the poem encodes meaning through an analysis of its basic syntactic structures: the line, the couplet, and the stanza. I will argue that these syntactic structures give form to cognitive processes, that thought is encoded through these particular forms. This is, of course, not in itself a surprising claim, though my focus will be what the line, the couplet, and the stanza make possible as vehicles of thought that simultaneously shape thought. I should note that I am not interested so much in what poetic structures tell us about mind and thought as I am in how mind and thought are formed in poetic structures (at different levels of complexity and in combination).


Fried, Daniel Alan

University of Alberta

“Wheelwright Pian as Renegade Mohist”


The anecdote of Wheelwright Pian is one of the most well-known stories of the Zhuangzi, primarily for its influence on discussions of language in the later tradition. The story itself and the earlier passage on language theory which it exemplifies are frequently alluded to in classical texts; in more recent times, the story has been discussed as a warring-states version of the “death of the author”. For all of the attention paid to the text, however, it is rarely noticed that the basic structure of the incident seems intended to dramatize the conflict between Confucianism and Mohism which had structured much of the intellectual climate by the time of Zhuang Zhou. As an artisan-philosopher, Pian would naturally be assumed to be an adherent of Mozi; his interlocutor, Duke Huan of Qi, is reading what seem to be the Confucian classics (despite some mild anachronism). Their physical and moral positioning, with the Duke both literally and figuratively above Pian, replicate perfectly the class divide that animated much Confucian-Mohist debate. And even the basic objection of Pian, against the classics as a conduit for reliable knowledge, was a foundational principle of the Mohist school.


Perhaps the primary reason why the Mohist structure of the anecdote is so rarely mentioned in criticism is that the epistemology which Pian ultimately voices, a kind of skeptical intuitionism, is decidedly not Mohist. Not only does it not advance a theory of clear standards and accurate distinctions, that epistemology seems almost diametrically opposed to Mohist principles, arguing for the incommunicability of practical knowledge. However, this ultimate lack of Mohist philosophical content does not disprove the presence of fictional Mohist characterization; rather, it demonstrates that this anecdote is an example of Zhuangzian yuyan, “entrusted words” by which the school of Zhuang Zhou falsely attributed words to historical or mythological figures. This paper will argue that, even more than the many cases in which Daoist arguments are put into the mouth of Confucius, the coopting of Mohism in the Wheelwright Pian story lays bare the mechanics of Zhuangzian rhetorical method, and shows how and why the appropriation of fictionalized mouthpieces is tied to the evolution of a discourse nameable as “Daoism”.


Lu, Tina

Yale University

"Is it Philology or Philosophy?"


In the modern era, Chuanxi lu (The Record of Conveying Practice) has usually been studied and taught by scholars of thought, as Wang Yangming’s exposition on xinxue, and not by literary historians. In reconstructing early modern disciplines of the mind, I would like to revisit Chuanxi lu, as instead a late Ming composite that in its foregrounding of paratext wrestles with a xinxue poetics. In other words, what has in the last century been seen as philosophy is better seen as a constellation of philological practice.



Panel 2. Chinese Literature, East Asia, and Beyond

Chair: Kang-i Sun Chang (Yale University)


Cheang, Alice Wen-Chuen

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

“Translation as Literary Interpretation”


Looking back over Stephen Owen’s legacy as a teacher and scholar and, in particular, the work he has done in literary translation, I am prompted to consider the role that translation plays in all our lives as we work within the community of literary scholars in Classical Chinese on the one hand and on the other as our scholarship contributes to shaping the literary consciousness of readers at large. Translation seems to be that part of our work where we negotiate and discharge responsibility to both the academic community and those outside that community. It is in the individual scholar’s approach to translating texts that we see, most clearly and transparently reflected, his or her relationship to the educational mission that is the rationale for our continued existence in a world where the humanities have become an endangered species. Yet, for all its importance, translation is seldom discussed in the way that we discuss the more strictly analytical aspects of our work, even though translation is in itself literary interpretation in its most basic form. I would like, using as illustrative guides Owen’s two great translation projects, his Anthology of Chinese Literature and The Poetry of Du Fu, the former directed at the general reader and the latter at students of Chinese, to consider the possibilities that translation opens up for interpreting the scholar-educator’s mission, and also some of the problems, philosophical and methodological, that we may encounter when doing translation.


Liu Chen

National University of Singapore

Ou Su shoujian 歐蘇手簡 and the Transmission of Epistolary Collections in East Asia”


Ou Su shoujian (OSSJ) is a collection of the personal letters of Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 and Su Shi 蘇軾, compiled no later than the end of the thirteenth century. Even though it was subsequently lost in China, an imprint of it was transmitted abroad and widely circulated in Japan and Korea. This paper traces the flourishing of epistolary collections in East Asia by focusing on the fascinating textual history of the earliest extant edition of OSSJ, which was printed in Choson in 1450 based on a Ming dynasty edition and later transmitted to Japan and became part of the Tokugawa Ieyasu 德川家康 imperial collection. Moreover, through close examination of different printed and hand-copied editions of OSSJ in Japan and Korea as well as the sequels and annotations done in those places, this paper illustrates the sources and process of the flourishing of epistolary culture in Japan and Korea.


Denecke, Wiebke

Boston University

“Writing Literary Histories of Premodern China and East Asia: Practices, Prospects, Pains and Gains”


Over the past decade interest in Chinese literary traditions in the broader Sinographic Sphere has exponentially increased. Scholars in the Sinophone world, in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam have become keenly aware of their shared premodern cultural heritage and have started to eagerly pursue both the study of cultural reception and mutual influence among as well as comparative approaches to various East Asian polities, present and past. Although Western academia is still lagging behind these developments, a younger generation of scholars, with appropriate broader language skills and the awareness that a study along national boundaries harms our proper historical understanding of each country’s cultural and literary traditions, has been joining scholars in East Asia in developing new paradigms for comparative studies of premodern East Asia.


In the light of these developments, and against the backdrop of the recently published Cambridge histories of Chinese, and respectively Japanese, literature as well as a first-ever attempt at a comparative literary history of East Asia to be published in Japanese next year, this talk discusses the methodological and practical problems of writing literary histories of premodern East Asia and expands on its future possibilities and prospects. As the literary historiography of classical Chinese literature as well as comparative literary studies have been central parts of Steve Owen’s life-long interests and achievements this talk reflects both on what has been accomplished and what lies ahead in the intellectually and pedagogically important field of literary historiography of Chinese and East Asian literatures.


Thornber, Karen

Harvard University

“Chinese Literature, Global Literature, and Healing”


Doctor-patient relationships have been deteriorating in China for decades. Mistrust is common, and verbal and even physical attacks against physicians and other medical professionals by patients and their families are not unknown. Improving patient care has become a priority, and increasingly Chinese universities and medical professionals are turning to the medical and health humanities to respond to this crisis. China, of course, is not alone: doctor-patient relationships are strained in many parts of the world, and the medical and health humanities are thriving as never before, in Europe, North America, and well beyond. Literature, not surprisingly, occupies an important position in the medical humanities. But all too often, only Western literature is invoked for the insights it can provide into improving patient care. As Steve Owen remarked at the opening of the Harvard University Asia Center two decades ago, American students should read Mencius not to learn about China, but to learn about the origins of ethical thought. So too should American medical students and health professionals read Chinese and other literatures not simply to learn about other cultures but also to learn about how best to transform care and promote healing regardless of the ethnicity of their patients. This paper draws on my current book project on global literature and healing, discussing future possibilities for the medical humanities, configured globally.


Jing Tsu

Yale University

A Special Presentation



Panel 3. Chinese Literature within Global Modernity

Chair: Wilt Idema (Leiden and Harvard University)


Wangling, Jinghua

Loyola University

“Mulan: Rise of a Warrior (2009): The Multi-media Transmission of Pre-Modern Chinese Poetry”


The Chinese film industry has recently shown interest in portraying pre-modern Chinese poetry through cinema. In 2013, Chinese Central Television and Central Newsreel Corporation launched an initiative to adapt 108 Tang dynasty poems into short films. Despite their desire to transmit the rich legacy of pre-modern Chinese poetry and their ambition to launch a similar initiative to adapt 108 song lyrics into short films, a lack of updates regarding the poetry project following the release of an initial trailer at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June 2013 suggests they experienced difficulty in piquing contemporary interest in pre-modern poetry. In addition to the limited ability of pre-modern Chinese poetry to garner popular interest, non-profit projects of transmitting pre-modern poetry have also faced difficulties finding non-governmental fiscal sponsorship. However, the earlier success of the 2009 film Mulan: Rise of a Warrior in the box offices already demonstrated the profitability and plausibility of cinematic transmission of pre-modern poetry through new interpretations for contemporary audiences. The film has led to public interest in reexamining the narrative poem “Ballad of Mulan,” and has also influenced our understanding of the poem. This paper, therefore, argues that the 2009 film discloses the value of film in transmitting pre-modern Chinese poetry through commercially and culturally oriented representation.


Due to the complex history of the ballad’s adaptations and the collaborative nature of film production, it is impossible to discern whether the film was adapted from the original ballad or the collective legend of Mulan. For this reason, instead of investigating the standards utilized by filmmakers to select a poem for adaptation or judging the film’s faithfulness to the original, this paper examines the influence that the film has had on contemporary understandings of the ballad and explores the film’s function and agency in transmitting the poem through a comparison between the two works. Using the 2009 film as a case study, this paper reveals that film, as a multi-media artistic form blending photography, literature, fine art and music, can effectively transmit pre-modern poetry and successfully prevent its marginalization in contemporary society.


Teng, Emma Jinhua

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“The Engineer as Literatus: The Literary Work of MIT Engineering Student Ku Yuhsiu (1902-2002)”


From 1908 on, a significant number of Boxer Indemnity Scholarship students from China studied engineering at MIT. Although these students represented a “new vanguard” in overseas study, propelled by a determination to “save China through science and engineering,” many of these pioneers came from gentry families in Jiangsu and had been trained in classical Chinese literature, painting, calligraphy and other literati pursuits before coming to America. Along with their counterparts at Harvard, Wellesley, and other Boston area universities, MIT’s Chinese students engaged in a range of activities to promote American understanding of Chinese culture. They also joined together in patriotic activities to support China. Many of these activities involved literary endeavors: the adaptation, translation, production and performance of plays, the composition of poetry, or the writing of fiction. Plays were performed both for American audiences, including in Boston and Cambridge, as well as for a Chinese audience in Chinatown. Among the students, electrical engineer Ku Yuhsiu (1902-2002) became especially famous for his literary work, including several plays written during his student years. Ku later played a major role in promoting the arts in China, including helping to found the Shanghai Municipal Experimental Theatre School (now, the Shanghai Theatre Academy). Known to some as “China’s last polymath,” Ku represented the ideal merging of engineer with literatus. This paper will discuss Ku’s literary output, with a focus on works connected to Boston.


Hu, Jasmine

Harvard University
“‘A Pair of Mandarin Ducks Split Apart”: Abandoned Wives in the Songs of Gold Mountain


My paper will examine a selection of vernacular rhymes from Jinshan ge ji or Songs of Gold Mountain, written in the early 1910s by the Cantonese immigrants of San Francisco Chinatown. In particular, I will focus on poems that, though almost certainly written by male immigrants, adopt a feminine persona—most often the personae of a wife still in Canton, lamenting her absent husband. I will read these poems comparatively against the earlier classical poetic genre of guiyuan and poetry on abandoned wives -- in particular Du Fu’s 月夜, written when Du Fu was imprisoned in Chang’an and separated from his wife and children. My diachronic reading will explore the gendered and familial dynamics of Cantonese-American immigration and link canonical high Tang poetics with a later Sinophone vernacular.



Panel 4. Geopolitics and Gender in Early Medieval Chinese Literature

Chair: David R. Knechtges (University of Washington)


Lin, Pauline

Yale University

"Foreign Luxury Tributes in Han Imperial Parks"


This paper focuses on foreign luxury imports that one could have seen in the Han imperial park Shanglin yuan - including "heavenly horses," rhinoceros, grapes, and luxury objects made about or from rhinoceros horns, elephant tusks, glass or gold plaques .  While extensive catalogs of exotic animals and plants can be found in Han fu descriptions of the park, there is relatively little extant literary writings focusing specifically on each of these foreign imports,  compared with art objects found in Han tombs.  This paper considers these exotic objects in the context of the relationship between the Han court and its foreign neighbors: were these objects actually tributes?  Imports?  And what were their roles in the imperial palaces and parks?


Raft, Zeb

Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica

“Some Directions in the Study of pre-Tang Literature”


I will speak to Steve Owen’s influence on three directions I’ve tried to pursue in the study of pre-Tang literature: the significance of bibliographical criticism, or attention to the sources of our literary texts; the use of traditional commentary, to calibrate our engagement with premodern literary traditions; and the importance of ideas and open questions, as opposed to or in relation with facts. In sharing these reflections at this gathering, I hope to facilitate a conversation about how Steve's contributions have helped shape this field of study.


Hu Qiulei

Whitman College

“Between 'Grand Achievement' and 'Petty Way': Jian'an Literati's Views of Writing”


The Jian’an period (196-220) is known for an elevated attention to literary writing, or wen and the unprecedented flourishing of literary activity, mostly among literati who gathered at the Cao courts. Its prominent role in pre-modern Chinese literature is summarized by Lu Xun’s (1881-1936) famous statement — "an era of the self-awakening of literature” (Wenxue zijue de shidai 文學自覺的時代). It is now widely accepted that Jian’an writing and other literary activities cannot be understood in separation from their political and social contexts. Yet further work still needs to be done in exploring the nature and function of writing in this period. How did Jian’an literati define their identities and roles in a time of social chaos and political ambition? How do they view the relationship between writing and public achievements? How do the dynamics between the private and the public in their writing in a variety of genres reflect their views? This paper looks for answers in Jian’an literati’s own discussions of writing and argues that writing was viewed as an indispensable component, rather than insignificant decoration or complementary, of political and military achievements. The Jian’an period is not the time of the “self-awakening” of literature in the sense that it has distanced itself from the political realm, but a time when writers fully realized and emphasized the political and social functions of writing.



Panel 5: Materiality and Immateriality in Late Imperial Literature

Chair: Kawai Kozo (Kyoto University)


Volpp, Sophie

University of California at Berkeley

“Cognitive Space: The Language of Perspectivalism in Story of the Stone


This paper examines the relation between inscription and materiality in Cao Xueqin’s eighteenth-century novel Story of the Stone (Honglou meng 红楼梦) from the point of view of Buddhist conceptions of the materiality of sand and stone. Beginning with the oft-remarked scene in Chapter One where the Daoist Vanitas reads the novel inscribed on stone, continuing to the inscription on the jade of Chapter 8 and the inscriptions on stone in Chapter 17, and ending with the writing that appears in the sand of the planchette in Chapter 94, I ask how our interpretation of scenes of reading inscription might shift if we consider them in this light. In order to address this topic with a historicized understanding of Buddhist conceptions of matter and materiality, I approach the question from the point of view of the Yongzheng and Qianlong courts’ explorations of new technologies and forms in ceramics. I hope that a consideration of the ways in which Buddhist conceptions of matter may have found articulation in ceramics of the Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns will open new possibilities for thinking about Story of the Stone’s exploration of inscription in sand and stone.


Zhao Yingzhi

Hong Kong City University

“Dong Yue’s Dream World”


I will draw on a rare book in Shanghai library, Dong Yue’s Fengcao an quanji, to analyze how he uses dreamlands to conceptualize the relationship between writing and reality, and how he applies the principle of dreaming to reading historical narratives and rewriting history. Dong claims to have made a calendar for dreams and calls himself the historian of dreams. Just as the Peach Blossom Spring is isolated from dynastic time and history, he experiences and perceives time and space differently in his dreams. The expansion, distortion, and duplication of space in his writings of dreams manifest variations on the theme of the Peach Blossom Spring and reflect the dreamer’s desire to create a realm beyond the chaotic world during the dynastic transition. The construction of variations of the Peach Blossom Spring is closely related to his tendency to reinterpret history in spatial images. He claims to draw illustrations for Sima Qian’s Shiji. The result is not painted images, but verbal descriptions of historical actors and events metamorphosing into the sweep of mountains and the movements of rivers. This cross-media imagination of history is a dreamer’s rewriting of history. One dream-content is overdetermined by multiple dream-thoughts, and conversely one dream-thought is represented by multiple dream-contents (Freud and Strachey, 1955). In Dong’s rewriting of history, mountains and rivers are the content of the dreams; the historical narrative is the manifest dream-thought, and the metaphor of writing as landscape, a conventional idea in Chinese literary thought, is the hidden dream-thought. For Dong, dreaming is a form of writing that reconstructs history and reality. In this sense, his writings of dreams can be read as a form of meta-writing: it reflects his exploration of the process, nature, function, and problems of writing.



Panel 6: Perspectives on Tang: Social Positions and Transgressions

Chair: Cheng Yu-yu (National Taiwan University)


Doran, Rebecca Esther

University of Miami

“Transgressive Fashions in Medieval China”


Fuyao (ornamentation anomaly), a cosmological-historical category of anomaly found in the Wuxing zhi (Five Phases Treatises) of dynastic histories, is comprised of examples, drawn from the lives of historical personages and events, which were believed to embody the destructive power of sumptuary transgression. As a category of transgression, fuyao is informed by the importance of sumptuary regulations in communicating ritual, political, and gendered hierarchies, as well as conceptions of the correspondence, or lack thereof, between inner identity (defined in terms of gender, age, status, ethnicity, etc.) and its outer expression. An “anomaly” is perceived when forms of ornamentation breach particular taboos: when gender, class, or ethnic lines are crossed; when ornamentation physically mirrors or foreshadows inauspicious developments; or when ornamentation that would normally be deemed permissible is displayed at inappropriate times.

This paper analyzes examples of fuyao in Jiu Tangshu (Old Tang History) and Xin Tangshu (New Tang History) that condemn the sumptuary practices and items associated with women who played an important role in court politics from the mid-seventh through mid-eighth centuries, in particular, the Taiping and Anle Princesses and Empress Wei. The rubrics provided by “disrespectful appearance” in political and historical writings and anomaly as a communicator of historical judgments are especially significant in understanding why materials on these women are identified as examples of fuyao. The paper explores how fuyao, as an anomaly meant to convey historical evaluation, is constructed and understood in relation to historical personages who have been condemned because of their perceived violation of gendered political norms. Special attention is paid to the operation of fuyao as a gauge of socio-political order and disorder, as suggested by the examples chosen as fuyao (that is, what counts as transgressive ornamentation or dress and why); and why these women in particular are of such interest in fuyao sections.


Hong Yue

Kalamazoo College

Writing Romance in Ninth- and Tenth-Century China


I will introduce the project I’m working on, a project inspired by Professor Owen’s writings on the rise of a culture of romance in the Mid-Tang. The project examines several ninth century writers known for their romantic writings, asking in each case what it meant for him to write, circulate, and valorize romantic texts. It also discusses the meaning of reading, writing, and compiling romantic texts during the period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms.


Qian, Tony D.

Tufts University

“The Role of Emotions in Tang Judgments on Spousal Relationships”


Judgments (pan ) were highly stylized prose pieces from the Tang written in response to myriad matters of controversy. The ability to compose judgments was one criterion by which candidates were selected for offices in the Tang bureaucracy. In this paper, I look at judgments written for cases, hypothetical or otherwise, that involved disputes between spouses (or spouses-to-be) and between their families. I select my cases from the judgments of Bai Juyi 白居易 (772-846), from Dunhuang manuscripts and Tang miscellaneous notes (biji 筆記), and from the Song compendium Wenyuan yinghua 文苑英華, and explore the extent to which emotional appeal played a role in arguing for the desired outcome. The paper examines how literary language in these judgments introduced emotional impact as a means of persuasion that could be more effective than formal legal arguments and could sometimes reach results contrary to the strict requirements of law. On a larger scale, this paper explores the symbiotic relationship between formal legal discourse and rhetorical-affective discourse especially in emotion-laden cases.



Panel 7: Perspectives on Song I: Poetry and Poetics

Chair: Ellen Widmer (Wellesley College)


Fuller, Michael

University of California at Irvine

“Omens of the World, or Surprise!”


As one of Steve Owen’s first graduate students, I date back to the period when Steve was doing the work that led to the Omen of the World (1985). As a scholar of Song dynasty poetry, I at times have wondered how Steve’s conclusions would have differed if he had centered on Su Shi, Lu You, or Yang Wanli rather than Du Fu and the High Tang. Thus I propose to supplement Omen of the World by considering Song dynasty poetry as readings of the world. The major Song writers—perhaps to the exasperation of readers trained on Tang models—persistently document their failures to read the world aright. They keep trying, but the world constantly offers surprises that upend the poet’s effort to control meaning (meaning that of course is restored—in bent, often tenuous form—within the structure of the poem).


Wang Yugen

University of Oregon

“Becoming Du Fu: The Poetic Struggles of Chen Yuyi 陳與義 (1090-1138)”


Chen Yuyi claims that he started to understand the true meaning of Du Fu’s poetry only after the disastrous incident of 1126 had driven him and hundreds of fellow Northern Song officials into the mountains, chased by galloping Jurchen soldiers. Contemporary Southern Song and subsequent commentators generally agreed with Chen on this personal assessment, considering him a reincarnation of Du Fu. This paper examines the poet’s post-1126 works and tries to demonstrate that his attempt to become another Du Fu utterly failed, not because of his lack of talent, but because he and Du were writing with very different assumptions and in very different modes.


Yang Xiaoshan

University of Notre Dame

“Generic Cross-fertilization and the Art of the Couplet in Wang Anshi’s Late Poetry”


Wang Anshi’s late poems have been widely acclaimed since the Song dynasty. One major reason for this acclaim is their technical intricacies, especially his construction of the parallel couplet. Commentators have gone to great lengths to identify various Tang predecessors for his techniques. Without rejecting or challenging the validity or usefulness of such a diachronic approach, I would like to explore synchronically the possible connections between the artistry of his parallel construction and his practice as a writer four-six prose.


Zhang Chen

Hong Kong Baptist University

The Mirror and the Toad: Mei Yaochen and the Shaping of Early Song Poetry


I reexamine the notions of “blandness” and “writing on ordinary life” in the prevailing view of Mei Yaochen's poetry as two characteristics that are seen to encompass the extent of Mei's innovations and his contribution to the making of the Song poetic style. The view of Mei Yaochen as a “poet of the real,” one with a bland sensibility writing in plain language and an understated tone  normalizes the eccentric and surprising elements in his poetry, subjecting them to  serve what is perceived as an overarching program of realistic and bland poetry. I argue that Mei Yaochen is as much a poet of the fantastic and strange as he is of ordinary life, and that the two realms often merge on the level of poetic imagery and language. A coherent vision of the processes by which the world and poetry operate unites the two sides of Mei’s poetry. Two motifs dominate that vision: the darkening of luminous bodies and the mutual grating of elements. Both the darkening and the grating are processes of change and appear often in Mei‘s account of the accumulation of age, of rotting and decay, of the intrusion of strange forces, and of life encounters that produce pain and above all else, poetry. The poet and his poetry not only  write of theses processes but also embody them. To capture Mei Yaochen’s vision of the processes of poetry and the world, I use a metaphor of an ancient mirror based on Mei’s description in the eponymous poem – a luminous body and the toad that eats it.


Ye Yang

University of California at Riverside

“Poetic Sound: Chanting of Literary Texts in the Chinese Tradition”


With the passing of each generation, the chanting of classical Chinese poetry and prose has turned into a disappearing art. This presentation will discuss the art of chanting classical literary texts in its close connection to their appreciation, and provide some background of the theory of “Seeking the Vital Force through Sounds” (因聲求氣 yin sheng qiu qi) of the Tongcheng Pai 桐城派, a representative school of literary criticism in Late Imperial China.



Panel 8: Perspectives on Song II: Wen Unshackled

Chair: Ronald Egan (Stanford University)


Anna Shields

Princeton University

“From ‘Literary’ to ‘Civil’ Culture: Redefining wen in the Biographies of the New Tang History


In analyses of the revisions of the Old Tang History 舊唐書 by Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007-1072) and Song Qi 宋祁 (998-1061), scholars most commonly focus on the political discourse found in the annals and mongraphs. Rarely have they examined the changing conception of wen (culture, literature) and its manifestation, wenzhang 文章 (literary writing), found in the earlier history and its eleventh-century successor. But the Xin Tang shu was produced in the midst of a fundamental reexamination of the relationship between writing and governance, and it is only natural that traces of that larger Northern Song debate would appear in the revised Tang history. My talk will address the question of changing conceptions of writing and its value by analyzing New Tang History biographies of Tang writers, biographies that are found outside the “literary garden” 文苑 category. By focusing on a group of ten figures from across the Tang dynasty, including men such as Zhang Yue, Quan Deyu, and Li Deyu, I will show how Song Qi consistently rewrote their Jiu Tang shu biographies to downplay the role of literary writing in their careers and as part of their legacy. Song Qi’s goal, I argue, was to articulate and defend a definition of wen centered on civil culture rather than literary composition. He achieved this with subtle, overlapping strategies—most influentially, by reframing texts as oral discourse; by rewriting highly crafted, parallel prose originals into guwen summaries; by deleting references to specific texts and the composition and circulation of collected works; and by rewriting the evaluations () at the conclusions of biographies to emphasize service to the state rather than achievements in literary culture. This emerging view of wen as primarily civil service rather than literary composition was a critical cultural shift in the Tang-Song transition, and it has long been traced in other types of Northern Song texts; but my paper will show that it was also creatively embedded in Song historiography of the Tang.


Mai Huijun

Harvard University

The Double Life of the Scallop: Pseudo-biography and the Song (960-1279) Culture of Things


What I call ‘pseudo-biography’ (jiazhuan 假傳) is a genre of fictional biography which, with a single text, tells two stories simultaneously: one is the biography of a person, one is the taxonomy of a thing. The anthropomorphic theme first gained popularity in the Northern Song (960-1127) and continued to be written by literati throughout the Southern Song (1127-1279). The Song pseudo-biographies feature a variety of everyday things: foodstuff, wine, copper coin, tea leaf, herb, orange, inkstone, chess, and bamboo cooler, among others. With the example of the Biography of Jiang Yaozhu – attributed to Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101) – which simultaneously narrate the life of the scholar and a description of the scallop, I connect the pseudo-biography to the eleventh century phenomenon of pulu 譜錄 texts. I argue that the contemporaneous rise of the pseudo-biography and the pulu indexes to an emerging discourse of things in the mid-eleventh century, and that this culture of things continued to redefine the literary culture of the Song.


Sun Chengjuan

Kenyon College

“‘Playfully Composed’: Serious Jokes in Su Shi’s Poems”


My talk will explore the xiti 戲題 poems, of which titles, subtitles, or prefaces contain the word xi as used in the sense of literary playfulness. Common phrases include 戲作 (playfully composed), 戲為 (playfully done), 戲題/ (a playful song), 戲贈(playfully presented), 戲呈(playfully shown), 戲簡 (written playfully as a note), 戲答(a playful reply), etc. The purportedly playful works are not always merely quips and jests intended for light-hearted amusement. Instead of a note of levity, such a titling strategy sometimes functions as a statement of disclaimer to accommodate stylistic and thematic innovations and may serve some serious agenda. Su Shi was known for his wit and humor, and he also played a key role in developing this teasing device. Close analysis of his selected poems demonstrates how instrumental the device can be in broaching politically or culturally sensitive and taboo topics, exposing problems, venting criticism, satirizing social ills through unexpectedly trivial subject matters, and conveying serious intent and concerns while indulging the exhibition of cunning wordplay and flamboyant hyperbole. The unusual honesty and explicitness shown in those poems reveal remarkable artistic license embedded in the device which may even lead to a departure from well-received literary personality and to uncharacteristic utterances occasionally. The serious import of this type of poetry, which forms a sharp contrast with its comic surface, points to a new perspective into the playful elements characteristic of the Song-dynasty poetry.


Tewksbury, Nancy Ten-Jung

Ohio State University

“Beside Ourselves: Ouyang Xiu’s Touching Poetics and the Ends of Critical Vision”


If a stone cannot be read, in the conventional sense, what do we see on, or in, or through stones? And what can we do with them? This essay begins in media res, with reading, writing, and things -- specifically stones – and considers them as sites for a new ecology of criticism. It wonders about stones, especially the ones we fancy extravagantly, and proposes these lapidary mirrors as places to reconsider the relationship between word, image, and looking – as provocations, that is, to a new style of reading. To begin, the use of beguiling rocks as objects of consumption, poetic inspiration, and artistic manipulation by Chinese artists and literati is considered through the lens of Roger Caillois’s writings about mimicry, particularly as applied to a Lacanian vision of human subjectivity as the play of picture and screen. Considered along with its etymological cousins “stun” and “stain” in the penumbra of Lacan’s reflections, this analysis proposes fetishized stones as a literalization of the screen’s petrifying function, the behind of the looking glass which renders everything in sight an impossible imago, a storied surface, a reified other. Where such speculation reveals stone as a grave site for critically sore eyes, this essay turns to the very different possibilities of stone-human interaction traced in the touching and disarming poetics of Ouyang Xiu’s “The Stone of Ling Stream.” In this case a stone morphs from object of desire into tactile companion as its human subject reshapes his connoisseur’s drive to know and own into a haptic meditation beside the stone. The essay argues that with this gesture Ouyang Xiu not only embraces a Chinese Buddhist aesthetic and spiritual tradition --contemplation of the void or lack -- but also gropes toward a fruitful ethics of “stone blindness” as a mode of understanding. By surrendering a visual drive that extends its instrumental aggression to every animal, plant and stone in sight, the poet writes himself out of the surveillance of the world-as-text. Instead, assuming a posture of quiet attention and openness, he re-approaches being obliquely and gently from another direction. In so doing he practices an art and poetics of “being with” that not only feels for the ends of critical vision, but also invites us to drop our gazes and egos alike to listen to Heidegger’s “call of the world.”


Feiran Du

Harvard University

“Poetry as Epistemology: New Paradigms of the Twelfth Century”


This paper demonstrates how twelfth-century poets redrew the generic boundaries of shi poetry by accommodating serious intellectual topics in poetic composition. These poets negotiated with the heretofore well-established generic and aesthetic values of classical Chinese poetry while simultaneously responding to the rising Neo-Confucians’ ambivalent attitude toward belles-lettres. By comparing the poets’ “observing objects” (guanwu) poems and the philosophers’ “investigating objects” (gewu) poems, I will identify the differences between the two approaches, and suggest that the poets neither followed the time-honored “stirring encounter” (bixing) tradition, nor did they, like the Neo-Confucian scholars, take “achieving knowledge” (zhizhi) as ultimate goal in which the author discerns universal patterns behind the myriad phenomena. The primary force driving these poems is no longer a fixed rhetorical formula or the goal of ultimate truth, but rather the highly subjective, implied authorial presence that imbues the composition with abrupt twists, a surprising end, and infinite particularity.



Panel 9: Return to Tang: Knowledge and Embellishment

Chair: Paul W. Kroll (University of Colorado)


Nugent, Christopher

Williams College

“Learning through Example: Literary Training through the Tuyuan cefu


Though lost for close to a thousand years, the early Tang educational work Tuyuan cefu 兔園策府 (Repository of rabbit garden questions) was popular in its day, first as a manual for exam preparation and later as a source for erudite-sounding lines. In this paper I analyze a manuscript copy of a chapter of the Tuyuan cefu on the Feng and Shan sacrifices to show how it serves not only as a source for exemplary parallel prose, but also as a way to organizing a vast array of information from early literary and historical sources. I will also compare its form and content with that of the better known encyclopedic works Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚 and Chuxue ji 初學記.


Allen, Sarah

Williams College

“From History to Literature: Yuan Jiao’s Ganze yao and the Remaking of the Tale Collection”


Yuan Jiao’s 袁郊 Ganze yao 甘澤謠 (c. 868) is a short but innovative collection of tales treating key moments in the history of the Tang dynasty, from the dynasty’s founding through the decades after the devastating An Lushan Rebellion. The collection resembles other contemporaneous historical anecdote collections in recording revealing details about historical events and/or people. However, closer examination of the tales reveals subtle but significant discrepancies with the anecdotal and historical record as found elsewhere: Yuan Jiao does not entirely disrupt the grand narrative of history, but he embellishes it with vivid images that prove more likely to be invention than fact. The consistency with which the Ganze yao tales manipulate existing models for history- and anecdote-writing suggests that Yuan Jiao saw the tale collection as a literary rather than historical genre—a significant shift in the conception of the genre.


Bender, Lucas R.

Yale University

“Translucencies: Rereading Tang Poetics”


In his seminal 1979 essay, “Transparencies: Reading the T‘ang Lyric” (subsequently revised and reprinted in his 1985 monograph Traditional Chinese Poetry and Poetics, with the subtitle, “Reading the Chinese Lyric”), Stephen Owen argues that traditional Chinese “rules of reading” direct readers to see texts as synecdoches for the worlds and the personalities from whence they derive. He calls such readings “transparencies” because they construe texts as limited windows onto full worlds and as means by which a person could be truly known. In this paper, I will offer a reconsideration of Tang literary discourse to suggest that traditional poetics was often interested in obscurities as well.