Making History through Literature

4:00 pm – 5:45 pm

  • Organised by Xiaojing Miao and Clara Luhn
  • Antje Richter, Chair
  • Clara Luhn, “Towards a Typology of the Use of Letters in Sanguo zhi biographies”
  • Xiaojing Miao, “The Voice of the Defeated: Presenting History in Literature”
  • Kangni Huang, “The Playwright among His Plays: The Case of Ruan Dacheng”

In the study of literature, historical texts are often consulted for background information that may contribute to a better understanding of literary texts. Yet we often forget that literature has long played a significant role in fashioning what we call history today, including providing materials for historical texts, delineating the contour of history, and challenging the authority of the so-called “official history.” In this panel, we will discuss the ways in which premodern literati shaped history through literature. The four papers in our panel approach this topic from different perspectives. Xiaojing Miao, by discussing two poems written the prominent scholar-official Xie Hui and the great poet Li Bai, explores how some premodern Chinese literati, when being on the side of the defeated, constructed historical narratives from viewpoints that contradicted those of the official history. Kangni Huang applies the notion of “media ecology” to the texts surrounding the historical figure Ruan Dacheng in order to illustrate the process of mediation contemporaneous with the making of history. Kerstin Storm’s paper focusses on themes and motives of age and ageing that are used in constructing personal as well as family history in the poetry from the Tang and Song dynasties. Clara Luhn examines the different purposes to which letters are quoted in the Sanguo zhi in order to sharpen our understanding of the historical text and the intentions behind it and to better understand the letters themselves.

Clara Luhn, “Towards a Typology of the Use of Letters in Sanguo zhi biographies”

One of the main sources of poetry and short prose before the Tang dynasty are historical texts, mainly the dynastic histories. The Sanguo zhi 三國志 (History of the Three States), finished by Chen Shou 陳壽 (233–297 CE) between 280 and 290 CE and extensively commented on by Pei Songzhi 裴松之 (372–451 CE), covers the period of the states Wei 魏, Shu 蜀, and Wu 吳, which arose after the fall of the Later Han dynasty. In their depiction of the period, Chen Shou and Pei Songzhi make ample use of primary sources and include a plethora of texts in the form of direct quotations. In the biographical chapters, many of these texts are letters either composed by, addressed to, or written with reference to the persons concerned. It is well known that historical texts are composed from a subjective stance, often with a certain agenda in mind. This extends to the usage of the letters quoted in those texts. They are included by compilers for specific purposes. Using biographies in the Sanguo zhi as examples, this paper will point out those purposes and make an attempt at classifying them. Through this, it hopes to sharpen our understanding of the historical text and the intentions behind it while also gathering information on how to understand the letters themselves.

Xiaojing Miao, “The Voice of the Defeated: Presenting History in Literature”

The so-called “official histories” (zhengshi 正史) that claim to offer faithful accounts of historical events were often composed by the victors. However, premodern Chinese literati who were on side of the defeated also had the power to construct historical narratives from their viewpoints, especially through literature. This is exactly what the prominent scholar-official Xie Hui 謝晦 (390–426) and the great poet Li Bai 李白 (701–762) did. Right before his execution, Xie Hui composed the poem Bei rendao 悲人道, where he presents important political events of the Liu-Song dynasty, including his dethronement of Emperor Shao (r. 422–424) and a rebellion against Emperor Wen 文 (r. 424–453), from his point of view. As for Li Bai, he was exiled to the far southwest due to his involvement with the Prince of Yong 永, Li Lin 李璘 (720–757), whose army was defeated by Emperor Suzong 肅宗 of the Tang 唐 (r. 756–762) during the An Shi Rebellion. In his long autobiographical poem presented to the governor of Jiangxia 江夏, Li Bai offers his account of the role the prince played during the rebellion. In this paper, I will examine these two poems in detail, thus considering ways in which medieval literati constructed historical narratives in favour of the defeated as well as the interplay between history and literature.

Kangni Huang, “The Playwright among His Plays: The Case of Ruan Dacheng

A twentieth-century discipline, media studies is premised upon the idea that the seemingly neutral carrier of the message, namely, a “medium,” is shaped by and in turn, shapes ideology. As Marshall McLuhan famously declared, “the medium is the message.” In the 1990s, Neil Postman, among others, brought in a term originated from biology to promote the study of “media ecology.” A further attempt to denaturalise what appears to be neutral, media ecology aims to juxtapose human agents and various media technologies in order to reevaluate the interrelations among them. This paper is an attempt to understand the making of history through the concept of media ecology. Examining the materials surrounding the historical figure Ruan Dacheng 阮大鋮 (1587?–1646?), I hope to show that his contradictory image as both a talented playwright and a traitor to his country emerged from an ecosystem in which historical testimonies and literary texts mediated each other. I will start with Ruan Dacheng’s image as a playwright, contextualised within the development of drama criticism during the late Ming (1368–1644). Next, focusing on the essays written by or associated with Ruan’s contemporary, Mao Xiang 冒襄 (1611–1693), I will show that these materials not only conditioned the historical image of Ruan, but also that of his political rivals, such as Mao himself. Finally, I will conclude with Peach Blossom Fan by the early Qing dramatist Kong Shangren 孔尚任 (1648–1718), arguing that the play is better understood as the afterlife of that ecosystem.

Guiding Words

“Primary Education” in Imperial China
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room C

  • Chaired by Christoph Anderl
  • Christopher Foster, “The Cang-Ya School of Early Medieval China”
  • Federico Valenti, “Phono-Rhetorical Strategies in Pre-Modern Chinese ‘Primary Education 小學’ Texts: The Erya and its Supplementary ya Tradition”
  • Rickard Gustavvson, “The Chinese Script as the Root of Cultural Order: Xu Kai’s Philosophy of Writing”
  • Jan Vihan, “The Dichotomy of Basic and Extended Meanings in Language Rationalisation: The Case of Shuowen

Throughout China’s imperial era, moral, and political norms were established largely by reference to the Confucian classics. Yet to understand these classics, scholars turned to a variety of dictionaries, glossaries, and reference works. Labelled as xiaoxue 小學 or “primary education,” these texts were treated as a vital key to unlocking the meaning of the classics. For this reason, they enjoyed immense academic esteem. Thus, the official bibliographies found in the Hanshu 漢書, Suishu 隨書, and later dynastic histories, list “primary education” as second only to the classics, before all other genres. Two works stand out in particular: the Erya 爾雅 (itself elevated to a “classic” during the Song dynasty) and the Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 (arguably the most influential lexicographical work in China’s history). Despite their renown in Chinese intellectual history, “primary education” texts remain deeply understudied, especially in Western scholarship. The papers in this panel explore the nature and reception of these two monumental pieces. Federico Valenti examines phonetic topoi within the Erya. Christopher Foster investigates the relationship between the Erya and a previous Cang Jie pian 蒼頡篇tradition in medieval times. Rickard Gustavson excavates the intellectual program behind Xu Kai’s 徐鍇 medieval commentary to the Shuowen. Jan Vihan shows how Duan Yucai 段玉裁 transformed the function of the Shuowen in late imperial China. Chairing the panel is Professor Bernhard Fuehrer, among the foremost experts in Chinese philology, traditional exegesis, and literary criticism.

Christopher Foster, “The Cang-Ya School of Early Medieval China”

In the early Han, entry into a privileged scribal class was guarded by the state through mastery of a primer known as the Cang Jie pian 蒼頡篇. The Cang Jie pian initially enjoyed immense prestige. It attracted commentaries by figures like Yang Xiong 揚雄, was the subject of court convened scholastic conferences, and even was included in the manuscript collection of the Lord of Ruyin 汝陰. Yet with the rise of Confucian classicism, by the end of the Han, the importance of the Cang Jie pian was supplanted by “primary education 小學” works that aided specifically in reading the Confucian classics, such as the Erya 爾雅. In this talk, I trace how the Cang Jie pian and Erya traditions competed and merged with one another in medieval China. The question of the Erya’s early origins is addressed, while mentions of a “Cang-Ya 蒼雅 school” of exegesis are compiled and interpreted. A parallelism will be demonstrated between how the Cang Jie pian and Erya traditions developed through their supplements (e.g. the Guang Cang 廣蒼 vs. Guang Ya 廣雅, etc.). Finally, a close reading of the Jingdian shiwen 經典釋文 and Yiqiejing yinyi 切經音義 glossaries will investigate the relative importance placed upon these two traditions as authorities for the exegesis of canonical scriptures throughout medieval China.

Federico Valenti, “Phono-Rhetorical Strategies in Pre-Modern Chinese ‘Primary Education 小學’ Texts: The Erya and its Supplementary ya Tradition”

The early Chinese synonymicon Erya 爾雅 (“Approaching Elegance”, ca. 3rd century BCE) has been almost unanimously attested as the most influent model for the transmission of an authoritative lexicon in the Chinese literary tradition (South Coblin 2017, Bottéro 2017). By dint of the most recent studies in early Chinese phonology and phonetic reconstruction (Schuessler 2008, Zhenzhang 2013, Baxter&Sagart 2014), it is possible to identify some phonetic topoi that might have been used as didactic mnemonic aids for the readers/users of the Erya. These phonetical patterns might tentatively be considered as a well-structured stratagem to perfect the transmission of knowledge in lexicographic works: alliterations, rhymes, paronomasia, and other similar phono-rhetorical strategies make it much easier to memorise and disseminate a broader quantity of information. The introduction of such phono-rhetorical devices paved the way for more complex development of Chinese “primary education,” introducing paronomastic texts like the Shiming 釋名 (“Explanation of Names,” ca. 200 CE) that directly derives from the Erya textual heritage. This work is in fact recorded also as the Yiya 逸雅 (“Lost Erya”) and it is recognised as a part of the so-called Five Erya tradition 五雅, which also include the Guangya 廣雅, the Piya 埤雅, and the Erya yi 爾雅翼. Aim of this paper is to provide new insights about the role of sounds patterns and devices in the internal organisation and arrangement of the Erya and its derivative “primary education” texts.

Rickard Gustavvson, “The Chinese Script as the Root of Cultural Order: Xu Kai’s Philosophy of Writing”

While lexicography in imperial China largely falls into the discipline of language studies, many lexicographers go beyond a narrow linguistic or philological scope. Their interest in language is typically bound up with other intellectual concerns, such as cosmology, ethics, and politics. An example of such a person is the Southern Tang court official Xu Kai (920–974), who wrote the Shuowen jiezi xizhuan 説文解字繫傳, the first known commentary on the Shuowen jiezi. In the first part of this work, Xu Kai provides his commentary on the Shuowen, in which he is primarily concerned with philological and exegetical issues relating to Xu Shen’s text. The second part of his work consists of ten supplementary chapters devoted to specific topics on the philosophical and political significance of writing. Xu Kai finds in the Chinese script a graphic system that reveals, in a concise manner, the integration of heaven, earth, and man, and becomes the ultimate reference point for building socio-political order. In this paper, I outline Xu Kai’s philosophy of writing and his lexicographic method based on the second part of his work. I also briefly demonstrate how aspects of Xu Kai’s philological thoughts are easier understood against the background of his philosophical ideas than they would be if read in isolation. In addition, by relating Xu Kai’s views to the historical context of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907–960), I highlight the value of lexicographic texts as source material for studying Chinese intellectual history.

Jan Vihan, “The Dichotomy of Basic and Extended Meanings in Language Rationalisation: The Case of Shuowen

Duan Yucai, the authoritative Qing commentator on the Han primer-cum-lexicon Shuowen Jiezi, observes that earlier “primary education” works “were insufficient in enabling scholars to infer the original basis of an expression and, consequent upon this, fitting its various usages together. Therefore Xu Shen took up the shape of a character as the basis to explain pronunciation and meaning and only then did the basic meaning of a so-conceived character become plainly obvious. Once the basic meaning was clear, it became possible to specify as loan usage those instances where only the sound and not the meaning of a character was used.” Apart from gathering disparate word explanations, the Shuowen attempts to rationalise language and writing, or, to paraphrase Xunzi, to create good names which are easy to grasp out of inherently arbitrary designations. In my paper, I show how Xu Shen’s principal methodological invention, the dichotomisation of basic and loan meanings, serves this rationalisation. In negotiating basic meanings, Xu Shen relies on the notion of similarity to sound, orthography, or meaning. In navigating loans, Xu Shen employs the concept of partial identity to transform the earlier tradition of pure phonetic borrowing into his theory of extended meanings. Where Xu Shen’s work is mostly concerned with basic meanings, complicating its use as a lexical aid, Duan Yucai seeks to draw semantic links. I thus conclude with examples of Duan’s semantic network rooted in classical evidence. This last aspect makes the Qing commentator most indispensable to a modern user of the Shuowen.

Papers on Premodern Literature VIII

9:00 am – 10:45 am
Room C

  • Chaired by Roland Altenburger
  • Lifei Pan, “A Travel through Time—The Eight Prerequisites and Its Contemporary Version for Buddhist Text Translators”
  • Massimiliano Canale, “The Modern Re-Evaluation of the Chinese Song Lyric: The Importance of Judith Gautier’s Translations of Li Qingzhao”
  • Anna Di Toro, “The Scholars, Chronique indiscrète or Neoficial’naja istorija? The Challenge of Translating Rulin waishi for Western Audiences”
  • Lidiya Stezhenskaya, “Liu Xie’s Literary Mind Translations in European Languages”

Lifei Pan, “A Travel through Time—The Eight Prerequisites and Its Contemporary Version for Buddhist Text Translators”

The eminent monk Yancong 彦琮 (557–610CE), a Buddhist text translator, who was well versed in both Chinese and Sanskrit, proposed in his treatise, Bianzheng lun 辩正论 (On the Right Way) the Eight Prerequisites for Translators of Buddhist texts. However, since these prerequisites were originally written in classical Chinese, scholars today have various explanations for their meaning. Meanwhile, prerequisites for Buddhist text translators exist not only in the first millennium of China, when the translation of Buddhist texts was at its heyday but also in contemporary Buddhist texts translation organisations, such as Buddhist Text Translation Society. It coincides that in this organisation there are Eight Regulations for its translators. Though not exactly the same, parts of the Eight Prerequisites and the Eight Regulations overlap with each other. This paper first tries to discern the meaning expressed in the Eight Prerequisites by Yancong, and then compares the Eight Prerequisites and the Eight Regulations to find out their similarities and differences, and analyse the reasons of the differences. As both are rules for Buddhist text translators, it is supposed that the contemporary Eight Regulations are the adapted version of the heritage of the ancient Eight Prerequisites, which further indicates that the discourses by ancient Chinese Buddhist text translators can still have their value in contemporary times.

Massimiliano Canale, “The Modern Re-Evaluation of the Chinese Song Lyric: The Importance of Judith Gautier’s Translations of Li Qingzhao”

This paper aims at analysing the importance of Judith Gautier’s translations of six-song lyrics by Li Qingzhao 李清照 (1084–1155?) in her second edition of Le livre de jade (1902), one of the earliest instances of ci 詞 lyrics being included in a successful collection of Chinese poetry in the West. Our main goal is to demonstrate how Gautier’s translations were a breakthrough in the Western reception of a genre like a song lyric, which had been traditionally disregarded by Confucian moralists in China and ignored by Christian missionaries in Europe, probably due to similar ethical concerns.
We will try to understand why this young Frenchwoman represented a new type of translator compared to the previous generations of missionaries and diplomats, focusing on their different attitudes towards the song lyric. In particular, we will reflect on her identity as a woman and as a member of the Parnassian movement, which held an aesthetic rather than utilitarian interest in Chinese literature. We will also examine the way Gautier approached the peculiarities of the Chinese song lyric in her translations. As a result of this study, we will draw some broader conclusions on the modern re-evaluation of traditionally despised Chinese literary genres during the first decades of the 20th century, both in China and the West.

Anna Di Toro, “The Scholars, Chronique indiscrète or Neoficial’naja istorija? The Challenge of Translating Rulin waishi for Western Audiences”

Lu Xun claimed that Rulin waishi 儒林外史, by Wu Jingzi 吳敬梓 (18th cent.), was the main Chinese novel of social satire, centred as it is on the merciless portrait of the moral decay of the mandarins. Many scholars, however, have questioned whether the novel should actually be read through the lens of satire, stressing the narratological operations made by the author and his idea of a reform of Confucian rites (Anderson 1997; Shang Wei 2003). As it happens in the Western tradition of satire (a miscellaneous form, from lanx satura, a dish filled with various firstlings), Wu Jingzi, in describing a human reality desperately corrupted by ethical blindness, displays many devices, moving from refined irony to grotesque.
Rulin waishi, one of the highest achievements of the ‘literati novel,’ was translated into some European languages between the 50s and the 70s of the last century (Li Hanqiu 2012). The aim of this contribution is to observe how the peculiar expression of humour in the Chinese text, rooted as it is in the highly ritualised codes of the literati, has been reproduced in the English, Russian, and French versions and which strategies were adopted by the translators in order to give a new life to 18th-century Chinese humour and satire.

Analysed Translations
Tchang Fou-jouei (transl.), Chronique indiscrète des Mandarins, Paris, Gallimard, 1976.
Voskresenskij Dimitrij N. (transl.), Neoficial’naja istorija konfuciancev, Moscow, Chudožestvennoj Literatury, 1959.
Yang Gladis, Yang Hsien-yi (transl.), The Scholars, Beijing, Foreign Language Press, 1957.

Lidiya Stezhenskaya, “Liu Xie’s Literary Mind Translations in European Languages”

Vincent Yu-chung Shih publication of The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons (Wen xin diao long) in 1959 pioneered translation of Wen xin diao long into European languages. Within a historically short period of time in the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s, we obtained a number of translations of this medieval treatise in English, Italian, Spanish, German, Czech, French, and Russian (several chapters). These translations apply various strategies and declare different approaches to Liu Xie’s ideas and concepts. Although reverberations of the much more formidable and imposing studies of Liu Xie’s treatise in China could be easily traced in the European counterpart, the wide range of nations and variety of languages point out that European ‘dragon studies’ have made their way and got their foothold in Europe. It is a matter of fact that comparing with Modern Chinese translation any foreign language rendering from Classical Chinese would require much ‘narrower’ handling of the original text. This presentation will draw attention to some obscure or dubious passages in the treatise and propose their alternative translations.

“Unnatural Narratives” with Chinese Characteristics

Fantastic, Weird, Metafictional, Impossible, and Posthuman Elements in Modern Sinophone Literature
2:00 pm – 5:45 pm
Room C

  • Organised by Nicoletta Pesaro
  • Chaired by Paolo Magagnin
  • Nicoletta Pesaro, “Impossible Worlds of Their Own: ‘Unnatural Narratives’ in Contemporary Chinese Fiction by Two Women Writers”
  • Marco Fumian, “Anti-Realistic Elements in Post-Avantgarde Chinese Fiction”
  • Melinda Pirazzoli, “Mo Yan’s Post-Humanist Turn in Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out”
  • Selusi Ambrogio, “Yan Lianke: Unnatural Nature vs. Urban Explosion”
  • Paolo Magagnin, “Futures of a Troubled Present: Science Fiction as Social Critique in Hong Kong”
  • Martina Codeluppi, “Anthropocene with Chinese Characteristics: Narrating the Environmental Crisis through Chinese Cli-Fi”
  • Lorenzo Andolfatto, “Botched Posthumanism in Han Song’s Novella Meinü shoulie zhinan 美女狩猎指南”

This panel intends to explore the many ways in which literature is written in the articulated geography of the Chinese-sphere (interpreted here in a linguistic and cultural sense) “violates physical laws, logical principles, or standard anthropomorphic limitations of knowledge by representing storytelling scenarios, narrators, characters, temporalities, or spaces that could not exist in the actual world” (Hühn). The narration of the impossible, crossing and encompassing a variety of different genres and subgenres—including fantasy and science fiction, which are particularly popular in present-day Sinophone literature—appears also in realistic narratives, where it often acquires the tones of the grotesque or the uncanny. Long besieged by realism in its multiple variants, the representation of the “unreal” has actually pervaded it, giving birth to forms of hybridity and contamination. “The modern and contemporary fantastic is the result of a dialogue between pre‐modern concepts of the strange and anomalous, concepts of religion and superstition, and modern, post‐Enlightenment ideas of realism” (Macdonald, 13). The unnatural is also a distinctive feature of postmodernism, where time, space, and narratorial instances tend to be continuously distorted.
Do unnatural narratives play a political, allegorical role in dismantling or confirming Grand Narratives, or do they rather respond to an aesthetical need of subjectivity? To what extent do these representations perform a “systematic undermining of our ‘natural’ cognition of the world” (Alber, 8), embodying the anxieties about the future of endangered humankind and pushing our storytelling into unknown territories? What are the reading strategies and are these deviations from “natural narratives” already conventionalised in readers’ minds?

Alber, Jan (2016), Unnatural Narrative: Impossible Worlds in Fiction and Drama, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press.
Hühn, Peter et al. (eds.): The Living Handbook of Narratology. Hamburg: Hamburg University. [view date: 7 Dec. 2019].
Macdonald, Sean (2019), “Notes on the Fantastic in Chinese Literature and Film”, Front. Lit. Stud. China 13(1): 1–24.
Shang, Biwu (2019), Unnatural Narrative Across Borders. Transnational and Comparative Perspectives. London and New York: Routledge.

Nicoletta Pesaro, “Impossible Worlds of Their Own: ‘Unnatural Narratives’ in Contemporary Chinese Fiction by Two Women Writers”

Parallel to the multiple, contradictory manifestations of realism which characterise Chinese literature in the last decades, from socialist to magical, neo-, hallucinatory, hyper-, and mytho-realism, a different aesthetics of narrative has kept on developing, exploiting a repertoire of strikingly surrealistic, avant-garde, modernist, and post-modernist devices, which challenge the view on Chinese fiction as fundamentally mimetic and still haunted by the “obsession with China”.
My paper deals with two female writers from mainland China and Hong Kong—respectively Can Xue 残雪 (b. 1953) and Hon Lai-chu 韩丽珠 (b. 1978)—who deploy “unnatural narratives” mingling inner worlds and outside spaces, in order to explore entangled interpersonal and social relationships in a highly subjective, somehow disrupting manner. Their works give full expression to (anomalous) bodily perceptions, disturbing apparitions of animals, characters travelling across sometimes magical, sometimes dystopian dreamscapes and mindscapes, where people perform inexplicable acts. By dismissing any claim of verisimilitude and the allegorical quest for meaning, both writers create (im)possible worlds of their own, defining an alternative women literary enclave which defies realism’s effort to convey the meaning of life and gives free rein to the imaginative power of literature.

Marco Fumian, “Anti-Realistic Elements in Post-Avantgarde Chinese Fiction”

In the Eighties, Chinese literature was dominated by the effort to cast off realist theories and practices of literature developing in their place a modernist approach to literary creation. This was part of a widespread attempt to reject the “reflectionist” and “instrumentalist” theories of literature promoted by the CCP and to carve up for literature an autonomous space of creative freedom, affirming the representational sovereignty of the author in matters of both form and content. In the next decade, however, the bold experimentations of the late Eighties became largely irrelevant and were generally superseded, as many Chinese critics observed, by the extensive return of realism as the dominant representational mode. In spite of this, the Chinese writers who since the Nineties gained the widest worldwide recognition were exactly those very experimentalists who most successfully broke with realism in the Eighties. Even discarding their early “avant-garde” claims, authors such as Mo Yan, Yu Hua, Su Tong, and others all maintained in their fictional writings, to one extent or another, some anti-realistic elements, that became for almost three decades typical and distinctive features of their style. How did these anti-realistic elements work, what did they aim to? What elements of reality did they help to reveal, or conversely to hide? How did they help screen the abovementioned authors from domestic censorship, at the same time aiding them to advance a distinctive “Chinese” form of literature in the market of contemporary world literature? These will be the central issues addressed by this paper.

Melinda Pirazzoli, “Mo Yan’s Post-Humanist Turn in Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out”

Mo Yan is famous for his stylistic experimentations. Despite his eclecticism and the very diverse subject matters which he addresses in his many novels, he nevertheless, more often than not, also represents the complex relations between the human world and the animal realm. This well applies to the chapter entitled “Dog’s ways” of his widely acclaimed novel Red Sorghum and in Frogs. In Life and Death are Wearing Me Out (Sheng si pilao 生死疲劳) (2006) not only does Mo Yan blur the boundaries between what is human and what is not, he even portrays the human quandary from the point of view of animals hence overcoming any humanist paradigm. By orienting his non-anthropocentric narrative towards questions of embodiment and affects, he eventually forcefully manages to tackle troublesome issues of Chinese biocracy.

Selusi Ambrogio, “Yan Lianke: Unnatural Nature vs. Urban Explosion”

Yan Lianke presents himself as a realist writer, but one of a very particular kind: an impious son of realism (Yan 2011). Actually, this impiety creates room for the “unnatural” within his realistic fictions, although he prefers to name it “mythorealism” (shenshizhuyi 神实主义).
I will focus my analysis on the contrast between the “nature” and the “city” in the long fiction The Explosion Chronicles (Zhalie zhi 炸裂志). The city of Explosion is presented in its extraordinary growth, which is extraordinary but real. Yan often suggests that modern China is far more incredible than science fiction, far more inconceivable than what human fantasy might produce. Opposed to the “unbelievable reality” of the city, Yan introduces natural elements—i.e. flowers, plants, insects, etc.— that always emerge as unrealistic reactions to humans’ events. For instance, the letter promoting the village to town produces flowers, and it can overturn seasons. The narrator comments: “It was winter, but given that the village was being changed into town, the climate had no choice but to change as well” (Yan 2016b). I will discuss the paradoxical use of the “unnatural” as open criticism of the Grand Narrative of the never-ending positive growth, since nature is forcedly bent to human needs.
I will conclude my speech with a comparison between this book and the more intimate Beijing, last memories (Beijing, zuihou de jinian 北京,最后的纪念) where Yan narrates the destruction of nature in his hutong.

Yan, Lianke 阎连科 (2011), Faxian xiaoshuo 发现小说, Tianjing: Nankai daxue chubanshe.
⸺ (2012), Beijing zuihou de jinian 北京,最后的纪念 , Nanjing: Jiangsu renmin chubanshe.
⸺ (2016a), Zhalie zhi 炸裂志. In Yan Lianke changpian xiaoshuo diancang 阎连科长篇小说典藏, 5 vols. Zhengzhou: Zhongguo banben tushuguan.
⸺ (2016b), The Explosion Chronicles. Trans. C. Rojas. London: Chatto & Windus.

Paolo Magagnin, “Futures of a Troubled Present: Science Fiction as Social Critique in Hong Kong”

A malleable macro-genre entailing a strong potential for socio-political critique, speculative fiction offers the narrative framework and tools to challenge fundamental assumptions, subvert dominant worldviews, and ultimately re-evaluate the current state of affairs. In particular, sci-fi—as Jameson points out—is not so much a representation of a possible future as a radical defamiliarisation and restructuring of the present, which in turn is based on an informed vision of the past. From this perspective, the sci-fi developed in Hong Kong—a city tragically caught between its colonial past, a present plagued by waves of dissatisfaction, and an authoritarian order looming over its next future—proves particularly instructive, and acquires special significance in the light of the protest movements that are still ongoing today. For instance, the influential collection Dark Fluid (An liuti 暗流體, 2017) addresses a number of issues that have been deeply relevant to Hong Kong in recent years—social disparities, disadvantaged districts, the housing crisis, an ageing population, the inexorable ‘mainlandisation’ etc.—framing them against the background of universal concerns. By focusing on this collection, selected as a case study, I seek to investigate how non-realist fiction can be presented as a tool for rethinking the status quo and inspiring social change. I also intend to look into a Hong Kong-specific articulation of the relationship between literature and civil movements, revealing the continuum that exists between artistic and social engagement, as well as the connection between local action and global awareness.

Martina Codeluppi, “Anthropocene with Chinese Characteristics: Narrating the Environmental Crisis through Chinese Cli-Fi”

Never before in the history of our planet has humankind violated natural laws as it does today. We are constantly reminded of the precariousness of our ecosystem, and it is precisely in this delicate context that literature shows its power to reflect society and stir individual consciences through the birth of Cli-Fi (Climate Fiction). The world is getting unnatural and unnatural narratives have become one of the most effective ways to represent it. Originally identified as a subcategory of Sci-Fi that deals with the effects of climate change, Cli-Fi is a rather new actor in world literature and is still at an early stage of development in China. Yet, some of the most popular contemporary works of science fiction, like Chen Qiufan’s The Waste Tide, Hao Jingfang’s Folding Beijing, or Liu Cixin’s The Wandering Earth, possess a few elements that make them ascribable to this specific subgenre. How is the individual perception of environmental crisis described in these works? What social picture do they provide? What thoughts do they stimulate? This study intends to drift away from the detached ecocritical approach to focus on the human and social dimensions of the climate emergency. I will point out the possibilities of Chinese Cli-Fi to represent and affect the individual and collective perception of Chinese Anthropocene. Indeed, it is by projecting unnatural yet astonishingly possible futures that these narratives can inspire a deep reflection, necessary for improving environmental awareness in one of today’s most influential countries.

Lorenzo Andolfatto, “Botched Posthumanism in Han Song’s Novella Meinü shoulie zhinan 美女狩猎指南”

Meinü shoulie zhinan (A guide to hunting beauties) is a sci-fi novella published by Han Song in 2002, in which wealthy men pay prodigious amounts of money to hunt genetically-engineered, lab-grown women within the confines of a mysterious island located in the South China Sea. In a crucial juncture of this story, a hunter disembowels a woman with a katana, reaches into her intestines with his fist, rips out her womb, and runs off into the jungle laughing like a madman. The hunter’s companion left alone with the woman’s body then proceeds to have sex with her womb-less (“brain”-less) vulva. The scene’s overt gruesomeness is coherent with the novella’s underlying compositional principle, which is that of narrative escalation—an escalating representation of male-to-female violence that pushes the overall realistic tenets of Han Song’s soft science fiction to grotesque and unreal extremes. Yet while some have praised the story’s “bizarre environment of extreme cruelty” as a means of exploring how received and outdated gender roles affect individual identities, the novella’s gratuitous display of cruelty, the narrator’s unidirectional and seemingly complicit gaze, and ultimately the plot’s (literally) “castrated” resolution undercut the story’s critical potential. By refusing to address his story’s appalling (yet dramatically appealing) premises and retreating instead into self-centred, default subjectivity, Han Song fails to mobilise science fiction’s radical affordance to, paraphrasing Jan Alber, “undermine our cognition of the world,” and in doing so reminds us how every storytelling push toward unknown territories is mired by the storyteller’s ideological underpinnings.

A Tentative Poetics of Commentary

A Glance at Early Textual Practices
9:00 am – 10:45 am

  • Organised and Chaired by Marie Bizais-Lillig
  • Dinu Luca, “Treason, Reason, Text, Commentary: On an Episode in the Zhuozhuan
  • Olga Lomová, “Commentary as Part of Authorial Intention: Shanju fu by Xie Lingyun”
  • Xiaofei Tian, “The Peripatetic Vision of the Riverine Traveler in the Commentary on the Water Classic
  • Marie Bizais-Lillig, “Kong Yingda’s Woven Commentary: Between Hermeneutical Discussion and Strategies of Absorption”
  • Olga Lomová, Discussant

Despite its centrality, the commentary is usually considered as a tool for deciphering great works or as thin trace of intellectual activity. It is reduced to an ancillary status and denied that of a text per se. In order to enrich our understanding of the commentarial tradition during the Medieval Period, this panel proposes to consider it as textual material and to analyse its linguistic, stylistic and rhetorical dimensions. Although mostly centred on the Six Dynasties and early Tang period, it will include earlier commentaries as reference. Participants mostly engaged in the field of literature will shed light on the textual aspects of commentary without ignoring its relation to an original text.
The contributions will more specifically tackle the type of bond with base text that specific commentaries assert through a series of device. Whereas secondary in time and importance, and by essence open to other and new proposals, commentary altogether stages itself in a position of authority. It even happens that rhetorical gestures bring commentary to proclaim itself as taking control over the original text, whereas the absorption of base text within a commentary points to the creation of a new text, with its stylistic feature along with a hollow missing text. Cases of auto-commentary further question the status that it designs for itself, i.e. as text proper or appendix. Such will be the questions addressed through four case studies in this panel which will lay the foundations of a poetics of commentary.

Dinu Luca, “Treason, Reason, Text, Commentary: On an Episode in the Zhuozhuan

Zuozhuan’s first extensive account, narrating the slow-growing conflict involving two brothers, a treacherous mother, and wise officers of the state, is well-known. This is, of course, the episode centred on Duke Zhuang’s victory over the rebellious Gongshu Duan followed by a celebrated reconciliation around an act of xiao. This complex and meandering piece of textuality also includes a famous fu exchange at the end, the first set of comments made by Zuozhuan’s mysterious “gentleman,” the text’s first quote from the Poems, autonomous, moralizing commentary on the phrasing of the Chunqiu, and also significant use of the figure. And then there is 初. This inconspicuous word begins the account, while also announcing, I claim, the ambiguous, often treacherous relationship between the Zuozhuan and the Chunqiu. As this episode of consummate exploration of the possibilities of language unfolds, we also witness the story of Zuozhuan’s positioning as a parasitical, substituting, supplementing, (in)dependent and insecure/over-secure text in relation to the Chunqiu. It is this performative dimension of a text (figuratively) enacting what it purports to describe (Culler) that I explore in my contribution. My claim is that all the issues related to duplicity and make-believe, manipulation, control of (or submission to) one’s passions, violence, power, and hermeneutics that the story is about mirror what the Zuozhuan itself does in its multi-faceted interactions with the Chunqiu. Such transposition of meaning in the very act of its articulation can function as a good figure for the many possible paths that commentary can follow.

Olga Lomová, “Commentary as Part of Authorial Intention: Shanju fu by Xie Lingyun”

After Xie Lingyun (385–433) resigned from his office in Yongjia he decided to return to his family estate in Shining. On this occasion, he composed an autobiographical poem Shanju Fu (Fu on Dwelling in the Mountains). Here he describes in considerable detail his estate, the natural environment around, and his life there. The poem is regarded as a personal statement about the poet’s ambition to live like a recluse, including his interest in Buddhism and Daoism. It is a long poem in the format of „great rhapsodies“ (da fu) in which the author demonstrates his poetic skills as well as his erudition. The poet provided the verses of his fu with a preface (xu) and copious annotations and explanatory notes (zhu) in prose. The paper will discuss the peculiar format of writing commentary to one’s own work as part of the original composition and will explore how the meaning of the whole piece is shaped through interaction between the two different types of discourse.

Xiaofei Tian, “The Peripatetic Vision of the Riverine Traveler in the Commentary on the Water Classic

The Commentary on the Water Classic by Li Daoyuan (d. 527) is a monumental work of exegesis; it is also a curious creation. The original Water Classic is purportedly a Han dynasty work with interpolations from as late as the third century, recording 137 rivers in laconic, dry language. Li Daoyuan, an official of the Northern Wei (386–534) with a reputation for cruelty and erudition, composed a 40-juan commentary to it. It includes 1,252 waterways, and the original text of about 10,000 characters swells to approximately 300,000 characters. The main part of the commentary consists of quotations from more than 400 books, many of which are no longer extant.
What does Li Daoyuan’s work tell us about the nature of “commentary”? How does his commentary negotiate with the original text of the Water Classic and what do these negotiations signify? Is this a mindless pursuit of a mad bibliographer who claims explicitly he had no interest in “visiting [physical] mountains and rivers,” or is this a work of some self-conscious internal design? In this paper, I propose to examine the mode of writing in Shuijing zhu against the traditions from which it emerged as well as in juxtaposition with the contemporary landscape writings in south China and focus on uncovering the general mode of space perception and representation underlying Shuijing zhu in an era when south and north China competed fiercely and were both intents on crafting a vision and discourse of empire.

Marie Bizais-Lillig, “Kong Yingda’s Woven Commentary: Between Hermeneutical Discussion and Strategies of Absorption”

In a similar move to that observed elsewhere in the Wujing Zhengyi [Correct Meaning of the Five Classics], Kong Yingda (574–648) weaves together a number of previous commentaries in order to establish the right interpretation of the Shijing [Classic of the Poems].
This format has become standard. It allows Kong Yingda to rebuild an intellectual community through tradition—which is quite a common move in his time—and to posit himself within this tradition. It thus legitimises his arbitration.
However, a closer look at the text shows that his team uses different strategies such as the quotation or the expansion of pre-existing commentaries, the translation, and the synthesis of other ones, as well as the assertion of alternative interpretations.
It has been argued that intralingual translation aims, among other things, at adapting a base text to a target group and thus simplifies it.
It is true that Kong Yingda’s expansive methodology renders previous commentaries in a more modern and explicit language. However, it also complexifies the reading of the Shijing by also unrolling the consequences of previous suggestive interpretations.
Loosely linking his own discourse to the Poems while putting forward discussions at stake between commentators of all times, Kong Yingda strengthens the importance of commentarial discourse among literati. It can, indeed, serve intellectual purposes as others like Dong Zhongshu or Wang Bi have shown before, as well as compositional ones (by highlighting useful expressions and phrases to be woven in new compositions as previous commentaries are in this new one).

Papers on Premodern Literature VI

Governance and Rituals
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room C

  • Chaired by Kiraz Perinçek Karavit
  • Hung To Chen, “A Flight to the Celestial Court: Religious Speeches and Rituals in Lisao
  • Mengwen Zhu, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Meaning Made between a Set of ‘Presenting and Responding’ Poems in China’s Fifth-century Northern Court”
  • Mei Ah Tan, “Confucianism for State Governance in the Mid-Tang: A Study of Yuan Zhen’s Imperial Documents”
  • Kiraz Perinçek Karavit, “Dancing with Masks, Wrestling with Horns: Interesting Ritual from the Ming Period Encyclopaedia Sancai tuhui 三才圖會”

Hung To Chen, “A Flight to the Celestial Court: Religious Speeches and Rituals in Lisao

Often considered the origin of fu rhapsody, Lisao [“Encountering Sorrow”] is composed based on an amalgamation of events that happened in the real and imaginary realms. By depicting a fantastic flight to the celestial court, the text presents the protagonist’s quest by alluding to numerous mythologies. While scholars like Ping-Leung Chan, David Hawkes, Fujino Iwatomo, Gopal Sukhu and Guo Changbao have proven the relationship between this text and the Shamanistic culture in the Chu area, their views on the religious rituals accompanied the text are starkly different due to the lack of material evidence and the discrepancy in their understanding of the nature of the text.
The publications of the newly excavated materials offer groundbreaking insights to re-evaluate how the Lisao is related to the religious ceremonies in Chu. By incorporating these findings into the study of Lisao, this paper seeks to explore the meaning of the imaginary flight portrayed and explain why a shaman is often deployed to communicate with the gods and spirits in the text. Through a comparison of the narrative structure and the semantic usage between the excavated texts and Lisao, this paper contends that the protagonist’s action portrayed in Lisao can only be understood via a thorough investigation of the divination and sacrificial practices in history. By providing a new explanation of the protagonist’s quest, this case study shall shed light on how ritual practices influence the literary works composed in early China.

Mengwen Zhu, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Meaning Made between a Set of ‘Presenting and Responding’ Poems in China’s Fifth-century Northern Court”

This paper examines a pair of tetra-syllabic “presenting and responding” (zeng da) poems written between Zong Qin (d. 450) and Gao Yun (390–487), two Han scholars of prominent households serving in the Xianbei ruled Northern Wei (386–535) court. Among the relatively sparse surviving texts of the Northern Wei poems, this pair particularly stands out not only thanks to their completeness in content with well documented historical records surrounding their composition but also because both poets occupied the central spots on the stage of one of the most tragically significant cultural events of the time, in which hundreds of Han scholars were put to death by the imperial order, including Zong Qin himself. Reading closely at these two poems, this paper looks into how Zong and Gao made meaning through a shared cultural tradition, and how they conveyed their meaning by crafting a nuanced poetic space. In the mid-fifth-century Northern Wei court, this poetic space signifies a semi-secluded cultural community, where Han scholars might seek a sense of cultural bond and identity. In this light, by reading this pair of poems and the relevant historical documents together, this paper endeavours to shed new light on the literary culture and the cultural institution of fifth-century northern China.

Mei Ah Tan, “Confucianism for State Governance in the Mid-Tang: A Study of Yuan Zhen’s Imperial Documents”

This paper studies the imperial documents of Yuan Zhen 元稹 (779–831), with the goal of revealing how Confucianism was used for state governance in the mid-Tang. Yuan, a pivotal poet-official and contemporary of Bai Juyi 白居易 (772–846) reached the zenith of his career and literary influence when he assumed the post of chief minister in 822 during the reign of Muzong 穆宗 (795–824, r. 820–824). Two years earlier, in 820, Yuan had been put in charge of writing imperial announcements and proclamations. In those two years, he composed at least 143 pieces, a major portion of his prose. In these documents, he applied his literary skills and humanistic knowledge to politics, proposing various Confucian ideas for the benefit of the state. This paper will examine these ideas and the ideologies behind them, shedding light on historical and cultural developments of the mid-Tang.

Kiraz Perinçek Karavit, “Dancing with Masks, Wrestling with Horns: Interesting Ritual from the Ming Period Encyclopaedia Sancai tuhui 三才圖會”

Sancai Tuhui 三才圖會, a richly illustrated encyclopedia compiled during the Ming period, reveals an interesting ritual about the history of sports. Scrolling through its pages, one can clearly see in the “wrestling illustration” 角觝圖 that this was a ritual activity where the contesters dance bearing animal masks with horns. Interestingly enough, Chinese word 角觝, which is also used today for “wrestling,” transliterally means “horn resistance.” In these terms, Sancai Tuhui can be also a valuable source that can shed light on the research of Mehmed Siyah Qalam paintings, kept now in Topkapi Palace Museum Library in Istanbul. Produced in Transoxiana during the 14-15th centuries with ink and brush on paper, these paintings attract attention in particular because of their unique theme: demons, mostly entertaining or fighting. In the search for the unrevealed stories behind these paintings, this illustration strengthens the idea that these demon depictions may be human beings wearing masks during ritual performances. A nice coincidence is that purchased in Constantinopolis at the turn of the 20th century, two of these paintings had been in the collection of a German scholar from Leipzig, Philipp Walter Schulz (1864–1920), who was the first to publish about them in 1910, without knowing the provenance. In this presentation, through historical, linguistic and visual documents, I will discuss this drama performance associated with one of the most ancient sports of world history and the derivative interpretation of the demons of Mehmed Siyah Qalam.

Papers on Premodern Literature V

Poetry I
9:00 am – 10:45 am
Room C

  • Chaired by Friederike Assandri
  • Victoria Bogushevskaya, “’Words Departed on Tiptoe’: On 藏詞 ‘Hidden Words’ and 歇後 ‘Omitted Tails’”
  • Hyun Höchsmann, “The Book of Odes and the Homeric Epics”
  • Jing He, “One Word Puzzle: A Case Study on tui wen 退顐 Term from the Ode of the Swallow (Version A) 燕子赋”
  • Kuniko Ukai, “From Genre to Mere Literary Device: The Dismantling of the Traditional yuefu

Victoria Bogushevskaya, “’Words Departed on Tiptoe’: On 藏詞 ‘Hidden Words’ and 歇後 ‘Omitted Tails’”

The 藏詞 ‘hidden words’ calembour implies leaving out one or more components from idiomatic units or quotations from famous essays or poems. Originally employed by Cáo Pī, Pān Yuè, and Táo Yuānmíng, this type of language conundrum flourished during the Táng-Sòng era and developed into the 藏頭 ‘hidden-head,’ 藏腰 ‘hidden-middle,’ and 縮腳 ‘shortened,’ or 歇後 ‘omitted-tail’ forms, with the communicative value encoded in the “footprints” of their missing components.
The ‘hidden-head’ form can be expressed via direct (e.g., Dù Fǔ uses the expression 昭回 ‘shining and revolving’ as a substitution for 雲漢, lit. ‘milky way,’ which derives from the line of Ode 258 of the Shījīng) or reversed (as 厥修 ‘their cultivating […]’ < 修厥德 ‘cultivating their virtue’ in the Tángyǔlín) substitutions, or via allusions. The ‘hidden-middle’ form occurs in the poem by Hán Yù (where 居諸 substitutes 日月 and is crystallised from the Shījīng’s 日居月諸, lit. “O, sun, o moon!”) and Gōng Zìzhēn (where 去日多 substitutes 苦 ‘sufferings’ and derives from Caó Cāo’s “Short Song”). The most frequently employed ‘omitted-tail’ type (e.g., 三尺 ‘a three-chǐ’, 一抔 ‘a handful’) inspired the consequent development of ‘omitted-tail’ poems and the sayings back then referred to as 歇後語 ‘tailless puns.’
All these truncated precedent phenomena should not be confused with metonymy, on one side, and with an ellipsis, aposiopesis, or prosiopesis, on the other.

Hyun Höchsmann, “The Book of Odes and the Homeric Epics”

“The morning glory climbs above my head,
Pale flowers of white and purple, blue and red” (Book of Odes).
Accompanying himself on the zither in the grove of apricots, while his disciples were studying, Confucius might well have sung this ode. At the origin of philosophy in China and Greece (Laozi’s Dao De Jing and the texts of Presocratic philosophers) the philosophical ideas were expressed in poetic form and language. The conception of the nature and origin of the universe in Homer’s poems subsequently developed into substantial scientific and philosophical topics in Presocratic thought.
The Homeric epics and the Book of Odes are imbued with ideas and perceptions of universal resonance and dynamic awareness of the vivid encounters in life. The themes common to the Book of Odes and the Homeric epics comprise friendship and love, the tragedy of strife and war, the transience of life, and the constancy of nature. In the poetic traditions of China and Greece, the function of poetry in the political sphere was emphasised.
Building on Fritz-Heiner Mutschler’s The Homeric Epics and the Chinese Book of Songs: Foundational Texts Compared and François Jullien’s Le Détour et l’accès: Stratégies du sens en Chine, en Grèce, a study of similarities and differences in moral, social, and political values and beliefs in the Homeric epics and the Book of Odes can lead to a broader understanding of the fundamental aspects of the cultures in which they have originated. Of the Book of Odes and the Homeric epics, it might be said:
“… like that star of the waning summer who beyond all stars rises bathed in the ocean stream to glitter in brilliance”(Homer, Iliad).

Jing He, “One Word Puzzle: A Case Study on tui wen 退顐 Term from the Ode of the Swallow (Version A) 燕子赋”

Dunhuang manuscripts Ode of the Swallow 燕子賦 (Version A) contain a word 退顐 (tui wen) which has four different written forms in eight different versions stored in Great Britain and France. There has been a long debate about its original meaning, which has influenced the understanding of the content and text’s functional nature. Detailed study of Dunhuang manuscripts stored in Russia, as well as British and French versions of the Ode of the Swallow (Version A), makes it possible to identify a standard written form of this word. According to the clues found in literary works of Tang and Song dynasties, it can be further determined that there is a close relationship between this phrase and the dramatic performance known as “xi nong” 戲弄 in Tang dynasty. The relationship between 退顐 tui wen, which is a word from colloquial or half-colloquial language, and specific terms used in xi nong of Tang dynasty (唐戲弄) should be regarded as a typical case of the shift from late Tang dynasty’s literary language to the folk language. At the same time, if the Ode of the Swallow has a function of a play script, it is also worth thorough investigation.

Kuniko Ukai, “From Genre to Mere Literary Device: The Dismantling of the Traditional yuefu

Scholars generally agree that the genre of the traditional yuefu, as defined by Allen (1992) and Matsuura (1982), reached its zenith and the beginning of its decline in the late High Tang. This paper will analyse one of the ways in which yuefu were henceforth typically written: using a traditional yuefu title, but incorporating only the themes, plot and ingredients which the title entails while ignoring the generic prescriptions. The final product is a quite individual and often personal non-yuefu poem. I will analyse three types of such non-yuefu poems: (1) Poems about customs of a certain region: These use yuefu elements concerning a certain region as a stage on which the common people’s life is depicted. The yuefu titles staged in the South are most often used for this type. (2) Poems about the personal situation and emotions of the poet: In these, the yuefu’s elements are only a convenient device to enhance the emotional situation or strengthen its point, as it is explicitly made by the poet. (3) Poems enacting the proliferation of meaning: In these, the poet manipulates his language in such a way as to make the poem ultimately not fit in with the yuefu’s prescription, although the surface of the poem’s text gives the reader at first glance the impression that this is a normal yuefu.

Appearances Can Be Revealing

Creating Credibility in Ancient Chinese Texts
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room D

  • Organised by Christian Schwermann
  • Christoph Harbsmeier, Chair
  • Christian Schwermann, “Miraculous Evidence—The Fangmatan Tale of Dan’s Resurrection Revisited”
  • Paul Fahr, “Testimonial Evidence in Han Dynasty Historiography”
  • Felix Bohlen, “Commemorating, Narrating and Creating the Past—Aspects of Factual Narrative in Western Zhou Bronze Inscriptions”
  • Tobias Wilke, “The Mohist Way of Standardising Types of Evidence”
  • Thomas Crone, “To the Left and to the Right of the Ruler—The Testimonial Role of the Scribe in Early Chinese Literature”
  • Klaus Oschema, Discussant

In this panel, we propose to investigate the wide range of textual devices that serve to create credibility, or the appearance of it, in ancient Chinese texts. Are there ghosts, or aren’t there? Did an accused commit the crime he or she was charged with or not? Was the first Han emperor fathered by a dragon or not? Questions like these have been asked by Chinese authors since antiquity. Interestingly, these writers, whether they were literati in the broadest sense, legal scholars or historians, pursued similar strategies of authentication when articulating their doubts or presenting their evidence—for example, eyewitness testimony, anecdotal evidence, or authoritative sources concerning historical events and personalities. While some were concerned with asserting or questioning the truth claims of historical narratives or clarifying questions of guilt, others set out to create a circumstantial narrative plausibility—especially as long as a distinction between high-quality factual and inferior non-factual narratives was prevalent. Our survey will consider the entire spectrum of both received and excavated literature, ranging from bronze inscriptions and bamboo manuscripts to traditional historiography and philosophical treatises that developed methods of testing the reliability of statements.

Christian Schwermann, “Miraculous Evidence – The Fangmatan Tale of Dan’s Resurrection Revisited”

The Qin 秦 bamboo manuscripts excavated in 1986 from tomb number one at Fangmatan 放馬灘 include a document that claims to be an official account of the miraculous resurrection of a man called Dan 丹 in 297 BCE, allegedly submitted by a local vice magistrate to the royal scribe of the state of Qin in 269 BCE. Hitherto, this text has often been accepted at face value as an administrative document and accordingly considered a valuable new source on late Warring States religion. The present paper proposes to change perspective and to proceed from the assumption that it is an early precursor to medieval tales of the supernatural. From this point of view, it becomes obvious that the manuscript employs a wide range of elaborate textual devices to create an appearance of credibility, one of them being the contrivance to present the sensational story under the guise of an official administrative report. Following a retranslation of the manuscript, I will engage in a close reading of the text, focusing on the narratological analysis of devices that make the narrative plausible. Finally, I will try to explore some of the sources from which late Warring States authors drew when they were trying to create appearances of reliability.

Paul Fahr, “Testimonial Evidence in Han Dynasty Historiography

One import device to lend credibility to a historiographical account is testimony. This may take different forms: an author may claim to have been eye-witness to a certain event himself, or he may refer to the words of others for confirmation of his story. Finally, the narrative structure of the historiographical work itself may convey a sense of testimonial evidence. This happens when a certain event is told as seen from the perspective of one or more particular characters being part of the story. Claims of testimony constitute a well-known element in Western historiography. The present paper argues that narrative procedures like these can be occasionally observed in historiographical works of the Han Dynasty (206/202 BCE–220 CE) as well, for example in the Documents of the Han (Hanshu 漢書). Proceeding from here, it discusses the function of testimonial evidence in these texts: when would an official historian consider it necessary to adduce testimonial evidence for his account; why would he do so; and when would he deem it appropriate to explicitly admit that there is no testimony for a certain episode?

Felix Bohlen, “Commemorating, Narrating and Creating the Past – Aspects of Factual Narrative in Western Zhou Bronze Inscriptions

Because Western Zhou (1045–771 BCE) bronze inscriptions are remains of the period on which they report and since they can normally be dated with much greater accuracy than transmitted ancient Chinese texts, they are often believed to be also more reliable than the received sources. This belief appears to be confirmed by the contents of the inscriptions, which purport to conform with extra-textual reality. When claiming, to tell the truth, they establish what Stephan Jaeger calls a ‘pact of truthfulness’ (Wahrhaftigkeitspakt) between two entities involved in narrative inscriptional communication: the donor of the inscribed vessel on the one side, and her or his posterity on the other. However, just like in traditional Chinese historiography, the dominant mode of presenting past events in ancient Chinese epigraphy is narration, and, just like transmitted historical narratives, inscriptions can be highly subjective and biased when narrating the past. There are epigraphs such as the one on the “Basin of Scribe Qiang” (Shi Qiang pan 史牆盤, ca. 900 BCE), the narratives of which conflict blatantly with extra-textual reality. The present paper thus aims to uncover strategies of creating historical credibility in inscriptional narratives. How does the narrator adduce testimonial evidence for his account? Which devices does he or she employ to support their truth claims and make their narratives feel real? And why do they try to disguise the constructedness of the latter?

Tobias Wilke, “The Mohist Way of Standardising Types of Evidence

In order to be able to judge a proposition, it is necessary to set up a gauge. This suggestion of imperishable plausibility was explicitly expressed in the Mozi’s 墨子 “Fei ming” 非命 chapters. Every claim, the Mohists argued, has to be examined according to the so-called Three Gnomons/Three Methods (san biao 三表 or san fa 三法): It must be tested against the precedent of the sage kings, against what the people heard and saw, and finally against its benefits for the state and the people. If the proposition meets all three criteria, it is considered valid. What appears to be a simple formula for verifying a proposition is actually an effective guideline for the creation of anecdotal and source evidence. It is this argumentative strategy that the Mohists themselves have continuously refined when composing the Mozi triads. If we take a closer look at the “Jian’ai” 兼愛 triad, we can even see how the formation of evidence according to the proposed Three Gnomons has shaped the evolution of these three chapters. While the first chapter of the triad merely shows arguments of the third type—i.e. abstract, hypothetical proofs— the second and third chapters increasingly also use anecdotal and source evidence. In this talk, I will first take a closer look at the Three Gnomons and then try to reveal how the Mohists used this method in the “Jian’ai” triad to create what they considered to be strong evidence.

Thomas Crone, “To the Left and to the Right of the Ruler—The Testimonial Role of the Scribe in Early Chinese Literature”

An important form of creating literary evidence is the invocation of eyewitnesses. With regard to the numerous historical anecdotes about the actions and words of ancient kings, emperors, and other rulers, which make up a large part of extant early Chinese narrative prose, court scribes (shi 史) seem to have been the ideal candidates to fulfil the role of eyewitnesses. For not only were they known for their constant presence (to the left and to the right of the ruler), but their records also enjoyed the reputation of capturing everything of significance with unyielding impartiality. It is therefore not surprising that in ancient Chinese literature, the reference to the presence of a court scribe appears to have already developed into a topos that served to certify the plausibility of narratives. In my talk, I will present and discuss some examples of such cases, most of which come from the pre-Qin corpus. I will focus on the questions of how these eyewitnesses are characterised in the respective narratives, in which ways they serve as literary devices to create credibility and which conclusions can be drawn from our insights for the understanding of these stories.

Manuscripts and Prints for Physicians and Laymen

Writing and Publishing Medical Knowledge in Late Imperial China
9:00 am – 10:45 am
Room D

  • Organised by Thies Staack
  • Chaired by Paul Ulrich Unschuld
  • Thies Staack, “Faithful Copying and Creative Change: The Yizong jinjian 醫宗金鑒 in Manuscripts”
  • Luis Fernando Bernardi Junqueira, “Books, Manuscripts, and the Publication of Folk Healing Knowledge in the Late Qing”
  • Crystal Tsing Tsing Luk, “Removing Religion from Chinese Medical Texts: The Production of the Shishi milu 石室秘錄 (1687–1688)”

In the past, research on the history of medicine in late imperial China predominantly focused on medical texts in terms of their apparent content. The agency of compilers, editors and publishers, that is, the role that individuals and institutions played in shaping and transmitting medical knowledge, has generally received far less attention. The same is true for printed and handwritten books as material objects. Too often they are still seen as mere carriers of medical texts, although their materiality can provide valuable information about the ways in which medical knowledge was produced and used.
This panel brings together the history of medicine and the history of the book in late imperial China. Focusing on the area of friction between manuscripts and prints, we ask what roles the two played for the collection, organisation and transmission of medical knowledge and also aim to identify more general differences between manuscripts and prints with regard to the content or the way contents are formatted and presented. We explore what can be learnt from paratexts, such as prefaces, and material features, e.g. format and layout, about the writers and/or compilers of medical works or the printing houses that published them, and finally we examine how far manuscript and print culture influenced each other in the field of medicine. Addressing these and other aspects, the present panel will shed new light on the writing and publishing of medical knowledge and late imperial book culture more generally.

Thies Staack, “Faithful Copying and Creative Change: The Yizong jinjian 醫宗金鑒 in Manuscripts”

In recent years, manuscripts from late imperial and early republican China have received more attention as sources for historians of medicine who are attempting to reconstruct the approaches to healing of the common people. At the same time, manuscripts also invite an analysis as material objects in themselves, which can shed further light on the role they played for their producers and users.
This paper focuses on the question of to what extent the compilers of medical manuscripts stayed faithful to the original when copying contents (texts or illustrations) from widely-available printed books. As a case study, it investigates eight specimens from the Unschuld collection of medical manuscripts that incorporate content copied from the chapters on smallpox of the imperially-commissioned Yizong jinjian 醫宗金鑒 (Golden Mirror of the Medical Tradition) first published in 1742. A comparison with the printed original will reveal to what extent contents were supplemented, deleted, reorganised, reformatted or combined with other medical or even non-medical contents in the course of the production of a manuscript. This in turn will shed further light on the function of each individual manuscript and the editorial choices in the background of this as well as the most likely identity of their compilers and/or users. The aim is for this paper to deepen our understanding of the relation between manuscript and print in late imperial book culture and to further elucidate the question when and why preference was given to one over another.

Luis Fernando Bernardi Junqueira, “Books, Manuscripts, and the Publication of Folk Healing Knowledge in the Late Qing”

In 1759, the scholar-physician Zhao Xuemin 趙學敏 compiled his Chuanya 串雅 (Corrected Recipes of Itinerant Healers). Based on later editions of this work, modern scholars have assumed that this text is composed of recipes collected from itinerant healers and that it was its author’s intention to transmit and preserve folk healing knowledge through the printed word. The original manuscript that Zhao Xuemin compiled probably never reached print, however, whereas the extant copies of this text have found numerous new editions.
Focusing on manuscripts and printed editions of the Chuanya produced in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this paper will trace the processes through which multiple agents created and recreated this text over the course of time. In contrast to past studies, which take the connection between the Chuanya and folk healing for granted, I argue that any conclusion should primarily consider the various editions of this work. By looking at the Chuanya from the perspectives of material culture and book history, this paper aims to clarify the following questions: Who produced the extant editions of the Chuanya, and why? How do printed editions differ from manuscripts in terms of medical knowledge? How have printed editions and paratexts constructed the image of the Chuanya as a single, coherent, and original work of folk medicine? More broadly, I argue that the case study of the Chuanya helps us understand the wider dimension around the authorship of recipe texts in late imperial China and beyond.

Crystal Tsing Tsing Luk, “Removing Religion from Chinese Medical Texts: The Production of the Shishi milu 石室秘錄 (1687–1688)”

The Shishi milu 石室秘錄 (Secret Records of the Stone Chamber), a well-known Chinese medical text, was originally compiled by the famous physician Chen Shiduo 陳士鐸 between the years 1687 and 1688. The text comprises dialogues between the Heavenly Master Qibo 天師岐伯, Leigong 雷公, Huatuo 華佗, Zhang Zhongjing 張仲景, and Sun Simiao 孫思邈, all of whom have long been celebrated as divine healers (Yaowang 藥王) in Chinese medical traditions.
Early editions of the Shishi milu state that five deities transmitted the original text in 1687 during a spirit-writing séance presided by Lüzu 呂祖, the deity-in-charge of many spirit-writing cults in Ming and Qing China. According to these accounts, it was Chen’s insistence that he kneeled before Lüzu and refused to stand up until the deity agreed to invite the most authoritative divine healers to transmit him the “true teachings and explanations of healing.”
The Shishi milu has had an enormous influence on Chinese medicine, both in practice and theory, since its first publication. While over fifty printed and manuscript editions had been produced between 1688 and 1960, the divine provenance and religious elements the text originally contained remain unknown to most readers. This paper aims to shed some light on the early creation of the text through the technique of spirit-writing, and examine how later editors either neglected its divine origins altogether or labelled them as “superstition” or “unimportant.”

Papers on Premodern Literature VII

Poetry II
2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room C

  • Chaired by Joachim Gentz
  • Zornica Kirkova, “Poetry, Meteorology, and Politics—Rhapsodies on the Wind-Vane from the Early Western Jin”
  • Baoli Yang, “Poeticising Nativist Sentiments: References to Han 漢 and the Construction of Chineseness in Early Tang Poetry”
  • Loredana Cesarino, “Female Authors and the Literary Canon of the Tang Dynasty (618–907): The Case of the Courtesan Chang Hao”
  • Chunxiao Liu, “The Musicality of guóxiù jí Poems and Beyond”

Zornica Kirkova, “Poetry, Meteorology, and Politics—Rhapsodies on the Wind-Vane from the Early Western Jin”

After the Han dynasty rhapsodies on things (yongwu fu 詠物賦) became the most favoured form of rhapsodies fu 賦. These were shorter pieces in simpler style composed on one single subject,—either from the natural world or man-made objects. Soon after the establishment of the Western Jin 晉 (265–316) numerous rhapsodies were composed by leading poets and scholars of the period (Fu Xuan 傅玄, Fu Xian 傅咸, Zhang Hua 張華, Pan Yue 潘岳, and others) on the topic of the meteorological instrument xiangfeng 相風 (wind-vane). During Sima Yan’s (265–290) rule more rhapsodies are known to have been produced on the xiangfeng than on any other implement, nevertheless, this topic was never picked up again in later poetry. Rhapsodies on things, as yongwu poetry in general, have traditionally been considered as dealing merely with outer description of things and being devoid of deeper intentions and personal feelings. In this paper I will take a closer look at the surviving rhapsodies on the xiangfeng in a wider intellectual context and investigate their possible political connotations and the reasons for the sudden but shortlived popularity of the topic. My aim is to show how these compositions not only “investigate reality,” but may also present an attempt by a group of scholars to define the values of the new dynasty and their own role in the contemporary politics.

Baoli Yang, “Poeticising Nativist Sentiments: References to Han 漢 and the Construction of Chineseness in Early Tang Poetry”

Although Chinese cultural elites have maintained a keen eye on recognising the Chinese monarchy and making arguments on state craftsmanship in their writings since the beginning of Chinese writing history, it was not until the early Tang (617–906) when Chinese poets began to prominently utilise the word Han in their poems. Before the Tang, Chinese poetry discusses politics by aestheticising the suffering people in relation to the exploiting ruling class like in those in the Book of Odes or by lyricising the sublimity of the palaces, capitals, and imperial huntings in the Han rhapsody. Nevertheless, in the Tang dynasty, the imageries associated to Han appeared gradually more often in the works of Chen Zi’ang, Du Fu, Bai Juyi, among many others. The Han sometimes referred to the previous historical Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), insinuated the Tang dynasty, or functioned as a synecdoche for the Han Chinese ethnicity. Why did Han, originally a dynastic name, become such a signifier with multiple meanings in the Tang poetry? To address this question, this paper first discusses why writing related to the word Han in the Tang poetry differed from writing on other political issues in previous poetic panegyrics in terms of expressing the Chinese identity in pre-modern China. Then it focuses on one early Tang poet Chen Zi’ang to explore how his poems complicated the significance of the Han. I argue that Chen attached a nativist sentiment to the Han which was also the ideal historical period for him.

Loredana Cesarino, “Female Authors and the Literary Canon of the Tang Dynasty (618–907): The Case of the Courtesan Chang Hao”

According to S. Owen (2007, p. 309), the literary canon of the Tang dynasty (618–907) “has been filtered not through a tradition of scholarly preservation, but through acts of partial copying largely determined by the period taste”.
Starting from this assumption, this paper analyses three of the four poems ascribed to the Tang dynasty courtesan Chang Hao 常浩 (9th c.) using J. R. Tung’s (2000) “masculine mode of women’s representation” and Kolbas’s (2001) theory of the literary canon as a theoretical framework. It argues that Chang Hao’s poems have been included in the poetic canon of the dynasty because they were in line with the literary conventions used by the male literati and, as such, they did not represent a threat to the social and political order of the time, nor a violation of the so-called “male province of literature” (Feldman & Gordon 2006).

Feldman, M., & Gordon, B. (eds). (2006). The courtesan’s arts: cross-cultural perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kolbas, E. D. (2001). Critical Theory and the Literary Canon. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.
Owen, S. (2007). The Manuscript Legacy of the Tang: The Case of Literature. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 67 (2), 295–326.
Tung, J. R. (2000). Fables for the Patriarchs: Gender Politics in Tang Discourse. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.

Chunxiao Liu, “The Musicality of Guóxiù jí Poems and Beyond”

An anthology selects, categorises and preserves. Among the commonly recognised thirteen anthologies of Táng poetry compiled during the Táng dynasty extant today, the Guóxiù jí 國秀集 [A Collection of the Ripened Talents of the State] (compiled 744–745) stands out as it relied on musicality as a key principle of its selection. The more than 200 poems in this anthology thus serve as a fine corpus to explore the relationship between poetry and music during the Early and High Táng periods. The proposed paper traces the singability of Guóxiù jí poems based on whether it can be supported by further records (e.g. Dūnhuáng manuscripts), or whether it is suggested by formal features, the contents or titles of the poems. Since the musical implications evidenced by these poems are of varying degrees and appear in very diverse forms, special attention is paid to cases like exam poems (fèngshì 奉試), night-duty poems (yùzhí 寓值), and ‘mouth-howling’ poems (kǒuháo 口號) etc. It is found that although the precise performative modes of the Guóxiù jí poems are not yet retrievable, their singability is in most cases undeniable. This would seem to support the idea that the “adaptability to pipe and string music” (kěbèi guǎnxián 可被管絃) was indeed a basic criterion against which the poems were selected. More importantly, the Guóxiù jí offers a glimpse of how music and poetry, closely interrelated, played an important role in the social life of Táng literati.