Papers on Premodern Literature VI

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

  • 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”
  • Roland Borsos, “Personal Instructions and Impersonal Rules: Rethinking the Genre of ‘Family Instructions’ in Imperial China”
  • 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. Through 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 on 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 of 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 for 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.

Roland Borsos, “Personal Instructions and Impersonal Rules: Rethinking the Genre of ‘Family Instructions’ in Imperial China”

When examining aspects such as education, family life, and ancestral rituals in Imperial China, the genre of family instructions (jiaxun 家訓) is certainly of central significance. However, a closer look reveals that there is a considerable discrepancy within scholarly literature about what exactly should be understood by the genre. Sometimes, only rather vague and broad definitions of the genre are given if any. Sometimes, the definitions are very specific, restricting the genre to a certain time frame or their incorporation in genealogies. Given the significance of these texts, it seems more than worthwhile to re-examine them in order to arrive at a clearer conception and understanding of the genre. For this reason, I conducted a survey, which concentrated on structural, stylistic and content-related aspects, as well as the author’s potential motives and designated audience. As sources, several hundred texts were analysed, ranging in time from Yan Zhitui’s 顏之推 (531–591) Family Instructions of the Yan clan (Yanshi jiaxun 顏氏家訓) to the mid-twentieth century. The results of this survey suggest that the genre can be subdivided it into two types. The first, going back to the Yanshi jiaxun as its ancestral text, is characterised by its highly personal tone. The second comprises impersonal instructions designed as general social rules, whose prototypes are located in the Song and early Ming dynasties. Exponents of both types of family instructions can be found side by side up into the Qing dynasty.

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, that 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 the most ancient sports of the world history and the derivative interpretation about the demons of Mehmed Siyah Qalam.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room C
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Governance and Rituals