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Notions of epistolarity in Liu Xie's Wenxin diaolong.


References to Liu Xie's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ca. 465-ca. 532) (1) Wenxin diaolong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ca. 500), the most outstanding work of literary theory in China, are a normative part of any study of genre in Chinese literature. Epistolary literature is no exception, as chapter 25 ("Shu ji" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of the Wenxin diaolong is generally regarded as the first exposition of the epistolary genre in Chinese literary history. Although Liu Xie is therefore regularly quoted in the as yet comparatively scarce studies of Chinese letters and letter writing, his statements are often presented in a surprisingly derogatory vein.

To mention just three instances from the past decade: David Pattinson in his excellent dissertation "The Chidu in Late Ming and Early Qing China" disapproves of Liu Xie's "tendency to cite examples of dubious relevance"--regarding references to the canonical Shangshu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Book of Documents) and Zhouyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Book of Changes)--and argues "that many of the things Liu says about letter-writing are not sound." (2) He continues this argument in a later article, where he says that "one can find fault with the scholarly rigour of parts of Liu Xie's essay on letters," objecting, for instance, "that quite a few of Liu's views are in fact secondhand" (3)--now referring to Liu's references to the standard histories Han shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Hou Han shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Bonnie McDougall in her fascinating book Love-Letters and Privacy in Modern China, about the correspondence between Lu Xun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1881-1936) and his future wife Xu Guangping [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1897-1968), approves of some of Liu Xie's generic characterizations, but objects that "he introduces confusion with a long list of sub-types which have little to do with his own definitions." (4) Evaluations like these cannot all be caused by flaws in Vincent Shih's translation of the Wenxin diaolong, (5) as the problem extends to Chinese authors as well. In his Comparative Research in Six Dynasties Prose Literature (Liuchao sanwen bijiao yanjiu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) Zhang Siqi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] misinterprets the "Shu ji" chapter's initial quotation from the Shangshu as a definition of the epistolary genre and concludes that "regarded like this, all literary genres are letters." (6)

What could cause such unfavorable assessments of a book that is elsewhere praised for its brilliant and uncommonly systematic approach? I suspect two main reasons. The first is a too selective reading, e.g., a reading concentrated on one genre chapter only without an appropriate understanding of the Wenxin diaolong as a whole; this could apply to any genre study. In the case of the "Shu ji" chapter, another cause may be wrong expectations, like the preconception that it is a treatise on epistolary literature only, as the understanding of the word shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in its title is reduced to one of its rather special meanings, i.e., "letters." Zhang Siqi's defective but telling conclusion that "regarded like this, all literary genres are letters" thus points to the key source of misunderstanding of the "Shu ji" chapter by Chinese and Western scholars alike: the misinterpretation of many of Liu Xie's propositions of shu as specifically referring to letters, which renders his statements irrelevant or even wrong. To assume ineptitude or inconsistency on the part of Liu Xie, however, should not be the first but the last resort of interpretation. Rather it is probable that a highly sophisticated text as the Wenxin diaolong that explicitly deals with genre theory will use a generally consistent terminology, and we must find out how exactly this terminology is to be understood.

Much of the perplexity about this chapter can be resolved if the core meaning of shu--"to write" or "writings"--is taken into account. Here my approach is primarily based on a close reading of the "Shu ji" chapter, supported by statements about orality and literacy throughout the Wenxin diaolong. A great part of this paper will therefore be dedicated to presenting the essential parts of the "Shu ji" chapter in a translation that is free from what I consider earlier misinterpretations of the text. Apart from my assumption that Liu Xie uses the term shu more consistently than is implied in the examples mentioned above, another aspect for the correct understanding of the "Shu ji" chapter should be considered, i.e., the position of this chapter within the general design of the Wenxin diaolong.


Disregarding the postface ("Xu zhi" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], or "Exposition of my intention"), the arrangement of the Wenxin diaolong is tripartite. In the first five chapters Liu Xie gives an exposition of his basic literary concepts, in the postface called the "pivot of literature." (7) The twenty chapters that constitute the second, typological part introduce a comprehensive range of literary genres, (8) while part three is dedicated to a variety of questions concerning the creative process, rhetoric, reception theory, etc. Some of its twenty-five chapters are among the most famous treatises of Chinese literary thought, like chapter 26 about imagination ("Shen si" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Spirit thought"), chapter 27 about the formative power of an author's personality ("Ti xing" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Composition and character"), chapter 28 about the important aesthetic concepts "wind" and "bone" ("Feng gu" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), or chapter 48 about questions of reader response ("Zhi yin" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "The one who knows the tone").

The theoretical frame of the Wenxin diaolong--chapters 1 to 5 and 26 to 50--is much more renowned than the massive typological block it encloses. Although I hesitate to speak for the whole dazzlingly complex field of Wenxin diaolong scholarship, (9) there appears to be a considerable disproportion between the huge amount of research on the theoretical frame and a certain neglect of the genre chapters. Most of the latter share the lot of the "Shu ji" chapter: although routinely consulted for the earliest detailed statement about a specific genre, they are frequently chided for their shortcomings and are usually excluded from comprehensive reflections on the book.(10) This is the more surprising as the Wenxin diaolong by far supersedes any earlier attempts at genre classification in China, e.g., Cao Pi's[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (187-226) "Lun wen" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Disquisition on Literature) or Lu Ji's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (261-303) "Wen fu" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Rhapsody on Literature), (11) both preserved in the Wenxuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] anthology (Selections of Refined Literature, ca. 514), itself compiled a few years later than the Wenxin diaolong and of comparable importance as regards our knowledge of genre awareness in early medieval China. (12)

Traditionally, the genre chapters are further divided into wen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and bi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--variously understood as rhymed and unrhymed, patterned and unpatterned, or refined and functional literature. Although this division is commonly attributed to Liu Xie, the text of the Wenxin diaolong itself provides no conclusive information on Liu Xie's understanding of wen and bi (13) nor on the question of whether he had intended certain groups of the genre chapters to deal exclusively with wen and others with bi types of literature. (14) Thus the concepts of wen and bi themselves are controversial, as is the question of where in the typological part of the Wenxin diaolong to draw the dividing line between wen and bi. (15)

After the division of wen and bi had become obsolete in the course of the Tang dynasty (618-907), the discussion of the problem seems to have been resuscitated in the nineteenth century only, first by Ruan Yuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1764-1849) and his followers, (16) and a century later, by the rediscovery in Japan of Kukai's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (774-835) Bunkyo hifuron [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (The Literary Mirror: Secret Repository of Discussions), which also contained the only transmitted medieval list of wen and bi genres. (17) Among the more influential modern scholars who discussed the wen bi division are Liu Shipei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1884-1919) and Wenxin diaolong commentators like Huang Kan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1886-1935) and Fan Wenlan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1891-1969), most of them disagreeing as regards the understanding of wen and bi and the classification of the genre chapters, which certainly helped to keep the discussion going. (18)

Not least because of the general symmetry in the design of the Wenxin diaolong, (19) I tend to locate the division between wen and bi between chapters 14 and 15, thus yielding two ten-chapter sections. I consider wen to refer to refined literature and bi to functional prose, assuming that both kinds of writing are differentiated by functional and aesthetic attributes alike. The higher degree of "literariness" of the genres labeled wen would thus result from a mixture of functional and formal characteristics, the latter certainly including prosodic features.

The last of both ten-chapter sections, i.e., chapters 14 and 25, appear to gather the odds and ends not covered in the preceding chapters of the wen and bi section, respectively. (20) As regards chapter 14, this interpretation is supported by the title "Za wen" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Miscellaneous) kinds of refined literature) and by the number of genres it introduces. While the other chapters of the wen section cover one or two genres each, very seldom mentioning a few subgenres as well, the "Za wen" chapter collects nineteen genres, of which three are described in detail, while the rest are simply listed. (21) The "Shu ji" chapter that concludes the bi section seems to have been designed in a similar vein, as it presents as many as twenty-nine genres. This number is again far greater than that of any of the preceding chapters in the bi section, which, however, generally cover a few more genres than their titles suggest. (22)


The "Shu ji" chapter appears to be an appropriate conclusion to the bi section and the genre block as a whole in another respect, too, as it treats writing as a distinctive feature of generic classification. Generally, the literary genres described in the Wenxin diaolong are defined by textual qualities. The only exception apart from the "Shu ji" chapter is chapter 11 ("Ming zhen" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Inscriptions and admonitions") in the wen section, which similarly introduces a genre that is mainly defined by its materiality, the "inscription" (ming [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). (23) Texts of this genre are engraved (ming [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) into the surface of everyday utensils or ceremonial objects, i.e., mostly cut (ke [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) into metal, stone, wood or other hard materials. These objects are of a certain durability and often immobile. Liu Xie mentions or--by the choice of his historical examples--implies inscriptions on doors, walls, bronze vessels, and statues, etc. (24)

Writing in the sense of the term shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], on the other hand, denotes a quite different procedure: the application of a liquid, usually ink, on the surface of various materials, which are mostly light and easy to transport, such as bamboo, silk, or paper. I thus propose that in the Wenxin diaolong the genre designation shu refers to texts that are not primarily distinguished by textual features but by a material quality, namely by the fact that they are essentially written texts. Given the notorious chameleon-like nature of letters are regards form, contents, and function, this appears to be a very prudent decision. (25) The other genres may and frequently do, of course, appear in written form as well, but for them writing is not a necessary condition. As has been established by scholars of many ancient cultures in the past decades, the production and reception of literary texts was originally not a visual but an acoustic phenomenon. Texts were composed, recited, performed, appreciated, and memorized without necessarily fixing them in writing. (26)

Liu Xie himself was well aware that whether texts existed in written or oral form is a significant issue. He repeatedly refers to the transition from oral to written modes of communication, e.g., in the case of the memorial. In chapter 22 ("Zhang biao" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Petitions and memorials") Liu Xie maintains that at the court of Emperor Yao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "memorials were presented by word of mouth" and that "words were spread at the imperial court without resort to the writing brush." He dates the emergence of written documents at court to the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600-1045 B.C.) only. (27) This argument is repeated, in part even literally, in the following chapter 23, which is also dedicated to types of the memorial. (28)

Literacy as opposed to orality is emphasized elsewhere in the Wenxin diaolong as well. When he characterizes the strategies of persuasion (shui [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), Liu Xie expressly points out that persuasion "need not always be effected in speech, but can equally well be accomplished in writing" (literally "by knife and brush"), (29) by which he clearly implies the preeminence of orality.

Despite this unmistakable incorporation of oral modes of literary production and performance, the Wenxin diaolong is widely considered by modern readers as dealing with written literature only. Vincent Shih's translation, for example, is scattered with the words "write," "writing," "written," etc. which only on the rarest occasions are called for by the text of the Wenxin diaolong itself. (30) And Zhao Heping, who in his dissertation of 1990 quite appropriately insisted on extending the scope of the Wenxin diaolong beyond literature in the sense of "belles lettres," still regarded the Wenxin diaolong as a "treatise on writing," as a book that "deals exclusively with written discourse." (31)

It is essential to realize that Liu Xie was aware of the difference of textual and material features in his classification of genres. For the greater part of the Wenxin diaolong he deals with texts and textual properties, thus implicitly--and in the case of the persuasion (shui) explicitly--not restricting the texts of these genres by the condition of being fixed in writing. The "Shu ji" chapter is singled out insofar as it collects genres that are primarily distinguished not so much by textual properties as by a material feature, namely the fact that they necessarily exist in written form.


According to the general thrust of the "Shu ji" chapter, I propose to translate its title as "Written records." Shu ji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] are "written records" in the broadest sense, which is, according to my count, also the most common meaning of the compound in early medieval Chinese. (32) The phrase is used to refer to "epistolary writings" only rather infrequently, mainly in lists of types of somebody's literary writings. (33)

The title of chapter 25 adheres to the two-syllable format, uniformly used throughout the Wenxin diaolong. However, as the syntactic relation between these two syllables is not the same in all titles, (34) translating shu ji requires two decisions. First, we have to decide whether the words shu and ji are in subordinate or coordinate relationship. (35) The latter would imply that chapter 25 introduces the two genres shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and ji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which are dealt with in the first and the second part of the chapter respectively. However, while shu ("letters") is a common genre designation in the Wenxin diaolong and elsewhere in early medieval literature, (36) ji is not. (37) In the Wenxin diaolong, it does not occur as an independent generic term, (38) but only as the second part of the two genre-designation compounds referring to kinds of official communications: zou ji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and jian ji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (39) Moreover, while shu ("letters") could well cover the first part of chapter 25 (which, incidentally, includes the introduction of the subgenres zou ji and jian ji), ji could not do the same for the second part of the chapter, as none of the large number of clearly non-epistolary genres presented here is ever referred to as ji. All this strongly suggests the reading of the title shu ji as a subordinate phrase.

The second decision regards the interpretation of the title words. The core meaning of ji is "to record" or "records," either by committing something to memory or by writing it down. (40) Since the interpretation of shu as "letter" would be too limited--"epistolary writing" or "letter records" obviously failing to describe the second and greater part of chapter 25--"written records" seems to be the only adequate translation of the title. Thus, the title of the chapter concluding the bi section of the typological part may be understood as a collective name, comparable to the title of "Za wen," the last chapter of the wen section.


When we approach chapter 25 of the Wenxin diaolong from this perspective, i.e., with the expectation to learn about "written records," the text makes very smooth reading, indeed. Its composition follows the pattern set forth for the genre chapters by Liu Xie himself in his postface. He first traces the genre back to its origin and the Confucian canon, along with an explanation of the genre designation. After that he outlines the historical development of the genre, mainly by means of a series of exemplary pieces, striving to arrive at a comprehensive generic characterization. (41)

Accordingly, the first part of the "Shu ji" chapter is dedicated to displaying "The canon as the ancestor" of written records. The introduction is framed by two references to the canonical texts that are conventionally quoted in connection with writing: (42)


As mentioned before, most perplexities about the "Shu Ji" chapter arise from the expectation that Liu Xie deals in it mainly with letters. If one reads it in that way, the introduction appears too general or pointless. But as Liu Xie in the "Shu ji" chapter address generes that are defined primarily not in terms of textual properties but by the criterion of being written, it is not surprising at all writing and the production of written records in general are discussed ast the outset. Thus, the initial reference to the canonical Shangshu resumes a topic previously mentioned in chapter 3 of the Wexin diaolong ("Zong jing" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "The canon as the ancestor"), whether Liu Xie maintains that the "Shanghu recorded words reliability. "(47) In its original context in the Shangshu's "Yi ji" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], chapter, two methods of committing transgressions to memory are mentioned: while the scourge may be adequate as far as individual memory is concerned, writing is necessary to secure an incident in collective or cultural memory across time.

The concluding reference to the canon--the connection of writing to "clarifying decisions'" via hexagram 43 of the Zhouy't--presents writing as an influential political and administrative means. This hexagram was a well established topic in treatises about writing already in Liu Xie's day, as it had been associated with the replacement of knotted cords by written documents in the "Xici zhuan" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Commentary to the appended words."). (48) By alluding to hexagram 43, Liu Xie moreover returns to a topic mentioned in the first, pivotal part of the Wenxin diaolong, too--as in the case of the Shangshu quote. (49)

Despite introducing the Zhouyi, however, Liu Xie does not go on citing the famous "Xici zhuan" statement, that "writing does not exhaust words, words do not exhaust meaning." (50) This skeptical maxim, ascribed to Confucius, had been a prominent subject of philosophical and literary disputes in the preceding centuries (51) and was, by the way, a virtually ubiquitous topos in Chinese letters. That Liu Xie quotes Yang Xingo's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (53 B.C.-A.D. 18) Fayan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Model Words), instead, shows that he, like Yang Xiong, takes a more optimistic attitude towards the mimetic powers of writing, assuming it to be an expression of the mind in a similar way as the spoken word. Consequently, Liu Xie considers the assessment of a person's writing with regard to both style and calligraphy as an efficacious means for evaluating personalities. (52)

His optimistic attitude toward the powers of writing may be related to the fact that Liu Xie locates the origins of written records not so much in the religious or philosophical realm. Literary texts, which are in a more elevated and abstract sense expressions of the dao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], are discussed in the earlier chapters about genres defined by textual qualities. However, Liu Xie sees the origins of written records in more pragmatic contexts and accordingly stresses reliability (Shangshu) and clarity (Zhouyi) rather than more "literary" qualities. He insists that "in the formation of written the emphasis is on words," i.e., on the reliable and clear rendition of spoken words into writing. This is essential, as written texts must do without the plethora of performative means, such as intonation, facial expression or gesture, that are available in oral communication to assist or subtly modify a message according to the actual circumstances of its perception. (53)

Although Liu Xie's introductory characterizations of writing were not meant to refer specifically to letter writing, it still makes sense to ask what significance these more general remarks on writing nevertheless do have for letters as a special case of writing. The two quotes from the canon, along with the associations they evoke, would appear farfetched as to personal letter writing but they seem quite appropriate in the context of administrative communication, where reliability and clarity are vital. The quote from the Fayan, however, may well refer to the writing of personal letters. For the Western scholar of epistolary literature, the Greek topos of the letter as an image or mirror of the soul comes to mind--a topos that was to remain one of the key elements of Western epistolary theory up to the present day. (54)

After his general introduction to the problem of writing, Liu Xie turns to those kinds of "written records" that apparently are of the greatest literary appeal to him--letters in terms of written messages from actual historical people to other actual historical people, (55) a genre whose very name also in English above all emphasizes its indispensable literacy. He delineates the development of letter writing from its emergence through its first millennium, mostly along the lines of letters that are mentioned or even have been transmitted in historical texts. Consequently, in these parts of the "Shu ji" chapter, the term shu needs to be translated as not just "writing" in general but as "letter," because this is what Liu Xie is actually referring to. However, for the sake of stylistic variability, he also uses other words that in a similar way as shu can either refer to writings in a general sense or denote letters in particular. (56) In yet other cases Liu Xie mentions communications, which--as their historical context shows--are by letter without explicitly calling them such. (57)


Liu Xie ascribes the emergence of letter writing to the political situation of the Chunqiu period (722-481 B.C.), which required a more extensive exchange of messages, and implies a gradual shift from the archetypical transmission of oral messages (61) to the transportation of written documents. (62) While the initial quote from the Shangshu emphasized the transmission of writings across time, Liu Xie now brings up the transmission across spatial distances--the second reason for the production of written records and, with regard to letter writing, the more significant one.

Liu Xie lists five specific letters from the Chunqiu period, all of them mentioned and some partly transmitted in canonical literature, while the letters from the "Seven States," i.e., the Zhanguo period (453/403-221 B.C.), are summarily treated. Two textual features of these early letters are commended. The first pragmatic one is the resemblance of the written words of a letter to those spoken face to face (ci ruo dui mian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), which amounts to the perception of the letter as a more or less appropriate substitute for conversation--another universal epistolary topos. (63) Its pervasiveness in China at least since about Han times (64) is demonstrated by countless occurrences in letters (65) and by a "Southern dictum" quoted in Yan Zhitui's Yanshi jiazun in the context of calligraphy, "Letters [carry their writer's] face across a thousand miles." (66)

Secondly, Liu Xie introduces an aesthetic criterion for the evaluation of letters, i.e., literary potential of the letter, as beauty (li [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is a criterion widely employed in the pivotal chapters and in the chapters and in the cahpters dealing with wen genres.

In what follows, Liu Xie further pursues the historical development of letter writing in the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.220):


With regards to the Western Han (206-9 B.C.), Liu Xie again lists specific letters; some of them have been transmitted to the present day. Liu Xie extols their literary uniqueness, their aspirations and--aesthetic as well as affective--force. The latter aspect is also expressed in the last two lives, where Liu Xie doubly alludes to Lu Ji's "Wen fu." Taking up his predecessor's image of the woven fabric of a literary text, (71) Liu Xie ingeniously relates it to the texture of silk, which was a common writing support for letters. The following association of "a foot of silk" with "an inch of heart," also owed to Lu Ji, (72) is significantly modified according to Liu Xie's priorities in the "Shu ji" chapter. Focusing on the dialogic nature of correspondence, he does not talk of the creative heart of the author but of the intellectually and emotionally perceptive mind of the reader.

Liu Xie then goes on to sketch the development of the letter in the Eastern Han (24-220) and Wei dynasties (220-65):


In his appraisal of the masterpieces of Eastern Han and Wei letter writing, Liu Xie emphasizes epistolary propriety, i.e., the adjustment of letters according to the status of the recipients and the writer's relationship to them--an aspect that was to become one of the key elements of later epistolary guides in China. Mentioning Chen Zun, whose letters are supposed to be among the first that were collected for their fine handwriting, Liu Xie implicitly suggests the potential calligraphic value of letters. (81)

In the passage following the outline of the historical development of letter writing, Liu Xie presents an often quoted general characterization of the epistolary genre:


In this first intermediate summary within the "Shu ji" chapter, Liu Xie resumes an issue discussed at the outset--the importance of the appropriate rendering of spoken words in written form. By regarding letter writing as founded on the exhaustive rendition of words (jin yan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])--an allusion to the above mentioned skeptical maxim of Confucius--Liu Xie reiterates his confidence in the fundamental possibility of such an endeavor. Assuming the perspectives of first the writer and then the reader, he identifies a clear structure and unfettered ease as the main textual requirements for truly achieving the representation of the voice of the mind.

Lines 64 and 65 are often interpreted as Liu Xie's key statement about the function of letters as a mental and emotional outlet. However, their point of reference (spoken or written words?) remains ambiguous, as does the relation between the dispelling of dejection and literary brilliance: is literary brilliance required to accomplish the unburdening of the mind, or does Liu Xie consider dejection as a precondition for the creation of works of literary brilliance? (82)

So far (lines 18-69), Liu Xie's characterization of the epistolary genre is of a rather comprehensive nature, including personal as well as official correspondence, en route touching upon various subgenres, such as the condolence or the admonition. In the following forty lines (70-110) of the "Shu ji" chapter, Liu Xie takes a closer look at administrative communication in particular, introducing a number of subgenres that were dealt with in previous chapters (83) and providing terminological and historical explanations for zou ji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("petition record") and zou jian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("petition memorandum"). As regards these official communications, Liu Xie generally employs the methods and criteria presented in the preceding part of the chapter, focusing on textual features as coherence, hierarchical differentiation and literary brilliance. The importance of literary skills is enhanced by his praise of Liu Zhen's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (a.d. ?-217) jian ji ("memorandum record"). which Liu Xie believes to be underestimated and more beautiful than even Liu Zhen's poems--thus applying the same aesthetic standards to a genre of functional prose as to poetry, which amounts to a distinct appreciation of the epistolary genre.

The following part of chapter 25 is dedicated to the description of twenty-four minor genres of written records, which are first listed in six groups of four, each assigned to a different area of life:


After insisting on the practical significance of these types of text, every one of them is treated separately. This takes up the greater part of the "Shu ji" chapter (lines 132-289) and may be considered as another indication of Liu Xie's high esteem for these apparently minor kinds of functional prose. However, unlike the personal or official letter, they are never reflected in terms of literary brilliance, but described only in terms of technicalities. As they are all supposed to exist in written form, in some cases this quality or other aspects of their materiality are explicitly mentioned.

In this final summary Liu Xie again widens his perspective:


In this part of the chapter, Liu Xie again appears to include all kinds of "written records." However, he singles out letters in the surprising statement that great literary talents often stay away from epistolary literature. (86) Liu Xie's insistence on the significance of the apparently minor "written records" is reconfirmed by his allusion to the legendary equine authority Jiufang Yan, whose expertise did not extend to the exterior attributes of a horse. Just as the color of the hide or the sex of an animal may seem irrelevant as regards the essential value of a racehorse, but are nonetheless inalienable elements of its physique, the minor genres of functional prose are indispensable parts of the literary domain.

As all the other chapters of the Wenxin diaolong, the "Shu ji" chapter is concluded by an encomium:


The encomium is again concerned with "written records" in general, not with letter writing in particular. Liu Xie emphasizes their diversity in literary respect, their capacity to cross time and space and their importance for administrative and other practical affairs.


That the "Shu ji" chapter is to such a high degree associated with letter writing, while the miscellaneous written records are very often overlooked, is a reflection of Liu Xie's emphasis on the literary potential of letters. However, I hope to have shown that the prevalent presumption of an overall terminological ambiguity in the Wenxin diaolong prevents an adequate understanding of the text in general. At least as regards chapter 25, there is no reason at all to accuse Liu Xie of being inconsistent. The "Shu ji" chapter is about written records as a category informed by the non-textual, material criterion of their written form. This is true for the entire text, from the general remarks in the beginning to the technicalities detailed in the second part of the chapter and even through to the encomium.


Editions and translations of the Wenxin diaolong

Fan Wenlan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 1958 [[.sup.1] 1936]. Wenxin diaolong zhu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 2 vols. Beijing: Renmin wenxue.

Li Yuegang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 1982. Wenxin diaolong jiaoquan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 2 vols. Taibei: Guoli bianyiguan Zhonghua congshu bianshen weiyuanhui.

Shih, Vincent Yu-chung. 1983 [[.sup.1]1959]. The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons: A Study of Thought and Pattern in Chinese Literature. Hong Kong: Chinese Univ. Press.

Wong Siu-kit et al. 1999. The Book of Literature Design. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Univ. Press.

Wu Linbo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 2002. Wenxin diaolong yishu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Wuhan: Wuhan daxue.

Yang Guobin. 2003. Dragon-Carving and the Literary Mind: An Annotated English Translation and Critical Study of Wenxin Diaolong by Liu Xie, c. A.D. 465-521. 2 vols. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.

Zhan Ying [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 1989. Wenxin diaolong yizheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 3 vols. Shanghai: Guji.

Other primary sources

Fayan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: D. C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. 1995. Concordances to the Fayan, Taixuanjing. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.

Han shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Ban Gu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (32-92). Beijing: Zhonghua. 1962.

Hou Han shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: Fan Ye [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (398-446). Beijing: Zhonghua. 1965.

Huainanzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: D. C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. 1992. A Concordance to the Huainanzi. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.

Liji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: D. C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. 1992. A Concordance to the Liji. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.

Lushi chunqiu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: D. C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. 1994. A Concordance to the Lushi chunqiu. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.

Quan Hou Han wen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: see Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Yan Kejun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1762-1843), ed. Rpt. Beijing: Zhonghua, 1951.

Quan Shanguo wen[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: see Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII](Yan Kejun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1762-1843), ed. Rpt. Beijing: Zhonghua, 1951.

Sanguo zhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: Chen Shou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (233-97); annot. Pei Songzhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (372-451). Beijing: Zhonghua, 1959.

Shangshu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: D. C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. 1995. A Concordance to the Shangshu. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.

Shi ji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Sima Qian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (?145-?86 B.C.). Beijing: Zhonghua. 1959.

Shuowen jiezi zhu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: Xu Shen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ca. 55-ca. 149); annot. Duan Yucai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1735-1815). Shanghai: Shanghai guji, 1981.

Wenti mingbian xushuo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1570): Xu Shizeng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1517-80). Beijing: Renmin wenxue, 1962.

Wenxuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: Xiao Tong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (501-31); annot. Li Shan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ca. 630-89). Shanghai: Shanghai guji, 1986.

Yanshi jiaxun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: Yan Zhitui [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (531-?). Shanghai: Shanghai shudian, 1935.

Zhouyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: D. C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. 1995. A Concordance to the Zhouyi. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.

Zuozhuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: D. C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. 1995. A Concordance to the Chunqiu Zuozhuan. 2 vols. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.

Secondary sources

Cai Zong-qi, ed. 2001., A Chinese Literary Mind: Culture, Creativity, and Rhetoric in Wenxin diaolong. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press.

Chen Wuyun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII],ed. 1991. Shuxin daquan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Shanghai: Jiaoyu.

Chung, Eva Yuen-wah. 1982. A Study of the "Shu" (Letters) of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. m220). Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Washigton.

Gao Huaping [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 2000. Wei Jin xuanxue ren'gemei yanjiu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Chengdu: Ba Shu.

Gibbs, Donald A. 1970/71. Liu Hsieh: Author of the Wen-hsin tiao-lung. Monumenta Serica 29: 117-41.

Harrist, Robert E. 1999. Reading Chinese Calligraphy. In The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection, ed. Robert E. Harrist and Wen C. Fong. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Art Museum. Pp. 2-29.

Hightower, James R. 1959. The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons by Liu Hsieh. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 22: 280-88.

Holzman, Donald. 1960. Liu Hsieh, The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons. Artibus Asiae 23: 136-39.

Jansen, Thomas. 2006. The Art of Severing Relationships (juejiao) in Early Medieval China. JAOS 126:347-65.

Kern, Martin, ed. 2005. Text and Ritual in Early China. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press.

Klauck, Hans J. 1998. Die antike Briefliteratur und das Neue Testament: Ein Lehr- und Arbeitsbuch. Paderborn: Schoningh.

Knechtges, David R. 1977/78. The Liu Hsin/Yang Hsiung Correspondence on the Fang Yen. Monumenta Serica 33: 309-25.

--. 1982. Wen Xuan or Selections of Refined Literature, vol. l: Rhapsodies on Metropolises and Capitals. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.

--. 2001. Culling the Weeds and Selecting Prime Blossoms: The Anthology in Early Medieval China. In Culture and Power in the Reconstitution of the Chinese Realm, 200-600, ed. Scott Pearce et al. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Asia Center. Pp. 200-241.

Koskenniemi, Heikki. 1956. Studien zur Idee und Phraseologie des griechischen Briefes bis 400 n.Chr. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.

Leung Man-kam. 1977. Juan Yuan (1764-1849): The Life, Works, and Career of a Chinese Scholar-Bureaucrat. Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Hawai'i.

Li Shibiao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 2004. Wei Jin Nanbeichao wentixue [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Shanghai: Shanghai guji.

Liu Guangsheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Zhao Meizhuang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 1999. Zhongguo gudai youyi shi: Xiuding ban [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Beijing: Renmin youdian.

Liu Shipei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 2000 [(1) 1920]. Zhongguo zhonggu wenxue shi jiangyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Shanghai: Shanghai guji.

Ma Jianzhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 2005. Wenxin diaolong wenti fenlei tanxi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Shehui kexue jia [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 113.3: 16-21.

McDougall, Bonnie S. 2002. Love-Letters and Privacy in Modern China: The Intimate Lives of Lu Xun and Xu Guangping. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Mittleman, Leslie B. 1990. The Twentieth-Century English Letter: A Dying Art? World Literature Today 64.2: 221-26.

Miyasaka Yusho [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] et al., ed. 1986. Kobo Daishi Kukai zenshu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] vol. 5. Tokyo: Chikuma shobo.

Muller, Wolfgang G. 1980. Der Brief als Spiegel der Seele: Zur Geschichte eines Topos der Epistolar-theorie von der Antike bis Samuel Richardson. Antike und Abendland 26: 138-57.

--. 1994. Brief. In Historisches Worterbuch der Rhetorik, ed. Gert Ueding. Darmstadt: Wiss. Buchges. Pp. 2,60-76.

Nickisch, Reinhard M. G. 1991. Brief. Stuttgart: Metzler.

Owen, Stephen. 1992. Readings in Chinese Literary Thought. Cambridge, Mass.: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard Univ.

Pattinson, David John. 1997. The Chidu in Late Ming and Early Qing China. Ph.D. diss., Australian National Univ.

--. 2002. Privacy and Letter Writing in Han and Six Dynasties. In Chinese Concepts of Privacy, ed. Bonnie S. McDougall and Anders Hansson. Leiden: Brill. Pp. 97-118.

Qian Nanxiu. 2001. Spirit and Self in Medieval China: The Shih-shuo hsin-yu and its Legacy. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai'i Press.

Richter, Antje. 2006. Letters and Letter Writing in Early Medieval China. Early Medieval China 12: 1-29.

Schaberg, David. 2001. A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Asia Center.

Thraede, Klaus. 1970. Grundziige griechisch-romischer Brieftopik. Munchen: Beck.

Tokei, Ferenc. 1971. Genre Theory in China in the 3rd-6th Centuries (Liu Hsieh's Theory on Poetic Genre). Budapest: Akademiai Kiado.

Unger, Ulrich. 1997. Literatur des chinesischen Altertums. Munster: Ostasiatisches Seminar.

Wenzel, Horst. 1995. Horen und Sehen, Schrift und Bild: kultur und Gedachtnis im Mittelalter. Munchen: Beck.

Xue Fengchang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 1931. Wenti lun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Shanghai: Commercial Press.

Yang Ming [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Wang Yunxi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 1989. Wei Jin Nanbeichao wenxue piping shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Shanghai: guji.

Ye Youming [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] et al., ed. (2)1981 [1980]. Lidai shuxin xuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Changsha: Renmin.

Yu, Pauline, 1983. Formal Distinctions in Chinese Literary Theory. In Theories of the Arts in China, ed. Susan Bush and Christian Murck. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press. Pp. 28-53.

Zhang Shaokang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] et al. 2001. Wenxin diaolong yanjiu shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Beijing: Beijing daxue.

-- 2001. A Survey of Studies on Wenxin diaolong in China and Other Parts of East Asia. In A Chinese Literary Mind: Culture, Creativity, and Rhetoric in Wenxin diaolong, ed. Cai Zong-qi. Standford: Standford Univ. Press. Pp. 227-34.

Zhang Siqi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. 1997. Liuchao sanwen bijiao yanjiu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Taibei: Wenjin.

Zhao Heping. 1990. Wen Xin Diao Long: An Early Chinese Rhetoric of Written Discourse. Ph.D. diss., Purdue Univ.

Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the March 2006 annual meeting of the American Oriental Society in Seattle, and at the September 2006 biennial conference of the European Association of Chinese Studies in Ljubljana. I would like to thank the participants of these sessions for their valuable comments, in particular Marie Bizais (Paris) and Marc Winter (Zurich) as well as Thomas Jansen (Cambridge).



(1.) For biographical information on Liu Xie, see Holzman 1960, Gibbs 1971, Liu Yuegang 1982: 2343-56, and Cai Zong-qi 2001: 1-2.

(2.) Pattinson 1997: 8, 11.

(3.) Pattinson 2002: 115, 114.

(4.) McDougall 2002: 84.

(5.) On the shortcomings of the earliest complete translation of the Wenxin diaolong into a Western language by Vincent Shih (1959/1983), see Hightower 1959 and Holzman 1960. Apart from two recent unannotated translations of the complete text into English (Wong Siu-kit et al. 1999 and Yang Guobin 2003), a considerable number of partial translations has been published, e.g., Owen 1992: 186-298.

(6.) Zhang Siqi 1997: 102.

(7.) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Fan Wenlan 1958: 727.

(8.) There is disagreement about the actual number of genre chapters. Today, chapters 6 to 25 are commonly regarded as representing the typological part. However, some scholars have included all five or selected chapters of the first part, most often chapter 5 detailing the elegy, sao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (See Zhang Shaokang et al. 2001: 465.) However, giving priority to Liu Xie's explicit grouping of chapters 1-5 as the "pivot of literature," I hesitate to include any of them in the typological part. As regards the actual number of literary genres Liu Xie introduces, there is even more discrepancy, because of terminological and typological problems. According to Cai Zong-qi (2001: 3), the Wenxin diaolong mentions about two hundred genres, this number--the highest I have encountered--would include subgenres and sub-subgenres.

(9.) In the twentieth century alone an overwhelming amount of research on the Wenxin diaolong has been and continues to be published, mostly in China, but increasingly in the West as well; see Zhang Shaokang et al. 2001 and Zhang Shaokang 2001.

(10.) The emphasis of the voluminous History of Research on the Wenxin diaolong. for example, is certainly not on genre, as less than five of its six hundred pages are dedicated to research on the topic (Zhang Shaokang et al. 2001: 465-70). The general neglect of the Wenxin diaolong's genre chapters and aspects of their mostly critical reception have variously been remarked upon, e.g., by Zhao Heping (1990: 105-10, 115-17) or Ma Jianzhi (2005: 16-17).

(11.) For Cao Pi's "Lun wen" and Lu Ji's "Wen fu," see Wenxuan 52.2270-73 and 17.761-82, as well as the translations in Owen 1992: 57-181.

(12.) On the Wenxuan, compiled under the auspices of Xiao Tong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (501-31), crown prince (Zhaoming taizi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of the Liang dynasty (502-57), including genre theory in early medieval China, see Knechtges 2001.

(13.) In the opening of chapter 44, Liu Xie introduces yun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as the contemporary prevalent distinctive feature [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Fan Wenlan 1958: 655). However, not only his understanding of yun is controversial (actual rhyming or other prosodic features, possibly tonality), Liu Xie also appears to question a purely formalistic approach like this in the following part of chapter 44 and the Wenxin diaolong in general, without offering an alternative criterion of differentiation.

(14.) None of the passages of the Wenxin diaolong that are sometimes interpreted as indications for such a grouping provides conclusive evidence, mainly because wen bi also occurs as a compound referring to "writings" as a whole. An oft-quoted phrase in Liu Xie's postface, for example, can also be read as a metonymical reference to the various kinds of literary writing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Fan Wenlan 1958: 727).

(15.) On the rise and development of the wen bi. division, see Yu 1983, Yang/Wang 1989: 189-206, Li Shibiao 2004: 98-110.

(16.) See Yu 1983: 45-47, and Leung Man-kam 1977: 117-30.

(17.) The passage appears in the Wen bi shi bing de shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] part of the "Western" chapter of the Bunkyo hifuron, as a quote from the now lost treatise. Wen bi shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which is probably of early Tang provenance. (See Miyasaka Yusho et al. 1986: 716, and Yu 1983: 35-36, which also includes a translation.)

(18.) To give a few examples: Liu Shipei (2003: 110) regarded chapters 6-15 as wen and 16-25 as bi, while Fan Wenlan (1958: 4-5) took chapters 5-13 for wen and 16-25 for bi, assuming two chapters of mixed character in between. Donald Holzman (1960: 139), drawing the line between chapters 13 and 14, regards chapters 5-13 as wen and 14-25 as bi.

(19.) The arrangement of the chapters in the Wenxin diaolong, however, is not undisputed. There have been attempts to rearrange them (e.g., Liu Yuegang 1982), and Tokei (1971: 130) even holds that the arrangement of the chapters is "a most extrinsic form of Liu Hsieh's system."

(20.) For a similar assumption on the part of Fan Wenlan's teacher Huang Kan, see Zhan Ying 1989: 1623-24.

(21.) The three genres described in some detail in chapter 14 are duiwen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (response to questions), qi t (sevens) and lianzhu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (linked pearls), while the following sixteen genres are just enumerated: dian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (statute), gao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (instruction), shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (speech), wen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (inquiry from the throne), lan[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (survey). lue [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (summary), pian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII](chapter), zhcuig [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (paragraph), qu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (song), zao[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (song on given themes), nong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ditty), yin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (prelude), yin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (sad chant), feng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (expostulatory poem), yao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ballad), yong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (topical poem) (Fan Wenlan 1958: 254--(70). As the denotations of the summarily treated genres are not always clear, the translations are tentative.

(22.) This general tendency is quite evident, although there are cases in which it is hard to decide whether or not a word is meant as a genre designation. For example, there are words that cannot only be understood as genre designations but also as individual titles (of books, sections on books or chapters). Other terms might be used as synonyms, i.e., different designations in different historical periods.

(23.) Fan Wenlan 1958: 193-212.

(24.) In the following chapter 12, the epitaph (bei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is accordingly defined as a subgenre of the inscription ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Fan Wenlan 1958: 214).

(25.) Because of their indeterminacy in so many respects, designations of the letter, not only in Chinese, are very often related to its materiality--either to writing (as in the case of shu) or to writing materials like the writing support (e.g., jian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [bamboo], du [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and zha [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [wood], tie [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [silk]) to other tangible aspects of letter writing (e.g., han [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [envelope] and feng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [sealing]).

(26.) Aspects of literacy and orality in early Chinese culture have received increasing attention in recent years (see Schaberg 2001, Kern 2005).

(27.) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Fan Wenlan 1958: 406.

(28.) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Fan Wenlan 1958: 421.

(29.) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Fan Wenlan 1958: 329.

(30.) See.e.g., his translation of the first part of chapter 12 about the dirge (lei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Shih 1983: 127).

(31.) Zhao Heping 1990: vii and 3.

(32.) In a corpus of pre-Tang literature extracted from the texts assembled in the database of the Academia Sinica in Taibei, I have found about 110 occurrences of "shu ji" as a compound, more than three-quarters of them referring to various kinds of "written records," including "books," and "literature." This usage goes back to Han times, see Shift 123.3162 ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) or Liji 12.52.:79/21 ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). A considerable number of these occurrences denote "written records" as the field of responsibility of an official, which probably gave rise to the meaning "scribe," see Sanguo zhi 21.600 ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).

(33.) See Hou Han shu 79B.2583 ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).

(34.) Among the genre chapters, there are three types of titles: 1) verb-noun phrases, like "Ming shi" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Elucidating lyric poetry," chapter 6): 2) nominal coordinations, like "Ming zhen" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Inscriptions and admonitions," chapter 11), that designate two genres; and 3) subordinated phrases that may designate one or more genres, like "Zhu zi" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("The Masters," chapter 17) or "Za wen" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Miscellaneous kinds of refined literature," chapter 14).

(35.) Both possibilities have been proposed. However, most scholars understand the words as coordinate. Tokei (1971: 129) reads, "letters and recordings," Knechtges (1982: 23) and Chung (1982: 35) "letters" and "records," Wong Siu-kit et al. (1999: 95) "notes and letters," Yang Guobin (2003: 351) "epistolary writing and miscellaneous records." McDougall (2002: 84) follows Shih (1983: 279) in reading the title as a subordinate phrase, i.e., "letter records," "epistolary writing." The interpretation of Wu Linbo (2002: 286) is the only one I know of that understands shu ji as "written records" as opposed to oral transmission. In the case of "Shi zhuan"[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (chapter 16), by the way, the question of whether the title words are to be read as a subordinate or a coordinate phrase is disputed as well.

(36.) Of the 124 occurrences of shu in the Wenxin diaolong, more than a quarter refer to "letter(s)." On the development of the genre shu, see Chung 1982.

(37.) Ji occurs 34 times in the Wenxin diaolong, most often meaning "to record" or "records" in a non-generic sense.

(38.) The same holds true for the Wenxuan and the above mentioned list of genres transmitted in the Bunkyo hifuron. As regards the Wenxin diaolong, however, it is controversial. Xu Shizeng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1517-80) in his Wenti mingbian xushuo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1570) maintains that Liu Xie does not discuss the ji (p. 145). But when Xue Fengchang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1876-1944) in his Wenti lun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1931) takes the same stand, an unidentified editor (probably Wang Yunwu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) remarks that this is not correct (Xue Fengchang 1931: 89).

(39.) All in all six occurrences; see Fan Wenlan 23,423, 25,456, 457.

(40.) Writing is, of course, not the only means of recording something in material form. See Liu Xie's description of the qi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("contract"); Fan Wenlan 1958: 291.

(41.) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: Fan Wenlan 1958: 727.

(42.) In the following, chapter 25 of the Wenxin diaolong is given according to Fan Wenlan 1958: 455-91. I present my translation by dividing the text into sentences or clauses in order to make the structuring of the text more obvious for the reader and facilitate comparison between translation and original. Line numbers are added for purely pragmatic reasons.

(43). Shangshu 5: 7/15.

(44.) In an alternative reading of lines 4-7, both occurrences of shu are interpreted as a title and thus understood as specifically referring to the Shangshu.

(45.) Fayan 5: 12/13.

(46.) See Zhouyi 43: 51-52.

(47.) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Fan Wenlan 1958: 21. Later in the same chapter, Liu Xie describes the Shangshu as the ancestor to a number of genres of official communication ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Fan Wenlan 1958: 22), but does not include the letter, which, by the way, is not mentioned among any of the "descendants" of the canon. In the slightly different genealogy of genres established by Yan Zhitui [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (531-?) in his "Family Instructions," letters do occur and their origin is located in the Chunqiu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Yanshi jiaxun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 9: 19.

(48.) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Zhouyi 65: 88/21. See Han shu 30. 1720-21 and Shuowen jiez zhu 50A. 753-54.

(49.) In chapter 2 ("Zheng sheng" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Evidence from the sage") hexagram 43 is distinguished by its association with Confucius ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Fan Wenlan 1958: 16). In chapter 30 ("Ding shi" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Determination of momentum") clarity and decisiveness as desirable qualities of genres of official communication are resumed ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: Fan Wenlan 1958: 530).

(50.) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Zhouyi 65: 80/19.

(51.) Outlined, e.g., in Gao Huaping 2000: 140-57 and Qian Nanxiu 2001: 72-76.

(52.) On aspects of the Six Dynasties period perception of calligraphy as an "externalization of the writer's mind and personality," allowing a graphological interpretation, see Harrist 1999: 4.

(53.) See Plato's (427-347 B.C.) Phaidros 60 as evidence for the awareness of the autonomy of a written text in ancient Greece.

(54.) The locus classicus of this topos is the earliest treatise on the letter in ancient Greek literature, a text by Demetrios (dated 2nd century B.C. to 1st century A.D.). see Koskenniemi 1956: 40, Thraede 1970: 17-24, Klauck 1998: 149-50, Muller 1980.

(55.) For this definition of the letter, see Muller 1994: 2,61. However, the difficulties of defining the letter, apparently of colloquial evidence, are a common complaint in epistolary studies.

(56.) There are several compounds that Liu Xie uses to denote letters, e.g., wenhan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (line 19), bizha [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (line 34), cihan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (line 51), chidu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (line 61).

(57.) Examples are to be found in lines 24-25, 46-49, 53-58.

(58.) On the differing interpretations of ce [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the Zuozhuan ("inscribed bamboo tablet," i.e., written document, vs. "whip"), see the commentary in Fan Wenlan 1958: 462.

(59.) All four letters are mentioned in the Zuozhuan. See Wen 13.2: 143/13, Wen 17.4: 151/13-24, Cheng 7.5: 199/24-25, Xiang 24.2: 280/7-10.

(60.) See Liji 4.46: 27/19-20.

(61.) See Wenzel 1995: 256.

(62.) When this change actually happened in China is uncertain. If letters were the earliest written textual genre, as some scholars believe (see Nickisch 1996: 358), they would have emerged much earlier than the Chunqiu period. There Chinese scholars who thus assume the origins of the letter in the second half of the second millennium B.C. in the context of the oracle-bone inscriptions (see Liu/Zhao 1999: 36). Some even regard these texts as "essentially in the context of the oracle-bone inscriptions (see Liu/Zhao 1999: 36)". Some even regard these texts as "essentially being letters," including, by the way, bronze inscriptions as well (see Chen Wuyun 1991: 11-12). Ulrich Unger (1997: 3) reckons that writing became necessary with binding agreements, which depended on the utmost exactitude of an assignment as well as on its credible transmission--both may be preconditions of political or diplomatic communication

(63.) The power of letters to simulate the presence (parusia) of its writer in the mind of the reader is a common epistolary topos in the West: see Koskenniemi 1956: 140.

(64.) See a letter of Cai Yong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (132-92) quoted in the commentary of the Wenxuan (37.1698): "If there is no hope for a meeting, then it is only the traces of the brush that may substitute for the face" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).

(65.) A few examples are quoted in Richter 2006.

(66.) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Yanshi jiaxun 19:41.

(67.) Sima Qian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ca. 145-ca. 86 B.C.): "Letter in reply to Ren An [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [?-91 B.C.]" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]); see Wenxuan 41.1854-69.

(68.) This letter of Dongfang Shuo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (154-93 B.C.)--probably addressed to Gongsun Hong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (200-121 B.C.)--has not been transmitted. See the commentary in Fan Wenlan 1958: 468.

(69.) Yang Yun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (?-56 B.C.): "Letter in reply to Sun Huizong" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]); see Wenxuan 41.

(70.) For the correspondence between Liu Xin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (A.D. ?-23) and Yang Xiong, see Knechtges 1977/78.

(71.) See Wenxuan 17.768.

(72.) See Wenxuan 17.765. Chisu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] became an established synonym for "letter" in early medieval China. Although it does not clearly denote letters in the "Wen fu," this passage of Lu Ji's famous rhapsody has been associated with letter writing (see Ye Youming et al. 1981: 5).

(73.) For letters of Cui Yuan (2nd century A.D.?) see Quan Han Han wen 45.1a-b.

(74.) This characterization of the letters of Ruan Yu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (?-212) hearkens back to one of Cao Pi's famous letters to Wu Zhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (177-230) ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Wenxuan 42.1897). Liu Xie mentions it again in chapter 45 of the Wenxin diaolong ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Fan Wenlan 1958: 673).

(75.) On Cao Pi's esteem of Kong Rong's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (153-208) works, see Hou Han shu 70.2279.

(76). For Ying Qu"s [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (190-252) letters, see Wenxuan 42.1912-22.

(77.) For the two letters of Xi Kang (223-62) which are dedicated to severing a relationship, see Wenxuan 43. 1923-31; Quan Sanguo wen 47. 6a-8b; and Jansen 2007.

(78.) Liu Xie is supposed to refer to Zhao Zhi's (ca. 247-283) "Letter to Xi Fan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [z. Maoqi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Wenxuan 43.1940-43).

(79.) Liu Xie alludes to Chen Zun's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (?-ca. A.D. 24) ability to dictate letters to ten scribes simultaneously, even with addressees requiring different kinds of etiquette ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII];see Han shu 92: 3711).

(80.) The letters of Mi Heng, a contemporary of Cao Cao, are largely lost. See Hou Han shu 80B. 2652 and the commentary in Fan Wenlan 1958: 477.

(81.) See Han shu 92.3711.

(82.) While in chapter 46 of the Wenxin diaolong the word yutao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is used in the sense of a disagreeable physical and mental constriction caused by the summer heat ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Fan Wenlan 1958: 693), in chapter 31 it describes an obviously desirable precondition of creativity ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Fan Wenlan 1958: 538). Longing, another semantic aspect of yutao that could be important in the context of letter writing, is mainly expressed in poetry.

(83.) Various types of the memorial are introduced in chapter 22 and 23.

(84.) The classification of witticism and dictum as written records seems a bit odd. It could be due to their literary character, i.e., refer to examples of witticism and dictum procured from transmitted literature.

(85.) See Lushi chunqiu 20.8: 138/5-9, Huainanzi 12: 111/15-25.

(86.) Surprising at least for the modern Western scholar who is accustomed to masses of letters by most authors--among them the matchless George Bernhard Shaw, who left behind 250,000 letters (see Mittleman 1990: 223).
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Author:Richter, Antje
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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