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Reading Medieval Chinese Poetry: Text, Context, and Culture.

Reading Medieval Chinese Poetry: Text, Context, and Culture. Edited, with an introduction, by PAUL W. KROLL. Sinica Leidensia, vol. 117. Leiden: BRILL, 2014. Pp. vi + 310. [euro]126, S164.

This volume consists of nine essays by authors who gathered at the University of Colorado in Boulder on February 20-22, 2013, for a conference titled "New Perspectives on Medieval Chinese Poetry." In the introduction, Paul W. Kroll, the editor and a contributor, defines the time frame of the Chinese medieval era and provides a summary of scholarship on medieval Chinese poetry in English since the 1960s. The essays presented here thus have the sense of continuing previous work and exploring new directions.

The first piece is Wendy Swartz's "Trading Literary Competence: Exchange Poetry in the Eastern Jin." Xuanyan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] poetry is traditionally considered tasteless for its lack of personal feelings. In poetic exchanges between Eastern Jin writers, though few pieces have been transmitted intact, Swartz finds affective conversations on xuanxue topics that are related to individual aspirations and mutual friendship. Read in such a context, these poems also present an image of Xie An [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (320-385) that later readers are less accustomed to seeing. Swartz's close reading shows a literary skill in interpreting texts that were neither easy to master then, nor are they easy to decipher now.

While Swartz interprets the elite language of Eastern Jin, Robert Joe Cutter, in his essay "Shen Who Couldn't Write: Literary Relationships at the Court of Liu Jun," covers a wide spectrum of literary competence and preference at the courts of Liu Song rulers, particularly that of Liu Jun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (430-464, r. 453-64). Besides the group compositions of shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and fu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] at the ruler's command that are usually discussed in studies of medieval Chinese court culture, Cutter also includes, on the one hand, the anecdote of Shen Qingzhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (386-465) who couldn't write and quatrains by royal family members who had a preference for popular songs and, on the other hand, points of congruence between Liu Jun's and Xie Zhuang's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (421-466) high-register pieces to mourn Honored Consort Xuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (d. 462).

The next essay is David R. Knechtges' "Ruin and Remembrance in Classical Chinese Literature: The 'Fu on the Ruined City' by Bao Zhao." Revised from his 1993 article "Pao Chao's 'Rhapsody on the Ruined City': Date and Circumstances of Composition," this essay puts Bao Zhao's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ca. 414-466) fu in the larger context of classical Chinese literature on ruins. From reputed earliest songs lamenting the ruins of Yin and Zhou to medieval shi and fu contemplating the fallen cities of Luoyang and Guangling, the examples show a close relationship between ruins and images of overgrowing vegetation that constitute the core meaning of huang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and wu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

Both Ding Xiang Warner and Timothy Wai Keung Chan show a fine appreciation of Wang Bo's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (649-676; alt. 650-676) poetry. In "An Offering to the Prince: Wang Bo's Apology for Poetry," Warner convincingly argues that the poet's "Fu on Picking Lotus" (Cai lian fu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is not simply a pastiche of allusions and borrowings as some scholars have claimed, but a poem that--resembling the lotus both in shape and in nature--promises to bring luster to prince Li Xian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (651 or 653-684). Although the poem is structurally modeled on Jiang Yan's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (444-505) "Fu on Separation" (Bie fu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and topically belongs to the subgenre of fu on objects, Warner carefully traces the literary conventions it truly follows.

Timothy Chan in "Beyond Border and Boudoir: The Frontier in the Poetry of the Four Elites of Early Tang," based on Wang Wenjin's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] observations of the fictionality of frontier poetry, looks into examples by Luo Binwang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ca. 626-684), Lu Zhaolin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ca. 634-ca. 684), Yang Jiong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (650-ca. 694), and Wang Bo, whose poetry shows them sharing a love for allusions to the legendary Han dynasty and for parallels consisting of foreign place names. In Wang Bo's poems, Chan observes, the imaginary distance between a soldier and his wife further represents the separation of the poet himself from prince Li Xian. Reevaluating poems in the context of literary conventions before rushing to the author's biography for interpretations, Warner and Chan show a more sensitive way of reading medieval Chinese poetry.

Paul W. Kroll's "Heyue yingling ji and the Attributes of High Tang Poetry" and Stephen Owen's "Who Wrote That? Attribution in Northern Song Ci" challenge today's views of anthologies and collections. One common view is that High Tang poetry is well represented in the Tangshi sanbaishou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Working on the Heyue yingling ji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], an anthology from the High Tang, Kroll finds very different selections of poems, critical comments on each poet, and a preference for old-style verse. His discussions of Yin Fan's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Tang) preface and Li Bo's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (701-762?) poem "Remembering Our Former Travels, Sent to Yuan of Qiaojun, Aide-de-Camp" (Yi jiuyou ji Yuan Qiaojun canjun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) illustrate the Tang compiler's reserved attitude towards jinti [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (new style) prosodic regulations and an appreciation for his contemporary Li Bo's irregular formal genius.

Another view is that the multiple attributions of authorship of a Northern Song ci [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] can be settled by recognizing each author's style, which would eventually allow to establish the collection of an individual author's ci. This view neglects the facts, Owen argues, that there are simply too many multiple attributions, and that ci production can be more relevant to different venues of performance than to different writers. He proposes to consider various situations of composition, circulation, and compilation before asking the question "who wrote that?"

Lu You's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1125-1210) Record of a Journey into Shu (Ru Shu ji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) has been translated twice into English in its entirety. Now Ronald Egan compares the diary entries on a few stages of the journey with Lu You's shi poems on the same places in "When There is a Parallel Text in Prose: Reading Lu You's 1170 Yangzi River Journey in Poetry and Prose." Interestingly, "Lu You the poet rarely gets off his boat... Lu You the author of the travel diary disembarks from his boat all the time." According to Egan, Lu You's shi poems are more about larger political issues echoed in ancient history, whereas his prose accounts are more about explorations of local sites shaped in recent times. This essay vividly describes the spatial and temporal distance between the two literary genres for a Southern Song poet.

Pauline Yu's "Judith Gautier and the Invention of Chinese Poetry," the last essay in this book, tells the story behind two volumes of nineteenth-century translations into French through which many writers in English first came to know Chinese poetry. One of these works, Judith Gautier's (1845-1917) Le livre de jade (The Book of Jade), is rather a volume of adaptations of Tang and Song poems than a translation. "Simple, clear, and intelligible," it also "provided a salutary model for French poetry." Yu shows how evocative images such as the jade flute, the boat, flowers, and the moon are rearranged in translation allowing the foreign verses to stir the hearts of Western readers.


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Author:Shih, Hsiang-Lin
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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