Back to Table of Contents
Organizer and Chair: Hyong Gyu Rhew, Reed College
Discussant: Michael A. Fuller, University of California, Irvine
The long history of the debates on the relative merits of Tang poetry and Song poetry, which have often focused on the issue as to which of the two signified a "better" poetic ideal and offered superior models for emulation, forces us to see the poetic products of the two periods as something distinctively different from one another. Many critics, beginning from the very Song period, led us to believe that the distinctions were so clear that they could side completely with one while showing no sympathy to or interest in the other. Literary historians, who admitted allegiance to neither perspective, have almost all agreed as well that poetry of the two periods were unquestionably different.
Such judgmental perceptions of the contrast are also premised on the assumption that there was at least a considerable degree of internal consistency within the poetry of the respective periods that can be articulated on solid epistemological and aesthetic grounds. However, the debates and discussions on the difference remained on the level of catch phrases based on seemingly rudimentary aesthetic considerations, and neither the comparative attributes nor the characteristics of the respective poetic traditions have been satisfactorily explicated. This is not to suggest that the differences were never clearly grasped. On the contrary, since the debates were not solely critical discourses but combined with actual poetic practice of emulating one of the two ideals, critics, poets, and literary historians arguably have understood the two poetic traditions fairly well.
A remaining question, then, is why the debates failed to produce critical discourse on the nature of the contrast and the internal characteristics of the Tang or Song poetic tradition. A simple answer to this question may be that the discussions have centered around aesthetic considerations without taking into account the changes in the function of poetry in the new period, and such an intra-literary approach often led to seeing Tang poetry as a tradition of suggestive practice that requires a good deal of mental acrobatics on the part of the reader while viewing Song poetry as the result of an inclination to verbosity. While this sort of generalization is innocuous, it is not particularly useful in understanding what actually happened to poetry during the transitional period from Tang to Song and thereafter.
The proposed panel asks if Song poetry was the process and the result of the expansion of territory and function of poetry. Poetry became an important means of expressing and communicating many issues and concerns by people of different social, academic, and artistic orientations. Of the four papers on the panel, two address the issue of the expanding poetic territory by investigating how poetry was used in Buddhist practices and by women and on issues of women. The other two discuss the questions of the shihua discourse and the changes in the way the principle users of poetry, namely scholar-officials, understood the function of poetry. All four papers of the proposed panel attempt to suggest new areas and methods to look into, in order to understand what actually happened to poetry in the Song period.
Hsüeh-tou Chung-hsien (9801052) and the Use of Poetry in Chan Literature
Ding-hwa E. Hsieh, Truman State University
The poetry of Hsüeh-tou Chung-hsien (9801052), a Chan master of the Yün-men school and a poet-monk of the early Northern Sung period, illustrates the new role that poetry played in the lives of Sung cultured elite. Poetic composition for Hsüeh-tou was not only a useful tool for social advancement but also a demonstration of spiritual attainment and an expedient means to enlightenment. Honored as an outstanding patriarch in the "restoration of the Yün-men school," Hsüeh-tou was a key figure in the emergence of Chan kung-an (lit. public case; old case) genre in which poetry played a significant role. With his sophistication in the secular poetic tradition and his cultivation of Chan Buddhism, Hsüeh-tou explored a poetic realm where philosophical contemplation was well integrated into lyric forms. His integration of Chans notion of enlightenment with poetic expression might also have inspired later critics and poets who advocated the Chan-Poetry analogy. This paper is a study of Hsüeh-tou Chung-hsiens poetry within the larger context of Chan Buddhists response to the new Sung civil order. It examines how Hsüeh-tou strove to use poetry to capture the "intent" of the "words" of the ancients and how he struggled to attain a balance between articulation and spontaneity, craftsmanship and immediacy. Through investigating Hsüeh-tou Chung-hsiens poetry, this study also aims to combat the current excessive attention paid to Tang poetry in modern scholarship and to effect an appreciation for the vitality and diversity of Sung poetry.
Wine and Women in the Song: Poetry and Identity in Song Dynasty China
Beverly Bossler, University of California, Davis
It has long been acknowledged that poetry played an important role in the social life of elite men in Song China, and recent work has suggested that poetry could also figure importantly in the social lives of elite Song women as well. But poetry was also the purview of a select group of women who were not elite, but rather belonged to the various categories of entertainers (such as chang, guan ji, jia ji, shi er, etc.) who provided company and diversion to elite men at virtually all banquets and parties.
This paper sets out to examine the social functions of what I am tentatively calling "courtesan poetry": poetry created for or about the encounters between literati men and the women who entertained them. Examples of this poetry, and descriptions of the circumstances of its creation, can be found in such sources as "Miscellaneous Notes" (biji) and "Notes on Poetry" (shihua, cihua) as well as in the "Collected Works" (wenji) of Song authors. By analyzing these sources, I will show that courtesan poetry was deployed for a wide variety of social purposes, and I will argue that courtesan poetryas well as the writing about courtesan poetrycontributed significantly to the construction of both gender and class identities in the Song.
The Significance of Shihua in Song Dynasty Poetics
Ronald C. Egan, University of California, Santa Barbara
Among the many innovations in literary culture effected during the Song dynasty, the creation and rapid development of the genre of poetry criticism known as shihua (lit. "poetry talks") is a little understood phenomenon. As is well known, the earliest of these is a short work by Ouyang Xiu, compiled at the end of his life during the brief retirement he enjoyed before his death in 1072. Sima Guang "continued" Ouyangs effort with his own brief work, but in a matter of only a few years the genre witnessed explosive growth. Over the next few decades, dozens of works in the form would be produced. The popularity of the form continued to grow during the Southern Song. By the dynastys end, a total of some 139 separate shihua had been produced.
This paper explores the nature of the genre and the reasons for its appeal and interest, with special attention to the formative period of its development: from Ouyangs early effort to the fully-formed works of the early Southern Song, such as Ye Mingdes Shilin shihua and Zhang Jies Suihantang shihua. Three sets of questions will be addressed. First, what is the intrinsic nature of the material found in shihua? Guo Shaoyu introduced the useful distinction between entries that "discuss events" (i.e., the incidents or occasions that gave rise to a poem) and those that "discuss poetics" (e.g., the choice of diction, the use of a literary device), insisting that both are fundamental components of early examples of the genre. The balance between these two in the hands of different authors and through time will be examined, as will the relation of both of them to hua "talk," that is, conversions among friends that seems to have provided so much of the raw material and energy of the shihua.
Second, attention will be given to the relationship between shihua criticism and other expressions of poetry criticism, such as that found in essays, treatises, prefaces, and colophons. In what ways do the values and approaches to poetry contained in shihua diverge from those in other literary forms? It seems likely that the relative informality of the shihua genre permitted a discourse about poetry that was largely free of a preoccupation with Confucian verities about the nature and purposes of literary expression. Do shihua authors appear differently to us when they write about poetry in more formal genres? If so, this may help to account for the great appeal the shihua form evidently held for literati of the time. Some attention should also be paid to the relationship between late Northern Song shihua and political factionalism. Several shihua were written by men who are strongly associated with one or another of the bitterly antagonistic political groups. How large a role do such political alliances play in the evaluative impulse that underlies so much of shihua material?
Lastly, the dynamics of the relationship between this burgeoning genre of poetry criticism and poetry itself needs to be analyzed. What evidence is there of shihua influencing the contemporary practice of poetry, or of having an impact on poetic taste? How do the authors of shihua as a group stand with regard to the important practitioners of poetry at the time? It may be that those shihua written by major poets are substantially different from those written by men who are not remembered as poets. In either case, it is clear that the majority of shihua authors are not thought of as poets. Consequently, we may say that through shihua emerged Chinas first cohort of literati known primarily for their poetry criticism. This event alone must be rich with implications regarding the practice and perception of the poetic art in Chinese literary history.
Why is Mei Yao-chen (10021060) a Sung Poet?
Hyong Gyu Rhew, Reed College
Assessing the significance of Mei Yao-chens poetry, Fang Hui (12271306) credited him for reversing the practice of the Hsi-kun style to that of the High Tang. Slightly earlier in the Southern Sung period, Liu Ko-chuang (11871269) labeled him as "founder" of Sung poetry. Despite the opposite directions that the two remarks seem to take, both critics agree that Mei Yao-chens poetry signified a literary historical moment of an important transition. I propose to investigate this moment and the nature of the transition.
The investigation will focus on the question as to what poetry meant to poets of his time and in the rest of the Northern Sung period. It is important to note that poetry was practiced by a wider range of people in the Sung times, and that many changes can be attributed to that expansion. It is equally important to note, however, that to the principle users of poetry, i.e., scholar-officials, poetry played a more narrowly defined role because it became just one of many literary genres with which they had to be familiar. A cursory review of the collections of writings by the Sung literati easily corroborates that they allocated their literary practice to poetry and other various genres of prose. Consequently, poetry may have become a more powerful medium, but only for certain kinds of emotions and subject matters. Mei Yao-chen, whose public life was hardly a prominent success and whose writing was predominantly in poetry, provides an interesting, amplified example of the new role that was assigned to poetry. He did not have to write many prose pieces for his undistinguished official career, yet his poetry shows a clear tendency of being quite selective in its subject matter and the poetic attitude.
Major points of discussion include: (1) the notion that "obscurity" (chiung) nurtures poetic achievement; (2) the reasons why minute details of everyday life, such as food, plants, and childhood, found their way into poetry; (3) the rhetorical strategies that emphasized fresh use of the old (ku) and the common (su); (4) the validity of the claim that the civil service examinations contributed to the development of poetry in Sung China.