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Organizer and Chair: Robert Ashmore, University of California, Berkeley
Discussant: Pauline R. Yu, University of California, Los Angeles
In academic circles in recent years, Tang poetry has come to occupy somewhat less attention than formerly, in part due to a shift away from thinking about the Chinese tradition and its values as stemming from some small set of well-defined "canons" or "sources," and toward a more sharply focused and more textured approach to cultural history as a complex negotiation among diverse spheres of activity. The group of papers included in this panel, representing the work of a new generation of scholars in Tang literature, is an attempt to draw renewed attention to Tang poetry. But rather than argue for some revamped version of "canonicity" or attempt to demonstrate the worthiness of these texts on some scale of literary value defined in trans-historical or transcultural terms, the aim of this panel is simply to make the poems interesting by restoring them to the concrete particulars of the contextssocial, political, cultural, and intellectualin which they were produced, circulated, and received. The papers cover widely divergent topicsin effect spanning all four of the main periods described in traditional criticismbut each is an attempt to enrich our understanding of Tang poetry by recreating a sense of the freshness, and indeed strangeness, of distinctive moments within a literary culture that was never a closed system, but ever open and responding to other kinds of cultural practice, and to the exigencies of political and social life.
Graham Sanders, University of Toronto
The study of Chinese poetry usually involves examining three types of texts: the poems themselves, biographical materials concerning the men and women who produced the poems, and critical writings on poetry. None of these, however, provides an immediate context for a poem as conceived of not as a literary text, but as a social act. And the production of Chinese poetry, and Tang poetry in particular, was in fact a highly social activity. People actually did things with poems: they negotiated social, sexual, and political relationships, and often were able to effect real change through the power of poetic utterance . . . or so the stories tell us. This paper is a preliminary study of hundreds of anecdotal narratives involving poetic utterance found in Tang collections preserved in the massive Song compendium, Taiping guangji. These narratives provide us with immediate contexts for acts of poetic production: What occasioned the poem? To whom was it directed? Who ended up receiving it? What was the outcome? The circumstantial veracity of these accounts is, of course, questionable, and part of this paper addresses that vexed issue. But the stories themselves do provide us with a window into what was considered plausible in poetic praxis during the Tang. By examining the types of stories that people liked to tell and hear about poetry, we stand to gain a better understanding of what they conceived poetry to bean understanding that goes beyond what we can glean from poems, biographies, or critical writings alone.
Robert Ashmore, University of California, Berkeley
An anecdote recorded in Sun Qis Beili zhi (preface, 884) tells how Cui Yin (854904; 875 jinshi) became utterly infatuated with a courtesan named Wang Xiaorun in Changans Pingkang pleasure district. One of the excesses to which this obsession led him was the composition of a "record of an excursion" (ji) in minute script on the buttock of his beloved. What might seem the hermetic expression of a personalindeed markedly idiosyncraticinfatuation was in fact an act of a more ambiguous nature. For Wang Xiaoruns buttock was not an unproblematically "private" space: a subsequent guest composed a poem on reading Cui Yins record, in which he rhetorically questions Cui, "why do you not instead make your inscriptions on the freshly plastered wall of Cien pagoda (i.e., where the names of newly successful jinshi candidates are inscribed)?" Cuis seemingly "hermetic" act of writing has become part of a public space, and the later readers response makes explicit the opposition between writing as an act of personal obsession, and the sphere of definitively public writing in which male writers take exams and pursue social and official careers.
This anecdote, surely, was preserved because of its sheer outrageousness. Yet when we consider Cuis "record" as a model of a paradoxical kind of writing that simultaneously hides and displays, and that addresses itselfas though by accidentto an audience involved in just the same kind of double-edged behavior, it proves, this paper will argue, to provide us with a very useful tool for understanding the ways in which writers and poets of this period create their own category of the "erotic" in writing.
Tim Wai-keung Chan, University of Colorado
Since the appearance of thirty-eight poems by Chen Ziang (661702) under the heading "Gan yu," this phrase came to designate a poetic genre in which writers expressed private political views, aims, and frustrations in veiled allegorical terms. This set of poems, and the new mode of poetic expression supposedly pioneered by Chen therein, became, for later critics, the centerpiece of Chens legacy as a reformer of poetic style, preparing the way for the great achievements of the next century. The background to the formation of this genre, however, is curious, and forms the subject of this paper.
The first question concerns the initial application of this title to Chens poems. The poems themselves are quite heterogeneous, and there is no evidence that Chen himself conferred the group title; this seems far more likely to have been the work of Chens friend, Lu Cangyong, posthumous editor of Chens works. A second question concerns the meaning of the term itself. While the Qing critic Shen Deqian (16731769) is at pains to explain that the term gan yu as it applies to Chens poems is not "stirred by favor received," earlier usage makes it patently clear that this is exactly what it meant: poetry hitherto appearing under this rubric exemplifies the courtier-like tone of poetry composed at banquets, on excursions, or at imperially-sponsored salon gatherings. Was it simply an editorial gaffe, then, that this title, smacking of exactly that poetic manner which Chen Hang was to be remembered for attacking, was applied to the very set of poems that later readers saw as best representing his reforming zeal? The details are not entirely clear. What is clear is that the origin of this new poetic genre is laced with historical ironies.
Wei Shang, Columbia University
With poems like his "Yellow Crane Tower," Cui Hao (?754) established himself as one of the premier poets of the High Tang. Though not the first poem to be composed on that landmark, his was the one that was recognized as definitive, exerting a shaping and conditioning influence on poetic representation of that locale for generations to come. In response to Cui Haos poem, Li Bai (70162) wrote a poem on the Phoenix Tower at Jinling, which in turn guaranteed Lis own poetic dominion over that spot. But beneath this apparent triumph lies a story of frustration: anecdote has it that Li Bai once ascended Yellow Crane Tower, but left without having been able to compose anythingreduced to unwilling silence by Cuis poem inscribed conspicuously on the towers wall.
Yet Li Bai was to recover from this silence: in several subsequent poems, he continues an oblique dialogue with Cui Haos "Yellow Crane Tower." This paper will address two sets of issues arising from a reading of these poems: the first concerns the question of poetic authority and competition among High Tang poets; the second centers on the actual or imagined conditions under which these poems were composed, circulated, and responded to. In one poem, Li Bai imagines that he has smashed Yellow Crane Tower to pieces; in another he envisions it reconstructed, with a freshly painted wallan invitation to him to inscribe a new poem on it. The repainted wall assumes a double role in the production of meaning in the poem, erasing or covering over Cui Haos poem while at the same time opening up a new space for Li Bais own creative imagination.