Thursday, April 30, 2009

Panda Books 1

I just tapped into a massive new to-read list: Panda Books. This big 1980s effort to put out a high volume of modern Chinese literature into the English market was lauded with some reservations at the time by Leo Ou-fan Lee, Robert Hegel, and Beth McKillop -- I found their reviews in various China journals, all dating from 1984. It sounds like these books never had much influence, probably because many of the translations were flat and also because they were not marketed very well (Hegel apparently tried to get classroom copies of several, but could not). At any rate, it's going to be my task to begin combing through this series. Even though they are in English, this seems daunting!

Here's a couple that I'm thinking of using:

"Shen Congwen's stories evoke his childhood in the remote south-west, in a society untouched by the outside world. This is a haunting collection, beautifully translated, which brings the inhabitants of Fenghuang and their timeless customs and rituals to life with a sharp immediacy." -- Beth McKillop. Too bad no translator has yet been celebrated for capturing the regional dialect feel in Shen Congwen (perhaps me, someday? I can dream, right?)

"Beneath the Red Banner (Zhenghongqi xia) is an autobiographical novel begun by Lao She in the early 1960's according to an appendix by his widow Hu Jieqing. Only eleven short chapters were ever written, even though the novel promised to be a long
one; it was left unfinished when Red Guards drove Lao She to suicide in 1966. The portion here narrates events of the protagonist's infancy with a great deal of humor; the novelist's satire quickly becomes as bitter here as it did in one of his earlier novels, Cat Country (Maocheng ji, 1933). Yet his skill at characterization and at capturing the vibrancy of living speech is everywhere visible. Don J. Cohn makes a valiant attempt to recreate Lao She's style in English, but that is a formidable undertaking. Not surprisingly, the translation is flat by comparison with the original." - Robert Hegel

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Reception Theory: My Own Intro

The marvelous introduction to Swartz' Reading Tao Yuanming comes with footnotes that outline a basic reading list in reception theory and its application to Chinese literature. Two fundamental texts include:

Boris Tomashevsky, »Literature and biography» [orig. »Literatura i biografija», Kniga i revoljucija, 4 (1923), 6–9], in Readings in Russian Poetics: Formalist and Structuralist Views, ed. by Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska, MIT Press: Ann Arbor 1978, 47-55.

Tomashevsky calls for not becoming overly interested in the life of a writer. All written texts are in part self-portraits, perhaps, but novels and such things shouldn't all be interpreted biographically, at least not in some simple way. Readers are dumb, says Tomashevsky. Or at least, terribly escapist: "Readers demanded the complete illusion of life." But besides enjoying the pretty, readers need to appreciate the craftsmanship behind the work. The jump cuts, the weaving, the fact that something is being manipulated here.

Thus the biography that is useful to the literary historian is not the author’s curriculum vitae or the investigator’s account of his life. What the literary historian really needs is the biographical legend created by the author himself. Only such a legend is a literary fact.

I need to look a bit further before I'm clear on what a 'literary fact' is and is useful for. Clearly what is at stake here is historical in nature; part of Tomashevky's call is for us to remember when the artist was not so stronly identified with his work (the paintings of Rembrandt, for example, when they first came out) and to remember the specific conditions of the cultural context when artists did begin to create such legends about themselves (Pushkin and Voltaire are the examples here.) It's also not clear to me whether Tomashevsky actually liked memoirs, “memoir literature – memoirs transformed into artistic structures.” I don't know whether he thought they were poison to historical knowledge, relics only of artistic craft, not accurate representations of their times.

Jauss, Hans Robert "Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory," in Toward an Aesthetic of Reception. Trans.
Timothy Bahti. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1982. 3-45.

For the moment, I'm looking at the 1970 New Literary History version of this essay which is now available online from JSTOR. Looking back at Tomashevksy, it is clear that part of his achievement was to understand how to take the perspective of readers. "Readers demande the complete illusion of life." Jauss takes this reader's perspective as something to analyze, which he does in a set of theses that end on a profound reading of the obscenity trial for Madame Bovary, which demonstrates vividly how the reader's "horizon of expectations" is bound to change over time. Theses 1-3 define this idea of a "horizon of expectations" and how to reconstruct it using criticism and popular opinion as evidence of the reader's perspective. Thesis 4 allows that this is a historical project, one that "avoids the recourse to a general spirit of the age" and instead puts the literary work in sequence as the product of the works that came before it, as well the receptions of those works. Theses 5 and 6 imagine the ways that understanding the structure of readership is useful to analyze the current literary scene.

It's finally clear to me that this method that Jauss outlines is a crucial one for just the type of literary study I have proposed: it is one that requires the scholar to imagine the readership, its changes over time, and also the connections between the readerships "horizon of expections" and the larger political and social values of the day.

Coming up: Applications of reception theory to Chinese literature.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Zhang, Anzhi. Li. A History of Chines...

Zhang, Anzhi. A History of Chinese Painting. Beijing, China: Foreign Languages Press, 1992.

This translation of a Chinese work gives us a glimpse of the iconicity of China's first "great" painter, Gu Kaizhi in the preface, where Gu's famous saying "form is merely a means to bring about spirit" is quoted as part of a larger elaboration of the "national characteristic" of "a Chinese painter." Among other general assertions of the art, Gu is presumed to have laid the groundwork for locating the "personality" of the human image in art in the "spirit," and not the "likeness" of the portrait. Vague though these terms may be, they at least admit that Gu Kaizhi was a theorist who imagined portraiture as a craft adhering to certain rules and patterns of painting technique. Lines, dots, color, ink wash...these are tools of expression that were first applied to the portrayal of human beings thousands of years ago, but only in the centuries after the Han dynasty, when Buddhism had entered China, and a new emphasis on the subjective, human feelings had been introduced into the nature, that Gu Kaizhi's theory of the portrait and the painting more generally occurred. It is also the very same time that Tao Qian lived, and developed another method for producing a self-portrait, using the prose and poetic language of his time. What a pity that on the one hand, Tao Qian did not produce an essay outlining his autobiographical project as Gu did the project of the portrait. Also a pity: that neither Gu nor any other Six Dynasties painter seems to have thought to paint hermits -- unless they did do so and the knowledge has not come down to me (yet).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Everybody show us your Tao Yuanmings

Swartz, Wendy. Reading Tao Yuanming : shifting paradigms of historical reception (427-1900). Cambridge Mass.: published by the Harvard University Asia Center ;distributed by Harvard University Press, 2008.


When Swartz presents her motivation for this study, I saw her anticipating many of the questions I had begun to ask myself as I was preparing to teach about Tao Yuanming. I think because I was seeing my own half-formed thoughts fully articulated in this introduction, all I could do was marvel at a few of the juicier passages:

I have to believe that this old gentleman never really died. Even
today he remains awe-inspiring and alive.
— Xin Qiji 辛棄疾 (1140–1207)

Xin Qiji, the Patriot Lyricist (Bio on

What a wonderful epigraph! Such an amazing indication of the rich influence Tao Yuanming has enjoyed over later generations of Chinese intellectuals -- one wonders what range of responses exists: did everybody love Tao as Xin Qiji did? (Oh, and what's up with this guy? Why does the Epochtimes host a creepy agitprop portrait of him? Methink me smells another Wen Tianxiang.) Did Tao have detractors? Did women appreciate the figure (persona, face) of Tao Yuanming as well? This is plainly Swartz's task. She promises a systematic use of reception theory, going back to the writings of Gauss.

Reception ought to be a topic of special centrality in Chinese literary history, in light of the time it spans, the relative stability and continuity of the literary language, and the accessibility of the literary corpus...a study of literary reception in the Chinese tradition must examine literary questions in relation to nonliterary categories, such as history, biography, and morality.

Swartz wisely focuses this broad scope of inquiry almost immediately, promising to examine a "dialogue spanning fifteen hundred years about three categories that lay at the heart of literati culture: reclusion, personality, and poetry." I wonder about the scope one should choose for such a study. Swartz by all account wishes to focus on other Chinese, male, intellectuals. Of course she means to examine famous Tao Yuanming admirers like Su Shi, Liang Qichao, or Lu Xun. But what about women readers? What about the possibility of a popular reception, including representations in modern fiction? I'm not criticizing Swartz at all here, just thinking aloud about different lines of investigation to which we can also apply reception theory. Swartz might be said to have laid the groundwork for future study by beginning with the most general case reasonably handled in a book-length project: "central issues animating premodern Chinese culture as a whole." I'll suspend judgment on this choice of scope for now.

From here, Swartz moves to a beginning: the influence of Tao Yuanming's biography, generally, as it is likely to have been imagined by previous readers:

Tao Yuanming, above all, wrote about himself. There is no extant precedent in Chinese literature for the candor with which Tao Yuanming spoke about his principles, fears, personal fancies, and wants, or for the scrupulous dating and prefatory notes he attached to his works. The strong autobiographical presence in Tao’s writings raises two immediate questions: how much agency has he been granted in determining his own critical reception, and to what extent did his detailed self-characterizations define and constrain later interpretations of him and his works?

To begin answering this question, Swartz presents a conclusion that I had just hit upon myself in the previous few days, though I had not said it so clearly:

The core of Tao’s autobiographical project lies somewhere between earnestness and playfulness, the latter implying a recognition of both the boundaries of autobiographical writing and the intention to push them.

This is a really nice statement of the central issue here. What's at stake is nothing less than the definitions of history and literature, and the frought question of distinguishing them. The nature of truth also comes up here -- we have historical truths, psychological truths, and maybe others as well -- poetic, artistic truths? The question of Tao Qian's significance in the development of Chinese political thought, in the basic ideology of Chinese intellectuals as informed through great works of literature, begins to emerge.

Reception as Mechanism; as Process

Swartz goes on to describe in general terms a literary-historical framework that matches so exactly with my interests that I am sure to memorize these words and use them over and over again:

We have Tao’s texts as redacted and restored by later readers. What we do know are readers’ interpretations of Tao and his works; what we can infer are the motivations behind these readings; what we can learn are the changes in literati values and reading practices; and what we can understand are the mechanisms behind Tao’s reception and construction.

Canonization is merely the first step of this process (this "mechanism"?)

My discussion distinguishes between canonization and reception, a process that continues after a writer has achieved iconic stature and his works normative status as an embodiment of a culture’s values.

Once an established icon, the shifting patterns of reception map against shifting cultural values:

His withdrawal brought to the foreground issues central to traditional literati culture: service versus reclusion, public duty versus self-cultivation, and loyalty to the state versus a transcendence of politics.

(Theoretical note: I've connected "values" here with "issues," a logical breakthrough for me. As issues are contested in a society, values are tested. For every major issue there are models, solutions -- portraits -- offered up by the culture to illustrate values. The values that writers can stand behind come to last the longest. But these can shift radically over the course of a culture's life. Witness Chinese family values in the age of revolution.)



Swartz, Wendy. Reading Tao Yuanming : shifting paradigms of historical reception (427-1900). Cambridge Mass.: published by the Harvard University Asia Center ;distributed by Harvard University Press, 2008.

"Interlude: Tao Yuanming's Autobiographical Project" (pp. 130-144)

Don't forget to consider the medium of the self-portrait (thanks, de Man)

Swartz starts off strong with a promise to analyze the texts of Tao Yuanming's "core autobiographical project" in terms of "a documentary mode" and "a fictive mode," but in the end there doesn't seem to be any way of distinguishing the two -- witness Tao's "Biography of Master Five Willows," which demonstrates "play with historiographic conventions." What evidence is there, specifically, that this piece is in a "fictive mode?" And what makes us so certain the poetry prefaces are in a "documentary mode"? Was it that Tao dwelt on leisure? Was it that Tao on the one hand wrote fanciful portraits of the historical model of Qian Lou and other recluses, or that he created an innovative "new look for reclusion" in his prefaces? I don't see any really "documentary" mode here. Could it be in Tao Yuanming's poetry, which takes on an unprecedented range of themes like family, neighbors, joys andmisfortunes? That seems as fictive a mode as any! Swartz's application of terms like "mode" gestures at an application of modern Western autobiographical theory, from Lejeune to Paul de Man, but it is really
no more than a gesture. That is too bad.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Outlining C.T. Hsia (1/2)

I've gone back to that ur-text explaining modern Chinese literature to English readers, C.T. Hsia's A History of Modern Chinese Fiction. Here are a few authors that might be worth considering to understand the position of biography and autobiography in the turbulent 20th century.

Ye Shaojun

"Ye Shaojun's preoccupation with educational problems finally led him to write in 1928 a novel which is more or less autobiographical, Ni Huanzhi."

Bing Xin

Bing Xin is an interesting case -- her position as an elder figure with a childlike mind makes me think of her as a forerunner of Yang Jiang. But C.T. Hsia does not find much worth noting here; commenting on her late story "The West Wind" he says it is "again about loneliness, indicating her inability to develop further." Maybe I need a second opinion?

Su Xuelin, esp. The Bitter Heart (1929, autobiographical novel)

Su Xuelin has gotten more attention in recent years. Hsia barely mentions this, but it might be worth an overview, at least.

Ling Shuhua

Hsia has a very high opinion of Ling Shuhua -- "unlike Bing Xin, she early manifested a more adult sensibility and psychological acumen." Her stories sound worthwhile, but I'm very curious now about her English-language autobiography, Ancient Melodies (1953), which I started but did not finish last year.

Guo Moruo

Nobody likes Guo Moruo, least of all C.T. Hsia, but the man was morbidly interested in autobiography (see volumes 6-9 of his Works (1959)). That there might be something of interest somewhere in there is partly confirmed by some very revealing letters to a friend, which Hsia quotes at length, pp. 98-100. Also note that Guo translated Goethe's Travels of Young Werther -- I wonder how influential this book has been in China.

Yu Dafu

Now here is a really interesting case. Commenting on "Sinking" and other stories, Hsia has that "one notices a kindness and ultimate decency on the part of the autobiographical hero, staying well within the bounds of Confucian propriety." I think this is definitely worth pursuing in more detail. It's interesting that Hsia sees Yu Dafu's career as falling into three stages: a passionate young person, a lackadaisical self-centered middle age, and finally, in a later career that includes books like Footprints Here and There, Yu Dafu takes on some of the persona of a "Taoist recluse;" he "shows a strong affinity with the older travel literature and reasserts his literary importance."

Shen Congwen

Hsia likes him even more than Yu Dafu -- and who wouldn't, he's a more versatile talent with no less an egotism. Hsia says of his work, like Lao She's that it "defies translation;" I now mean to take Hsia's challenge. First off, it will be necessary to see what has been translated into English, beginning with the volume The Chinese Earth. (It's about time I read Jeffrey Kinkley's book, as well.)

Ding Ling

Ding Ling may truly be "a bad writer,"(p. 276), but I think her vision of herself as a public, service-seeking, striving-for-martyrdom sort of identity is definitely worth representing. If not Ding Ling, then perhaps Xie Bingying. This is a vast subject that Hsia barely touches on, because in his anti-Communist mind, one need not spend time on what are "essentially exercises in propaganda clichés." I think that without contradicting this statement in anyway, we will need to find something to help us understand the identity formation revolutionary women (I'm looking at you, Amy Dooling.)

"The Soul of China"

Wen Tianxiang, the martyr (d. 1282)

Unfortunately I have not found a translation of the autobiography Wen Tianxiang 文天祥, China's first and most important national martyr. That's a shame, because as Mr. Brown shows in his brief but note-packed little book, this guy is tremendously interesting. From Yuan-dynasty accounts of how much he impressed the invading Mongols, down to statues of him in Singapore, we can see that Wen has been a model figure of national sacrifice for almost one thousand years, everywhere where Chinese is read and spoken.

A couple of interesting notes from Mr. Brown's text: A film called "The Soul of China" 國魂 was made in 1948, just as Chiang Kai-shek was losing China. From its popularity in Hong Kong as late as 1959, it's clear that anti-Communist Chinese audiences saw Wen Tianxiang as a martyr for the anti-Communist cause. Funny enough, Wen Tianxiang was also taught in history classes in mainland China during these years, presumably with a different interpretation. Also, the star of the 1948 film was Tao Jin 陶金 (above); he stayed in mainland China, I guess, because he starred in the famous Communist agitprop romance Song of Youth 青春之歌 just a few years later.

More fun facts: Wen's martyr figure appealed to Chinese intellectuals; Brown cites the case of William Hung, author of Tu Fu [Du Fu]: China's Greatest Poet:

"...when imprisoned by the Japanese in 1942, he requested a copy of the works of Du Fu in the hope of using them as had Wen Tienxian, while imprisoned by the Mongols. In coversations with me Professor Hung also reported that the memory of Wen's devotion to his cause not only gave hope and sustenance to those Chinese intellectuals who were suffering at the hands of the Japanese but also affected the captors themselves, for the Japanese officers, having been taught in their educational system the stories of Wen and other Chinese historical heroes, could not but respect those of their captives who remained steadfastly loyal."

Cool, huh? Also, the following passage really made my eyes widen, because I visited the tiny town of "Tianxiang" in Toroko gorge in 2005, but I had no idea it was founded for an ancient political martyr.

In 1960, during my first tour as a language student on Taiwan, I found that the portrait of Wen Tianxiang was prominently displayed, that there was a place (Tianxiang) named after him in the Toroko Gorge, and that this name was familiar to all Chinese with whom I spoke, some of whom not only knew his famous "Song of the Upright Spirit," but could also readily allude to his works or biography in one way or another. In 1979, during my second tour, I found that a stature of Wen had been erected at Tianxiang in 1967 and that a scene depicting Wen before his execution had been installed in the Wax Museum of the Central Film Studio in Taipei.


Sidetrack: Mystical Experience

(Cecil Collins, The Divine Land)

Marshall, Paul. Mystical Encounters with the Natural World: Experiences and Explanations. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

I'm thinking about Buddhist figures that Wu Pei-yi talked about in his book Confucian's Progress. One thing they really bring to the biographical party is a sensibility for mystical experiences. Zuqin, for example, had some pretty strange experiences, like this one:

I came back into the hall and was about to go to my seat when the whole outlook changed. A broad expanse opened, and the ground appeared as if all caved in. The experience was beyond description and altogether incommunicable, for there was nothing in the world to which it could be compared....As I looked around and up and down, the whole universe with its multitudinous sense-objects now appeared quite different; what was loathsome before, together with ignorance and passions, was now seen to be nothing else but the outflow of my own inmost nature which in itself remained bright, true, and transparent. (Paul Marshall, p. 47 quoting Suzuki 1970, 118)

I'm struck that there are some things in common with mystical experience and poetry. One common characteristic of mystical experiences, according to Marshall, is a transformation of the "Self," a "relaxation of individual identity; identification with persons, animals, plants, objects, even the entire cosmos." Sometimes we also see a "discovery of deeper self." Isn't this a common characteristic of poetry as well? Or, I mean, at least very thoughtful, nature-oriented poetry, as we most often see in Chinese. Another feature is "unity," "feeling part of the whole; the world contained within; everything intimately connected; community." Are there poems that eschew this sense of unity? Or is more that a good poem crafts up various avenues by which we can re-consider the nature of the self and its connection with the rest of the world?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tao Qian, "In Sacrifice of Myself"

I realized recently that once again I've gotten myself to a position of ignoring Chinese language texts. There's just so much to read, the hardest texts are the easiest to put off. I think the way to correct this problem is to remember that reading Chinese is actually quite fun. Slower than reading English, of course, but still fun.

Tao Yuanming 陶淵明, "In Sacrifice For Myself" 自祭文

'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free

In his eulogy for himself, Tao Qian expresses contentment with his removal from the world. But if he was really happy to be removed from the world, he would not have needed to express himself in this public way, with a strong level of literary self-consciousness. Reading this piece, I'm really struck by this tension, and reminded that the concern with how far removed a good intellectual should be remains a major concern in Chinese literature.

Before, and just after, I die.

The term "a traveller's inn" 旅之館 is a symbol Tao applies to his place on earth, in contrast to his "original home" which in death he will return to; Yang Jiang uses a very similar term meaning "inn" in We Three to describe her home after her daughter and husband have died. I'm thinking there's a point about timing to make here: imagining himself to be just before death, Tao Qian aims to create the environment necessary to think about Death, Life...big issues. But just after that, imagining himself to have just died, he imagines how his friends mourn him: "They offered up fine vegetables, and they hand each other clear ale." I think maybe the modern reader does not take seriously the obvious self-consolation that comes when you imagine being mourned by others. The level of material detail -- having drinks as they weep for the author -- perhaps risks making the reader consider Tao to be overly self-centered.

Tension: I am different from the others who act greedily

I'll have to direct students' attention to these points where I think Tao is maybe coming off as overly self-centered, but I'd like to do so in a way that avoids making students think there is a simple character flaw in Tao Qian here. Better, there is a paradox that will travel with us as we proceed in the course. Within this very poem, we'll probably run into some difficulty trying to connect the hope that his friends will mourn him with the broader political criticism "Being a court favorite is no honor to me/ How could the mud blacken me" 寵非己榮,/涅豈吾緇. First of all, isn't this statement of his ideal of non-participation in politics itself a major political position? How outside of the world of "court favorites" is Tao Qian, really? What is the main difference between a 寵 and a 良友? Further, how can he expect his friends to admire him if he is criticizing the basis for their own careers? When a line like 孰重後歌 "Why emphasize post-mortem songs" is itself embedded in a "post-mortem song," did any readers of the ancient world see the irony of this? Joe sort of thought this piece was "humorous," and certainly humor factors in "The Biography of the Master of Five Willows," but I have a feeling the sacrifice piece is much more an earnest attempt to fashion an attractive figure with just the right amount of removal from society, and not more.

Just Friends and Family -- no rulers, please

Miscellaneous other task to teach the kids: point out Tao's use of literary allusion. I particularly like the couplet:

奢恥宋臣 Luxury shamed Song Chen
儉笑王孫 Frugality earned mocking for Wang Sun

After going into the details and paradox of this allusion I feel like asking the students to compose some similar allusive couplet. You know, like:

Sadly timid was the Night Owl
Deathly confident was the Comedian


Monday, April 20, 2009

Tao Qian Packet

I'm picturing the first week of my class next fall. In class one, we'll go over the syllabus and I will really try to emphasize the overall shape of the course by talking about tropes and characters; e.g. The Recluse. I'll plan to have some fun pictures to go with these -- sort I've like I'm introducing the students to a Tarot deck. I'll also have some timelines to show the tremendous swath of time we are going to cover -- from the Han era, plus or minus a few centuries, up to 1981. I'm thinking of some device like a huge mountain for every big dynasty to make the historical "terrain" have more shape for the students. Lastly in that first class, I'll introduce Tao Qian briefly. I'll show them the Biography of the Master of Five Willows and read it aloud. We may have a brief discussion on it, or I may just let them go -- students like to be let out early on the first class, I think. They also want a clear sense of the difficulty level of the course, and I will certainly give them that as well. There will most certainly be a written assignment in the first week of class -- I'm considering having them write their own third-person autobiographies in the model of "Five Willows." More to come on this.
The Tao Qian Lecture

The second class meeting will also be the first main lecture. I'll introduce Chinese history again, but say something more about the significance of the Han dynasty and its collapse. I'll introduce some of the background of the Six Dynasties -- how much I talk about it still sort of unclear in my mind, but somehow I'd like them to go beyond the simple notion that since it lies between Han and Tang, it's not really all that important. If possible I'd like to say something about the intrigues of the Jin court, the power-struggles of major families like the Wangs and the Xies, and the presense of millenial Daoist cults. This is background, but will all get reviewed later if and when I cover Zhang Daoling and Shen Yue.

But my first lecture should not dwell too long on the backdrop of post-Han politics. I'll also give a very brief glimpse of the cultural achievements of the period -- some views of Wang Xizhi, or Wang Xizhi-like, calligraphy, come to mind. Apparently Gu Kaizhi was a great painter of the age, but I'm also not sure that I'll be able to find any works of his. Music of the qin was popular during this time as well -- I'm sure I can locate some suitable track to sample a bit for the students. My advisor P.'s lectures demonstrate amply the strength of incorporating these types of multimedia, so I'm pretty confident that trying my own hand at it will be a good idea.

Tao Qian: Thoughts about a reading list.

I'm already quite divided over how much and what reading to give students for the first week of class. One issue was whether to begin with Tao Qian, or to begin earlier in time, either with Sima Qian or even earlier, perhaps with a story from Constance Cook. However, since Tao Qian's introspective, personal look at his life and personality is clearly the most important part of the early part of the course (arguably the most important part of the entire course), I've settled now on beginning with Tao Qian. This introduces the problem of stepping backwards in time to look at Sima Qian. I think the solution to the problem will be to focus on Tao Qian's sensibility as part of the cultural response to disunion, bad politics, and nostalgia for the lost achievements of the Han dynasty. Han dynasty meaning, of course, the first big mountain on our time-terrain of Chinese history, to which we return to look at the models for Tao Qian's various writings: the biography (zhuan), the cautionary pieces, the funerary writings, and of course the poetry, which is perhaps the most innovative feature. I'd like to prepare a small "background packet" to insert after the Tao Qian readings that will help to demonstrate Tao's relationship to the Confucian tradition of the Han and even before the Han. I'd really like for students to understand, for example, that "Biography of Master Five Willows" is not only written in a form that evolved long before Tao Qian's time, but in fact with bits and pieces of old writings, of the zhuan form and other wise. As Davis tells us, it's a pastiche (maybe I'll actually introduce this term and this quote): "it is the skill of the pastiche in its sure simplicity which guarantees it as the work of Tao Yuanming." This is of key importance to an even more general and ambitious way of looking at Tao Qian: "he approached history as a poet." The connection in this simple sentence between historical thought and artistic endeavor is going to be the central problematic, I think, of the entire course. Though of course I will not speak of this so didactically when the time comes in class.

But back to the matter of what to assign as required reading. As I've indicated, I'm relying quite strongly on the translation and commentary of A.R. Davis (1983). Even though this is not the easiest text in the world, and it is absolutely littered with footnotes, I'm leaning towards using Davis for the class because he translates more of the prose material than any of the other translators. Besides, I can always tell students to simply read for the stories, and don't worry over much about the footnotes. In an ideal world, my undergraduates would be able to read in a single week the following materials:

The Biography of Master Five Willows
(one example from Ban Gu's Han shu)
(Bo Juyi 醉吟先生傳)
(Du Fu, poems from Four Pines)

I'm not as sure as I once was about how to go from "Five Willows" to an introduction to Sima Qian. I would like to cover the "Self Account," but by beginning with Tao Qian I sort of supercede it immediately. I predict it will come to me after I consider Wendy Larson's chapter in some detail. This is a good place to introduce the term biezhuan 別傳.

Appraisal of Shang Chang and Qin Qing

Davis' commentary also contains Xi Kang's version of the story. Shang Chang, who "was content with poverty," eventually ran away with his friend Qin Qing. This is a short and worthwhile reading, I think.

To My Sons, Yan and the Others

Not essential, perhaps, but a wonderful example of 'cautionary' literature. I think it would be useful to show that the autobiographical dimension penetrates to wide variety of genres that we normally don't think of. Back up: talk about how many genres there were in ancient China. Consider the central issues of self-doubt and questioning: give students the option of writing such literature on the Moodle site, perhaps for extra credit.

In Sacrifice for My Sister Madame Cheng
In Sacrifice for My Cousin Jingyuan
In Sacrifice for Myself
Funeral Elegy for the Summoned Scholar Tao by Yan Yanzhi

At least some of these will have to be read; I don't think it would take students too long to get through all three. I'll have to speak to them just a bit to help them see that funerary writing is an important art form in its own right, and symbolic of the close ties of friends and family to people of the past. Introduce terms like lei and wuhu ai zai! 嗚呼唉哉. There's plenty of television re-enactments of Bao Yu's elegy for his little girlfriend Fragrance from chapter 29 of Dream of the Red Chamber; I'm considering showing a short clip. Emphasize poignancy. When we make it to the final piece, figure out how to communicate to students the distinct "literary self-consciousness" indicated here. Compare In Sacrifice with Myself with the other pieces along the lines of moral uprightness, hermitage, poverty, drinking, books and learning.

To be continued: background material, how to introduce Sima Qian, and poetry, especially "The Return."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tao Qian: 9 Snippets

Tao Qian: Coming into Focus
William Reynolds Beal Acker (1952).

Acker opens his volume of 60 poems in translation with a cogent and lucid introduction to early China generally, followed by an exposition on his life. One point that I imagine remains completely relevant since 1952 is that "Trade or business or manufacturing were looked down upon to such an extent that it would have been impossibile for a man like him [Tao Qian] to engage in them, even had he wished to do so." Less solid, but more entertaining, is a brief meditation on Tao Qian's supposed "alchoholism:" "Anyone who has had any experience with alcoholism does not need to be told what ruin it can cause in the life of the sufferer and those
dependent on him."

Lily Pao-hu Chang and Marjorie Sinclair (1953)

The edition of these two ladies presents a strikingly different portrait from that of Mr. Ackers. Reading both illumines a number of interesting issues: Was Tao Qian influenced by Buddhism? Was he really a lover of wine, or was wine-drinking simply a trope meant to signify honesty? Perhaps most important, what did being a good person entail for Tao Qian? Did he have a sophisticated moral philosophy? Chang and Sinclair also point out the great humor in Tao's wine poems, but are careful to guard against interpreting his poetry as any form of "escapism." How do they align that with the obvious desire to be a recluse? Finally, there is the issue of Tao Qian's individualism -- I'm beginning to think this card has been overplayed, and that Tao was much more a family man than we usually give him credit for being. More on that soon.

James Robert Hightower (1970)

Hightower's close association with Yeh Chia-ying and other poetry scholars in Taiwan in the 1960s, his complete exposition all available texts, and his "stubborn" insistence on his own interpretations all mark his work as the effort of an ambitious scholar seeking to set the standard in English-language reception of Chinese poetry. Reading his Introduction again, I was struck by another facet of the scholar who would be king: careful, almost equivocal treatments of the relevant issues. As in, Tao Qian's life and work "reflects the conflicts and contradictions of the period." Or with statements like, "It is good to read Tao Qian's poetry -- some of it -- as the product
of such a life as he describes; other poems show him to have been
rather less complacent." But this is not a criticism so much as a compliment; Hightower is guarded, yet gives a more evocative portrait of Tao Qian's times than other interpreters. As for the issues of Tao Qian's personal character -- he seems to prefer to leave Tao's poetry to speak to that.

A.R. Davis (1983)

Davis' approach is similar to Hightower's, but amazingly, he takes on a broader scope of writings and historical interpretation, with all the ambition that that entails. Davis' introduction stands out for its contentious attitude to the question of Tao Qian's critique -- despite a consistent effort to clarify Tao Qian's political context, ambiguity is built into these poems. Even more outstanding is Davis' lightning-fast account of this political context, especially the intrigues of the Jin court, the six ruling families, and the dreadful put-down of the Sun En rebellion. It is shocking to learn that even in the ancient world, this much war and death could transpire in just 5-7 years time -- the very years that Tao Qian is thought to have held office. Davis' point is that when we compare the awfulness of Chinese politics after collapse of the Han with the unsparing elision of that politics from Tao Qian's poetry, we know all we need to know about Tao's critical position.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

R.I.P. Wu Pei-yi

Professor Wu, the scholar I think of more than any other as I move to design my course on Chinese biographical literature, has died at the age of 81. My condolences to all his loved ones.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Syllabus I: Confucian's Progress

I've gone through The Confucian's Progress and made several outlines with notes, trying to conceptualize my class for next fall. Here's an admittedly messy short list of things I think are relatively important. Tomorrow at the library this listing will become a bit filled out. I think the next goal will be to compare with the first chapter of Larson's Literary Authority, which takes the same topic. After that, it will be necessary to review the relevant women's autobiographies. And after that, begin tackling the problem of what modern texts to include -- how do I even want to teach, modernity, anyway?

I have some ideas, but sheesh, this is going to be a lot of work.

Short Reading List Modeled After The Confucian's Progress

Part I: The Self Constrained

Tao, Qian. The Poetry of T`ao Ch`ien; Hightower, James Robert, ; Tr. The Oxford library of East Asian literatures;. Oxford, Clarendon, 1970. "Master of Five Willows:" The first self-Written Biography.

Vignettes from the late Ming : a hsiao-pʻin anthology. Especially look at Li Zhi (1527-1602) aka 空若谷; the issue of truth and falsity. Reasons for using this device (sparing oneself from pain)

Brown, William A. 1930- (William Andreas). Wen T'ien-Hsiang: A Biographical Study of a Sung Patriot. Asian library series ;; no. 25;. San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, 1986.
Wen Tianxiang. a martyr who wants to air his cause, "aware of having a place in history." Example of Annalistic Autobiography 自序年譜. Lots of shrines have become symbols of the Nation.

Sima Qian: The Grand Historian. Sources TBA.

Li Qingzhao: the Lady Poetess. Owen, Stephen. An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. 591-7. Also poems., pictures I have amassed.

Buddhist Testimonies : TBA

Part II: The Self Transformed

Wu, Pei-yi. The Confucian's progress : Autobiographical Writings in Traditional China. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. 239-42 Yuan Miao's autobiographical letter.
Kelleher, M. Theresa. Personal Reflections on the Pursuit of Sagehood: The Life and Journal (Jih-Lu) of Wu Yü-Pi (1392-1469), 1986. PhD Thesis, Columbia University 1982. 93 Wu Yubi's diary. a "historian of the self, but only in a limited sense."

Wu, Pei-yi. The Confucian's progress : autobiographical writings in traditional China. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. 243-51 Hu Zhi (1517-1585) "The first bona fide Neo-Confucian to write a
spiritual autobiography"

Part III: The Self Invented

Spence, Jonathan. Return to Dragon Mountain : Memories of a Late Ming Man. New York: Viking, 2007.

Wu, Pei-yi. The Confucian's progress : autobiographical writings in traditional China. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. 253-62. 9:
Wang Shimin (1592-1680), Artist as Model Citizen. "He is included in this
section precisely because he is in every way the diametric opposite of
fictionists and fantasts."

Part IV: The Self Examined

Yang, Hsien-i. The Man Who sold a Ghost : Chinese tales of the 3rd-6th centuries. [Hong Kong]: Commercial Press, 1974. pp. 60-64. Zhang Daoling, Daoist master. Daoist Confessional.

Shen Yue and the rite of uposatha: TBA

The Self on Trial: Liu Zongzhou's Imaginary Tribunal. Sources of Chinese Tradition, p. 923

Shen, Fu. Six Records of a Floating Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983. "
Written by Shen Fu (b. 1763), a hapless and obscure figure, the manuscript of the Fu-sheng liu-chi was not discovered and printed until this century. The discovery could not have come at a more propitious time, for the Chinese reading public had then just acquired a taste for the autobiographical form through translations of Western works as well as a new aftermath of the May Fourth movement. Shen Fu's long-lost work rapidly became the most widely read as well as the most frequently translated Chinese autobiography. It has even been made into a film -- a dubious distinction shared by no other traditional and modern Chinese autobiography and a touchstone for the universality of the genre."


Friday, April 10, 2009

Chinese Autobiography: 5 Takes

Preface: Inspectional Reading

As I mentioned, in the next stage of my project I'm returning to my favorite guide to study, ever: How To Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren. Since re-reading the section on "inspectional reading," I've begun imagining books summed up quickly and efficiently in groups of 3-5. I'll practice doing this so that I can prove to myself the results of inspectional reading; as for example, "You have now skimmed the book systematically...You should know a good deal about the book at this point, after having spent no more than a few minutes, at most an hour, with it."

Professor Jennifer W. Jay reviewed the latest book on this list, When "I" was Born : Women's Autobiography in Modern China. At the end of the review, she says, "In sum, Wang’s study is a solid contribution to Chinese autobiography, a trail blazed by Pei-yi Wu’s Confucian’s Progress: Autobiographical Writings in Traditional China (Princeton UP, 1989); Wendy Larsen’s Literary Authority and the Modern Chinese Writer: Ambivalence and Autobiography (Duke UP, 1991); Janet Ng’s The Experience of Modernity: Chinese Autobiography of the Early Twentieth Century (U of Michigan P, 2003); and Lingzhen Wang’s Personal Matters: Women’s Autobiographical Practice in Twentieth-Century China (Stanford UP, 2004)." Taking my cue from her, then, I now have

Five Takes

Wu, Pei-yi. The Confucian's Progress : Autobiographical Writings in Traditional China. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Wu Pei-yi wrote the ur-text for discussing the Chinese tradition of autobiography and comparing it to the Western notion of the term; his understanding is that the Confucian tradition presents important constraints to the development of interior exploration in autobiographical writing, and that these constraints are gradually transformed in subsequent years with the development of traditions alternative to strict Confucianism. In the highly innovative second half of The Confucian's Progress, he shows how something very comparable to the Western term "self" develops among several syncretic thinkers of the Song, Ming, and early Qing dynasties. This concept of "self" attempts to bring to terms the various tropes withing Daoist, Buddhist, and Confucian traditions. Readings of autobiographical sermons by Buddhist clergy and of three syncretic scholar-officials who lived through the Ming-Qing transition are all powerful proofs that Wu's model of a Chinese sense of "self" has real traction.

(Notably, Wu spends very little time on women's voices.)

Larson, Wendy. Literary Authority and the Modern Chinese Writer : Ambivalence and Autobiography. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.

Larson's text is even more ambitious than the title makes it sound. Readings of Shen Congwen, Ba Jin, Hu Shi, Lu Xun and finally Guo Moruo do indeed attempt to map out the role of authority, race and nation in Chinese autobiography. But just as important to this book are two preliminary chapters that discuss Sima Qian, Tao Yuanming and other early Chinese autobiographers, as well as several autobiographers of the late Qing. For attempting to bridge pre-modern and modern sensibilities, including a fundamentally language-based look at ways of being, Larson can certainly be said to have answered Professor Wu's call to push ahead with the issue of autobiography in China, though she does not favor the use of the term "self" as he did. Compared with the work of Professor Wu and the three later studies, below, Larson is theoretically more sophisticated, or at least so I take her to be at first glance, since she is sensitive not only to concerns of nation, race and politics but also the formal debates over what autobiography is. She also is very concerned, as I am, with the way that intellectuals see their own social role, including the tremendous anxieties associated with being an intellectual. I'm excited to take a closer look at this soon.

Ng, Janet. The Experience of Modernity : Chinese Autobiography of the Early Twentieth Century. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003.

Ng argues for closer attention to May-Fourth-era autobiographies because it was during this era that public expressions of personal identities became uniquely representative in a modern sense. Readings of Chen Hengzhe, Lu Xun, Hu Shi, Xie Bingying, Xiao Hong, Eileen Chang, Yu Dafu, and Shen Congwen map out the various overlapping degrees of personal, private, interior identity and political, public messages. Her introduction features a nice review of the theoretical material that connects personal expressions with ideology, but is presented in summary fashion that does not indicate any hint that formal or rhetorical analysis will feature big in this work: I suspect I will find too few close readings. There is a brief nod to the continued influence of traditional Chinese biographical models, and I understand at least one of her readings will compare a May-Fourth voice to Qu Yuan. I expect this discussion in particular, as well as the more general capacity of autobiography to have political effectiveness, to be very useful.

Wang, Lingzhen. Personal Matters : Women's Autobiographical Practice in Twentieth-century China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.

Beginning with the more familiar lesson about how early modern women's stories exemplify a private self made into a public self, Wang Lingzhen's study is most distinctive for taking this historical narrative through the Cultural Revolution and into the 1980s and 1990s. This contemporary scope requires Professor Wang to engage with the issues of market-based reforms to book and magazine publishing in China after the Cultural Revolution. Chapters 4 and 5 are of key interest here, as they track a path whereby pioneer autobiographer Yu Luojin gained a market for her confessional tales of sex and ennui, but was widely shamed and censured for her trouble. The more successful fate Chen Ran and Lin Bai in the 1990s with their similar autobiographical fiction helps make the case that "privacy literature," particularly by women, had earned wider acceptance under a new regime of consumerism. As this list indicates, Wang does not differentiate between autobiography and fiction much at all, either in authorial intent or reader response -- she prefers a more general approach to "the personal" informed by feminist theory.

Wang, Jing M. When "I" was Born : Women's Autobiography in Modern China. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.

Pointing to the patronage of powerful pro-Western literary males like Hu Shi and Lin Yutang, as well as the translation of Western literary models, Wang Jing says women's autobiography emerged between the 1920s through the 1940s. With this historical framework in mind, she creates a short canon of pioneering women's autobiographical voices, with notes on their importance to any course of instruction on Chinese women. Wang's theoretical heuristic pits autobiography against fiction, with fiction acting as a kind of greedy obstruction, sapping attention from autobiography. Autobiographies have their own value quite independent of fiction, a value that rests squarely in the "intentionality" of the author, which Wang Jing sees as a tool to increase the "agency" of early modern Chinese women. Particular strengths that I can identify right away include the focus on patronage -- the influence of Lin Yutang on writers like Yu Lin is particularly intriguing. Also I very much look forward to the discussion of translation: how is it that the Chinese voice ended up using the terms of Western voices? But there are clear signs of weakness in this book as well: the conflict between autobiography and fiction seems to me trumped-up, perhaps indicating a overly-quick of essays like Barthe's "Death of the Author;" also, a cursory glance seems to indicate few close readings, particularly in the translation chapter.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How to Read a Tang Poem

Mei Tsu-lin 梅祖麟 at work

Kao Yu-kung and Mei Tsu-lin, "Syntax, Diction and Imagery in T'ang Poetry" HJAS 31 (1971): 51-136.

Quite a Trip

I've just read once more this old warhorse of an essay by two old style Chinese-American scholars who embraced linguistics and new criticism for the study of their own tradition. It's an incredible tour through the function of syntax in Tang dynasty regulated poetry, with pretensions to a notion of syntax in poetry generally. "Syntax" is always clear and infused with a true love of verse; it is full of many beautiful moments of recitation (think of an awesome iTunes playlist of Tang poetic highlights) and exposition. The exposition, or close reading of poems combined with general and specialized knowledge, opens up the structure of poetic expression in such a beautiful way I can see no reason why not to call many parts of this work poetry itself.

Idea: write a feature essay on all of the Kao and Mei poetics essays for Poetry magazine.


How Not to Read a Book

Adler, Mortimer and Charles van Doren. How to Read a Book. Revised and updated edition. New York: Touchstone, 1972.

"In our experience, a certain number of students at those advanced levels of schooling have some capability of reading actively and
analytically. There may not be enough of them, and they may be far from perfect readers, but they at least know how to get at the meat of a book, to make reasonably intelligible statements about it, and to fit it into a plot or plan of their subject matter. But their efforts are enormously wasteful because they do not understand how to read some books faster than others."

I've probably read this book, and this particular passage, dozens of times since I first encountered it in high school. But only in graduate school has the relevance of this book really begun to emerge to me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reading Group: Legal History

One of the most worthwhile things that A. does is hold a weekly classical Chinese reading group in the evenings. This week we read from texts from one of my classmates, Hu Xiangyu, who studies Chinese legal history. One paragraph of Chinese translations of Manchu customary law was actually not all that difficult, if a bit fragmented ("barbarian," says Xiangyu).

Rule of Law

A few terms I learned that I thought were interesting:

牛綠額真: Niru captain. Niru is a basic unit of the Manchu bannermen, aristocratic warrior dudes. Barbarian samurai of the north. You wouldn't want to mess with these guys, especially in the mid-17th century, when they honed their fighting skills to such a level that taking down the Ming dynasty was no problem for them.

私分: an "illicit" share in ill-begotten goods. Not a terribly significant legal term, but a reminder of the frought history of the word 私, private, "self." More to come on that one.

身價: Body price. Among the Manchus, at least, every life has a price.

慎重獄情之意: to deal with a legal case with all due solemnity, lit. "deal cautiously and properly, knowing the feeling of prison."

明允: justice. It's compelling to see that early on there was a legal term that seems to correspond with the modern sense of justice.


Terms and topics

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