Premodern manuscript production was fluid. Books and papers freely changed hands, often against their authors’ wishes. In the absence of copyright laws, certain countermeasures arose. This study considers one of them: self-commentary, meaning an author’s explanations on his own works. The article deals with two cases of medieval self-commentary across linguistic and cultural boundaries: the Arabic author and rationalist Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī (d. 1057 CE), and the professional Byzantine littérateur John Tzetzes (d. 1180 CE). After an overview of their lives and works, with a focus on the key role of self-explanation, the article considers their respective manuscript cultures, which involved face-to-face educational settings that nonetheless permitted widespread copying. There follows a discussion of textual materiality, which reveals a mutual concern to avoid tampering or misinterpretation. Then, the article shows how both men tried to direct readers by exploiting language’s capacity for multiple meanings. The conclusion ponders the relevance of this study for problems posed by digital book technology.
This paper examines the changing roles and status of marṡiyah poets within hierarchies of political and religious authority during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A direct link between the marṡiyah tradition and these institutions was a system of patronage that bound poets to the brokers of power. Although in the early 1700s marṡiyah poets were often dismissed as “inept poets,” in subsequent generations marṡiyah poets were nurtured by the patronage of political rulers and counted among the masters of Urdu literature. The Navābs of Avadh in particular, with their promotion of Shīʿī ritual in their capital Lucknow, helped to widen the audience for the marṡiyah. Such temporal rulers appropriated the marṡiyah’s wide appeal as a strategy for fostering social and cultural cohesion among an otherwise diverse population. The Urdu marṡiyah gave expression to the localized concerns and novel self-understanding of the Navābs as they broke politically and ideologically from Mughal rule. These changes in the systems of patronage for the marṡiyah and the genre’s unique association with Avadh’s political and religious project resulted in marṡiyah poets’ growing status in both literary and religious circles. As marṡiyah poets began to feature prominently in the religious life of Avadh, their authority and pious personas came to strain relations with marṡiyah poets’ more worldly patrons. By the mid-1800s, the growing power and influence of the British had undermined the traditional systems of literary patronage for the marṡiyah. But as marṡiyah poets sought out new sources of patronage, they helped extend Urdu’s popularity to distant regional centers. Across India, marṡiyah poets were instrumental in establishing networks of patronage and creating models of language and performance that were influential in Urdu literary circles well beyond the marṡiyah genre, placing such poets as Mīr Anīs and Mirzā Dabīr at the vanguard of crafting the cosmopolitan orientation of Urdu literary culture.
When it comes to the favorite food of the outlaws of Mount Liang, beef is the undisputed champion. The 120-chapter edition of Water Margin has nearly 50 scenes that depict the heroes feasting heartily on beef. The next most frequently evoked type of meat is mutton, but the number of times it is mentioned is only half that of beef and the relevant scenes are depicted with far less detail. Because cattle slaughter and the sale of beef were strictly forbidden during the Song dynasty, an expanding community of researchers considers this choice of food as a subtle reflection of the bandits’ defiance of law and order. However, this school of thought has yet to sufficiently take into account several elements, including the extent to which this law was enforced during the Song dynasty, when the adventures of Song Jiang and his sworn brothers took place; society’s attitude toward beef consumption during this same period; the compilation of the novel in the Ming dynasty and the author’s awareness of historical facts; and the limited presence of beef in the Song-Yuan antecedents of the novel.
Taking these points into consideration, this article reexamines the motif of beef consumption in Water Margin and the development of this theme through a historical lens. To do so, it first focuses on the legal issues pertaining to cattle slaughter and the sale of beef during the Song dynasty. Particular attention is paid to the enforcement of relevant laws and the circulation and popularity of black-market beef during this period. Then, it highlights the discrepancies between the way in which beef consumption is presented in the Ming novel and historical facts, followed by a discussion of the portrayal of meat consumption in Yuan dramas featuring Song Jiang and his gang of outlaws. In the end, by thoroughly considering the presentation of food in the developmental history of Water Margin, from Yuan dramas to the Ming novel, this article sheds light on the importance of this subject as a literary motif in medieval Chinese literature.
Xie Lingyun was the first of China’s great nature poets. As the most celebrated poet in fifth-century China and a histrionic scion of the illustrious Xie clan of the Eastern Jin, he had cultural influence that extended beyond the literary into religion and philosophy. This article examines Xie’s poetic exploration of the concept of “return” – an important rhetorical trope throughout the history of Chinese literature. By close reading, annotating, and analyzing a selection of Xie’s poems, the article sheds light on the poet’s obsession with instability in the meaning of “return” and argues that beneath the compliant poetic surface lies a saliently dissenting voice. Xie’s distinctive imagery and ideation emerge from an intricate deployment of earlier texts, among which the Classic of Changes is of paramount importance.
The present study traces the changing meanings of Su Shi’s Qiuchi rock in Song poetry. As an aesthetic artifact, the rock may be gifted and exchanged through literati social interactions. At a more personal level, the rock reminds Su of a mysterious dream and symbolizes a place of retreat, described as his homeland in Shu, a Daoist grotto heaven, and a utopia that is superior to Peach Blossom Spring. The rock also serves as Su’s most faithful companion in the dark days of his exile to the far south. In the poems of Southern Song poets, who experienced the trauma of the fall of northern China to the Jurchens, the rock turns into a nostalgic object but also prompts acute reflections on petrophilia as a morally and philosophically problematic passion.
From the mid-Tang through the Qing dynasty, poets employed the short-lyric form known as zhuzhici [bamboo branch lyrics] to write, first and foremost, about ordinary people going about their daily lives in China and elsewhere in the Sinosphere. This article explores how early developments in this genre prepared the ground for what later emerged as an arguably proto-ethnographic mode – that is, both poetry and accompanying prose annotations based on poets’ direct observations of and even immersive “fieldwork” within discrete localities. I focus specifically on poems about “water labor,” by which I mean those that describe and give voice to vocational groups and communities along lakes, levies, and channels of the Yangzi River basin. It was partly thanks to this history of reporting about local lives and conditions, I argue, that zhuzhici eventually came to adopt a more information-intensive and increasingly empirical orientation during the later stages of their development. Moreover, this mode of what might even be identified tentatively as affective or lyrical ethnography prefigures efforts by contemporary social scientists to recalibrate ethnography in spatially affective modes, and I conclude with some observations on how its example might inform future efforts in these directions.
In this interview, Professor Egan and I discuss issues related to reception studies, Chinese literary history, translation, and graduate education. The interview begins with the advantages and disadvantages of applying reception studies to premodern Chinese literature and to the works of major writers in particular. We then discuss two recent Chinese literary histories written in English and compare them to mainstream literary history written by Chinese scholars in China in terms of their different audiences, purposes, and uses. As scholars and students consult these histories, this discussion led to the topic of how to teach and how to train graduate students. Egan shares his experience with effective approaches for teaching classical Chinese literature in the American academic setting. In the last section of the interview, he focuses on graduate education, the academic and intellectual preparation that students need before they begin their PhD, what they should pay attention to as students, and their job prospects after they receive their degree.
Although some scholars have successfully challenged the traditional biographical reading, which considers an author’s biography an important reference and proposed proper reinterpretations of many of Tao Yuanming’s poems, we still find its dominance in the interpretation of words and sentences, even the structure and theme in Tao’s poems. In light of this issue, this article reinterprets thirteen of Tao’s poems based on our detailed investigation of all the existing notes on them. Most biographical readings, shaped by the ideal image of intellectuals portrayed in the Analects, obscure the substantial connections with the Zhuangzi in Tao’s poetry. Our reinterpretation focuses on the intertextual relationship between Tao’s poems and the Zhuangzi. We can see that the influence of the Zhuangzi on Tao’s poetry is more extensive and far-reaching than previously considered. This can help us reveal the connection between Tao’s poetry and the metaphysical institution in the Eastern Jin dynasty, which took its view of life from the Zhuangzi, instead of taking Confucianism as the only source.