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The Song Dynasty Making of China’s Greatest Poet
Irreducible to conventional labels usually applied to him, the Tang poet Du Fu (712–770) both defined and was defined by the literary, intellectual, and socio-political cultures of the Song dynasty (960–1279).
Jue Chen not only argues in his work that Du Fu was constructed according to particular literary and intellectual agendas of Song literati but also that conventional labels applied to Du Fu do not accurately represent this construction campaign. He also discusses how Du Fu’s image as the greatest poet sheds unique light on issues that can deepen our understanding of the subtleties in the poetic culture of Song China.


The image of Du Fu as a poet who excels at using the most appropriate words in his poetry was, to a large extent, constructed by the poets and critics of the Song dynasty. When reading, transcribing, editing, and commenting on Du Fu’s poetic texts, the Song literati prioritized textual variants in Du Fu’s poetry that could in their opinion better demonstrate Du Fu’s poetic craftsmanship; by doing so, they defined Du Fu as a verbal master who was able to use the finest words in poetic composition. The Song literati’s interest in word usage in Du Fu’s poetry was essentially a projection of their own desire to pursue expressional effect in poetic composition, which drove them to learn from Du Fu.

In: T'oung Pao