Zuo Si’s 左思 [ca. 250-305] “Poems on History” [yongshi 詠史] have often been regarded as a milestone in the development of the poetic subgenre “poems on history.” Scholars have noted Zuo’s use of historical allusion and description to articulate his personal emotions and ambitions and to criticize the political hierarchy of the Western Jin [265-316]. In addition, they have recognized Zuo’s “Poems on History” as representing an alternative to the ornamental style of poetry popular in his time.
This article addresses the way in which Zuo’s poems contributed to the “poems on history” subgenre, as well as how they reflected the broader context of Six Dynasties [220-589] society. At the same time, it investigates another purpose for his use of historical figures in his poetry: self-canonization. This paper argues that Zuo used historical figures not only to express his emotions but also to skillfully place himself into the larger context and lineage of exemplary historical figures. Zuo is thus telling later generations that they should remember him with the same reverence—he is invoking history as a force of self-canonization. This self-canonization perspective reveals the complexity of Zuo’s appropriation of earlier historical sources. It also deepens our understanding of the purpose of Zuo’s “Poems on History” and of the ways in which history is disseminated through poetry in the Six Dynasties period.
Studies on Tao Yuanming have often focused on his personality, reclusive life, and pastoral poetry. However, Tao’s extant oeuvre includes a large number of poems on history. This article aims to complement current scholarship by exploring his viewpoints on life through a close reading of his poems on history. His poems on history are a key to Tao’s perspectives with regard to the factors that decide a successful political career, the best way to cope with difficulties and frustrations, and the situations in which literati should withdraw from public life. Examining his positions reveals the connections between these different aspects. These poems express Tao’s perspectives on life, as informed by his historical predecessors and philosophical beliefs, and as developed through his own life experience and efforts at poetic composition.
The development of academic research largely depends on new materials and innovative research methodologies. In this special issue, scholars from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and the US apply new approaches to the study of medieval Chinese literature. The articles in this issue focus on influential poets, such as Tao Yuanming 陶淵明 [ca. 365–427], Xie Lingyun 謝靈運 [385–433], Su Shi 蘇軾 [1037–1101], and Li Qingzhao 李清照 [1084–1155], as well as vernacular poetry and fiction, such as “bamboo branch lyrics” [zhuzhici竹枝詞] and the Water Margin [Shuihu zhuan
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.