Sommario Culture 2003



1 See D'Argenio (2003).


2 See Bol (1992). Bol's is so far the most complete examination of the Tang-Song transition from the perspective of intellectual history, although it leaves out the Five Dynasties and early Song periods. Hartman (1986) examines Han Yu as a seminal figure for the post-Tang development of Confucian thought. Chen Ruoshui's work on Liu Zongyuan (1992) has also greatly enhanced the idea of the mid-Tang as a turning point in Chinese intellectual history. For an analysis of the Song elite, see Hymes and Shirokauer (1993) and Hymes (1986).


3 A military rebellion staged by a military governor of non-Chinese origin. In 755 An Lushan marched on the capital Chang'an, forcing Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-756) to escape west. The rebellion had disastrous consequences, as the loyalist armies sent to sedate it and the rebellious military leaders took control over vast portions of territory. Eventually the government was forced to install the rebels as semi-independent governors, thereby losing both land and tax revenues.

4 This was the main poetic genre of the Chinese tradition. It traced its origin to the poems of the Shijing (Book of Odes), a collection of folk songs, and ceremonial and sacrificial hymns dating from the early Zhou period (12th century B.C.) to approximately 600 B.C. The Book of Odes, since very ancient times, had been part of the learning curriculum of the elite. Likewise, poetry writing had been an activity closely associated with the literati and members of the bureaucracy since pre-Han times (202 B.C.-220 A.D.).

5 That is, the tradition of learning that originated in pre-imperial China, of which Confucius (551-479 B.C.) is considered the founder. The term ru likely referred to a group of people "who were experts in and teachers of the civil aspects of the cultural heritage." The school advocated the restoration of the culture and social order of the declining Zhou Dynasty (1154-221B.C.) and in particular of its rites (li) as a means to establish social harmony. The ru school had at its center a textual tradition of which the so-called "Classics" (a group of texts or traditions originating during the Zhou, but that reached their final form during the Han Dynasty) formed the canonical works. These were: the Book of Odes (Shijing), Book of Changes (Yijing), Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu), Book of Documents (Shujing), and Book of Rites (Yili and Liji.) One of the school's central ideas, one that would become paramount for Confucian thinkers of later generations, was that government officials should be selected on the base of their moral stature and education. See Schwartz (1985).
6 The term guwen, variously translated as "ancient style prose" or "literature of antiquity" (from gu: ancient, and wen: prose or literature) identifies an intellectual and literary movement of the early ninth century. Its main spokesman was the statesman and writer Han Yu (768-824). The movement developed as reaction to the political and cultural crisis of the post-rebellion period. Starting from the conviction that the Confucian heritage possessed the tools to solve the crisis, its aim was to revitalize Confucianism by going back to its root traditions. Han Yu saw in the personal, unmediated approach to the Classics the key element of this revival. His program included not only institutional reforms, but also a literary reform that would result in original writings, expressive of their authors mind and in harmony with spirit of antiquity.

7 An exception to this kind of approach is Jonathan Chaves' work on Mei Yaochen, which acknowledges early poetry's role in the development of Mei's verse (Chaves 1976). A classical example of dismissive attitude is Yoshikawa (1967), which basically discounts all early Song poetry with the partial exception of Wang Yucheng. Recent literary histories, although less inclined towards aesthetic judgment, still devote very little space to the early period. In the last twenty years, however, there has been a greater interest in the Tang-Song transition and the early Song, which has produced several articles in scholarly journals and a few monographic studies on early Song poets. I have derived considerable help and insight from the works such as Chen (1982: 131-54); Zhang (3: 205-34); and Zhao (1996).

8 This was the interim period between the fall of the Tang and the rise of the Song Dynasty, during which the country was divided in several small, independent kingdoms.

9 Designation of part of the division period between the fall of the Han (220) and the foundation of the Tang (618). Following the conquest of Northern China by semi-nomadic northern populations in the 4th century, part of the population and most of the wealthy aristocratic families migrated south, establishing a series of short-lived dynasties with capital in the area of modern Nanjing. Poetry, that during the Han had been full of political and moral overtones, became a refined entertainment for courtiers, the expression of an aristocracy jealous of its ancient traditions and privileges. During the Southern Dynasties, poetic writing tended to emphasize technical skill. The emotions conveyed in verse referred primarily to romantic love, while skill in improvising clever and elegant lines was greatly prized. This was the age of courtly poetry, in which ruler and courtiers gathered at social events and composed verses as an elegant pastime. This model of poetry continued through the early Tang, but was ultimately condemned by later Confucian-minded literati as the decadent expression of a period of division and political weakness.

10 The palace style (gongti) was a sub-genre of court poetry that originated during the southern dynasty of The Liang. It described the life of the courtiers, in particular romantic liaisons. It was characterized by ornate language, frequent use of allusions and an increasing regulation of rhyme and prosody.

11 The yongwu, or poem on things, was a composition describing the attributes of an object in indirect and highly allusive language. The object often served to depict qualities of its owner, who was usually a palace lady. Therefore, the language adopted in the poems had often erotic overtones.

12 The locus classicus of this view is to be found in the Great Preface to the Book of Odes (Shijing), a document of uncertain authorship datable to the second half of the Han Dynasties. The Great Preface made three important points with regard to poetry. Fist, it defined poetry as the verbal expression of the poet's aspirations or intentions: "The poem is that to which what is intently on the mind goes. In the mind it is 'being intent;' coming out in language, it is a poem." Secondly, it pointed out what the realm of the authorial intention is: "The affections emerge in sounds; when those sounds have patterning (wen, a term also referred to literary expression) they are called 'tones.' The tones of a well-managed age are at rest and happy; its government is balanced. The tones of an age of turmoil are bitter and full of anger; its government is perverse. The tones of a ruined state are filled with lament and brooding; its people are in difficulty." Finally, it explained what the purpose of poetic writing should be: "Thus to correct [the presentation of] achievements and failures, to move Heaven and Earth, to stir gods and spirits, there is nothing more apposite than poetry. By it the former kings managed the relations between husbands and wives, perfected the respect due to parents and superiors, gave depth to human relations, beautifully taught and transformed the people, and changed local customs. (...) By feng (one of the sections of the Book of Odes. The term also has the meaning of "influence" or "criticism") those above transform those below; also by feng those below criticize those above. When an admonition is given that is governed by patterning (wen), the one who speaks has no culpability, yet is remains adequate to warn those who hear it".

10 Translated in Owen (1992: 40,43, 45-6).


13 This was a prestigious institution founded in the Tang and responsible for drafting imperial documents and compiling court-sponsored projects. Its members also served as palace counselors. Their duties required outstanding literary abilities and a position as Academician could often lead to high government posts.

14 The fact that larger sections of the population practiced poetic writing as pastime or as a form of polite social intercourse or sometimes as a form of correspondence (a sort of letter in verses,) is itself a sign of the diffusion of literati culture. In fact poetry was an art form traditionally practiced by the literati group in all the uses enumerated above. The development of printing technologies also had a strong impact on the popularity of poetry. It allowed a far greater number of people to access verse collections and to acquire competence in the skill of versifying.

15 The main objections raised by the spokesmen for indigenous tradition against Buddhism, were caused by the ascetic nature of the doctrine, which was perceived as antithetical to the social concerns of traditional culture. The celibacy of the monks, their abandonment of social ties, their refusal to recognize temporal hierarchies were in sharp contrast with ancestor worship, the perpetuation of family line and the respect for social hierarchies that were at the core of traditional Chinese society.

16 Liu Zongyuan was another important representative of the guwen movement.

17 That is the Caoqi dajian chanshi bei. Caoqi was another name for the so-called southern lineage of Chan Buddhism. It took its name from the Baolin monastery located in Caoqi locality, where Hui Neng, the sixth patriarch of Chan lectured.

18 Ancient philosopher of the Warring States (479-221) period famous for his doctrine of universal love as a means to build social harmony.

19 These were compositions imitating the language of the yuefu tradition. The yuefu was a folk song that had developed starting from the Han dynasty, in which love was a frequent topic. This folk tradition had subsequently been appropriated by poets from the educated class.

20 Piaoyao was a military title during the Han Dynasty.

21 The Xiongnu were a northern nomadic people that had regularly raided the Chinese borders starting from the Qin Dynasty through the reign of Emperor Wu (r.141-87 B.C.) of the Han. Emperor Wu was finally able to submit them through massive military expeditions. In the poem Hui Chong exploits a convention typical of frontier poems, of referring to current events using analogies from the past.

22 The Khitan were a proto-Mongol population from the border of the Manchurian steppe. They had established a kingdom, called Liao, whose territory infringed on Chinese soil.

23 This movement, led by the Prime Minister Fan Zhongyan (989-1052) and other prominent intellectuals like Ouyang Xiu, called for wide institutional reforms, among which figured prominently the reform of the educational and recruitment system.

24 Fire and smoke were forbidden on the festival.

25 From the poem Dui xue. A Remonstrance Official covered the duty of remonstrating with the emperor for policies or behavior that were considered improper. See Hucker (1985: 148, #836).

26 Yang Yi was not the first to have used this kind of poetic diction. Already in the last part of the Tang Dynasty, several poets had referred to a similar model. In fact, Yang was an admirer of the late Tang poet Li Shangyin (813-58), whose allusive and hermetic language was an acknowledged influence on his own poetry.

27 "Yang (Yi) and Liu (Yun) in the Hanlin Academy composed the Xuanqu poems. Wang Qinruo secretly memorialized the throne, viewing the poems as lodging criticism." In Jiang Xiufu, Miscellaneous Records of the Jiayou period (1055-1063). Quoted in Li (1979: 1589).

28 On the question of Zhenzong's preference for simplicity of style see Wen Ying, Yuhu qinghua: "When the Auxiliary Academician of the Bureau of Military Affairs Liu Zong was appointed on garrison duty in Bingmen, the two drafting groups (i.e. Hanlin Academicians or Inner Drafters and the Outer Drafters affiliated with the Secretariat) and the members of the Academies and Institutes all composed poetry to grace his journey and presented it to the emperor. Zhenzong investigated thoroughly poetic elegance (ya) and at the time especially opposed the Xikun style, eliminating crafted (lines). He personally used the imperial brush to select the plain and simple ones (pingdan), only obtaining eight couplets." In Chen (1996: 187-8).

29 Allusions to court poets or to outspoken court counselors, as well as attacks to sycophants and impostors appear often in his historical poems. For the interpretation of such allusions see D'Argenio (2003: 129-71).

30 Other factors, such as economic means, may have prevented people from humble background from participating and passing the exams. But when compared with earlier periods the early Song still saw among the highest numbers of officials recruited through the examination system, rather than on the basis of their family back ground.

31 There is concrete evidence of the fact that Wang Yucheng was an inspirational figure for various Northern Song Intellectuals and reformers. For example, in Wang's collected works one finds a "Discourse on Parties" (Pengdanglun) which makes the same fundamental points as Ouyang Xiu's discourse by the same title; namely, that it is natural for superior men to stick together and form a party for the defense of higher goals. By the same token, inferior men stick together to protect their own interests. It is the sovereign who has to be able to distinguish between parties of gentlemen and parties of inferior men. See Wang (1969, 210-11); Ouyang (1994: 124). Ouyang has also two poems imitating Wang's composition about olives translated above. One, although more elaborate in form, essentially reproduces the same comparison found in Wang Yucheng's earlier poem between the sour taste of olives and the words of the loyal minister. See Wang (1969: 62), Ouyang (1994: 29-30).


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