This dissertation focuses on an emperor-poet, Xiao Gang (503-551, r. 550-551), who lived during a period called the Six Dynasties in China. He was born a prince during the Liang Dynasty, became Crown Prince upon his older brother's death, and eventually succeeded to the crown after the Liang court had come under the control of a rebel. He was murdered by the rebel before long and was posthumously given the title of "Emperor of Jianwen" by his younger brother Xiao Yi (508-554). Xiao's writing of amorous poetry was blamed for the fall of the Liang Dynasty by Confucian scholars, and adverse criticism of his so-called "decadent" Palace Style Poetry has continued for centuries.
By analyzing Xiao Gang within his own historical context, I am able to develop a more refined analysis of Xiao, who was a poet, a filial son, a caring brother, a sympathetic governor, and a literatus with broad and profound learning in history, religion and various literary genres. Fewer than half of Xiao's extant poems can be characterized as "erotic" or "flowery". Through an analysis utilizing the concepts of genre and intertextuality, I discover that his yuefu titles cover a wide range of old and new topics. This reveals his efforts to revive traditional yuefu writing and to reassert the centrality of the south in Chinese civilization during the Period of Division.
This dissertation analyzes Xiao Gang's writing techniques from a philological perspective. With this methodology, I have been able to clarify some misinterpretations by earlier scholars and provide new evidence about Xiao's unique writing skills and creative originality.
Rediscovering Xiao Gang is not just a matter of understanding an individual poet from a long past age. The Six Dynasties period during which he lived was politically chaotic and unstable, but it was also a period when literature flourished. Xiao Gang and his literary works provide valuable resources for studying this fascinating era. The re-evaluation of Xiao Gang undertaken in this dissertation comprises an effort to discover the truth that has been hitherto obscured by undue attention to the checkered political history of the Liang Dynasty.