Arizona State University
Cutter, Robert J.
This dissertation examines the history of the early medieval city Ye 鄴 and its place in the literary tradition. Ye was the powerbase of the warlord Cao Cao 曹操 (155–220) and the birthplace of the Jian’an 建安 literature. It was also the capital city of the Later Zhao 後趙 (319–349), the Former Yan 前燕 (337–370), the Eastern Wei 東魏 (534–550), and the Northern Qi 北齊 (550–577). Through a contextualized close reading of a variety of literary and historical texts, including poems, prose, scholar notes, and local gazetteers, this study shows how Ye, destroyed in 580, continued to live on in various forms of representation and material remains, and continued to evolve as an imagined space that held multiple interpretations.
The interpretations are represented in works that treat the heroic enterprise of Cao Cao in founding the city, the double-sided poems that collapsed celebration and themes of carpé diem in the Jian'an era, and in tropes of sorrow and lamentation on the glories, or ruins, of the city that had passed its life in a brilliant flash, and then was lost to time and text. Ye’s most iconic structure, the Bronze Bird Terrace, developed a distinct terrace-scape, a nearly mythical space where poets tangled with questions of sorrow, consciousness after death, and lamentation for women forced to serve their lord long after his demise. The last material vestiges of the city, its tiles which were shaped into inkstones, created a discourse in the Song and Yuan periods of heavy censure of Cao Cao's exercise of power and his supposed eventual failure of ambition and retreat to concern over meaningless material possessions.
Over the years, these representations have seen in Ye a fertile ground, either experienced or imagined, where questions about political rise and fall and about the meaning of human life could be raised and partially answered. This dissertation looks closely at the ambivalent attitudes of writers through the ages about, and at their sometimes ambiguous representation of, the status and meaning of that ancient city.