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Saturday, December 3, 2016

[Dissertation] Verse and Lore: 'Poems on History' (yongshi shi 詠史詩) from the Selections of Refined Literature (Wen xuan 文選)

Author:
Yue, Zhang

School:
University of Toronto

Year:
2014

Abstract:

This dissertation discusses how cultural memory and nostalgia are demonstrated and negotiated in poems through investigating the section of ―Poems on History in the Selections of Refined Literature (Wen xuan 文選). 

Chapter One lays a solid foundation for further discussion, mainly exploring previous Chinese and English scholarship on poems on history in the early medieval period (220-580) and providing a brief history of this subgenre up to this point. 

Chapter Two examines why the Wen xuan editors chose certain poems in the section of Poems on History through a case study of the reception of Zuo Si‘s poems. The reception and canonization process of his poems serve as a good example to illustrate how the memory of literary past is shaped and mediated by the intellectual and cultural zeitgeist of this period. 

Chapter Three deals with the different approaches by which the poets connect historical lore with poetry, and shows the sophistication of poems on history in Chinese literary tradition. 

The last two chapters discuss two case studies: one is from Zuo Si 左思, an earlier case and the other on Yan Yanzhi 顏延之, a case closer to the Wen xuan editors' time period. Chapter Four explicitly discusses how poets use literature as a way to create a poetic-self as an alternative to images transmitted in standard histories, a represented self under their control through which poets influence their contemporaries and later readers‘ perception and memories about them. A good case study of this process is Zuo Si's ―Poems on History. 

Chapter Five talks about the formation of poets' reputation in history, not based on their political achievements and contributions, but on the highly admirable moral values and ideals expressed in their poetry, which become models for later literati. Yan Yanzhi's ―Poems on the Five Lords‖ is a case study that shows the continuing tradition of character appraisal, dealing with five historical figures who were remembered because of their musical, literary, and spiritual cultivation. Thus poems on history--their composition, their reception, their transmission through anthologies--are shown to have been a vital means of interpreting and evaluating the past, and to have played an important role in shaping Chinese identity and character through literature.

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