The turn of the third century CE—known as the Jian’an era or Three Kingdoms period—holds double significance for the Chinese cultural tradition. Its writings laid the foundation of classical poetry and literary criticism. Its historical personages and events have also inspired works of poetry, fiction, drama, film, and art throughout Chinese history, including Internet fantasy literature today. There is a vast body of secondary literature on these two subjects individually, but very little on their interface.
The image of the Jian’an era, with its feasting, drinking, heroism, and literary panache, as well as intense male friendship, was to return time and again in the romanticized narrative of the Three Kingdoms. How did Jian’an bifurcate into two distinct nostalgias, one of which was the first paradigmatic embodiment of wen (literary graces, cultural patterning), and the other of wu (heroic martial virtue)? How did these largely segregated nostalgias negotiate with one another? And how is the predominantly male world of the Three Kingdoms appropriated by young women in contemporary China? The Halberd at Red Cliff investigates how these associations were closely related in their complex origins and then came to be divergent in their later metamorphoses.
The poetry of Ruan Ji has been previously translated several times, with one fully scholarly translation of both the poetry and the fu (poetic expositions). The present translation by Stephen Owen not only provides a facing page critical Chinese text, it addresses two problems that have been ignored or not adequately treated in earlier works. First, it traces the history of the current text. The rather serious problems with this text will be, if not soluble, at least visible. Second, translations have been shaped by the anachronistic assumption that Ruan Ji was loyal to the declining Wei dynasty, when actual power had been taken by the Suma family, who founded the Jin dynasty after Ruan Ji's death. The introduction shows how and when that assumption took full shape five centuries after Ruan Ji lived and why it is not tenable. This leads to a different kind of translation, closer to what a contemporary reader might have understood and far less certain than referring it to some political event.
Before the fifth century, the imperial identity of a ruler seems to have disabled him as a writer rather than encouraged him to be more prolific. Literary production gradually became centered in the court by the mid-fifth century, and a distinct feature of Southern Dynasties literature is the phenomenon that emperors and princes joined with their courtiers in the act of writing poetry on social occasions. This paper focuses on a number of poems by Emperor Wen of the Song (r. 424-453), Yan Yanzhi (384-456), Xie Tiao (464-499), Shen Yue (441-513), and Liu Xiaochuo (481-539) that represent kingship and empire and thereby become a means of disseminating and implementing imperial power. In particular, it examines the physical and discursive construction of the capital Jiankang. We see thereby that Southern Dynasties court poetry was instrumental in the performance of sovereignty and the envisioning of the new, southern empire.
Of the three powers—Wei, Shu, and Wu—that divided China for the better part of the third century, Wei has received the most attention in the standard literary historical accounts. In a typical book of Chinese literary history in any language, little, if anything, is said about Wu and Shu. This article argues that the consideration of the literary production of Shu and Wu is crucial to a fuller picture of the cultural dynamics of the Three Kingdoms period. The three states competed with one another for the claim to political legitimacy and cultural supremacy, and Wu in particular was in a position to contend with Wei in its cultural undertakings, notably in the areas of history writing and ritual music. This article begins with an overview of Shu and Wu literary production, and moves on to a more detailed discussion of Wu’s cultural projects, both of which were intended to assert Wu’s legitimacy and cultural power vis-a-vis Wei and Shu’s claims to cultural and political orthodoxy. Ultimately, this article implicitly asks the question of how to write literary history when there is scant material from the period under question, andsuggests that we perform textual excavations and make use of what we have to reconstruct, as best as we can, what once was. A good literary history of the Chinese medieval period, the age of manuscript culture and that of heavy textual losses and transfigurations, should be written with the awareness of the incomplete and imperfect nature of the data we do have, and incorporate the phenomenon of textual losses and transfigurations as well as some reflections on the underlying reasons into its narrative and critical inquiry.
"From the cry of a tiny insect, one can hear the sound of a vast world. . . ."
So begins Zhang Daye's preface to The World of a Tiny Insect, his haunting memoir of war and its aftermath. In 1861, when China's devastating Taiping rebellion began, Zhang was seven years old. The Taiping rebel army occupied Shaoxing, his hometown, and for the next two years, he hid from Taiping soldiers, local bandits, and imperial troops and witnessed gruesome scenes of violence and death. He lost friends and family and nearly died himself from starvation, illness, and encounters with soldiers on a rampage.
Written thirty years later, The World of a Tiny Insect gives voice to this history. A rare premodern Chinese literary work depicting a child's perspective, Zhang's sophisticated text captures the macabre images, paranoia, and emotional excess that defined his wartime experience and echoed through his adult life. The structure, content, and imagery of The World of a Tiny Insect offer a carefully constructed, fragmented narrative that skips in time and probes the relationships between trauma and memory, revealing both history and its psychic impact. Xiaofei Tian's annotated translation includes an introduction that situates The World of a Tiny Insect in Chinese history and literature and explores the relevance of the book to the workings of traumatic memory.
影子與水文: 關於前後赤壁賦與兩幅赤壁圖. In: 翰墨薈萃: 細讀美國藏中國五代宋元書畫珍品. Beijing: Beijing University Press ; 2012. pp. 296-311.