China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Canonical Poetry, Peri-Canonical History, and Prophecy: Rui Liangfu Texts and the Primordial Soup of Versification in Pre-Imperial China

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Roosevelt Room 3, Exhibit Level

This paper employs a close reading and prosodic analysis of three rhyming texts to show how re-imaginings of a single event were repackaged into prosodically and structurally distinct verse forms in early China. The Shijing (Canon of Odes) has served for well over two millennia as the model for a body of Chinese literature often translated as “poetry.” Newly unearthed sources now afford a reexamination of many poems immortalized by the Shijing, including “Sang rou” (Soft is the Mulberry), a poem traditionally attributed to the Zhou statesman Rui Liangfu and read as criticism of the infamously negligent King Li of Zhou (9th c. BCE). Echoing the themes and rhythms of “Sang rou,” both the “Rui Liangfu” chapter of the Yi Zhou shu (Remnant Documents of Zhou) and the recently unearthed Rui Liangfu bi manuscript (c. 300 BCE) provide additional, lengthy, tetrametrically rhyming admonitions of King Li. While modern scholars generally neglect the prosody of the “Rui Liangfu” chapter, they understand the Rui Liangfu bi manuscript in sharply differing terms: some call it a “shi-poem”; others identify an unspecified “song”; still others posit it as the lone exemplar of a long-forgotten sub-genre of shu (historical documents). This paper demonstrates textual and thematic borrowings among the Rui Liangfu texts, rhyming mantic texts, and early fu expositions, calling into question assumed boundaries between lyric, expository, and mantic verse forms before the Han. Finally, the paper re-examines the reach of the term “poetry” in translating and categorizing these divergent textual forms.

David J. Lebovitz

University of Chicago, Illinois

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1 - Canonical Poetry, Peri-Canonical History, and Prophecy: Rui Liangfu Texts and the Primordial Soup of Versification in Pre-Imperial China



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