China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - The Nature of Performative Iconoclasm: Diasporic Writer Xue Angfu (c. 1268 to After 1350) and His Send-Up of Chinese Icons

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Johnson, Mezzanine Level

This paper will seek to think through the rise of “plain Chinese” (formerly known as “vernacular” or “colloquial” Chinese) as a literary language in the context of performative practices within the multilingual Yuan empire. In particular, it will examine a set of sanqu songs authored by scholar-official Xue Angfu, one of the many well-regarded diasporic writers active in Yuan China. One of his most famous series of songs consists of thirty comic portraits of major figures in the Chinese historical, religious, literary, and musical traditions. Arguably, these works belong to the most iconoclastic songs written in the genre, even if they have not received the scholarly attention of other sanqu songs such as Guan Hanqing’s “On Not Submitting to Old Age” or Sui Jingchen’s “Emperor Gaozu Returns to His Home Village.”  The paper will pay close attention to the particular uses of humor in relation to how Confucian and Daoist figures were portrayed in official and/or formal venues before and during the Yuan in order to tease out how the songs positioned themselves relative to the authority of tradition. Moreover, the paper will delineate whether these iconoclastic portrayals of famous individuals had an afterlife in the Ming or whether they were a peculiar Yuan product. In short, the paper seeks to analyze whether or not the choice of language, literary form, performative context, intellectual climate, and authorial identity may have contributed to an incipient trend, namely the separation of fictional discourse from the truth claims of historiography and of religious hagiography.  

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