China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Southern Genre and Southern Triumph: The Song Redefinition of Sao

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

This paper examines the genre of sao 騷 poetry as it was conceived in the Song dynasty (960–1279). I argue that modern discussions of the generic features of sao and its classical source, the seminal Chuci anthology, derive from the Song redefinition of sao as the exclusive property of the south. It was the Song literati who first proposed that the defining markers of sao are the language, tone, and matters of Chu—each strictly defined—and that verses lacking these features lay beyond the genre. However, I will show that before the Song, sao was a term nearly as broad in scope as fu 賦 and shi 詩. In particular, the defining, “Chu-style” caesura particles xi兮 and xie 些, long thought integral to the genre, were often omitted before the Song in sao poems and in Chuci quotations, leaving these works indistinguishable from other verse genres. Moreover, despite emerging from the south, the sao had never before been considered exclusively southern. In identifying these generic features of sao, the Song literati tried to turn it into a geographically bound genre. By doing so, the southern Song court also claimed exclusive ownership of the sao’s southern cultural heritage—a literary and moral tradition considered one of the two glorious origins of Chinese literature. Thus, from the Song perspective, its northern enemies, by forfeiting their ownership of the genre of sao poetry, forever forfeited the literary and cultural authority represented by the genre.

Su Fu

Princeton University, New Jersey

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