China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
As William Faulkner observed, “The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” The past cannot be said to exist; it must constantly be created and recreated in the present to have any bearing on the present and the future. Employing a variety of approaches including literary, historical, and religious studies, the four papers in this panel examine the different ways people engaged with the past in several textual genres in medieval China. The questions they address include: Through what practices was the past remembered, and for what purposes? Why were certain aspects of the past frequently evoked whereas others were forgotten or suppressed? What can a better understanding of engagements with the past show us about human meaning-making in the medium of time?
Hu discusses how personal memories of the cultural past created a collective identity for elite literati in the Shishuo xinyu; Campany writes of how dreams were interpreted as indications of people’s forgotten karmic past in the sixth-century Sutra on the Explication of Dreams for Bodhisattvas; Zhang studies different ways in which historical events and figures are treated in poems on history in early medieval China; Hong argues that Han Wo’s compilation of poems about female beauty and sensuality in Xianglian ji was a way to shape the memory of the fall of the Tang. These papers demonstrate how versions of the past were constructed through cultural memory, dream interpretations, and poetic texts, how they were rhetorically deployed, and with what impact, in medieval China.