China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Good poems are all alike, but every bad poem is bad in its own way. Poems may fail according to aesthetic, formal, political, social, moral, and many other criteria. There are failures of innovation and imitation, of quantity and quality, of ambition and cowardice. The purpose of this panel is to suss out what was thought to be the very worst poetry of the classical Chinese literary tradition and to understand why it was thought to be so bad. We want to know who considered it bad, and according to what criteria. Xiao Rao will examine jokes about bad poetry in Northern Song poetry remarks, demonstrating how laughter helped literati accommodate new tastes and negotiate between opposing poetic values. Lili Xia will look at the case of the Jiangxi school of poetry as a battleground in the literary war between the Southern Song and the Jurchen Jin dynasties. Jing Chen, by combing through Ming-dynasty poetry remarks’ discussions of famous poets’ worst poems, will show how their judgments on genre have shaped Chinese literary history to this day. Thomas Mazanec will make the case that the late Tang poet Jia Dao would be considered by many critics, from the Northern Song to the Republican Period, to be China’s worst poet. By examining the harshest judgments on Tang and Song poetry over a 1000-year period, we offer an alternative history of literary criticism as seen through failure.