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Beacon Fire and Shooting Star: The Literary Culture of the Liang (502-557) (review)

Beacon Fire and Shooting Star: The Literary Culture of the Liang (502-557) (review) Reviews  269 Xiaofei Tian. Beacon Fire and Shooting Star: The Literary Culture of the Liang (502–557). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. 473 pp.  Hardcover $49.95, isbn 978-0-674-02602-5. This impressive tome is an exhaustive study of literary culture of the Liang dynasty.  It contains thorough research, sensitive analyses, as well as insightful comments  about many aspects of the culture of the Liang, which, as Xiaofei Tian points  out, is one of the most culturally rich, yet most misunderstood, eras of Chinese  history. Tian states in the introduction that her book “is not a conventional literary  history of the Liang,” but “a social and cultural history of the Liang literature”  (p. 4). Her definition of “literary culture” is particularly broad. She says: By “literary culture,” I refer not only to the literary writings themselves but also to  the physical process of literary production such as text copying and transmitting,  to cultural activities such as book collecting, anthologizing, cataloging, and  various forms of literary scholarship, and to the intricate interaction of religion  (particularly Buddhism) and literature. (p. 4) Tian further states that her book “also aims to explore the impact of social and  political structures on the literary world” (p. 4). To meet this broad and ambitious  goal, she arranges her book into eight chapters: chapter 1: “e Th  Rule of Emperor  Wu”; chapter 2: “Mapping the Cultural World (I): Mapping Texts”; chapter 3:  “Mapping the Cultural World (II): Contextualizing Taste”; chapter 4: “e Th  Pleasure  of the Superuo fl us: Palace Style Poetry and Resistance to Canonization”; chapter 5:  “Illusion and Illumination: A New Poetics of Seeing”; chapter 6: “  ‘Suppression of  the Light’: Xiao Gang, Prince and Poet”; chapter 7: “e Th  Cultural Construction  of the North and South”; and chapter 8: “Parting Ways.” Throughout the book,  Tian demonstrates her remarkable ability to marshal a wide array of texts includ- ing dynastic histories, individual collections, anthologies, encyclopedias/ compendiums, B   uddhist scriptures, and traditional/modern scholarship. Through  careful examination and analysis of these materials, she arrives at her refreshing  judgments and conclusions that challenge the conventional views about Liang  literature and culture. A couple of examples should suffice to demonstrate this  accomplishment. Traditional criticism has maintained that the Liang literary world is divided  into two rival camps. One was headed by Xiao Tong, and the other was headed by  his brother, Xiao Gang.e  Th  former espoused traditional views of literature, while  the latter advocated a new type of literature that sought to break away from tradi- © 2011 by University tion. To promote their views, the two camps compiled their own anthologies,  of Hawai‘i Press which are, respectively, the Wen xuan 文選 and Yutai xinyong 玉臺新詠. Through  careful examination of the poems by Xiao Tong and Xiao Gang that were selected  in various sources such as Yutai xinyong, Wen xuan, Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚, Chuxue 270  China Review International: Vol. 17, No. 2, 2010 ji 初學記, Wenyuan yinghua 文苑英華, Yuefu shiji 樂府詩集, the seventeenth- century Zhaoming taizi ji 昭明太子集, and the contemporary scholar Lu Qinli  逯 欽立’s influential Xian-Qin Han-Wei-Jin Nanbei chao shi 先秦漢魏晉南北朝詩,  Tian notices that some of the poems “that an orthodox Confucian moralist would  consider frivolous” were attributed to both Xiao Tong and Xiao Gang. This textual  evidence, together with other statements on literature made by the two, prompts  Tian to state that the alleged rivalry between the two brothers is “imaginary” at  best, and that the two, in fact, share a lot in both their literary views and produc- tion. She further points out that the editorial choices made by some of the editors  of the aforementioned collections “derive from a belief in a certain kind of literary  historical narrative and have in turn reinforced that narrative” (p. 149). As for the  compilations of Wen xuan and Yutai xinyong, Tian shows through her survey of  the many anthology-compiling activities of the time that instead of being repre- sentative collections of two rival literary camps, they are but “chance survivals  from a sea of anthologies produced in the first half of the sixth century,” and that  although they are “immensely valuable in a variety of ways, their importance in  the Liang dynasty itself should not be exaggerated” (p. 108). e Th  second example concerns Tian’s treatment of the folk songs from the  south, “e Th  Sound of Wu” (吳聲) and “e Th  Western Tunes” (西曲). As Tian points  out, traditional criticism usually regards these songs to be representative of lower- class women expressing their longing for and frustration with love.e  Th  evidence  oen ft  used to support this view is the usage of the first-person pronoun, nong 儂,  which is believed to be female, and huan 歡, the party that nong addresses, which  is believed to be male. Tian, however, citing the research of the twelfth-century  scholar Wu Zeng 吳曾, points out that this is not always the case in the Wu songs  because the situation therein is, in fact, oen ft  reversed. She then uses examples  from this repertoire, one of which is the couplet 郎歌妙意曲, 儂亦吐芳詞 (You  sing songs of a subtle sense, / and I, too, give forth sweet lyrics), to argue that “the  male voice is just as prominent in the southern songs as the female voice” (p. 361).  This evidence also prompts her to comment on the cultural and political bias in  traditional criticism with regard to this poetic genre: It seems that a particular range of feelings is considered, either explicitly or  implicitly, as an internal gender maker of the yuefu songs.  .  .  .e  Th  social,  economic, and political inequality of men and women is interiorized as an  essential difference between the two sexes, and emotional unfaithfulness is  construed as one form of gender oppression. (p. 362) One of the most forceful parts of Tian’s book is her reevaluation of the gongti shi 宮體詩 (palace style poetry) and her critique of conventional wisdom in this  matter. Tian argues that contrary to the orthodox tradition that views palace style  poetry as decadent, superficial, and feminine, it constitutes a vigorous, new poetic  experiment. She attempts to show that many of the seemingly simple and superfi- Reviews  271 cial palace style poems, in fact, carry profound meanings of Buddhism, whose  influence was pervasive in the Liang society, especially among the Liang elites. This  approach helps to bring out the deeper meanings of some poems, as in one called  詠單凫 (On a lone duck): 銜苔入淺水 It dives in shallows for beakfuls of moss, 刷羽向沙洲 heads to sandy isles to preen its feathers. 孤飛本欲去 It was ready toy  fl  off all by itself, 得影更淹留 then found its reflection and lingered. Tian’s Buddhist interpretation of this piece is both graceful and convincing: e Th  last line contains an unresolvable [sic] tension: the poet suggests that the  discovery of its reflection prompts the duck to stay, and yet it is its staying that  provides its reflection.e  Th  illusion of having a companion gives rise to fond  attachment, and yet the attachment itself turns out to be the raison d’être for the  creation and maintenance of that illusion. Cause (yin 因) and effect (  guo 果)  become hopelessly entangled. (p. 205) Taking her clue from the word ying 影 (reflection, or shadow), which in  Buddhist literature oen ft  indicates the illusory and insubstantial nature of the  human world, Tian oer http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png China Review International University of Hawai'I Press

Beacon Fire and Shooting Star: The Literary Culture of the Liang (502-557) (review)

China Review International , Volume 17 (2) – Mar 1, 2012

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Abstract

Reviews  269 Xiaofei Tian. Beacon Fire and Shooting Star: The Literary Culture of the Liang (502–557). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. 473 pp.  Hardcover $49.95, isbn 978-0-674-02602-5. This impressive tome is an exhaustive study of literary culture of the Liang dynasty.  It contains thorough research, sensitive analyses, as well as insightful comments  about many aspects of the culture of the Liang, which, as Xiaofei Tian points  out, is one of the most culturally rich, yet most misunderstood, eras of Chinese  history. Tian states in the introduction that her book “is not a conventional literary  history of the Liang,” but “a social and cultural history of the Liang literature”  (p. 4). Her definition of “literary culture” is particularly broad. She says: By “literary culture,” I refer not only to the literary writings themselves but also to  the physical process of literary production such as text copying and transmitting,  to cultural activities such as book collecting, anthologizing, cataloging, and  various forms of literary scholarship, and to the intricate interaction of religion  (particularly Buddhism) and literature. (p. 4) Tian further states that her book “also aims to explore the impact of social and  political structures on the literary world” (p. 4). To meet this broad and ambitious  goal, she arranges her book into eight chapters: chapter 1: “e Th  Rule of Emperor  Wu”; chapter 2: “Mapping the Cultural World (I): Mapping Texts”; chapter 3:  “Mapping the Cultural World (II): Contextualizing Taste”; chapter 4: “e Th  Pleasure  of the Superuo fl us: Palace Style Poetry and Resistance to Canonization”; chapter 5:  “Illusion and Illumination: A New Poetics of Seeing”; chapter 6: “  ‘Suppression of  the Light’: Xiao Gang, Prince and Poet”; chapter 7: “e Th  Cultural Construction  of the North and South”; and chapter 8: “Parting Ways.” Throughout the book,  Tian demonstrates her remarkable ability to marshal a wide array of texts includ- ing dynastic histories, individual collections, anthologies, encyclopedias/ compendiums, B   uddhist scriptures, and traditional/modern scholarship. Through  careful examination and analysis of these materials, she arrives at her refreshing  judgments and conclusions that challenge the conventional views about Liang  literature and culture. A couple of examples should suffice to demonstrate this  accomplishment. Traditional criticism has maintained that the Liang literary world is divided  into two rival camps. One was headed by Xiao Tong, and the other was headed by  his brother, Xiao Gang.e  Th  former espoused traditional views of literature, while  the latter advocated a new type of literature that sought to break away from tradi- © 2011 by University tion. To promote their views, the two camps compiled their own anthologies,  of Hawai‘i Press which are, respectively, the Wen xuan 文選 and Yutai xinyong 玉臺新詠. Through  careful examination of the poems by Xiao Tong and Xiao Gang that were selected  in various sources such as Yutai xinyong, Wen xuan, Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚, Chuxue 270  China Review International: Vol. 17, No. 2, 2010 ji 初學記, Wenyuan yinghua 文苑英華, Yuefu shiji 樂府詩集, the seventeenth- century Zhaoming taizi ji 昭明太子集, and the contemporary scholar Lu Qinli  逯 欽立’s influential Xian-Qin Han-Wei-Jin Nanbei chao shi 先秦漢魏晉南北朝詩,  Tian notices that some of the poems “that an orthodox Confucian moralist would  consider frivolous” were attributed to both Xiao Tong and Xiao Gang. This textual  evidence, together with other statements on literature made by the two, prompts  Tian to state that the alleged rivalry between the two brothers is “imaginary” at  best, and that the two, in fact, share a lot in both their literary views and produc- tion. She further points out that the editorial choices made by some of the editors  of the aforementioned collections “derive from a belief in a certain kind of literary  historical narrative and have in turn reinforced that narrative” (p. 149). As for the  compilations of Wen xuan and Yutai xinyong, Tian shows through her survey of  the many anthology-compiling activities of the time that instead of being repre- sentative collections of two rival literary camps, they are but “chance survivals  from a sea of anthologies produced in the first half of the sixth century,” and that  although they are “immensely valuable in a variety of ways, their importance in  the Liang dynasty itself should not be exaggerated” (p. 108). e Th  second example concerns Tian’s treatment of the folk songs from the  south, “e Th  Sound of Wu” (吳聲) and “e Th  Western Tunes” (西曲). As Tian points  out, traditional criticism usually regards these songs to be representative of lower- class women expressing their longing for and frustration with love.e  Th  evidence  oen ft  used to support this view is the usage of the first-person pronoun, nong 儂,  which is believed to be female, and huan 歡, the party that nong addresses, which  is believed to be male. Tian, however, citing the research of the twelfth-century  scholar Wu Zeng 吳曾, points out that this is not always the case in the Wu songs  because the situation therein is, in fact, oen ft  reversed. She then uses examples  from this repertoire, one of which is the couplet 郎歌妙意曲, 儂亦吐芳詞 (You  sing songs of a subtle sense, / and I, too, give forth sweet lyrics), to argue that “the  male voice is just as prominent in the southern songs as the female voice” (p. 361).  This evidence also prompts her to comment on the cultural and political bias in  traditional criticism with regard to this poetic genre: It seems that a particular range of feelings is considered, either explicitly or  implicitly, as an internal gender maker of the yuefu songs.  .  .  .e  Th  social,  economic, and political inequality of men and women is interiorized as an  essential difference between the two sexes, and emotional unfaithfulness is  construed as one form of gender oppression. (p. 362) One of the most forceful parts of Tian’s book is her reevaluation of the gongti shi 宮體詩 (palace style poetry) and her critique of conventional wisdom in this  matter. Tian argues that contrary to the orthodox tradition that views palace style  poetry as decadent, superficial, and feminine, it constitutes a vigorous, new poetic  experiment. She attempts to show that many of the seemingly simple and superfi- Reviews  271 cial palace style poems, in fact, carry profound meanings of Buddhism, whose  influence was pervasive in the Liang society, especially among the Liang elites. This  approach helps to bring out the deeper meanings of some poems, as in one called  詠單凫 (On a lone duck): 銜苔入淺水 It dives in shallows for beakfuls of moss, 刷羽向沙洲 heads to sandy isles to preen its feathers. 孤飛本欲去 It was ready toy  fl  off all by itself, 得影更淹留 then found its reflection and lingered. Tian’s Buddhist interpretation of this piece is both graceful and convincing: e Th  last line contains an unresolvable [sic] tension: the poet suggests that the  discovery of its reflection prompts the duck to stay, and yet it is its staying that  provides its reflection.e  Th  illusion of having a companion gives rise to fond  attachment, and yet the attachment itself turns out to be the raison d’être for the  creation and maintenance of that illusion. Cause (yin 因) and effect (  guo 果)  become hopelessly entangled. (p. 205) Taking her clue from the word ying 影 (reflection, or shadow), which in  Buddhist literature oen ft  indicates the illusory and insubstantial nature of the  human world, Tian oer

Journal

China Review InternationalUniversity of Hawai'I Press

Published: Mar 1, 2012

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