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Das "Ben shi shi" des Meng Qi (review)

Das "Ben shi shi" des Meng Qi (review) Reviews  267 complex, nuanced, and engrossing work clearly was a labor of enjoyment; as such,  it also illuminates how much fun the best of scholarship can be. Judy Polumbaum Judy Polumbaum is a professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa who studies Chinese media and culture. Marc Nürnberger. Das “Ben shi shi” des Meng Qi. Studien zur  Geistesgeschichte und Literatur in China 12. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz,  2010. xii, 285 pp. Hardcover €64.00 isbn 978-3-447-06002-8. Meng Qi’s (fl. 886) Ben shi shi (Poems and their original incidents) is a fascinating  late Tang dynasty work on poems and the narratives surrounding them. As the  book was composed by an otherwise unknown frustrated official during one of the  most violent periods of medieval China  — the demise of the Tang dynasty in the  wake of Huang Chao’s rebellion  — it becomes clear immediately that we are not  dealing with poetry for poetry’s sake but with poetry as a way of commenting  upon societal issues. Some of the poets we encounter in the Ben shi shi have  slipped into obscurity, but an astonishing number of them rank among those who  for centuries now have been generally recognized as the greatest of the Tang poets:  Li Bai, Du Fu, Bai Juyi, Han Yu, Jia Dao, Liu Yuxi, Wang Wei, and Yuan Zhen.e  Th   settings in which we chance upon these poets are predominantly courtly in nature.  More oen ft  than not, the other characters peopling the anecdotes are emperors,  eunuchs, high officials, noble ladies, and concubines.e  Th  circumstances in which  the Ben shi shi was composed and the nature of the anecdotes it contains have  naturally stimulated a political reading of the Ben shi shi as a collection of  warnings to the rulers of the dying Tang. Marc Nürnberger’s study of the Ben shi shi is conventionally structured.e  Th   introductory part (pp. 1–44) provides information on the transmission of the text  of the Ben shi shi, its traditional reception, its successors or imitations, its author,  its preface, its title (on p. 44, the author proposes no less than ten different  interpretations of the title), and some remarks on traditional Chinese literary  criticism. Most of the book is made up of a complete translation of the forty-one  © 2011 by University of Hawai‘i Press entries that constitute the Ben shi shi.e  Th  translation tries to stay as close as  possible to the original. Every entry is followed by copious commentaries, and the  whole is heavily annotated. Not atypical for the work of a budding academic, there  268  China Review International: Vol. 17, No. 2, 2010 is an unmistakable tendency to try to explain everything, which oen ft  leads to  pages so laden with footnotes that the main text is seriously marginalized.  Throughout the book, all translated entries and passages are given together with  the Chinese original. Laudable though this may be, it leads to the only slightly  irritating feature of the book: All Chinese characters are repeated in every instance  where a Chinese name occurs, even if that name (such as the title Ben shi shi)  occurs hundreds of times. e Th  author contends that earlier research on the Ben shi shi, most notably by  Howard Levy, Graham Martin Sanders, Wang Meng’ou, Yamaguchi Sumiko, and  Uchiyama Chinari, failed to discover the organizing principle according to which  the  various  materials  were  structured.  e Th   fact  that  the  Ben shi shi  consists of  forty- one entries divided over seven sections, of which the first happens to be longer  than all the other sections taken together, has not been very helpful. Neither has  the fact that three-quarters of the anecdotes are set in the periods from 700 to 750  and from 800 to 850. Nürnberger draws clues from the sevenfold structure of the  book and places the Ben shi shi in a long tradition of remonstrative literature,  going back to earlier texts in seven parts written by (or attributed to) Dongfang  Shuo, Mei Sheng, Cao Zhi, and Zhang Xie.e  Th  symbolic number seven also leads  the author to point to another tradition, at least as old as the Wen xuan, namely  that of poetry (Qi ai shi or Poems of sevenfold sorrow) connected with dynastic  decline. In the final pages (pp. 260–263), Nürnberger, eager to discover a scenario  that runs through all of the seven sections of the Ben shi shi, tries to establish  formal parallels between the Ben shi shi and the Qi jian (Seven remonstrances)  from the Chu ci, traditionally attributed to Dongfang Shuo.e  Th  argument here is  perhaps less convincing, but what is highly commendable, in my view at least, is  that Nürnberger attempts to explain the structure of the Ben shi shi by making use  of evidence found in the Chinese literary tradition and, more important, within  the text itself, rather than using the text to illustrate a fashionable element of  contemporary Western discourse. e Th  appendix contains, among other features, a list of titles of book catalogues  mentioning the Ben shi shi (Song through Qing dynasties), a list of existing  editions of the Ben shi shi, comparative tables concerning the imitations of the Ben shi shi, and the occurrence in other early poetry miscellanea of poets mentioned in  the Ben shi shi. An index would have been practical but has not been provided. Jan De Meyer Jan De Meyer is at Ghent University in Belgium. He specializes in Tang dynasty literature and thought. His latest book http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png China Review International University of Hawai'I Press

Das "Ben shi shi" des Meng Qi (review)

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

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University of Hawai'I Press
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Copyright © University of Hawai'i Press.
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Abstract

Reviews  267 complex, nuanced, and engrossing work clearly was a labor of enjoyment; as such,  it also illuminates how much fun the best of scholarship can be. Judy Polumbaum Judy Polumbaum is a professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa who studies Chinese media and culture. Marc Nürnberger. Das “Ben shi shi” des Meng Qi. Studien zur  Geistesgeschichte und Literatur in China 12. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz,  2010. xii, 285 pp. Hardcover €64.00 isbn 978-3-447-06002-8. Meng Qi’s (fl. 886) Ben shi shi (Poems and their original incidents) is a fascinating  late Tang dynasty work on poems and the narratives surrounding them. As the  book was composed by an otherwise unknown frustrated official during one of the  most violent periods of medieval China  — the demise of the Tang dynasty in the  wake of Huang Chao’s rebellion  — it becomes clear immediately that we are not  dealing with poetry for poetry’s sake but with poetry as a way of commenting  upon societal issues. Some of the poets we encounter in the Ben shi shi have  slipped into obscurity, but an astonishing number of them rank among those who  for centuries now have been generally recognized as the greatest of the Tang poets:  Li Bai, Du Fu, Bai Juyi, Han Yu, Jia Dao, Liu Yuxi, Wang Wei, and Yuan Zhen.e  Th   settings in which we chance upon these poets are predominantly courtly in nature.  More oen ft  than not, the other characters peopling the anecdotes are emperors,  eunuchs, high officials, noble ladies, and concubines.e  Th  circumstances in which  the Ben shi shi was composed and the nature of the anecdotes it contains have  naturally stimulated a political reading of the Ben shi shi as a collection of  warnings to the rulers of the dying Tang. Marc Nürnberger’s study of the Ben shi shi is conventionally structured.e  Th   introductory part (pp. 1–44) provides information on the transmission of the text  of the Ben shi shi, its traditional reception, its successors or imitations, its author,  its preface, its title (on p. 44, the author proposes no less than ten different  interpretations of the title), and some remarks on traditional Chinese literary  criticism. Most of the book is made up of a complete translation of the forty-one  © 2011 by University of Hawai‘i Press entries that constitute the Ben shi shi.e  Th  translation tries to stay as close as  possible to the original. Every entry is followed by copious commentaries, and the  whole is heavily annotated. Not atypical for the work of a budding academic, there  268  China Review International: Vol. 17, No. 2, 2010 is an unmistakable tendency to try to explain everything, which oen ft  leads to  pages so laden with footnotes that the main text is seriously marginalized.  Throughout the book, all translated entries and passages are given together with  the Chinese original. Laudable though this may be, it leads to the only slightly  irritating feature of the book: All Chinese characters are repeated in every instance  where a Chinese name occurs, even if that name (such as the title Ben shi shi)  occurs hundreds of times. e Th  author contends that earlier research on the Ben shi shi, most notably by  Howard Levy, Graham Martin Sanders, Wang Meng’ou, Yamaguchi Sumiko, and  Uchiyama Chinari, failed to discover the organizing principle according to which  the  various  materials  were  structured.  e Th   fact  that  the  Ben shi shi  consists of  forty- one entries divided over seven sections, of which the first happens to be longer  than all the other sections taken together, has not been very helpful. Neither has  the fact that three-quarters of the anecdotes are set in the periods from 700 to 750  and from 800 to 850. Nürnberger draws clues from the sevenfold structure of the  book and places the Ben shi shi in a long tradition of remonstrative literature,  going back to earlier texts in seven parts written by (or attributed to) Dongfang  Shuo, Mei Sheng, Cao Zhi, and Zhang Xie.e  Th  symbolic number seven also leads  the author to point to another tradition, at least as old as the Wen xuan, namely  that of poetry (Qi ai shi or Poems of sevenfold sorrow) connected with dynastic  decline. In the final pages (pp. 260–263), Nürnberger, eager to discover a scenario  that runs through all of the seven sections of the Ben shi shi, tries to establish  formal parallels between the Ben shi shi and the Qi jian (Seven remonstrances)  from the Chu ci, traditionally attributed to Dongfang Shuo.e  Th  argument here is  perhaps less convincing, but what is highly commendable, in my view at least, is  that Nürnberger attempts to explain the structure of the Ben shi shi by making use  of evidence found in the Chinese literary tradition and, more important, within  the text itself, rather than using the text to illustrate a fashionable element of  contemporary Western discourse. e Th  appendix contains, among other features, a list of titles of book catalogues  mentioning the Ben shi shi (Song through Qing dynasties), a list of existing  editions of the Ben shi shi, comparative tables concerning the imitations of the Ben shi shi, and the occurrence in other early poetry miscellanea of poets mentioned in  the Ben shi shi. An index would have been practical but has not been provided. Jan De Meyer Jan De Meyer is at Ghent University in Belgium. He specializes in Tang dynasty literature and thought. His latest book

Journal

China Review InternationalUniversity of Hawai'I Press

Published: Mar 1, 2012

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