A Portrait of Five Dynasties China: From the Memoirs of Wang by Glen Dudbridge

By Glen Dudbridge

The anecdotal literature of late-medieval China isn't really unknown, however it is under-used. Glen Dudbridge explores collections of anecdotal memoirs to build an intimate portrait of the 1st 1/2 the 10th century as visible via those who lived via it. the writer Wang Renyu's grownup existence coincided heavily with that interval, and his memoirs, although in some way transmitted, might be mostly recovered from encyclopaedia quotations. His adventure led from adolescence at the north-west border with Tibet, via provider with the dominion of Shu, to a mainstream profession below 4 successive dynasties in northern China. He bore own witness to a few nice occasions, but additionally travelled broadly and transcribed fabric from a life of conversations with colleagues within the imperial Hanlin Academy.

The examine first units Wang's existence in its historic context and discusses the character and cost of his memoirs. It then pursues a few underlying topics that run in the course of the collections, featuring approximately eighty exact goods in translation. jointly those provide a characterization of an age of inter-regional battle within which person lives, now not grand old narrative, shape the focal point. A nuanced self-portrait of the writer emerges, combining positive aspects that appear alien to trendy values with others that appear extra familiar.

Four appendixes provide the textual content of the author's tombstone epitaph; an in depth checklist of his surviving memoir goods; information from music catalogues at the early transmission of his writings; and Wang Renyu's personal definition of the 4 musical modes inherited from the Tang dynasty.

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Extra resources for A Portrait of Five Dynasties China: From the Memoirs of Wang Renyu (880-956)

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9135–40; notice by John W. Haeger in Song biographies, 552–5. 1469. 112 The epitaph gives elaborate details on his death, primary and secondary burial, and the attending ritual formalities. 110 32 A Portrait of Five Dynasties China predictable that this tireless writer would spend his last years in literary pursuits, and particularly in putting his formal literary legacy into final shape. 113 LEGACY IN LAT ER T IM E S In 984 Li Fang, from the eminence of his position as vice-director of the Song Secretariat, celebrated his old examination mentor’s personal qualities in these terms: The Master kept the energies of heaven and earth in harmony together.

Definition of genres, at least in this branch of literature, is a secondary, not a primary activity. The practice of anecdotal narrative in medieval China was too complex, rich and flexible to submit to easy pigeonholing, and Wang Renyu’s surviving writings have offered a challenge to classifiers throughout the ages. These generic problems are partly concerned with questions of historicity. The move to the xiao shuo class suggests that Wang Renyu’s memoirs were seen as casual marginalia, not responsible documentation.

Another important part of their house style, perfectly rational in a compilation of thousands of items taken out of their contexts, was to impose a uniform third-person narrative, even when the source-texts may have used the first person. For readers of Wang Renyu this point is crucial. We have two pieces of evidence that he did indeed use the first person in his narratives. One is the memoir 180, transmitted in a different collection, where he consistently refers to himself with the pronoun yu 余;136 the other is 192, in which the Taiping guang ji editors forgot their own rule in letting that same pronoun remain near the end of the item.

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