Anna Shields, "From 'Literary' to 'Civil': Redefining Literature in the Biographies of the New Tang History"

October 19, 2017 - 4:30pm to 5:30pm
Tubac Room, Student Union

The Department of East Asian Studies welcomes Dr. Anna Shields of Princeton University

Abstract: How does the literary legacy of the past get handed down for future readers? Who wrote the story of Chinese literature as it developed over the dynasties, and what stories did those historians of that literary past try to tell? As inheritors of the literary legacy of the Tang dynasty (618-907), scholars of the Northern Song (960-1127) actively collected, compiled and edited the works of Tang writers, and they wrote lengthy histories of Tang writers’ lives and works as models for their Song-era composition.

This talk examines the revised biographies of Tang writers found in the New Tang History of 1060, focusing on new definitions of literary writing that appear in the 11th-century text. Song Qi, the chief author of the biographies, advocated for literary composition centered on civil culture rather than literary craft, and he used diverse techniques to elaborate his argument across dozens of biographies. The emerging Northern Song view of wen as primarily a tool for public service has long been observed in other types of writing, but rarely considered in historiography. Rewriting Tang lives, I will show, gave Song Qi the chance to defend his new definitions of literature.