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Tang short stories made an important stride in the development of Chinese ... to rework on previous stories orally told, making the new story a crafted work. ...

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Poem used as the theme of flying dagger l.jpg

Poemusedasthethemeof“FlyingDagger

  • 北方有佳人,

  • 绝世而独立。

  • 一顾倾人城,

  • 再顾倾人国。

  • 宁不知,

  • 倾城与倾国?

  • 佳人难再得!

  • IntheNorth,therewasasmashingbeauty,

  • Absolutelymatchlessandunsurpassableinhumanrealm.

  • Whencastingaglanceatyou,shecouldbringdownacity;

  • Whencastinganotherglanceatyou,shecouldruinastate.

  • Notwithstandingone’sknowledgeofherrarebeauty,

  • Sheisnowheretofindnow.


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Other Forms of Writing

  • Thecritical essay—the classical prose essay (gu wen 古文)—wasthemostimportant

    • EpitomizesTangscholar’sachievementinprosewriting

    • Resultedfroma“ReturntoAntiquity”(fugu)movementwhichcalledforan“Ancient/ClassicalStyleProse”movementtoreformthewritingofprose.

    • Intellectualsjoiningthismovementarereferredtoas“restorationists”byLewis,butwouldbetterbeviewedas“classicists.”

    • HanYuwastheleaderofthismovement

      • Advocatedthatliterature,inanyformsbutparticularlyinprose,should“conveytheDao/Way”andisforthesakeoftheDao/Way—theConfucianDao/Way.


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  • TheysawliteratureasafundamentalandguidingaspectofcultureandliterarymenasoneswhocouldhelpreorderTangpoliticsandsocietywiththeirliteraryskillsandclassicalknowledge.

  • Literarywritingsshouldputapremiumonmoralseriousnessaswellaspoliticalandsocialobligations

    • Literary men should presentthesituationofthepeopletotheemperor,inmemorials,politicalpoetry,andfolksongs

    • They should usetheirpersuasivepowerstoadviseandguidetheemperorinhisdecision-making


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  • Han Yu’s notion of “scholar-officials” (shi,士)

    • Understandthatself-cultivationisoffundamentalimportancebecauseitpreparesonetohelpcreatesocialorderorrestoresocialandpoliticalordertoasocietylongacclimatedtoBuddhistandDaoistteachings.

    • Understandthatonlyasageking,whoadherestotheConfucianWay,canrulethestateeffectively

    • UnderstandthehistoricaltrendsthathaveledtothedemiseofConfucianteaching—theriseofBuddhismandDaoism

    • Understandthattheeconomicproblemswerecausedbynonproductive,parasite-likepopulation—theclergy


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HanYu’s“FindingtheOriginoftheWay”

  • “Inantiquitytherewerefourclassesofsubjects;nowtherearesix.Inantiquityonlyoneclasswereteachers;nowtherearethree.Foreachfarmertherearesixpeoplethatconsumehisproduce.Foreachcraftsmansixusehisproducts.Foreachmerchant,therearesixpeoplewhomustliveoffhisprofits.Undersuchconditions,isitanywonderthepeopleareimpoverishedanddriventobrigandage?”


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  • “Inancienttimesmenconfrontedmanydangers.Butsagesarosewhotaughtthemthewaytoliveandtogrowtogether.Theyservedasrulersandasteachers.Theydroveoutreptilesandwildbeastsandhadthepeoplesettlethecentrallands.[When]thepeoplewerecold,theyclothedthem;[when]thepeoplewerehungry,theyfedthem.Becausethepeopledweltintreesandfelltoground,dweltincavesandbecameill,thesagesbuilthousesforthem….”


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  • “ButnowBuddhistdoctrinesmaintainthatonemustrejecttherelationshipbetweenrulerandminister,doawaywithfatherandsonandforbidtheWaythatenablesustoliveandtogrowtogether---allthisinordertoseekwhattheycallpurityandnirvana.ItisfortunateforthemthatthesedoctrinesemergedaftertheXia,Shang,andZhoudynastiesandsowerenotdiscreditedbytheancientsagesandbyConfucius.Itisequallyunfortunateforusthattheydidnotemergebeforethattimeandsocouldhavebeencorrectedbythesamesage.”


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  • “Thetitlesofemperorandofkingaredifferent,yettheyaresagesforthesamereason…..Whatistheteachingoftheformerkings?Tolovelargelyiscalledasenseofhumaneness(ren仁);toactaccordingtowhatshouldbedoneiscalledrighteousness(yi義);toproceedfromtheseprinciplesiscalledthemoralWay(dao 道);tobesufficientuntooneselfwithoutrelyingonexternalsiscalledinnerpower(de 德)…[Theseare]whatIcalltheWay,notwhattheDaoistsandBuddhistshavecalledtheWay”


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  • “…whatcanbedoneaboutthem[BuddhistsandDaoists]?Blockthemornothingwillflow;stopthemornothingwillmove.Turnthemintocommoners,burntheirbooks,turntheirresidencesintohuts.IlluminatethewayoftheFormerKingstoguidethem.Thenthosewidowers,thewidows,theorphans,thechildless,thecrippled,andthediseasedwillbecaredfor.This,indeed,seemspossible.”


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Empress Wu’s reign,

Buddha flanked by two Bodhisattvas

Bodhisattva Manjusri riding the lion,

AD. 777, Daozong’s reign


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Tang Fiction: Short Stories

  • Tang short stories made an important stride in the development of Chinese fiction

    • Writers introduced the new form of story-telling called chuanqi , “tales of the marvelous,”or“transmissions of the remarkable,” written in literary style

    • Sources of stories were drawn from the prosperous, brilliant, and volatile metropolitan life in Chang’an


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Tang Art of Story Telling

  • The crafted literary forms and conscious artistry in the creation of a literary text is expressed in at least four ways:

    • Writers used a range of literary techniques to rework on previous stories orally told, making the new story a crafted work.

    • Dreams played a central role in narratives, reflecting writers insight into reality and their yearning for the fantastic


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  • Writers manipulated received narrative conventions to create new narratives, by skillfullyexpanding theelementsofromantic liaisons between men and spirits, particularly humanized fox-spirits

  • included other literary modes in their narratives: poems, letters, historiographical techniques, and quotations from received works.


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Types of Stories

  • Three major types of stories:

    • Love stories,foxromance(pseudo-historical)

    • Knight errantry/Chivalry (often historical)

    • Supernatural (purely fictional)

  • Most easily identified features

    • Use of incidental poems

    • Capital city was the setting

    • Didactic commentaries made in conclusion; Moral lessons taught in the form of satire

    • Narrator also a witness to the narrated event

    • More realistic human elements were used


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Characteristics of the Stories

  • Love stories,foxromance:

    • Tended to portray unrequited love resulted from the heartless lover or the mischievous courtesan

  • Knight errantry/Chivalry

    • protagonists are often historical personages

    • Stories are based on the mix of historical facts and unofficial histories


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  • The Supernatural

    • tell the love between a man and a woman who is the spirit of the animal, usually fox

    • The animal, after attaining the Way and possessing supernatural power, is able to transform itself into human form, usually a woman

    • On rare occasions, stories may have a happy ending and the superhuman is allowed to run its happy course


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Realities Reflected in Tang Stories

  • Some aspects of the stories reflect realities of Tang culture

    • numerous activities of the Tang city dwellers, such as scholars, merchants, artisans, courtesans, vagabonds, beggars….

    • the structure and look of the Tang cities, towns, and villages

    • The ethics, values, customs,…reflected the mix of Confucian, Buddhist, Daoist tenets.

    • Romance and sex were normal human desires, eroticism and sensuality were not necessarily condemnable. They were allowed in private spaces.


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  • Money represented power, status, and family order

  • Men were weak, passive, without character, while women were active, decisive, and brave


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Why Short Stories?

  • Reasons for writing short stories? Writers’ desire to

    • Continue the story-telling tradition

    • Refine previous zhiguai fiction

    • Reflect their sensitivities to social changes that supplied new subject matters

    • Show their skills and versatility in writing

    • Satirize powerful and exploitative aristocrats

    • Express sympathy and praise for righteous and brave women


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