Ancient History in Classical Chinese Poetry: The Case of a Ming Poetic Anthology (14th to 17 th cent.)

Smirnov Ilya S.

The article discusses the changes undergone by historical themes and heroes of ancient Chinese history in the poetic texts of the Ming period (fourteenth to seventeenth centuries) collected by the noted anthologist Shen De-qian (1637–1769) in his Ming shi be cai. In later verse, poets increasingly tend to abandon the simple historical analogy – which was typical of the earlier poetic tradition – in favor of the symbolic game based on the age-old typification of historical figures: the “hero,” the “villain,” the “avenger.” In doing so, they diverge from the typical historical narrative with its attention to subtle detail and gradation of moral assessments. The hypothesis advanced in the article is that, for lack of a consistent mythology and a fullfledged epic tradition in China, historical figures eventually begin to perform the function of the heroes of myths and epic narratives, eventually supplanting them, whereas the historical narrative – e.g., the Historical Records (Shi ji) by Ssu-ma Qian (ca. 145–85 B.C.) – becomes, in a manner of speaking, a source of quasi-mythological or pseudo-epic subject matter.

Keywords: China, ancient history, Ming times, poetry, historical narrative, mythology, epic tradition

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