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A History of Chinese Letters and Epistolary Culture
 900429175X, 9789004291751

Table of contents :
history of chinese letters and epistolary culture-antje richter-2015
List of Illustrations
About the Contributors
Introduction: The Study of Chinese Letters and Epistolary Culture
Part 1 Material Aspects of Chinese Letter Writing Culture
Chapter 1 Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period
Chapter 2 Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars: The Long and Eventful Life of Yan Zhenqing’s (709–785) Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter
Chapter 3 Chinese Decorated Letter Papers
Chapter 4 Material and Symbolic Economies: Letters and Gifts in Early Medieval China
Part 2 Contemplating the Genre
Chapter 5 Letters in the Wen xuan
Chapter 6 Between Letter and Testament: Letters of Familial Admonition in Han and Six Dynasties China
Chapter 7 The Space of Separation: The Early Medieval Tradition of Four-Syllable “Presentation and Response” Poetry
Chapter 8 Letters and Memorials in the Early Third Century: The Case of Cao Zhi
Chapter 9 Liu Xie’s Institutional Mind: Letters, Administrative Documents, and Political Imagination in Fifth- and Sixth-Century China
Chapter 10 Bureaucratic Influences on Letters in Middle Period China: Observations from Manuscript Letters and Literati Discourse
Part 3 Diversity of Content and Style
Section 1 Informal Letters
Chapter 11 Private Letter Manuscripts from Early Imperial China
Chapter 12 Su Shi’s Informal Letters in Literature and Life
Chapter 13 The Letter as Artifact of Sentiment and Legal Evidence
Chapter 14 Infinite Variations of Writing and Desire: Love Letters in China and Europe
Chapter 15 Writing from Revolution’s Debris: Shen Congwen’s Family Letters in the Mao Era
Section 2 Literary Letters
Chapter 16 Captured in Words: Functions and Limits of Autobiographical Expression in Early Chinese Epistolary Literature
Chapter 17 Civil Examinations and Cover Letters in the Mid-Tang: Dugu Yu’s (776–815) “Letter Submitted to Attendant Gentleman Quan of the Ministry of Rites”
Chapter 18 The Inscription of Emotion in Mid-Tang Collegial Letters
Chapter 19 Halves and Holes: Collections, Networks, and Epistolary Practices of Chan Monks
Chapter 20 Letters as Windows on Ming-Qing Women’s Literary Culture
Chapter 21 Epistolary Networks and Practice in the Early Qing: The Letters Written to Yan Guangmin
Section 3 Open Letters
Chapter 22 Aid and Comfort: Lu Zhaolin’s Letters
Chapter 23 She Association Circulars from Dunhuang
Chapter 24 Between Writing and Publishing Letters: Publishing a Letter about Book Proprietorship
Chapter 25 Opinions Going Public: Letters to the Editors in China’s Earliest Modern Newspapers
Scholarship on Chinese Epistolary Literature and Culture: A Select Bibliography

Citation preview

A History of Chinese Letters and Epistolary Culture

Handbook of Oriental Studies Handbuch der Orientalistik Section four


Edited by Stephen F. Teiser Martin Kern Timothy Brook


The titles published in this series are listed at brill.com/ho4

A History of Chinese Letters and Epistolary Culture Edited by

Antje Richter


Cover illustration: Wang Shizhen. Letter. Ink on paper with polychrome woodblock-printed design. H ca. 19 cm. Princeton University Art Museum / Art Resource, NY. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A history of Chinese letters and epistolary culture / edited by Antje Richter.   pages cm. — (Handbook of Oriental studies = Handbuch der Orientalistik. Section Four, China ; 31)  Includes bibliographical references and index.  ISBN 978-90-04-29175-1 (hardback : acid-free paper) — ISBN 978-90-04-29212-3 (e-book) 1. Chinese letters—History and criticism. 2. Letter writing, Chinese. I. Richter, Antje, editor.  PL2400.H57 2015  895.16’009—dc23 2015003080

This publication has been typeset in the multilingual “Brill” typeface. With over 5,100 characters covering Latin, IPA, Greek, and Cyrillic, this typeface is especially suitable for use in the humanities. For more information, please see www.brill.com/brill-typeface. issn 0169-9520 isbn 978-90-04-29175-1 (hardback) isbn 978-90-04-29212-3 (e-book) Copyright 2015 by Koninklijke Brill nv, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill nv incorporates the imprints Brill, Brill Hes & De Graaf, Brill Nijhoff, Brill Rodopi and Hotei Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Koninklijke Brill nv provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910, Danvers, ma 01923, usa. Fees are subject to change. This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Contents Acknowledgements ix List of Illustrations xi Abbreviations xiii About the Contributors xiv Introduction: The Study of Chinese Letters and Epistolary Culture 1 Antje Richter

PART 1 Material Aspects of Chinese Letter Writing Culture 1 Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period 17 Y. Edmund Lien 2 Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars: The Long and Eventful Life of Yan Zhenqing’s (709–785) Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter 53 Amy McNair 3 Chinese Decorated Letter Papers 97 Suzanne E. Wright 4 Material and Symbolic Economies: Letters and Gifts in Early Medieval China 135 Xiaofei Tian

PART 2 Contemplating the Genre 5 Letters in the Wen xuan 189 David R. Knechtges 6 Between Letter and Testament: Letters of Familial Admonition in Han and Six Dynasties China 239 Antje Richter



7 The Space of Separation: The Early Medieval Tradition of Four-Syllable “Presentation and Response” Poetry 276 Zeb Raft 8

Letters and Memorials in the Early Third Century: The Case of Cao Zhi 307 Robert Joe Cutter


Liu Xie’s Institutional Mind: Letters, Administrative Documents, and Political Imagination in Fifth- and Sixth-Century China 331 Pablo Ariel Blitstein


Bureaucratic Influences on Letters in Middle Period China: Observations from Manuscript Letters and Literati Discourse 363 Lik Hang Tsui

PART 3 Diversity of Content and Style section 1 Informal Letters 11

Private Letter Manuscripts from Early Imperial China 403 Enno Giele


Su Shi’s Informal Letters in Literature and Life 475 Ronald Egan


The Letter as Artifact of Sentiment and Legal Evidence 508 Janet Theiss


Infinite Variations of Writing and Desire: Love Letters in China and Europe 546 Bonnie S. McDougall


Writing from Revolution’s Debris: Shen Congwen’s Family Letters in the Mao Era 582 Jie Li



section 2 Literary Letters 16

Captured in Words: Functions and Limits of Autobiographical Expression in Early Chinese Epistolary Literature 621 Matthew Wells


Civil Examinations and Cover Letters in the Mid-Tang: Dugu Yu’s (776–815) “Letter Submitted to Attendant Gentleman Quan of the Ministry of Rites” 643 Alexei Ditter


The Inscription of Emotion in Mid-Tang Collegial Letters 675 Anna M. Shields


Halves and Holes: Collections, Networks, and Epistolary Practices of Chan Monks 721 Natasha Heller

20 Letters as Windows on Ming-Qing Women’s Literary Culture 744 Ellen Widmer 21

Epistolary Networks and Practice in the Early Qing: The Letters Written to Yan Guangmin 775 David Pattinson

section 3 Open Letters 22

Aid and Comfort: Lu Zhaolin’s Letters 829 Paul W. Kroll

23 She Association Circulars from Dunhuang 853 Imre Galambos 24 Between Writing and Publishing Letters: Publishing a Letter about Book Proprietorship 878 Suyoung Son



25 Opinions Going Public: Letters to the Editors in China’s Earliest Modern Newspapers 900 Natascha Gentz Scholarship on Chinese Epistolary Literature and Culture: A Select Bibliography 933 Index 942

Acknowledgements My greatest thanks go to the authors of this book. Their enthusiasm for this project and generosity in sharing their learning about Chinese literature and culture have been a wonderful source of inspiration for my own scholarship. My conversations with some of the authors and correspondences with others—by email, alas—go back more than a decade. First of all I would like to thank those of the authors who participated in the workshop held at the University of Colorado at Boulder on 17 and 18 August 2012: R. Joe Cutter, Ronald C. Egan, Imre Galambos, Enno Giele, Natasha Heller, David R. Knechtges, Paul W. Kroll, Y. Edmund Lien, Bonnie S. McDougall, David Pattinson, Zeb Raft, Anna M. Shields, Suyoung Son, Janet M. Theiss, Xiaofei Tian, Lik Hang Tsui, Matthew Wells, and Suzanne E. Wright. They have all made this workshop a most stimulating and enjoyable gathering. For the organizational support of the workshop I am grateful to the Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, in particular for the cooperation of our Program Assistant Lynne Buckley, and to Xuechun Wang and Fletcher Coleman, at the time graduate students in the Chinese program. The workshop was made possible by a generous grant of the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange and by additional funding from the University of Colorado at Boulder: in particular the Center for Asian Studies, the Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Graduate Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and the Dean’s Fund for Excellence. Special thanks go to those authors who were not present at the conference, either because they could not be in Boulder at the time or because they joined the project later: Pablo Ariel Blitstein, Alexei Ditter, Natascha Gentz, Jie Li, Amy McNair, and Ellen Widmer. Without their crucial contributions this would be a sadly incomplete volume. Brill has played an essential role throughout, from the original conception to the final production of this book. I vividly remember my first conversation with Albert Hoffstädt at the annual conference of the European Association of Chinese Scholars in Riga in the summer of 2010. Albert with his extensive background in the Classics—where research of letters has long been a thriving field—immediately saw the potential of this field in Chinese studies and suggested that I consider Brill’s series Handbook of Oriental Studies for the publication of a History of Chinese Letters and Epistolary Culture. Of course, I was only too happy to do so. Since the workshop in 2012, Patricia Radder has guided me most competently and patiently through the various stages of production. I cannot thank her enough. The book has also benefitted from a Kayden



Research Grant, which allowed me to enlist the help of two graduate students in my department, Laura Garrison and Alan Solomon, whose careful proofreading has been tremendously helpful. My husband, Matthias L. Richter, has heard much about this project over the years and supported me in many ways; I am grateful for his love, patience, advice, and cheer. Antje Richter Boulder, March 2015

List of Illustrations 1.1 Dunhuang Relay Routes during the Han Period 40 2.1 Yan Zhenqing, Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter, ca. 775 55 2.2 Zhang Xu (after), Stomach Ache Letter, undated 65 2.3 Yan Zhenqing (after), Wenshu Letter, ca. 775 66 2.4 Wen Zhengming, Letter to Hua Zhongfu, ca. 1530 72 2.5 Yan Zhenqing (after), Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter, ca. 1603 81 2.6 Qian Feng, copy of Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter, undated 91 2.7 Qian Feng, copy of Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter, undated 91 3.1 Shen Liao, Dong zhi tie, detail 103 3.2 Li Kan, att., Ink Bamboo, detail of Forest of Gentlemen 104 3.3 Bao Tingbo, Letter 107 3.4 Lu Zhi, Letter 108 3.5 Wang Shizhen, Letter 109 3.6 Gao Shixian, Letter 110 3.7 Zhang Zhaoxiang, Wenmeizhai baihua shijian pu 111 3.8 Yu Shaosong, Letter 112 3.9 Jiang Biao, Letter to Shen Xuanhuai, 1897–99 114 3.10 Hu Zhengyan, Thinking of Carp 117 3.11 Hu Zhengyan, Lai’s Garment 119 3.12 Zou Zhilin, Letter 121 3.13 Li Yu, Letter 126 3.14 Anonymous, Cinnabar Pills Extend Spring 128 3.15 Min Qiji, leaf 9 from Xixiang ji 130 10.1 Zhazi by Zhao Ding 370 10.2 Zhazi by Lu You (1) 373 10.3 Zhazi by Lu You (2) 374 11.1 Letter on coarse silk from Xuanquanzhi, recto and verso 408 11.2 Sealing label from Niya with seal intact and Kharoshti writing on the concealed surfaces 416 11.3 Dimensions of sealing labels plotted over the folding creases of paper manuscripts 418 11.4 Two wooden sealing labels from Juyan with address inscriptions 420 11.5 Silk pouch from Dunhuang inscribed with a letter address 421 11.6 Silk letter from Yuan to Zifang found at Xuanquanzhi, Dunhuang 429 11.7 Silk letter from Jian to Sir Zhong and his wife found at Xuanquanzhi, Dunhuang 436 11.8 Two silk letters to Youqing and Junming found at Dunhuang 440–41


List Of Illustrations

11.9 Letter copy on a wooden rod found at Yumen, Huahai, Dunhuang, two sides 446 11.10 Letter from Zheng Hong to Li Zizhang found at Juyan, recto and verso 448 11.11 Letter from Xuan to Yousun and his wife found at Juyan, recto and verso 451 11.12 Two Qin letters from Shuihudi, recto and verso 458–59 11.13 A letter and a label from Liye 465 11.14 A letter or greeting tablet from Tianchang, recto and verso 468 14.1 Last page of Lu Xun’s letter to Xu Guangping, dated May 15 [1929], with Lu Xun’s “elephant” signature 576 14.2 Xu Guangping’s letter to Lu Xun, dated May 20, which she wrote on receiving his letter of May 15 577 14.3 The first page of Lu Xun’s letter to Xu Guangping, dated May 23; the notepaper shows a lotus flower 578 23.1 Manuscript Or.8210/S.865V with four unfinished fragments of circulars written from left to right 869 23.2 Manuscript Or.8210/S.329V with a circular running from left to right 871


Asia Major Asiatische Studien / Études Asiatiques Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews Early Medieval China Harvard Journal for Asiatic Studies Journal of the American Oriental Society Late Imperial China Modern Chinese Literature (and Culture) Monumenta Serica T’oung Pao

About the Contributors Pablo Ariel Blitstein is Associate Researcher at the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” at the University of Heidelberg. He holds a PhD in Chinese history from the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO, France) and is the author of the book, Les Fleurs du royaume: savoirs lettrés et pouvoir impérial dans la Chine du Sud aux Ve–VIe siècles (Paris: les Belles Lettres), forthcoming in 2015. He has been a research and teaching assistant at the INALCO and at the Collège de France and is co-founder of a Chinese history section at the Universidad de San Martín (CEMECH, Argentina). Robert Joe Cutter earned his PhD in Asian Languages and Literatures (Chinese) from the University of Washington. From 1983 until 2005, he was a professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently director of the School of International Letters & Cultures at Arizona State University, a position he has held since 2005. His primary field of teaching and research is early medieval Chinese literature. Alexei Ditter is an Associate Professor of Chinese at Reed College. His research explores the interaction between social and textual practices in medieval Chinese literature, focusing in particular on questions of place, genre, and memory. He has published articles on the writing of Tang literary histories in the twentieth century, conceptions of urban space in the ninth century Records of Monasteries and Stupas, and the commercialization of commemorative writing in the midTang. He is currently completing a monograph on changing practices and styles of prose writing in China’s late-eighth and early-ninth centuries. Ronald Egan is Professor of Sinology in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford University. His research is on Tang and Song period poetry, aesthetics, and literary culture. He is the author of The Problem of Beauty: Aesthetic Thought and Pursuits in Northern Song Dynasty China (2006), and the translator of selected essays from Qian Zhongshu’s Guanzhui bian, which appeared as Limited Views: Essays on Ideas and Letters by Qian Zhongshu (1998).

About The Contributors


His newest book, The Burden of Female Talent: The Poet Li Qingzhao and Her History in China, was published by the Asia Center at Harvard University in 2013. Imre Galambos is a specialist of Chinese manuscripts, who initially worked on Warring States scribal habits and published a book on the orthography of the Chinese script. After receiving his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, he worked for the International Dunhuang Project at the British Library for ten years, where his research interest gradually shifted to the Dunhuang manuscripts. More recently, he has been also working on Tangut prints and manuscripts from the territory of the Xixia state. He has been teaching at the University of Cambridge since 2012. Natascha Gentz (Vittinghoff ) took up the position as Chair of Chinese at the University of Edinburgh in 2006. She received her MA (1994) and PhD (1998) degrees from Heidelberg University. Her studies included residences at Fudan University, Shanghai (1988–90), People’s University, Beijing (1995–96), and Tokyo University (1997). In 2002 she became Junior Professor at Frankfurt University. Her publications include a monograph on the history Chinese journalism, two edited volumes— one on transcultural knowledge transfer in Late Qing China, and one on how global media are shaping cultural identities—and a book on contemporary Chinese historical drama. Enno Giele holds the chair for Classical Chinese Studies at the University of Heidelberg. Previously he held positions in Münster, Berkeley, and Tucson. He has published on early imperial China’s institutional, cultural, and social history. Publications include “Excavated Manuscripts: Context and Methodology” (in China’s Early Empires: A Re-appraisal, Cambridge University Press, 2010); “Kodai no shikiji nōryoku wo ikaga ni hantei suru no ka” [How to establish ancient literacy?] (in Sanzennen no kanji, Rinsen shoten, 2009); and Imperial Decision-Making and Communication in Early China: A Study of Cai Yong’s Duduan (Harrassowitz, 2006). Natasha Heller teaches Chinese religions at UCLA. She is the author of Illusory Abiding: The Cultural Construction of the Chan Monk Zhongfeng Mingben (Harvard Asia


About The Contributors

Center, 2014). Other research articles have considered the relationship between Buddhism and secular culture in China from the Tang dynasty through the Ming. Her current book project is a study of Buddhist children’s literature in contemporary Taiwan. David R. Knechtges is Professor Emeritus of Chinese Literature at the University of Washington. He is the author of over 100 articles and ten books including Two Studies of the Han Fu (1968), The Han Rhapsody (1976), Wen-xuan or Selections of Refined Literature (three volumes, 1982–96), and Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature: A Reference Guide (2010), co-authored with Chang Taiping (four volumes, Brill, 2010–14). He is the editor of the English version of the four-volume Peking University The History of Chinese Civilization published by Cambridge University Press in 2012. Paul W. Kroll is Professor of Chinese at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has published widely on medieval literature and cultural history, and is most recently the author of A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese (Brill, 2014). Jie Li is Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. Teaching and researching in the areas of modern Chinese literary, film, and cultural studies, she is the author of Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life (2014) and is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Utopian Ruins: A Memory Museum of the Mao Era. She has also co-edited a volume entitled Red Legacies in China: Cultural Afterlives of the Communist Revolution (forthcoming). Y. Edmund Lien obtained his PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1972. He worked as professor, researcher, manager, and entrepreneur in high tech areas until 2004, when he started to pursue his interest in Chinese literature. He completed his doctorate at the University of Washington, Seattle in 2011 and is presently an Affiliate Assistant Professor at the University of Washington.

About The Contributors


Bonnie S. McDougall is Visiting Professor of Chinese at the University of Sydney and Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh. She has also taught at Harvard University, the University of Oslo, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the City University of Hong Kong, and has spent long periods in teaching, translating, and research in China. She has written extensively on modern Chinese literature and translated poetry, fiction, drama, letters, essays, and film scripts by Bei Dao, Gu Cheng, Ah Cheng, Chen Kaige, Lu Xun, Mao Zedong, Wang Anyi, Dung Kai-cheung and many others. For further details see www. bonniesmcdougall.com. Amy McNair is Professor of Chinese Art History at the University of Kansas and serves as Editor-in-chief of Artibus Asiae. She recently published an essay on the Cuan Baozi Stele, called “Looking at Chinese Calligraphy: The Anxiety of Anonymity and Calligraphy from the Periphery,” in Looking at Asian Art edited by Katherine R. Tsiang and Martin J. Powers (2012). Her annotated bibliography on calligraphy appears in Oxford Bibliographies Online: Chinese Studies, and she is currently engaged in writing “The Visual Arts in the Sui and T’ang” for Cambridge History of China: Volume 4, Sui and T’ang China, 618–907, Part II. David Pattinson gained his PhD in pre-modern Chinese literature from the Australian National University, and has taught in Hong Kong and New Zealand. Since 2000 he has worked at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom where he teaches Chinese history and literature. His main research interests are in letter-writing and letter collections, social networks, and responses to social upheaval in late imperial China. He has also written on pre-modern beekeeping in China. Zeb Raft is Assistant Professor of Chinese Literature at the University of Alberta. His research interests include early medieval poetry and literary culture, Chinese rhetoric, and the translation of Chinese poetry into western languages. Antje Richter is Associate Professor of Chinese in the Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She studies the culture of early and medieval China, with research interests in literature, art history, and medicine. Her first book in English, Letter Writing and Epistolary Culture in


About The Contributors

Early Medieval China, was published in 2013 by University of Washington Press. She is currently working on two major projects: an exploration of Chinese literary imagination and a study of medical narratives in medieval China. Anna M. Shields is Associate Professor of Chinese at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is the author of two books: Crafting a Collection: The Cultural Contexts and Poetic Practice of the Collection from among the Flowers (Huajian ji) (Harvard University Asia Center, 2006) and One Who Knows Me: Friendship and Literary Culture in Mid-Tang China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2015) and several articles on Tang and Five Dynasties literary writing. She is currently working on a new project that examines Five Dynasties and Northern Song representations of Tang dynasty literary culture. Suyoung Son is Assistant Professor of Chinese literature and culture at Cornell University. Her research focuses on the social practice of writing and reading in light of the historical conditions of print culture, commercialization, and urbanization from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Her current book project examines the self-publishing boom of writers in early Qing China, specifically the ways in which the material conditions of print reshaped literary production, circulation, and reception. Janet Theiss is Associate Professor of History at the University of Utah. She is the author of Disgraceful Matters: The Politics of Chastity in Eighteenth-Century China (2005) and articles on various topics in Chinese legal, family and gender history. She is currently working on a book tentatively titled Family Scandal and Family Fortune in Qing China, a study of a state-elite relationships based on a complex cluster of adultery and corruption cases from the early Qianlong period. Xiaofei Tian is Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard University. She is the author of Tao Yuanming and Manuscript Culture: The Record of a Dusty Table (2005), Beacon Fire and Shooting Star: The Literary Culture of the Liang (502–557) (2007), and Visionary Journeys: Travel Writings from Early Medieval and Nineteenth-century China (2012). Her most recent publication is The World of a Tiny Insect: A Memoir of the Taiping Rebellion and Its Aftermath (2014), a translation, with critical introduction and notes, of a late nineteenth-century

About The Contributors


memoir. Her Chinese publications include a book on the sixteenth-century novel The Plum in the Golden Vase. Lik Hang Tsui teaches Chinese history and Classical Chinese as a Departmental Lecturer at the University of Oxford. A graduate of Peking University, he is completing a doctoral dissertation on Southern Song epistolary culture at Oxford. He has conducted research at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and in the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taipei as a doctoral fellow, and has received the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. He is the author of several articles and reviews on premodern Chinese history and culture in both English and Chinese. He has also taken part in translating several books. Matthew Wells is Assistant Professor of Chinese at the University of Kentucky. His research interests include, historiography, biography, autobiography, and life writing in early Chinese literature. He is the author of the book To Die and Not Decay: Autobiography and the Pursuit of Immortality in Early China (2009). Ellen Widmer is the Mayling Soong Professor of Chinese Studies at Wellesley College. Her research fields include Chinese women’s literature of the Ming and Qing dynasties, history of the book, missionary history, and traditional Chinese fiction and drama. She is the author of two monographs, The Margins of Utopia: Shui-hu hou-chuan and the Literature of Ming Loyalism (1987), and The Beauty and the Book: Women and Fiction in Nineteenth Century China (2006). Her edited volumes include Writing Women in Late Imperial China (with Kang-i Sun Chang, 1997), Trauma and Transcendence in Early Qing Literature (with Wilt Idema and Wai-yee Li, 2006); China’s Christian Colleges: Cross-Cultural Connections (with Daniel Bays, 2008); and The Inner Chambers and Beyond: Women Writers from Ming to Qing (with Grace Fong, 2010). Suzanne E. Wright received an MA from the University of California, Berkeley, and the PhD from Stanford University with a dissertation on “Cultural Literacy and Social Identity in Woodblock-printed Letter Papers of the Late Ming Dynasty.” She is Associate Professor of art history at the University of Tennessee. She has published on late-Ming catalogues of letter paper designs, the life and work of the


About The Contributors

17th-century publisher Hu Zhengyan, and the use of letter paper-type designs in illustrated literature. She is currently researching woodblock-printed cards for drinking games and other images related to the themes of drinking and drunkenness and is co-curating an exhibition of Ming and Qing prints for the Huntington Library.

Introduction: The Study of Chinese Letters and Epistolary Culture* Antje Richter It would seem surprising that this book should be the first publication, in any language, dedicated to the study of Chinese epistolary literature and culture in its entirety; surprising because of the immense riches of a tradition of writing, transmitting, reading, and preserving letters that, in China, spans more than two millennia; surprising also because of the acute attention that scholars in other disciplines have been paying to letter writing for at least a century and a half—from the European Classics and ancient Near Eastern Studies to research on the dramatic changes in written communication we are witnessing in our day and age.1 One reason for the relative neglect of epistolary matters in China seems to be that letters do not play a significant role in the Confucian canon, in contrast to the epistles in the New Testament, whose cultural significance lead to a sustained scholarly interest in this medium of written communication. Another reason for the delay of attention to the Chinese epistolary world may be that letter writing was well and alive in China until rather recently, when it began to be substituted by digital media of written communication in the 1990s. In the West, the decline of handwriting as a means of communication was felt more than a century earlier with the spread of typewriters and telecommunication, which failed or were slow to gain a foothold in China.2 Meanwhile, nostalgia for the vanishing world of letter writing is growing in China, too, and along with it, scholarly interest. There has been a moderate rise in publications since the mid-1990s, both in China and the West, but much more is yet to be discovered in the long and incredibly rich history of Chinese epistolary culture. The present volume with its wide range of essays on a variety of epistolary matters from the third century BCE to the twentieth century clears and covers enormous ground and by this very act exposes the even larger * I would like to thank Brill’s anonymous reviewer for their appreciative, perceptive, and constructive reading of this introduction (not to mention every contribution in this volume!) and for their immensely helpful comments. 1  The bibliography of scholarship on Chinese epistolary literature and culture in the appendix includes a very brief section on seminal studies of letter writing in other cultures. 2  I have also written about this in the introduction to Antje Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture in Early Medieval China (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013), 5–7.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���5 | doi ��.��63/9789004292123_002



uncharted territory that is still awaiting discovery and appreciation, thus highlighting the great potential for future research. The twenty-five essays collected in this book demonstrate the significance of written communication in China as well as that of our research in this field. They show letters to be all-important elements in the negotiation of societal as well as individual values and relationships in all kinds of situations and throughout Chinese history since at least the Han dynasty; they examine the literary and visual means by which letter writers attempted to do justice to this important role; they propose ways of understanding historical letters that largely came down to us not as original manuscripts but in edited form; they cast light on questions of authorial authenticity in the context of a genre regulated by normative discourses and employed for varying, often unknown agendas—to mention only the most crucial concerns. Not the least, they introduce dozens of letters, often the first translation into English, and thus make epistolary history palpable in all its vitality and diversity: letters written by men and women from all walks of life to friends and lovers, princes and kings, scholars and monks, seniors and juniors, family members and neighbors, potential patrons, newspaper editors, and many more. Among them are very personal documents that were never meant to be read by anyone but the addressee, but also explicitly open letters and circulars as well as letters that seem to hover between these poles. There are literary and non-literary letters; letters that came down to us as manuscripts written by obscure authors and letters transmitted from the greatest writers of their times; casual personal letters and letters polished to achieve maximum public effectiveness. In order to draw attention to the broad spectrum of linguistic conventions of letter writing and to familiarize readers with this language that is often regarded as difficult to access, all epistolary texts translated here are also provided in the original Chinese. Another strength of this volume is that its essays take very different approaches. This is not only due to the breadth of epistolary material they introduce, but also reflects the potential of epistolary material, which allows and calls for very different modes of scholarly inquiry.

Part 1: Material Aspects of Chinese Letter Writing Culture

The materiality of written communication is particularly pronounced. While the material form in which a poem, disquisition, or biography circulates may certainly influence its reception, the singularity of the exemplar we are reading is usually of little or no concern. A letter, on the other hand, is written both with a specific addressee in mind and with the intention and knowledge that



it is this specific piece of writing—and physical object—that will finally reach the addressee. Since not only pieces of information but also material objects are passed on (in stark contrast to digital written communication), letters were often recognized and treasured beyond their sheer messages as tokens of the absent physical body of their writers; an idea that in China became especially powerful in the perception of handwriting. The distinct materiality of letters lends a weight to modes of transmission, handwriting, writing materials, and connections with other types of exchanges that is unparalleled by other genres. While these important areas of epistolary research are to some extent reflected in many of the contributions throughout this volume, they are at the heart of the four chapters in Part 1, Material Aspects of Chinese Letter Writing Culture. In the first chapter, Y. Edmund Lien explores archeological remains and textual evidence—including manuscripts and received texts—from Dunhuang in the Han and Tang dynasties to reconstruct the postal relay system of the time. His study clarifies terminological difficulties presented by historical documents about this important component of Chinese bureaucracy and casts light on the varied functions of postal stations, among them the transmission of official communications, reconnaissance activities, and the provision of transportation and lodging for traveling officials. Lien’s essay about aspects of the infrastructure and procedures of the transmission of official documents in early imperial China opens a wide field in the study of Chinese history and culture that is immensely worthy of future exploration.3 Amy McNair’s essay is dedicated to the tremendously important role that calligraphy plays in Chinese epistolary history. Based on the idea that handwriting expresses the personality and disposition of the writer, personal letters have enjoyed special calligraphic appreciation since the Han dynasty. Retracing the “long and eventful life” of a very brief letter by the celebrated Tang dynasty calligrapher Yan Zhenqing 顏真卿 (709–785), McNair explores the reception of this letter, which is famous for its characters in cursive script and its author’s reputation for loyalty, from the time of its writing in 775 up to the present day, demonstrating the extraordinary aesthetic power of a piece of epistolary calligraphy. Letter writing materials, and stationery in particular, are at the center of Suzanne E. Wright’s investigation of Ming dynasty decorated letter papers. Drawing on a number of historical and literary sources, the essay introduces 3  Scholars working in this field include Weipin Tsai, who studies the establishment of the modern Chinese postal system. See her article “Breaking the Ice: The Establishment of Overland Winter Postal Routes in the late Qing China,” Modern Asian Studies 47 (2013): 1749–81.



techniques of enhancing the letter paper surface—from dyeing and coating to adding metal pigments, watermarks, and woodblock printed designs. Wright also analyzes the functions of popular paper designs and looks into the intriguing relationship between the images these letter papers feature and the texts that were written on them. Xiaofei Tian’s essay about letters accompanying or responding to gifts in early medieval China illuminates a further aspect of the materiality of letters (which have often been described as gifts in themselves, not the least in the context of calligraphy), namely their connection with other types of exchange. Her study of “material and symbolic economies” at Six Dynasties courts argues that letters contribute to the creation and interpretation of the meaning of a gift and illustrates that the exchange of letters could be part of social interactions of great complexity and sometimes fatal consequence for their immediate participants and beyond. It is evident that these four essays about material aspects of epistolary culture are waiting to be complemented by additional studies, not only of China’s long postal history, but also of the various letter writing materials, the relationship between letter writing and calligraphy, and the embeddedness of correspondence in a variety of material contexts.

Part 2: Contemplating the Genre

The generic field of the letter is vast and diverse. It accommodates a whole range of epistolary subgenres, has areas of overlap with other genres (such as poetry or disquisition), and includes the use of epistolary inserts in different types of texts. A genre definition will thus have to be very broad: a letter “is a communication written on a tangible medium by one historical person and addressed to another (or, as the case may be, by one narrowly circumscribed group to another), which, in order to reach its spatially removed addressee, undergoes some form of physical transmission involving a third party and is, more often than not, part of an exchange.”4 This very general epistolary situation results in a number of textual features that could at the same time be described as markers of the genre. The most obvious of those, resulting from the particular directedness of a letter, is its dialogic nature, whether we can or cannot situate a certain letter in a given correspondence—and typically we cannot. Regarding this lack of information Liz Stanley, a scholar of 4  I have suggested this definition in Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 37, where I also refer to other attempts at defining letters.



a­ utobiographical literature, has pointed out that any “epistolarium” or corpus of extant letters is characterized by “fragmentation and dispersal,”5 an observation reiterated in one way or the other by every contributor to this volume. Another textual feature that is universal in letters, albeit less obvious, is their self-referentiality, or, to use the comparatist Claudio Guillén’s words, “writing proclaiming itself as writing in the process of correspondence.”6 Both dialogicity and self-referentiality of a letter thrive on another textual feature, that is, occasionality—a web of references to the multifarious circumstances of a correspondence that can fascinate in many respects, but is often difficult to decode for non-intended later readers who lack the necessary contextual knowledge.7 Although most chapters in this volume deal, in some form or another, with matters of genre, these concerns are especially prominent in the six chapters that form Part II, Contemplating the Genre. David R. Knechtges’s essay about the letters collected in the sixth-century Selections of Refined Literature (Wen xuan 文選) provides a comprehensive discussion of fundamental genre questions and criteria: what texts in Wen xuan can be described as letters and what are the genre designations under which they appear in this authoritative literary anthology? Following his demarcation of the genre, Knechtges also summarizes every individual letter in Wen xuan. Although several of these letters have been read and interpreted extensively—such Sima Qian’s 司馬遷 (ca. 145– ca. 86 BCE) letter to Ren An 任安 (d. ca. 91 BCE), which comes closest to a canonical letter in the Chinese tradition8—the overwhelming majority of epistolary texts in Wen xuan has surprisingly not received the scholarly attention they deserve. In the next chapter, Antje Richter takes a closer look at one particular epistolary subgenre, letters of familial admonition. She reads them 5  “The Epistolarium: On Theorizing Letters and Correspondences,” Auto/Biography 12 (2004): 204. 6  Claudio Guillén, “Notes Towards the Study of the Renaissance Letter,” in Renaissance Genres: Essays on Theory, History, and Interpretation, ed. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986), 80. See also Patrizia Violi, “Letters,” in Discourse and Literature, ed. Teun A. van Dijk (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1985), 160. 7  What I call occasionality has been described by other scholars of epistolary literature as well, e.g. Liz Stanley, who describes letters as “strongly marked by their quotidian present.” Stanley, “The Epistolarium,” 208. 8  The significance of this letter for Chinese literary history can hardly be overestimated. In this volume alone, it is mentioned in half a dozen articles; and a collection of studies in English will be published under the title Sima Qian and the Letter to Ren An by University of Washington Press in 2016 (co-authored by Stephen Durrant, Wai-Yee Li, Michael Nylan, and Hans van Ess).



as documents of the interplay between social, familial, and individual concerns that, since they are communications to inferiors, moreover show an authorial self-presentation that is rare among transmitted letters. Presenting characteristics of both personal letters and non-epistolary genres, such as the testament, letters of familial admonition also call for the consideration of generic ambiguity and of the potential of the letter form for literary and pedagogic ends. Since certain letters of familial admonitions were clearly not meant to be sent to a spatially removed recipient but implicitly also addressed future generations in the writer’s family, this subgenre provides early evidence for the use of the letter form beyond the actual exchange of letters over a distance. Zeb Raft’s essay is an examination of early medieval epistolary poems of the “presentation and response” type (zengda shi 贈答詩). Emerging from poems written at parting banquets, this poetical subgenre later also included poems that were exchanged over a distance and thus provides a fascinating case of genre overlap between the banquet poem and the letter poem. Focusing on a pair of poems exchanged between Qiu Yuanzhi 丘淵之 (after 370–after 433) and Yang Hui 羊徽 (after 370–before 420), Raft’s essay examines the “space of separation” created and exploited by this kind of poem exchange and discusses three topics related to that space: the personal bond of the poets, the presence of the state, and the representation of a public space. The last three essays in Part 2 are dedicated to a distinct type of genre question, the continuum of personal letter writing and official communication. R. Joe Cutter studies examples from the transmitted correspondence of the Cao family, in particular epistolary writings of Cao Zhi 曹植 (192–232). He investigates the generic overlap and difference between personal letters and memorials with respect to form, which is in both cases dominated by parallel prose, and to their potential to express personal sentiments. Pablo Ariel Blitstein expounds the relationship between personal and official written communication from the perspective of literary thought delineated in Liu Xie’s 劉勰 (ca. 465–ca. 532) pivotal critical work The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons (Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍). Questioning the appositeness of the “private”-“public” dichotomy for discussions of Six Dynasties China, he also proposes to take representations of personal experience—in any genre— more seriously in the study of early medieval institutions. The following chapter by Lik Hang Tsui examines the impact of bureaucratic practices on the conventions of writing personal letters in Song China, especially those observed in extant manuscripts in an epistolary subgenre called zhazi 劄子. Problematizing a simplified, static approach to genre typology and instead arguing for a dynamic view of the epistolary genre, Tsui analyzes examples of the zhazi type itself and consults literati discourses on the transformation of



the epistolary genre as they are expressed in letters, notebooks, and encyclopedias of this period. Again, the potential for future research is evident also in these areas. Very few of the numerous epistolary subgenres we know from different periods of Chinese history have been studied in detail: be they letters of condolence or recommendation or confession (to name only a few);9 the same goes for the use of letters or the letter form in other texts. The basic letter form can be easily appropriated by most other genres, either by fashioning an entire text as a letter or a correspondence (for instance a poem, disquisition, or novel) or by inserting epistolary elements into another text (for instance a song, biography, tale, or drama). Although the wide literary appropriation of the letter form— which has long been recognized outside of Chinese Studies—remains a little explored area in Chinese literary history, it promises not only a deeper understanding of many texts that employ epistolary elements, but also, indirectly, through their particular use of epistolary conventions and allusions, additional knowledge about the contemporary letter writing culture in all its facets.10

Part 3: Diversity of Content and Style

The fifteen essays in Part 3, Diversity of Content and Style, span more than two millennia and cover major developments of Chinese epistolary history from the third century BCE to the second half of the twentieth century. The extreme heterogeneity of the letters they introduce is representative of the enormous breadth of material gathered under the umbrella of letter writing in China. Broad as the spectrum offered here—and in Parts I and II—may already be, it nevertheless points to a much greater world of epistolary topics and writers that still expect discovery: letter inserts in drama and prose, the introduction of postcards in China, stamp-collecting, the rise of email and texting—to mention only a few promising topics. 9  For an exemplary study of a certain type of letter see Christian de Pee’s study The Writing of Weddings in Middle-Period China: Text and Ritual Practice in the Eighth through Fourteenth Centuries (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2007). 10  I have published on one aspect of this very comprehensive topic—the motif of the letter in early imperial Chinese poetry—see “Briefe und ihre Leser in der Dichtung der frühen Kaiserzeit [Letters and their readers in early imperial poetry],” in Aspekte des Lesens in China in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, ed. Bernhard Führer (Dortmund: Projekt, 2005), 122–44. I am also working at an expansion of this study, tentatively titled “The Literary Uses of Correspondence: Discovering Early Epistolary Fiction in Chinese Literature.”



Coming to terms with the diversity of letters in form, content, and function is notoriously difficult. Among the possible classification schemes that help to make this diversity less unwieldy, a division based on intended audience seemed to be best suited to the epistolary material examined in these essays.11 The three sections in Part 3 cover the spectrum from “informal letters” with specific addressees to “literary letters,” in which the primary addressee may play an auxiliary role, to explicitly “open letters.” While the “informal letters” explored in the five chapters of this section differ greatly in authorship, time of writing, function, stationery, transmission, and literary accomplishment, most of them share other features that set them apart from the material discussed in Sections 2 and 3. Prominent among those features are a strong dialogicity—the particular addressees of these letters emerge quite distinctly—and a pronounced occasionality, which, alas, may pose obstacles to our understanding of these texts. The latter is particularly conspicuous in this section’s first chapter by Enno Giele, whose essay is dedicated to the earliest sources of Chinese epistolary history, private letters from the Han dynasty that were discovered as manuscripts roughly 2,000 years after they were written. Their mundane character, literary imperfections, and lack of association with important historical personages as writers or addressees prevented that any of these texts came down to us through literary transmission. Since they were never quoted in a historical work, collected in an anthology, or excerpted in an encyclopedia, they were not subjected to the editorial changes that have become an inevitable part of our understanding of epistolary culture.12 The coincidental preservation and archaeological discovery of the texts discussed by Giele evince the truly inconceivable multitude of letters that were written throughout history and are forever lost. The same circumstances also cast a stark light on the fundamental exceptionality of those few letters that survived through literary transmission: they were either written by or addressed to someone famous; or they reported something of general importance; or they were celebrated for their literary or calligraphic mastery. Because the overwhelming majority of letters ever written is lost, our notion of any historical period’s epistolary culture remains tenuous, to say the least. Manuscript finds are all the more significant since letters—unlike poems or disquisitions 11  Assuming a division between informal and literary letters has a long history in China. See, e.g., Zhu Guangqian 朱光潛, “Tan shu du” 談書牘, Wenxue zazhi 3.1 (1948.5). See also Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 164 n. 84. 12  On editorial changes to letters in the process of publishing see also Stanley, “The Epistolarium,” 205–07.



or tales—are texts that were written by virtually everybody and on all kinds of occasions, and so tend to represent spheres in society and aspects in an individual’s life that were never meant to be preserved for posterity. Reading these early manuscript letters is also fascinating because they provide a muchneeded foil to the transmitted material, be it in their similarity—manuscript letters exhibit many nascent features that we know well from transmitted literature—or in the various ways in which they differ from the typical transmitted letter. Following Giele’s chapter about private letters written by historically inconsequential writers with limited literacy—and again evoking the breadth of epistolary texts covered in this volume—Ronald Egan’s essay is dedicated to the letters of one of the most celebrated poets of Chinese history, Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037–1101). While this Song dynasty master’s poetical oeuvre and many of his more formal prose texts have received extensive scholarly attention and appreciation, the approximately 1,500 informal letters (chidu 尺牘) by his hand that have come down to us have seldom been studied for their own sake or for what they reveal about the genre in general. They are of great value indeed, not just as a source for our understanding of Su’s biography, thought, and even poetry, but, as Egan demonstrates, also for their inherent literary qualities, which, since they were contingent on the informality of the genre, would remain unrecognized if we chose to ignore Su’s informal letters. While family members and matters played a role in Giele’s and Egan’s chapters to some extent, the letters discussed in the last three chapters of this section about “informal letters” could all be described as “family letters” ( jiashu 家書). The striking differences between these texts demonstrate, on the other hand, how very inclusive our understanding of epistolary subgenres should be. The letters introduced by Janet Theiss were preserved as legal evidence in a lawsuit involving an elite family from Huzhou, Zhejiang, in the 1740s. Since the letters at the heart of this case were exchanged between illicit lovers— a gentry wife and the live-in tutor for her children—they were never meant to be read by anyone else but the addressees and certainly not intended for publication. Nevertheless, they ended up being copied into the Board of Punishments routine memorial (xingke tiben 刑科題本), along with several other letters that were exchanged amidst the ensuing crisis between family members and servants. Since the local adultery case soon became a corruption case involving officials in three provinces, Theiss shows how private letter writing can be intertwined with contemporary social affairs. She also discusses many issues that are of relevance for epistolary research in general, such as authenticity, forgery, and the expression of self, including transgressive emotion. Although the love letters between the main protagonists in this legal case



lack conventional literary refinement, they are still expressive and moving in their immediacy. Rough and unpolished as they may be, they share certain features with the more literary letters that are examined in Bonnie S. McDougall’s chapter. Taking a comparative approach, McDougall takes a closer look at love letters in China and Europe, at the history of this epistolary subgenre, at its writers and readers, and at the circumstances and contents of their correspondence. She also reflects on the changes that “real letters” underwent when they were prepared for publication, focusing on the correspondence between Lu Xun 魯迅 (1881–1936) and Xu Guangping 許廣平 (1898–1967). McDougall’s observation that personal letters, among them love letters, “can also be seen as a form of creative expression,” certainly applies to many of the letters discussed in this volume and is expressed by other authors as well. In the case of Shen Congwen 沈從文 (1902–1988), whose Mao era family letters are introduced in Jie Li’s essay, private letters appear as the only creative outlet and literary arena still left to this writer—an outlet, however, that was ever more threatened by surveillance. Li closes in on three periods in the writer’s life when physical separation made family letters especially important: Shen’s participation in land reform in Sichuan from October 1951 to February 1952; the first years of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1969, when his younger son was relocated to Sichuan; and 1969 to 1971, when Shen’s family were all living apart from each other. Li not only describes the writer’s “internal exile into private letters” as a harrowing journey of increasing professional and intellectual loss, but also shows the emotional deprivation that arises from self-censorship. When Shen’s wife and children appear to “be staging a revolutionary performance for the potential censors rather than reflecting their true feelings,” several crucial epistolary concepts emerge in their full complexity: the notion of epistolary authenticity, the dependence of the writer’s epistolary persona on the intended readership, and the private-public dichotomy. Although the “literary letters” written by scholars, monks, and women introduced in the following six chapters are again diverse in many respects, what most conspicuously connects them—and sets them apart from the majority of texts discussed in Section 1—is, what we may call their greater cultural claim. Written by authors who were conscious of their intellectual and literary importance in their own times and often had aspirations that went well beyond the present, these letters were clearly composed with a wider audience in mind. Written in a higher register—certainly not just “on the edge of literariness”13—they often show a diminished epistolarity. In those letters the 13  Claudio Guillén, “On the Edge of Literariness: The Writing of Letters,” Comparative Literature Studies 31.1 (1994): 1–24.



addressee may play a lesser or different role than in informal letters, and the self-referentiality and occasionality that are so prominent in informal letters here usually recede in favor of longer, discursive passages, which appear as core messages of these texts. Matthew Wells’s inquiry into the modes of autobiographical expression focuses on some of the most famous and sophisticated pieces of early epistolary literature in China. Many of these letters were written at times of extraordinary personal distress for their literati writers or during political crises that triggered disruptions and dislocation of identity. Unlike the letters discussed in the previous section, these autobiographical letters, although addressed to a specific recipient, were unmistakably written with literary ambition and with an audience beyond the primary addressee in mind. Therefore they provide an excellent opportunity to ponder questions of epistolary authenticity and craft. How can we assess the authenticity of a particular letter on the spectrum from “real letters” to texts that skillfully make use of the letter form or certain epistolary features? How does the primary or merely purported addressee shape the letter? What is the particular potential of the letter form that makes it suited to certain rhetorical purposes? Deliberating issues such as these may help us to get a clearer understanding of the rhetoric and function of both real and literary letters. After all, counterintuitive as it may seem, “the real letter can be stiff, or pretentious, or artificial, or insincere. The literary one may appear more spontaneous, or friendly, or even intimate.”14 Alexei Ditter looks into the distinct use of the epistolary genre as part of a scholar’s preparation of the civil examinations. In the course of these preparations, candidates would, prior to the exams, submit a writing portfolio to the chief examiner or other influential officials in an effort to secure their patronage. Ditter provides a close reading of the cover letter that accompanied one writing portfolio, Dugu Yu’s 獨孤郁 (776–815) letter to Quan Deyu 權德輿 (761–818), as well as the response to this letter from Quan. The exploration of this correspondence allows not only insights into the rhetorical strategies employed in a particular type of letter, but also into the politics of patronage and the negotiation of interpersonal relation in the mid-Tang. Anna M. Shields offers a study of mid-Tang letters of a very different nature—letters between friends and colleagues of the same rank, among them the most famous poets of the time. Her investigation of the linguistic and rhetorical means used by Bai Juyi 白居易 (772–846), Yuan Zhen 元稹 (779–831) and others to inscribe emotion into their letters, particularly anger and affection, emphasizes how valuable personal connections were for these writers 14  Guillén, “Notes Towards the Study of the Renaissance Letter,” 87.



and how important it was for them to convince their readers of the authenticity and originality of their letters and of the necessity of their communication. Many of the rhetorical and literary features that Shields points out show that these writers were acutely aware of the means to emphasize the epistolarity of a letter—through its dialogicity, occasionality, and self-referentiality—and thus to enhance its rhetorical effectiveness both for the immediate addressee and a larger audience. That letter writing requires distinct personas depending on the intended readership has been pointed out by many scholars of epistolary literature. Liz Stanley spoke of letters as being perspectival and remarked that they “fascinatingly take on the perspective of the ‘moment’ as this develops within a letter or a sequence of letters, and may utilize a particular ‘voice’ adopted by the writer or a particular ‘tone’ rhetorically employed, such as humorous extravagance, strict formality or a particular ‘persona’ playfully adopted.”15 Natasha Heller’s exploration of “collections, networks, and epistolary practices of Chan monks” focuses on the letters of the most prominent monk of the Yuan dynasty, Zhongfeng Mingben 中峰明本 (1263–1323), to ordained disciples and lay followers and reads them as texts with a variety of social functions that were dependent on the letter form. These letters not only maintain social relations but also provide an opportunity for autobiographical reflection— particularly regarding the writer’s spiritual progress—as well as for the discussion of Buddhist teachings, instruction, and the arrangement of administrative tasks. The questions about how to deal with a corpus of transmitted epistolary texts that Heller raises throughout her essay are of significance well beyond Buddhist literature. The “halves and holes” of her title point to the fundamental incompleteness of our textual sources, to the role editors played in selecting and shaping this material, and to the necessarily provisional character of the account we are thus able to give. The following two chapters explore aspects of late imperial Chinese epistolary culture. Ellen Widmer’s essay reads surviving letters by female writers of the Ming and Qing dynasties as an avenue into traditional Chinese women’s literary culture. She first explores the increase in female letter writing that we see starting in the late Ming and then turns to the letters in the lives of three specific women of high cultural visibility: Liang Mengzhao 梁孟昭 (fl. 1630s), Gui Maoyi 歸懋儀 (1762–1835/6), and Wang Zhenyi 王貞儀 (1768–1797), emphasizing their literary accomplishments, social and artistic networks, and skill at argumentation, but also the restrictions under which women writers generally labored. Widmer concludes that preserved letters, despite their perceived 15  “The Epistolarium,” 202–03.



­ arginality within the hierarchy of literary genres in China, “can open our eyes m to a realm beyond poems,” a finding that closely resembles that of Ronald Egan regarding Su Shi. David Pattinson’s study of epistolary networks and practice in the early Qing does not focus on letters by any one writer, but rather on letters one writer received. The collection of approximately 750 letters written by over 250 correspondents to Yan Guangmin 顏光敏 (1640–1686), Yanshi jiacang chidu 顏氏家藏尺牘 (Letters kept at the Yan family home), provides an opportunity to study a collection of letters that were not significantly selected or edited. As these letters were very likely not written or even collected with a view to publishing them, they may give us a glimpse of relatively unguarded epistolary practices. Pattinson’s analysis of the profile of Yan’s correspondents along with the functions of their letters and the comparison of his findings with contemporary published letter anthologies demonstrates the potential of his approach. Section 3 of this inquiry into the Diversity of Content and Style is dedicated to “open letters.” What connects the diverse letters in the four chapters of this section and sets them apart from those in the previous ones, is their explicit, albeit limited openness in address. The letters by the early Tang poet Lu Zhaolin 盧照鄰 (ca. 635–ca. 684), introduced by Paul W. Kroll, present an interesting union of the personal and the public. These letters were not written to individual addressees but sent as broadcasts to an unspecified group of scholar-officials, both acquaintances of the author and strangers. They appeal to a select, but potentially open public for help in acquiring costly medicine for the ailing writer. Kroll suggests that Lu Zhaolin may have chosen the circular or open letter in the hope that it would bring about a “group dynamics” effect and thus be more effective in procuring donations. Lu may not have been the first letter writer to have employed this strategy, but he is certainly an early case. Imre Galambos introduces a unique type of letters found among the Dun­ huang manuscripts: circulars of local associations (shesi zhuantie 社司轉帖). “Open” only to a circumscribed group, these documents circulated among the members of associations to inform them about the details of upcoming meetings, about the contributions that were expected from them, and about penalties for late arrival or non-attendance at a meeting. The contents of these circulars are of great interest—revealing as they are about local culture and society—as well as are other aspects: how the circulars were transmitted from member to member; why these documents of a very special sub-branch of epistolary culture survived; and why several of them were written in a reversed direction, that is, in vertical columns going from left to right. Galambos interprets the latter as the result of foreign influence and thus evidence of Dunhuang’s multilingual local culture.



Questions related to the publication of letters are at the heart of Suyoung Son’s chapter. Examining a long, conflictive letter written in 1703 by the renowned publisher Zhang Chao 張潮 (ca. 1650–1707) to his fellow publisher Zhang Yongde 張庸德, her essay sets out to explore the functions of letters during the late imperial letter-publishing boom. She discusses the legal matters concerning book proprietorship that Zhang Chao raises in his letter as well as the implication of this letter’s publication. Son argues that—in the absence of legal codes and institutional measures to secure property rights to books in seventeenth century China—publication transformed this piece of private correspondence into a social performance of these matters. Although it is difficult to assess its reach, the intended audience of this letter was much wider than that of those communications discussed in the two previous chapters. Straddling late Qing and Republican China, the following chapter by Natascha Gentz about “letters to the editor” in the first modern Chinese language newspapers in a sense presents the historical continuation of the problems discussed in Son’s essay. It would seem that newspapers such as Shenbao 申報 (Shanghai, 1872–1949) and Xunhuan ribao 循環日報 (Hong Kong, 1874– 1947) took over some of the functions of “open letters” in previous centuries, although they never entirely replaced public letter writing, but rather preserved it in the form of letters to the editor. Gentz analyzes this novel form of public articulation in China, paying special attention to its perception and adoption by the public or rather the readership of these newspapers and to the changes of epistolary style, narrative and contents that we see in this subgenre.

The belated appreciation of letters—be they Su Shi’s or Liang Mengzhao’s or Shen Congwen’s—and thus the full recognition of a writer’s literary oeuvre and mind may stand in as a metaphor of our equally belated appreciation of Chinese epistolary literature and culture. By acknowledging these non-canonical writings that were usually regarded as minor and marginal, not the least because they were seen “on the edge of literariness,” we gain invaluable additional, supplementary insights in times, people, and ideas that no other genre provides. Beyond the realm of the additional and supplementary, however, an equally fascinating and valuable realm appears, in which every surviving letter ever written—whether by a great thinker or a lowly clerk, a man or a woman, a celebrity or a nobody—emerges as an inimitable, unique document of human self-expression.

part 1 Material Aspects of Chinese Letter Writing Culture

chapter 1

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period Y. Edmund Lien From received classical texts alone, scholars can produce a rough outline of the postal system in ancient China. The ancient postal system was an organized government effort and structure to deliver official documents (mail) by either relays of runners or mounted carriers. The documents, mostly bamboo and wooden slips, were packaged in such a way that the addressees and delivery instructions were explicitly written on the packages or could be easily derived within the postal system. With the great archeological finds of the last eighty years, the artifacts, including letters, of the Han postal system and remains of a few postal relay stations have become available; as a result, this rough out­ line can be further refined. Manuscripts unearthed also revealed certain legal codes used to regulate the operation of the postal system in the Qin and Han periods. In 2003, Enno Giele reviewed the traditional textual sources useful for the understanding of the postal system and offered “new glimpses” of the early postal system by expanding the traditional view with contents from the bam­ boo and wooden slips found in Shuihudi 睡虎地, Zhangjiashan 張家山 and Liye 里耶, which were celebrated discoveries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.1 In this essay, I will expand further Giele’s effort in several directions: (1) an earlier textual source, Mozi 墨子, will be cited to show a rela­ tionship between you 郵 (post) and sui 燧 (beacon tower), (2) wooden and bamboo slips from Juyan 居延 and Dunhuang 敦煌 found between the 1930s and 1970s will be supplemented by wooden slips excavated from Dunhuang’s Xuanquan zhi 懸泉置 (Suspended Spring Postal Station) in the 1990s to recreate the Han postal stations and mail routes of the northwestern frontier,2 (3) information in Dunhuang gazetteers from Mogao Grottoes 莫高窟 will 1  Giele, “New Glimpses.” 2  Lao, Juyan Hanjian; Xie, Li, and Zhu, Juyan Hanjian shiwen hejiao; Zhongguo shehui kexu­ eyuan Kaogu yanjiusuo, Juyan Hanjian jiayi bian; Gansu wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo, Juyan xinjian; Hao and Zhang, Xuanquan Hanjian yanjiu. See also Zhongguo jiandu jicheng etc., Zhongguo jiandu jicheng.

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be used to show comparable but different mail relay routes used in the Tang period, and (4) with the route map, grades of mail delivery service, dimensions of some relay stations, and legal codes, a fuller picture of the Han postal system in the frontier region will be reconstructed. Prior to the third century BCE, which is the time that marks the beginning of the postal system under consideration, there had been two developments that may have influenced the design of later postal systems: the use of ri 馹 in the Spring and Autumn period, in which a messenger is sent by a king or a war lord to deliver a message quickly. In Erya 爾雅, the graph ri is glossed as zhuan 傳 (lit. to pass on, transmit), which probably means “relay horses or coaches.” Given the uncertainty in dating Erya, this gloss may not accurately reflect the technology of the Spring and Autumn period. Nonetheless, it is safe to assume that horses were in use at the time. The other development involves beacon signals, as evidenced by a passage in Mozi to be given later. With ri, point-topoint message transfer could be accomplished; with beacon signals, messages could be relayed through a series of stations. The rest of this essay starts with a brief review of the archeological source that will be used to create a description of the Han postal system. During the Qin and Han, words used to refer to different aspects of mail delivery were quite complex and confusing. A section will be dedicated to provide their his­ torical context and some clarification. Finally, I will present the mail route map, the operation and record keeping in mail delivery, and the codes govern­ ing the operation to complete the description of the Han postal relay system. 1

Han Slips as Sources

The wooden and bamboo slips, now known loosely as the “Juyan Hanjian” 居延漢簡 (Juyan Han slips), were excavated from lower reaches of the Ejina 額濟那 River of Ejina Banner, Inner Mongolia; about 11,000 slips excavated in the 1930s and 8,420 slips of the batch excavated in the 1970s have been tran­ scribed.3 The latter are sometimes designated as “Juyan xinjian” 居延新簡 (new Juyan slips). Another significant collection is the slips found in Dunhuang at Xuanquan Postal Station, consisting of about 23,000 slips. This site was exca­ vated extensively in 1990–92 and only a small collection of 271 slips have been

3  Online access to the transcriptions of the Han slips from Juyan has been made possible; see the bibliography in Xie, Li, and Zhu, Juyan Hanjian shiwen hejiao, for slips of the 1930s, and Gansu wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo, Juyan xinjian, for slips of the 1970s.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


transcribed.4 In this essay, the terms “Juyan slips” and “Xuanquan slips” will be used to refer to the slips of these two major collections respectively. Out of the twenty thousand Juyan slips, 1780 slips have been dated.5 The range of their dates, according to Li Junming 李均明, is between 90 BCE and 283 CE, stretching between the Western Han and early Jin.6 Most of the dated slips are from the Western Han and Wang Mang 王莽 periods—Li Junming numbers them from 1 to 1566. Slips numbered from 1567 to 1763 are dated to the reign of Emperor Guangwu (r. 25–57) of the Eastern Han. Chen Mengjia 陳夢家 similarly concludes that the Juyan slips discovered in the 1930s are mostly from the Western Han to the Wang Mang period.7 Over 17,900 of the Xuanquan slips have been catalogued and about 2,100 of them have specific dates ranging from 111 BCE to 107 CE.8 Organizationally, both Juyan and Dunhuang areas were under the admin­ istration of Liangzhou cishi bu 涼州刺史部 (Liangzhou Inspector Region) in the Western Han, with Juyan in the Zhangye 張掖 Commandery and Xuanquan in the Dunhuang Commandery.9 The governor of a commandery had both the military and civil responsibilities. The Juyan slips show frequent references to Juyan duwei 居延都尉 and Jianshui duwei 肩水都尉, the two defenders reporting to the Governor of Zhangye Commandery. The chain of command suggested by the information from the Juyan slips includes the governor, defender, lookout officer (hou 候), lookout head (hou zhang 候長), and beacon head (sui zhang 隧長). Their respective organizations are called the commandery, defender’s court (duwei fu 都尉府), lookout office (hou guan 候官), section (bu 部), and beacon (sui), with beacon as the lowest unit staffed by five to ten beacon soldiers (sui zu 隧卒).10 They were obviously set up as military units and Chen Mengjia uses the term houwang xitong 候望系統 (lookout and watch system) to describe the organization. From the Juyan slips, eight lookout offices, fifty-two sections, and about 260 beacons can be identi­ fied, although many more sections and beacons probably existed for the vast region of the lower reaches of the Ejina River. While the Juyan area was geographically in the proximity of the territory occupied by Xiongnu during the Western Han, Dunhuang on the other hand 4  5  6  7  8  9  10 

Hu and Zhang, Dunhuang Xuanquan Hanjian shicui. Rao Zongyi 饒宗頤, “Rao Xu” 饒序, in Li Junming, Juyan Hanjian biannian, 1. Li Junming, Juyan Hanjian biannian, 1, 283. Chen, “Hanjian kaoshu,” 9–11. Hao and Zhang, Xuanquan Hanjian yanjiu, 13. Tan, “Qin Xi Han Dong Han shiqi,” 13–14, 33–34. Chen, “Hanjian suojian Juyan biansai,” in Hanjian zhuishu, 37–95.



was less directly threatened by Xiongnu from the North. Xuanquan Postal Station was under the administration of Xiaogu 效穀 County, which was one of the six counties of the Dunhuang Commandery. From the contents of the Xuanquan slips, seven postal stations can be identified and researchers con­ jecture that there were two more within the area of Dunhuang.11 Each postal station had a staff of approximately forty; one Xuanquan slip mentions that there were thirty-seven individuals counting “officers, soldiers, prisonerlaborers, chariot drivers.”12 In addition to the postal stations, sixty ting 亭 can be identified from the Xuanquan slips.13 Frequent mentions of jiu 廄, yi 驛, you 郵, and zhuanshe 傳舍 in addition to zhi 置 are also made on the Xuanquan slips.14 One problem encountered in the study of the Han postal system is that the words used for these units are often ambiguous. Our next task is to clarify the multiple uses of these terms in the Han period and they shall remain untranslated for now. These units, from zhi to ting, are what Chen Mengjia refers to as the communication system ( jiaotong xitong 交通系統). Although beacons also appear on some Xuanquan slips, they were less common among the published Xuanquan slips. The dominant terms seem to be those of the communication system. The fact that the Juyan slips and Xuanquan slips overlapped in time suggests that mail delivery was a shared activity between military and civilian functions. One term that is common to both domains is ting. It was used together with sui in both Han shu and Hou Han shu; for example, “castles and walls were destroyed; ting and beacons were eliminated.” 障塞破壞,亭隧滅絕 and “ting and beacons face each other” 亭燧相望.15 In both cases, ting is clearly used in a military context and prob­ ably refers to a “watch tower.” Its frequent use in non-military context will later become obvious when we focus on the terms yi and ting. Dunhuang in the Western Han was under the threat of another non-Han ethnic group, Xi Qiang 西羌. There is evidence that the Dunhuang postal system in place during the Western Han was used for both military and civil­ ian purposes. On the military side, Dunhuang had four defender’s offices in the Western Han and Xuanquan slips show that letters were sent to and from

11  Hao and Zhang, Xuanquan Hanjian yanjiu, 21–22. One slip says that Dunhuang has nine stables and they assume that each stable is affiliated with a postal station. 12  Ibid., 24. 13  Ibid., 14. 14  Ibid., 26–32. 15  “Memoir on the Xiongnu” 匈奴傳, Han shu 94B.3804; “Memoir on the Western Qiang” 西羌傳, Hou Han shu 87.2878.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


some of these offices.16 Letters of non-military nature also passed through Xuanquan, for example, slip XQ 58 is about irrigation and XQ 64 about the meal service to county officials.17 Slip XQ 59 even mentions both junshu 軍書 (military dispatch) and youshu 郵書 (postal dispatch), suggesting that the latter is non-military. Between the Juyan slips and the Xuanquan slips, it is clear that the letter delivery system of the Western Han served both military and civilian offices, and at least for the systems in the Zhangye and Dunhuang commanderies, nei­ ther was used exclusively for civilian communications. To reconstruct the postal relay system of the Western Han, we have to take military communications into consideration. It may well be the case that mili­ tary mail delivery was what prompted the development of the postal system, which would eventually grow to include civilian applications. But, we shall digress and first clarify some of the keywords used to name the functions involved in the postal system. The real challenge is that many of these key­ words are semantically loaded: each of them has multiple distinct meanings, making it hard to determine what functions were in place during the Qin and Han periods. 2 Keywords: You 郵, sui 隧, yi 驛, ting 亭, zhuan 傳, and zhi 置 2.1 You 郵 The entry you 郵 in the Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 reads “a station on the border for the forwarding of letters” 竟上行書舍.18 The Shuowen jiezi adds that the component 垂 means the border (bian 邊). Duan Yucai’s 段玉裁 (1735–1815) commentary adds that the graph 郵 is a loan word for you 尤 and 訧, which could mean either “passing by” 經過 or “fault” 過失.19 This use of the graph

16  E.g., slip XQ 109 contains a proclamation (xi 檄) issued from Dunhuang Governor and dis­ patched to Yihe defender 宜禾都尉 and a few lookout officers, and slip XQ 188 includes a letter from Yangguan defender 陽關都尉 and another letter addressing the field office (mufu 幕府) of Po Qiang General 破羌將軍. Any slip identified as from Xuanquan will be denoted by a prefix “XQ” followed by a serial number assigned in Hu and Zhang. See Hu and Zhang, Dunhuang Xuanquan Hanjian shicui, 91, 133. 17  Ibid., 55, 62. 18  Duan zhu Shuowen jiezi 6B.24b–25a. 19  Ibid., 6B.25a. E.g., the term duyou 督郵, commonly seen in the Han and Sanguo periods, refers to a “local inspector,” a police chief of a sort—a low-level official in the vice squad of ancient times. It would be incorrect to read it as a “mail inspector.”



you as a loan word clearly had no bearing on postal service and was synony­ mous with you 尤. Duan Yucai also cites a line from Mengzi 孟子 2A1 in which Mencius (372– 289 BCE) quotes Confucius (551–479 BCE) as saying, “the radiation of virtue is faster than the transmission of [imperial] orders by stages and couriers” 德之流行速於置郵而傳命.20 This quotation has been used frequently as evidence that stages (i.e. relay stations) and couriers existed in Confucius’ time. Legge read “zhi you” as referring to two distinct elements involved in transmit­ ting a king’s command. But, is “zhi” really a relay station and “you” a courier? As we shall soon see, the question cannot be easily answered. The transcription of a set of Guodian 郭店 slips labeled as “Zun deyi” 尊德義 includes this quoted Confucius’ line (without the character xing 行 and with yu 於 replaced by hu 乎).21 The graph you 郵 in the Guodian collection is written with two components: the top component is normally transcribed as 又 or 尤 and the lower component as 虫.22 Qiu Xigui 裘錫圭 adds a comment saying that the graph is to be read as a loan word for 郵.23 (Recall that in the term duyou 督郵, the graph 郵 was synonymous with 尤.) Guodian texts are generally assumed to be no later than 300 BCE. Among the slips dated to the Qin period, there are two instances of the graph you 郵 on the “Shuihudi Qin slips” 睡虎地秦簡. The first instance is in the lines “dispatch to the ranks in order; write them separately as a proclama­ tion in Jiangling and send it out by post” 以次傳,別書江陵布,以郵行. The second instance appears in the lines “for nearby counties, let fast runners transmit the letter; for counties faraway, send it out by post” 近縣令輕足行 其書,遠縣令郵行之.24 The image of the second instance shows that the graph you consists of two components arranged side by side, with the left com­ ponent in the form of chui 垂 and the right component in the form of the radi­ cal yi 邑, as in the modern graph 郵. It no longer includes the loan graph 尤. In both Shuihudi slips, the graph you clearly refers to some form of postal service for the transmission of government announcements. Shuihudi slips are nor­ mally dated to late Warring States period and within the reign of First Emperor

20  Legge, The Works of Mencius, 60. 21  Jingmenshi bowuguan, Guodian Chu mu zhujian, 57 (slip 28–29), 174, 175, n. 15. 22  With the 虫 radical, the graph can also be transcribed as 蚘, as in 蚩蚘 Chiyou (com­ monly written as 蚩尤), the archenemy of the legendary Yellow Emperor. See He Linyi, Zhanguo guwen zidian, 14. 23  Jingmenshi bowuguan, Guodian Chu mu zhujian, 175, n. 15. 24  Zhang Xiancheng, Qin jian zhuzi suoyin, 78, 119, 120.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


of Qin. In other words, the graph you had become much closer to the present form by about 200 BCE. From these instances of you, I conjecture that the postal system of later times was modeled after the postal system originally designed for military functions. This hypothesis is not at all unreasonable in light of a reference to youting 郵亭 in Mozi, which is attributed to the philosopher and pacifist Mo Di 墨翟 (ca. 479–403 BCE). The youting, which became known later as a basic element of the postal system, may have started as a beacon tower according to Mozi: To construct a youting, make it round. Its height is to be more than three zhang and its bottom is to be slanted. Make a ladder; let its two arms be three zhang in length and connect the arms with boards three chi in length, which are secured with ropes. Dig two moats and build a hanging bridge. Each ting has a [ridged?] stove and one drum. Beacon signals to report invaders, emergency, and riot, according to the level of urgency, are relayed until they reach the capital. For the situation that is critical, move the beacon signals up and down. After the beacon fire is raised, beat the drum signals five rounds and follow it by fire to indicate the incoming direction of the invaders and their size. Do not be lax in send­ ing off the signals; do not end the coming and going of the successive beacons. When the invaders are spotted, raise one beacon. When they enter the territory, raise two. When they reach sensitive strategic areas, raise three beacons and beat three rounds of drum. When they are at the outer city wall, raise four beacons and beat the drum four rounds. When they are at the inner city wall, raise five beacons and beat the drum five rounds. At night, use fire to signal with the same set of numbers. 築郵亭者圜之,高三丈以上,令倚殺。為臂梯,梯兩臂長三 丈,連版三尺,報[版?]以繩連之。塹再匝,為縣梁。壟灶,亭 一鼓。寇烽、警烽、亂烽,傳火以次應之,至主國止,其事急 者引而上下之。烽火已舉,輒五鼓傳,又以火屬之,言寇所從 來者少多,毋弇建,去來屬次烽勿罷。望見寇,舉一烽;入 境,舉二烽;射要,舉三烽三鼓;郭會,舉四烽四鼓;城 會, 舉五烽五鼓;夜以火,如此數。​25 The passage describes the construction of an ancient beacon tower and the use of beacon signals for various urgent situations. Both visual and aural­ 25  See “Zashou” 雜守 (Miscellaneous defensive tactics) in Mozi jiangu, 622–24.



signals were implemented. The visual beacon signal in particular was sent out in smoke during the day and by fire at night. What is described in this passage could well be the prototypical sui widely in use during the Han. The curious part is the use of the word you 郵 here; Mo Di does not mention any mailforwarding aspect as often suggested in the translation of the line attributed to Confucius. The word youting in Mozi could be based on the narrower meaning of “passing by/on” of the graph 郵. It was probably meant to be a “tower to watch for passers-by” or even a “signaling tower.” Since Mo Di’s time was after Confucius and before Mencius, and since he (if not his disciples) uses the word you in the narrow sense of a beacon tower, I question if the compound zhiyou quoted by Mencius could really mean “sta­ tions and couriers.” Assuming that Mencius did not commit an anachronism in quoting Confucius and that the Mozi text is reliable, it seems justifiable to allow the possibility that zhiyou simply means “installing [beacon] signals,” with zhi taken as a verb. At least one other scholar has suggested a different inter­ pretation of zhiyou in which zhi is read as a verb and not as a courier station.26 2.2 Sui 隧 and feng 烽 Beacon towers used for signaling an emergency appear much earlier in litera­ ture, as we know from the famous tale of King You of Zhou 周幽王 (r. 782– 771 BCE), who teased the feudal lords by lighting the beacon fires as delib­ erate false alarms to amuse his concubine Baosi 褒姒.27 By Mo Di’s time, a beacon tower became known as youting and was an important component of a defense system. In the Western Han, the common terms in the defense system are sui 隧, tingsui 亭隧 and fengsui 烽燧.28 Based on the remains of the beacon towers in the area of Juyan and the col­ lection of Juyan slips uncovered from these sites, Chen Mengjia has studied extensively the system of fengsui of the Han period. The excavation team also mapped out the locations of these beacon towers along the Ejina River.29 In general, a beacon tower in this area is a building made out of local materials such as rammed earth mixed with weeds; it is usually rectangular in footprint with a raised platform (tai 臺) at one corner of the building. On the platform, which has a dimension of 5 to 9 square meters, a watchtower is constructed. 26  Liu, “ ‘De zhi liuxing su yu zhiyou er chuanming’.” 27  Shi ji 4.148. 28  The graph sui appears variably as 隧 or 燧 in Han slips. In this essay, I make no distinction between the two. 29  Chen, “Han dai fengsui,” 153–77, and fig. 1 in “Hanjian kaoshu,” 12–13. See also Gansu sheng wenwu gongzuodui, “Ejina he xiayou Han dai fengsui,” 62–84.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


According to Chen Mengjia, ting refers to the combined structure of the ­watchtower and the platform; it usually has a height of 12 meters from ground. The beacon fire is lit on top of the watchtower. Closely related to fengsui is the notion of sai 塞 (border), which is a connect­ ing section of the wall built to defend against invaders. In fact, a sai in the Han refers to a section of the Great Walls (Changcheng 長城), which was built over a span of many years starting from the Warring States period. On average, the Han military system installed a lookout office (hou guan mentioned earlier) every 100 li (41.6 km) of sai in the Han period. The lookout office is normally housed in a building called a zhang 障, which is essentially a small, square walled settlement with a size ranging from 15 × 15 m to about 100 × 100 m.30 On the staff of a lookout officer is a sai wei 塞尉 (border commandant), who is responsible for border security. The border commandant supervises all the lookout heads and beacon heads. The lookout officer is salaried at the “equiva­ lent of” (bi 比) 600 bushels and the border commandant at 200 bushels. Beacons were set up in the Han to guard the border. Each border unit of sai had to cover about 41.6 km of walls with beacons that can only communicate in case of emergency by beacon fire or smoke. The average distance between two beacons is about 3 to 4 li or around 1.3 km. If each beacon was staffed with ten soldiers, it is estimated that to guard 300 km of the Great Walls in Dunhuang as many as 2,400 soldiers and officers were needed.31 Soon we shall see that soldiers living in a beacon tower could also have been responsible for delivering mail. For an example of a specific beacon tower, we refer to an archeological study made in 1999 of tower T9 located on the west bank of the Yiken River 伊肯河.32 The overall fengsui building is 14 × 11 m and the ting portion (turret) is 4.5 × 3 m at the base. A few poles were left on the floor of the tower. They could have been used with levers to raise the beacon fire. T9 could accom­ modate ten soldiers. In room F2 a bucket containing horse manure was found, suggesting that a beacon tower might also have a separate stable or an area nearby to keep a few horses. In a separate survey of the twenty-one beacon towers located on the south slope of the Lang Mountains 狼山山脈 in Inner Mongolia, ten of those bea­ con towers were found to be severely eroded making it hard to determine their original shape.33 Out of the remaining eleven, seven were round and the rest 30  For more examples of the dimensions of a zhang, see Chen, “Hanjian kaoshu,” 5–6. 31  Li Zhengyu, “Dunhuang jun de biansai Changcheng,” 120. 32  Wei and Chang, “Juyan Han dai fengsui,” 115–25. 33  Luo, “Yinshan fengsui tanwei,” 77.



were square. This shows that some beacon towers could indeed be constructed as the one described in Mozi. Also, the distances between two neighboring beacon towers in the Lang Mountains were about 400 to 600 meters in most cases. Luo Qingkang 羅慶康, the researcher who visited the Lang Mountain site, suggests that there was no such rule in the Han, as commonly believed, that “there is one ting in every ten li” 十里一亭. He assumes, correctly, that here li was a unit of distance. We will return to this line when we consider the notion of ting in a Han shu passage. 2.3 Yi 驛 A string of slips excavated in 1970s from Juyan tells of an unfortunate encoun­ ter between a soldier and four invading tribesmen: On the eighteenth day of the twelfth month of the fifth year in the Jianwu reign (29 CE), the Clerk files a charge against Bao and requests to move him to the prison of Juyan to be processed according to the law and decree. As is known, on the eleventh day of this month shortly before sundown, enemy soldiers entered the bare field of the Muzhong Beacon in the Jiaqu Lookout Region and attacked the Muzhong Beacon.34 The beacon head Chen Yang then raised two bucket-semaphores on the tower and one large banner at the fort, and burned one pile of firewood. Li Dan, a clerk of the Chengbei Beacon, was on watch duty and saw the smoke out of the Muzhong Beacon but not the bucket-semaphore [as expected].35 The lookout head Wang Bao immediately asked Li Dan to 34  A “bare field” is an area outside the wall where the land is covered with sand. When invad­ ers walk or ride on it, they would leave behind tracks. By checking the tracks, the defense would know that invaders have visited. Muzhong is the name of a beacon tower in the region overseen by the Jiaqu lookout office. 35  The situation is confusing here. Chen Yang is said to have raised three kinds of signals, feng, biao, and the effect of burning a pile of firewood. Biao is a colored flag. Firewood can produce both thick smoke and probably even flames visible at the next beacon. Since Li Dan saw the smoke, one wonders what the feng was that he did not see. The exact nature of feng has long been an open question among ancient and modern scholars. There is a general agreement that a feng is in the shape of a bucket. In one interpretation, the bucket contains fuel for generating fire and smoke. This possibility is seen in Wen Ying’s 文穎 (n.d.) interpretation cited in the Jijie 集解 commentary to the Shi ji 史記: “Build a tall wooden frame. On its top, build a lever. Tie a bucket to one end of the lever. Add firewood to the bucket. This is called a feng. Keep it low normally. When there are invaders, ignite it and raise it high to inform others.” 作高木櫓,櫓上作桔槔,桔槔頭兜零,以薪置其 中,謂之烽。常低之,有寇即火然舉之以相告. Shi ji 77.2378. A similar ­commentary

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


ride a relay horse to investigate the problem.36 Before he could reach the Muzhong Beacon, four tribesmen entered on foot. They emerged from the river and went up the bank to chase after Li Dan. Two other tribes­ men on horseback came from behind. Together they surrounded Li Dan and captured him and his relay horse. They left with both. [lacuna] Note: Wang Bao as officer in charge ordered Li Dan to ride on a relay horse without authorization, resulting in his capture by the tribesmen and the loss of the horse. Wang Bao did not send out beacon signals in a timely manner and instead raised a torch and burned one pile of firewood. His signaling did not follow the [beacon fire] grade protocol; he took the bor­ der responsibility lightly. 建 武 五 年 十 二 月 辛 未 朔 戊 子 , 令 史 劾 將 褒 詣 居 延 獄 以 律 令  從事。廼今月十一日辛巳日且入時,胡虜入甲渠木中隧塞天 田,攻木中隧。隧長陳陽為舉堠上二烽,塢上大表一,燔一積 薪。城北隧助吏李丹候望,見木中隧有煙不見烽。候長王褒即 使丹騎驛馬一匹駛往逆辟。未到木中隧所,胡虜四步入,從河 中出,上岸逐丹。虜二騎從後來,共圍遮略得丹及所騎驛馬  持去。□案:褒典主而擅使丹乘用驛馬,為虜所略得,失亡 馬。褒不以時燔舉而舉堠上一苣火,燔一積薪。燔舉不如品 約,不憂事邊。(E.P.T68.81–92)37 This passage contains several interesting points not found in classical lit­ erature. It alludes to a “[beacon fire] grade protocol” ([ fenghuo] pin yue [烽火]品約); it points out that when a received signal is unclear, one may have

is also seen in Han shu 48.2241, n. 11. Another source cites Han shu yin yi 漢書音義, “Feng is like an overturned bamboo bucket used to wash rice. It is hung at the end of a lever. When there are invaders, raise it. Sui is a pile of firewood. When there are invaders, ignite it.” 烽如覆米䉛,縣著桔槔頭,有寇則舉之。燧,積薪,有寇則燔然之. Shi ji 117.3046, n. 1. The same lines are attributed to Meng Kang 孟康 (fl. ca. 220–250) in Han shu 57B.2579, n. 1. This second explanation does not say that feng has to be burned. Juyan slips also indicate that feng could be a signaling device used during the day without burning. See Wu, “Han dai fenghuo” and Chu Shibin, “Juyan fenghuo,” 235–40, 355–64. Therefore, I assume that feng here was simply a bucket shaped signaling device, with no fire involved in signaling. 36  The compound nipi is read as “to go forward to confront the enemy” in Xue, He, and Li, Juyan xinjian shicui, 61–62. Sending one soldier to meet the enemy seems reckless. I read 辟 as a loan word for pi 僻, a sense that the situation was erratic and out of the ordinary— Li Dan was sent to find out what had gone wrong. 37  The new Juyan slips cited in this essay are prefixed by E.P.T, E.P.W, and E.P.S4.T2.



to resort to direct contact; and it confirms the availability of relay horses, yima 驛馬, within the beacon defense system. Wang Bao as lookout head had no authority to assign a relay horse to a beacon clerk. It is possible that a relay horse was not to be used for a reconnaissance assignment. The “beacon fire grade protocol” is essentially a legal document specify­ ing the grades of beacon signals to be released upon the detection of enemy intruders. The applicable grade depends on the size and closeness of the invad­ ers to the beacon station. A sighting of invaders is indicated by a combination of visual and aural signals and may involve both fire and smoke. The code dis­ tinguishes between daytime and nighttime signals. There is even a provision for the days with inclement weather that could hinder the delivery of signals. The significance of the beacon fire grade protocol is that it identifies the duty of the person in charge of the beacon and the punishment when the code is not strictly followed. If signaling by beacon fires had to be governed by a code, it is not surprising that later statutes and ordinances would be put in place to govern mail delivery. Joseph Needham, in his discussion of the post-station system in ancient China, cites the “Yiren” 遺人 section from the Zhou li 周禮: In principle, along all the roads of the Empire and the [feudal] States there is a rest-house (lu 盧) every ten li where food and drink may be had. Every thirty li there is an overnight rest-house (su 宿) with lodgings (lu shi 路室) and a [government] grain-store. Every fifty li there is a market (shi 市) and a station (hou guan 候館) with an abundant stock of supplies. Commentary: The lu was like our yehoutu 野候徒 with stables, and the su was like our ting 亭. The hou guan included a watch-tower. Between every two shi there were three lu and one su. 38 The commentary by Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127–200) provides an interesting pro­ file of these postal facilities of the Han. Needham’s translation of the commen­ tary is for the following original lines: 廬若今野候徒有庌也。宿可止宿,若今亭有室矣。候館樓可以 觀望者也。一市之間有三廬一宿。

38  Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, 35. Romanization in the quoted original text here and later has been changed to pinyin. The original lines in the Zhou li are: 凡國野 之道:十里有廬,廬有飲食;三十里有宿,宿有路室,路室有委;五十里有 市,市有候館,候館有積. Zhou li zhushu 13.728.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


Zheng Xuan’s ting was decidedly different from the ting on the border. The bea­ con tower (tingsui) of the Western Han, which possibly had evolved from the youting in Mozi, seemed to have changed into an urban ting in the Eastern Han, as an “overnight rest-house.” The watch-tower of the hou guan 候館 retained its surveillance function very much as a legacy of the beacon tower. The look­ out office, or hou guan 候官, normally housed in a small walled settlement (zhang 障), had both a watch-tower and a stable for relay horses. Needham goes on to say: Broadly speaking the main roads were equipped from Han to Song times with a post-office ( you 郵) every five li, a cantonal office (ting 亭) every ten li, and a post-station (zhi 置) every thirty li. These short distances were undoubtedly chosen so that flag and drum signals, or the fire and smoke of beacons, could readily give and receive information. The postal clerks (chengyou li 丞郵吏) kept records of the dispatches which they transmitted—in Han times these xi 檄 were written on foot-long wooden strips contained in bamboo tubes closed with a spring lock contrivance— and the cantonal officers (tingzhang 亭長) policed the road and its neighboring districts with their guards. At the post-stations ( jiuzhi 廄置, zhuanshe 傳舍) there were stables and couriers in readiness for the relay service ( yi 驛, ri 馹) under the authority of a station-master (zhuanli 傳吏, zhizhang 置長.)39 In a civilian setting, a ting’s function to transmit imperial orders and other offi­ cial documents became more important than the reconnaissance functions on the border. Again, the Zhou li provides an early reference to zhuan 傳: in the “Autumn Office” 秋官, the term zhuanju 傳遽 is, explained Zheng Xuan, “like the person sent nowadays as a messenger in a chariot or on a relay horse” 傳遽,若今時乘傳騎驛而使者也.40 Zichan 子產 (d. 522 BCE) is said to have ridden a fast relay horse 乘遽而至 in order to prevent a killing.41 In both cases, ju 遽 is interpreted as a fast horse or a chariot drawn by a fast horse. Needham’s work, published in 1971, provides a good summary of the postal system in Han times and later. Juyan and Xuanquan slips add valuable details

39  Ibid. 40  Zhou li zhushu 38.899. The ancient dictionary Erya says that “Ri and ju are relay horses or coaches” 馹、遽,傳也. Erya zhushu 3.2581. 41  Duke Zhao, 2nd year, Chunqiu Zuo zhuan zhengyi 42.2029.



about the administration of the postal service on the border. There are many instances of yi reported on the Juyan slips; only two are cited here:42 One relay horse; it consumes three dan and six dou of feed. Already have seventy-two dan and still need seventy-eight dan and six dou. 驛馬一匹,用食三石六斗,已得七十二石,少七十八石六 斗。(JY 192.024) Examined the horses, they are all too old, ultimately could not carry the load of a relay horse. 診視馬,皆齒長,終不任驛。 (JY 266.017) These slips show two administrative chores of keeping relay horses: the horses can be too old to serve and they have to be fed. In general, they have to be supervised by low-level officials and have to be inventoried. The Xuanquan col­ lection also makes frequent reference to relay horses, including a set of eleven slips that read like an inventory of relay horses.43 2.4 Ting 亭 Ting is one of the more confusing words in the Han period. In the compound tingsui 亭隧, ting refers to the watchtower of the beacon. The Shuowen says, “Ting has a tower; [the graph] is derived from gao” 亭有樓,从高. The compound tingsui appears frequently among Juyan slips. As the meaning of youting 郵亭 moved away from the watchtower of a beacon given in Mozi, ting became a node in the network of postal stations. The change in its basic meaning can already be seen in the Shi ming 釋名 by Liu Xi 劉熙 (late Eastern Han to Wei): “Ting is to stay; it is also where people gather and stay to rest” 亭,停也;亦人所停集也. By the end of Eastern Han the compound you­ ting had changed and now referred to an entity that was an integral part of a civilian postal system. The collection of Juyan slips reflects the state of co-existence of these two meanings of ting. Youting existed in the Juyan area and were used as a postal station for the transmission of text slips. The compound appears in slip 42  See also Juyan slips JY 018.018, JY 149.027, JY 173.002, JY 283.063, JY 284.002, JY 413.003, and JY 502.007. These slips are from the collection excavated in the 1930s and are denoted with “JY” followed by their standard identifiers, which are two three-digit numbers separated by a dot. A postfix of letter “A” indicates the recto of the slip and “B” for the verso. 43  Hu and Zhang, Dunhuang Xuanquan Hanjian shicui, 81–82.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


JY 037.034, although the lines on the slip are fragmented and incomprehen­ sible. Ting was also used in conjunction with several other characters to form words with different emphases on the role of ting:44 (1) Suiting 隧亭 appears in Dunhuang slips collected by Stein in 1906–8, which should be synonymous with tingsui 亭隧, commonly seen on Juyan slips; (2) 肩水成亭二所 (JY 054.023) probably should read shuting 戍亭, a guard post on the border and an alternative way to refer to tingsui; and (3) Duting 都亭 (JY 074.017) refers to a lodging facility for visiting officials in a city. From the Xuanquan collection, Zhang Junmin 張俊民 finds over 160 slips that refer to ting, and he concludes that they involve at least three different kinds of ting: ting for lookout and watch 候望之亭, ting for administering public order 治安之亭, and ting for postal and courier service 郵驛之亭.45 The first kind is the beacon tower, the second kind is the cantonal office, and the third kind is the postal station. Chen Mengjia identifies the use of tingzhang 亭障, tingsai 亭塞, tingjiao 亭徼, tinghou 亭候, tingsui 亭隧, and tingzhuan 亭傳 in the Shi ji, Han shu, and Hou Han shu.46 The first five terms are all references to the beacon towers for lookout and watch in Zhang Junmin’s terminology, and only the last one is related to postal service. There is a confusing passage in the “Baiguan gong qing biao” 百官公卿表 (Table of officials, lords, and ministers) of the Han shu: “大率十里一亭, 亭有長,十亭一鄉.”47 In one translation, we have “Roughly speaking, ten neighborhoods make one ting, which has a head. Ten ting make one village.” This would imply that ting of the second kind, namely, the administrative unit for public order, was an entity between xiang 鄉 (village) and li 里 (neighbor­ hood) during the Han period. Wang Yuquan 王毓銓 was first to point out that contrary to this passage in the Han shu, there were only two tiers below a county (xian 縣) during the Han: village (xiang) and neighborhood (li), and ting was not part of the administrative hierarchy. Instead, a ting served as something 44  For a detailed study of the use of ting in Juyan, see Xu, “Juyan Hanjian suojian de bianting,” 298–334. Although some of the compounds with ting mentioned by Xu are the results of misreading the transcriptions, the article remains a useful reference. 45  Zhang Junmin, “Dunhuang Xuanquan Hanjian suojian de ting,” 10–21. 46  Chen, “Han Wu biansai kaolüe,” 206. 47  Han shu 19A.742.



more like a police station, a unit in a different hierarchy. 48 Wang’s convincing argument is based on the analysis of texts in standard histories and the records of names and birthplaces of local residents on 674 Juyan slips. Wang concludes that “十里一亭” in the Han shu must mean “one ting every ten li [of distance],” and not “one ting for every ten neighborhoods.”49 2.5 Zhuan 傳 We have already encountered the term zhuanju 傳遽 in the Zhou li and noted that ju refers to a fast horse or a fast chariot. The Shuowen jiezi further explains that zhuan is the same as ju.50 Hence the first meaning of zhuan is a horse or a chariot normally used by a messenger. An early use of this meaning appears in Huainanzi 淮南子, which states that the First Qin Emperor “built great walls, constructed passes and bridges, established barricaded and walled settle­ ments, provided courier chariots, and installed border officers.” 築長城,修 關梁,設障塞,具傳車,置邊吏.51 The term zhuanshe 傳舍 appears in the Shi ji (“Duke Pei arrived at Gaoyang zhuanshe and asked someone to send for Master Li” 沛公至高陽傳舍,使 人召酈生) and also in the Zhanguo ce 戰國策 with the commentary, “lodg­ ing in a postal station for resting or overnight stay” 止息傳置之所.52 Between zhuanju and zhuanshe, the meaning of zhuan transformed from a horse or chariot to an installation that houses horses and chariots and provides room and board to visitors. In the Han, zhuan alone could be used to refer to a zhuanshe.53 Tingzhuan mentioned earlier was also used to emphasize the lodging aspect of a postal station. In the Juyan collection, we have not found any reference to ju 遽, but zhuanma 傳馬, zhuanche 傳車, and zhuanshe appear frequently (e.g., see Juyan slips JY 303.012, JY 010.017, JY 077.016, and JY 212.069). During the Han period, the word zhuan also denoted a tally issued by the authority granting the holder the permission to enter a specific area or to pass through a security checkpoint. The tally could indicate the level of services 48  Wang Yuquan, “Han dai ‘ting’ yu ‘xiang’ ‘li’,” 292–302. See also Li Bingcheng, “Han Dunhuang jun de xiang, li,” 65. 49  While Wang’s argument is convincing, it leaves the line 十亭一鄉 difficult to explain. Ban Gu also says that there were 6,622 xiang and 29,635 ting in the Western Han (Han shu 19A.743). The ratio between the two is hardly one to ten. Wang assumes that either the line 十亭一鄉 is incorrect or it has a very different interpretation than “ten ting in one xiang.” Wang Yuquan, “Han dai ‘ting’ yu ‘xiang’ ‘li’,” 300. 50  Duan zhu Shuowen jiezi 8A.25a. 51  Huainanzi jishi 12.894. 52  Shi ji 97.2692 and Zhanguo ce, 904, n. 5. 53  Han shu 74.3133, n. 2 and Hou Han shu 1A.12.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


in lodging and transportation its holder was entitled to. The tally has many forms; the terms that appear in the Han slips are xin 信, qi 棨, ru 繻, guosuo 過所, zhuan, and zhuanxin 傳信. Typically, a slip that records the passing of a visitor contains information about the holder’s name, position, purpose of the visit, time and date of the visit, destination of the visit, the kind of lodging and chariot(s) provided for the visitor, and the official who has authorized the tally.54 At present, 114 zhuanxin (tally) have been identified with 107 of those excavated from Xuanquan Postal Station and six from the Juyan area, suggest­ ing that monitoring the use of these tallies was a responsibility of a postal station.55 2.6 Zhi 置 Zhi appears in the Han slips mainly with the names of postal stations or other related facilities, such as Tunyuan zhi 吞遠置 in Juyan and Xuanquan Postal Station in Dunhuang.56 The character was also used in conjunction with other characters to indicate specific functions of these facilities. From the Han slips and traditional texts, we have terms like youzhi 郵置,57 zhuanzhi 傳置,58 jizhi 騎置,59 and jiuzhi 廄置.60 These terms cover the following four functions: transmission of official documents, provision of room and board for travel­ ers, provision of horses and chariots for transportation, and establishment of stables to house and care for the animals used in postal service. From the Xuanquan slips we can easily see that these four tasks indeed were the primary functions of Xuanquan Postal Station. They were integrated into a specialized organization, and this division of functions was probably the first step for the postal operation to move away from military supervision, although for many centuries to come, administration of postal services remained under the pur­ view of the Ministry of War, which could be either jiabu 駕部 or bingbu 兵部.61

54  For a detailed study of zhuanxin, see Hao and Zhang, Xuanquan Hanjian yanjiu, 134–61. 55  Hou, “Xibei Hanjian suojian ‘zhuanxin’ yu ‘zhuan’,” 5–54. 56  The references to Tunyuan among Juyan slips include Tunyuan zhi, Tunyuan cang 倉 (storehouse), Tunyuan bu 部 (section, the office of a lookout head), Tunyuan hou 候 (lookout head), Tunyuan jiu 廄 (stable), and Tunyuan sui 隧. 57  The lines 立屯田於膏腴之野,列郵置於要害之路 appear in Hou Han shu 88.2931. 58  He Shuangquan, “Han dai xibei yidao yu zhuanzhi,” 62–69. See also Hu, “Ping ‘Zhuanzhi yu xingshu wuguan’ shuo.’ ” 59  Zhang Jingjiu and Zhang Junmin, “Dunhuang Han dai Xuanquan zhi,” 59–73. 60  Han shu 33.1851. 61  Hucker, A Dictionary of Official Titles, 138–39, 384–85.

34 3


Xuanquan Postal Station

Xuanquan Postal Station was an establishment that combined all the func­ tions associated with the four terms youzhi, zhuanzhi, jizhi, and jiuzhi. Its exca­ vation in the early 1990s revealed a rectangular building layout.62 The large square walled area on the top portion of the building layout is known as wu 塢 (fortified building). The fortified building resembles the Juyan tower T9 men­ tioned earlier. Its entrance faces east. Its dimension is about 50 × 50 m. At the northeastern and southwestern corners are two turrets, each with a footprint of 7 × 7 m. Their similarity to the turret of tower T9 suggests that one or both of the two turrets in Xuanquan could have been used as a beacon tower. The area next to the southwestern turret has been labeled fengsui by the excava­ tion team (between J1 and J2). Attached to the fortified building on the south side are the remains of a stable. The stable has two enclosures: the western one is 28 × 14.5 m and the eastern one is 11 × 17 m. The fortified building contains twenty-seven rooms. Some of the rooms have stoves at a corner (e.g., F4 and F17), probably for cooking. Separately, researchers have reconstructed a floor plan of a lookout office in a Juyan site, which has a fortified building of 47.5 × 45.5 m, comparable to the dimension of the fortified building at Xuanquan.63 At least thirty-seven rooms have been identified within the Juyan building. The northeastern corner inside the building was once used as a pen where horses might have been kept. The difference in the way animals were handled between Xuanquan Postal Station and this lookout office reflects their distinct functions: Xuanquan Station was a postal station designed to fulfill the four functions mentioned earlier, whereas a lookout office on the Juyan border had to be a defense unit first and foremost. In the Juyan area, beacon soldiers were mail carriers as well. This can be seen from two special kinds of slips, youshu ci 郵書刺 (mail record) and youshu ke 郵書課 (mail record with evaluation), found both in Juyan and Dunhuang, as below. 4

Youshu ci 郵書刺

The following example of a mail record shows its essential elements:

62  See the figure in Hao and Zhang, Xuanquan Hanjian yanjiu, 11. 63  Gansu Juyan kaogudui, “Juyan Han dai yizhi,” 1–25. See fig. 14 for the reconstructed floor plan and the description of the lookout office on pp. 2a–3a.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period The third day of the twelfth month, seven envelopes of letters heading north: of those, four have the seal of the Governor of Zhangye: one imperial edict, one letter,  both sent on the bingwu day of the eleventh month; one imperial edict,  sent on the jiachen day of the eleventh month; one envelope,  sent on the wuxu day of the eleventh month. All addressed to the Office of the Juyan Commandant. Two envelopes with the seal of the Governor of Hedong: both addressed to the Juyan Commandant,  one sent on the jiazi day of the tenth month,  one sent on the dingmao day of the tenth month. One envelope with the seal of the Governor, addressed to Jianshui. On the yimao day of the twelfth month, At the hour of sunset, [the package was] received by Soldier Xian  from Soldier Gong of Bujin; at the hour when the night becomes dark,  soldier Zhong of Shatou turned it over to  soldier Hu of Xinbei.


十二月三日, 北書七封: 其四封皆張掖大守章 詔書一封, 書一封, 皆十一月丙午起; 詔書一封, 十一月甲辰起; 一封, 十一月戊戌起。​64 皆詣居延都尉府。 二封河東大守章 皆詣居延都尉, 一封十月甲子起, 一十月丁卯起。 一封府君章, 詣肩水。 十二月乙卯, 日入時,​65 卒憲受 不今卒恭; 夜昏時, 沙頭卒忠付 騂北卒護。 (JY 502.009, JY 505.022A)

Mail records, like the one above, show the senders and addressees of the let­ ters, the starting dates and the dates and hours when the letters passed through Xuanquan Postal Station, types of letters being transmitted, and the individu­ als who handled the letters and their affiliations. For the two slips above, the senders are the governors of Zhangye and Hedong and a nonspecific gover­ nor. The addressees are the Juyan Commandant and the office of the Jianshui Commandant. The clerks handling the letters are soldiers stationed at Bujin, Shatou, and Xinbei. There are references to Shatou and Xinbei ting, but also to Xinbei sui. It is unclear what type of facility Bujin was.6465 64  The previous line has jiachen as a day in the eleventh month, therefore, wuxu cannot be a valid date in the same month. It is likely that the date wushen 戊申 was misread in transcription. 65  In mail records, references to time are based on short phases like 日入 (sunset), 夜昏 (when the night becomes dark), 夜幾少半 (almost one third into the night), 夜少半



From Juyan slips JY 502.009 and JY 505.022A, we see that some letters took months to deliver. The two letters from the governor of Hedong started in the tenth month and only reached Xinbei in the twelfth month. The following record, on the other hand, shows the rapid transfer of an imperial edict at Xuanquan Postal Station: One letter bag from the Emperor to the Governor of Dunhuang. On the guichou day in the eleventh month of the first year of the Yuanping reign (74 BCE), at the hour of almost one-third into the night, received by Relay Rider Chuan of Xuanquan from Relay Rider Guangzong of Wannian. At the hour of one-third into the night, handed over to the Relay Rider of Pingwang . . . 皇帝橐書一封賜敦煌太守。元平元年十一月癸丑夜幾少半時,​  縣 泉 驛 騎 傳 受 萬 年 驛 騎 廣 宗 , 到 夜 少 半 時 付 平 望 驛 騎  . . .  (XQ 110)66 Other Juyan slips show that suizu 隧卒 (beacon soldiers), in addition to their beacon watch and combat duties, also served as mail carriers.67 In addition to soldiers and relay riders, many other types of individuals participated in the postal relay: a convict serving a prison term (XQ 106), the head of a ting (XQ 108), a clerk working at a stable ( jiuzuo 廄佐, XQ 111), a postal station assis­ tant (zhizuo 置佐, XQ 111–12), a postal station bailiff (zhisefu 置嗇夫, XQ 137), a horse veterinarian (mayi 馬醫, XQ 146), a carriage driver ( yu 御) and in a few slips dated to the Eastern Han, a postman known as youren 郵人 or simply you 郵:68 Received eight letters heading west. Serviced at the post grade. . . . On the ninth day of the third month in the fifteenth year of the Yongping reign (72 CE), at the hour when people settle down to rest, received by Postman Sun Zhong from Postman Niu Qiang of Shimi.

(one third into the night), 人定 (when people settle down to rest), etc. For a detailed analysis, see Hao and Zhang, Xuanquan Hanjian yanjiu, 68–105. 66  Hu and Zhang, Dunhuang Xuanquan Hanjian shicui, 92. 67  For examples, see Juyan slips JY 161.002 and JY 163.019. 68  The Xuanquan slips can be found in Hu and Zhang, Dunhuang Xuanquan Hanjian shicui, 88–111. For yu, see slip 33 in Hao and Zhang, 80. For youren as a profession, see Yu, “Qin Han shiqi de youren,” 34–41.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


入西書八,郵行。. . . 永平十五年三月九日人定時,縣泉郵孫仲 受石靡郵牛羌。 (XQ 116)69 We shall return to the “post grade” mentioned in this slip later. Among Juyan slips, there is also one slip, E.P.T51.6, referring to two youzu 郵卒 in the postal relay; they could be soldiers assigned to ting on the border. 5

Youshu ke 郵書課

In addition to the information provided in a mail record, “mail records with evaluation” ( youshu ke) include an assessment of the timeliness of delivery. One letter with the seal of the Juyan Commandant, addressed to the Office of the Governor. On the guimao day of the third month, at the hour when the rooster crows, received by Soldier Bian of Dangqu from Soldier Wen of Shouxiang. On the jiachen day, at the hour of late afternoon, turned over from Soldier De of Linmu to Soldier Sen of Chengbei in Sajing. The standard distance is ninety-eight li and actual travel time is ten Han-hours. Arrived in time. 書一封,居延都尉章,詣大守府。三月癸卯雞鳴時,當曲卒便 受收降卒文。甲辰下餔時,臨木卒得付卅井城北卒參。界中九 十八里,定行十時,中程。 (E.P.W:1) The assessment of timeliness may fall in one of the three categories: zhongcheng 中程 (in time), bujixing 不及行 (early), and liuchi 留遲 (late).70 The actual travel time, known as dingxing 定行, was measured against the prescribed travel time, dangxing 當行 (should travel), and excessive tardiness would be a cause for later investigation. For example:

69  Hu and Zhang, Dunhuang Xuanquan Hanjian shicui, 95. 70  The phrase 不及行 taken as “early” seems counter-intuitive. Juyan slip E.P.T51:357 says that “The standard distance is eighty li. The actual travel time was five Han-hours. It arrived early by three Han-hours.” 界中八十里,定行五時,不及行三時. The delivery speed of ten li per Han-hour can be established by studying various slips. Hence, the distance of eighty li has the prescribed travel time of eight Han-hours. This delivery was carried out in five. Perhaps, one may read bujixing as “short of the prescribed travel time,” i.e., 不及當行. See also Song and Li, “Han dai Juyan diqu,” 29.



The Governor’s Office is 159 li away from the Xianglu beacon. The pre­ scribed travel time is one and six tenth of one Han-hour. The actual travel time was five Han-hours; it was late by three and four tenths of one Hanhour. What is the explanation? 府去降虜隧百五十九里,當行一時六分,定行五時,留遲三時 四分。解何? (JY 181.001) The delivery record noted on JY 181.001 shows the speed of 100 li per one Han-hour. One li in the Han is about 416 m and one Han-hour is either 80 or 90 minutes.71 The delivery was carried out at a speed of about 27.7 kilometers per hour. Therefore, this particular delivery had to be by horse or chariot. In contrast, the delivery of the letter in E.P.W:1 was at about ten li per Han-hour, or 2.8 kilometers per hour, which is normal walking speed. A fine could follow an investigation. Another Juyan slip shows both a case to be investigated on one side of the slip and the penalty code on the other side: The distance from the [lookout] office to the [commandant’s] office is seventy li. A letter traveling one day and one night should cover 160 li. This letter took two and one-third days to arrive. What is the explana­ tion? Every location of this inquiry that this letter has reached must look into the matter. The arrival of this investigation is to be regarded as the order of the law. A meeting is called on the twenty-sixth of the month. [Any response to this inquiry] is due on the twenty-fourth. 官去府七十里。書一日一夜,當行百六十里。書積二日少半日 乃到,解何?書到各推辟界中,必得事。案到如律令,會月廿 六日,會廿四日。 (E.P.S4.T2:8A) The fine for missing the prescribed schedule is one half ounce of gold for 100 li; missing from 100 to 200 li, one ounce; missing over 200 li, two ounces. For a chariot that misses the prescribed schedule by one li, the clerk and the officer in charge would each forfeit one day’s pay; for two li, the magistrate and [lacuna] would each forfeit one day’s pay.

71  Chen Mengjia proposes that one day is 18 Han-hours in the Western Han, while recent studies point to 16 Han-hours for one day. Chen, “Hanjian nianli biaoxu,” 239–56. For recent studies, see Li Jiemin, “Qin Han shiqi de yiri,” 80–88; Hao and Zhang, Xuanquan Hanjian yanjiu, 68–105.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


不中程百里罰金半兩;過百里至二百里一兩;過二百里二兩。​  不 中 程 車 一 里 , 奪 吏 主 者 勞 各 一 日 , 二 里 奪 令 □ 各 一 日 。​ (E.P.S4.T2:8B) When a carriage misses one li at the speed of 100 li in 90 minutes, it is late by less than one minute. Although we may question the accuracy of the tim­ ing device in this period of the Han, the severe penalty reflects the extreme urgency of the message to be delivered by chariot. The fact that penalties were defined in terms of distance not time also suggests that messengers could be more aware of the distance to destination and had no convenient way to know the time while on the road. 6

Relay Routes

Mail records and assessment records of delivery show that each letter has to follow a well-defined relay route. A mail record may indicate where the letter is received and where it is to be delivered. Based on the names of the relay sta­ tions in the mail records, scholars have pieced together the routes in the areas of Juyan and Dunhuang.72 The relay route in the Juyan area ran from the Tianbei lookout office 殄北候官 north of the Juyan Commandant’s Office to the Jianshui lookout office 肩水候官 for a total distance of 250 km. The lookout offices along the route are from north to south: Tianbei—Juyan—Jiaqu 甲渠—Sajing 卅井— Guangdi 廣地—Luotuo 橐他—Jianshui. To identify the locations of major Han postal stations in Dunhuang, we turn to the works of Li Bingcheng 李并成, who has been studying the locations of ancient cities, postal stations, lookout offices, and beacons of Northwestern China for more than two decades. He recently published the locations of major Han postal stations in the Dunhuang Commandery.73 Although some of the locations could no longer be precisely identified, most of the sites he identifies by information gleaned from Han slips, supplemented by his own fieldwork. Based on his results, I mapped the Han postal relay routes in Dunhuang and overlaid the routes on satellite images (fig. 1.1). For some of the stations, the ruins are still recognizable in the enlarged images.

72  For a route map in northern Juyan, see Song and Li, “Han dai Juyan diqu,” 28–36. For a relay route in southern Juyan, see Table 4 (郵站表) in Chen, “Hanjian kaoshu,” 23. 73  Li Bingcheng, “Han Dunhuang jun jingnei,” 70–77.

Figure 1.1 Dunhuang Relay Routes during the Han Period. 1 玉門關 2 陽關 3 龍勒置 4 破羌亭 5 古敦煌 6 甘井騎置 7 遮要置 8 效穀置 9 平望騎置 10 中部都尉府 11 懸泉置 12 萬年騎置 13 魚離置 14 廣至置 15 鎖陽城 16 冥安置 17 美稷亭 18 淵泉(四道溝) 19 玉門鎮

40 Lien

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


The Dunhuang postal routes extend from the Yuanquan 淵泉 Postal Station in the east to Yumen Pass 玉門關 in the west. Between the two, the total dis­ tance is over 270 km as the crow flies. At least nine postal stations are identi­ fied: Yumen 玉門 and Longle 龍勒 are the two on the western frontier. The remaining stations from west to east are Zheyao 遮要, Xiaogu, Xuanquan, Yuli 魚離, Guangzhi 廣至, Ming’an 冥安, and Yuanquan. These stations are all mentioned in the Xuanquan collection of slips. In addition, there are three jizhi 騎置: Ganjing 甘井, Pingwang 平望, and Wannian 萬年. Two ting are also prominent on the slips: Meijiting 美稷亭 and Po Qiang ting 破羌亭. Table 1.1 shows that a station may have served different functions. For exam­ ple, the name Xuanquan appears with zhi, yi, and ting; this has been under­ stood as referring to different units within the Postal Station. A name could also be shared by different entities; for example, Longle, Xiaogu, Guangzhi, Ming’an, and Yuanquan were also county names in the Han. Table 1.1

Multiple Functions of Postal Stations in Dunhuang.

Yumen 玉門 置,關

Longle 龍勒 置,驛

Zheyao 遮要 置,騎置,驛,亭

Xiaogu 效穀 置,驛,亭

Xuanquan 懸泉 置,驛,亭

Yuli 魚離 置,驛

Guangzhi 廣至 置

Ming’an 冥安 置,亭

Yuanquan 淵泉 置,亭

Ganjing 甘井 騎置,驛,亭

Pingwang 平望 騎置,驛,亭

Wannian 萬年 騎置,驛,亭

Table 1.2 gives the distances between pairs of neighboring nodes. Again, they are fly-line distances between pairs of points in question. When a distance is much longer than the average and beyond a reasonable distance for a mail carrier to make it in a day on foot, other stations must have existed in between the two nodes. For example, there should be one or even two stations between Yumen and Ganjing. These relay routes have to be viewed in the context of a larger, empire-wide network of postal stations. Two important slips were excavated, one from Juyan and the other from Xuanquan, and together they describe the Han cities



Table 1.2

Distances between Han postal stations in Dunhuang in km.

Yuanquan–Meijiting Meijiting–Ming’an Ming’an–Guangzhi Guangzhi–Yuli Yuli–Wannian Yuli–Xuanquan Wannian–Xuanquan Xuanquan–Pingwang Pingwang–Zheyao Zheyao–Xiaogu

33 29 30 27 13.5 22.7 13 21.5 21 7

Zheyao–Ganjing Xiaogu–Ganjing Zheyao–Dunhuang Ganjing–Dunhuang Ganjing–Central Commandant Ganjing–Yumen Dunhuang–Po Qiang ting Po Qiang ting–Longle Longle–Yangguan Yangguan–Yumen

17 11.5 20 17 15 72 26 26 6 48

on the Silk Roads that served as nodes of this empire-wide network and the distances between two neighboring nodes.74 7

Tang Mail Routes

Some of the gazetteers found among Dunhuang manuscripts document the Tang postal stations in the Dunhuang area. In particular P. 2005 “Shazhou dudufu tujing” 沙洲都督府圖經 (A guide to the area command of Shazhou, with maps) lists nineteen courier stations ( yi) during the Tang period, includ­ ing the ones that were abandoned.75 These stations can be divided into two routes: the eastward and northward routes, both of which start from the seat of the Dunhuang Commandery and direct toward Guazhou 瓜州. In 691, dur­ ing the reign of Wu Zetian 武則天 as Emperor of the Zhou dynasty (r. 690–705), the eastern route was abandoned because “the mountain paths are winding, perilous, and close to rebels” 山險迂曲近賊.76 The courier stations along the northward route were established as an alternative. The eastward route fol­ lowed the same path along the Han route from the Dunhuang Governor’s seat, through Zheyao, Pingwang, Xuanquan, Yuli, and Guangzhi to reach Suoyang 鎖陽, which was part of Guazhou in the Tang.

74  He Shuangquan, “Han dai xibei yidao yu zhuanzhi,” 62–69. 75  Wang Zhongluo, “Dunhuang shishi,” 358–59. 76  Ibid.


Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period

The eastward route had an earlier reroute in 683 for almost the same secu­ rity reason. This change of route involved Xuanquan. Tang’s Xuanquan Postal Station was “relocated to the north side of a mountain, into the Xuanquan Valley” 移就山北懸泉谷置 from the south side of the mountain. The released information about the archeological finds of Xuanquan does not suggest any period of Tang use of the building. Furthermore, since the Han site was located on the north side of a mountain with vast flat land to its north, we can con­ clude that the Xuanquan Postal Station of the Han was not the same as the one in the Tang. Table 1.3 shows the changes of the eastward route from the Han to the Tang period. Table 1.3

Comparison of Eastward Routes in the Han and Tang in km. Han route

Dunhuang–Zheyao 20 Zheyao–Pingwang 21 Pingwang–Xuanquan 21.5 Xuanquan–Yuli 22.7 Yuli–Guangzhi 27 total 112.2

Tang route

州城驛—東泉驛 東泉驛—其頭驛 其頭驛—懸泉驛 懸泉驛—魚泉驛 魚泉驛—瓜州常樂 total

18 11 35 18 20


Zhoucheng yi 州城驛 was a station 200 steps east of the commandery seat. The Dongquan yi 東泉驛 station was two kilometers away from Zheyao. The last station Guangzhi in the Han route was in the proximity of Suoyang. Although the Tang route tracks closely the Han route, there is no evidence to show that the Tang used any of the Han stations. The density of postal sta­ tions along the Dunhuang-Guazhou run was little changed between the Han and Tang. 8

Grades of Postal Service

Juyan and Xuanquan slips show many grades of delivery service. The phrases used include: 以郵行, 以亭行, 以次行, 以亭次行, 以隧次行, 亭次行, 隧次 行, 縣次行, 廷次行, 亭次走行, 驛馬行, 吏馬行, 驛馬馳行, 吏馬馳行, and



駙馬行. While the last five indicate the requirement of fast delivery by refer­ ring to the use of horses, those remaining suggest orders of delivery. There is probably no difference between 隧次行 and 以隧次行; both would mean the process of delivering in the order of beacons. From the list, we may also con­ clude that you, ting, and sui refer to different entities. Some scholars suggest that yi you xing first appeared in the Eastern Han since Xuanquan slips carry­ ing such a designation are rare and some of them could be dated.77 Juyan slip JY 062.002 shows yi you xing; however, it could be an Eastern Han slip. 9

A Han Statute Concerning Mail Delivery: Xingshu lü 行書律78

From Juyan and Xuanquan slips we find references to punishments meted out against those who failed their duties as mail carriers. An important legal document found separately is the one from the collection of bamboo slips unearthed in 1983 from Jiangling 江陵 in Hubei. The most relevant part of the Jiangling slips is the Ernian lüling 二年律令 (Statutes and ordinances of the second year), dated to no later than 186 BCE.79 Within the “Statutes and Ordinances of the Second Year” there is a set of rules governing the postal ser­ vice, known as the Xingshu lü (Statutes on the forwarding of writings). Some of the rules are cited below: Install one postal station every ten li. For the Nan Commandery, from south of the Yangzi River to the South River in Suo (modern Hanshou xian in Hunan), one postal station every twenty li. 十里置一郵。南郡江水以南至索 (?) 南水,廿里一郵。(XSL 264)80

77  Hu and Zhang, Dunhuang Xuanquan Hanjian shicui, 95. 78  For a more detailed treatment of the codes that regulate mail delivery in the Han, see sections 8 and 10 of Giele, “New Glimpses,” 14–29, 32–33. Michael Loewe also describes briefly Han legal codes for mail delivery and postal service as components of the Han government. Loewe, The Government of the Qin and Han Empires, 106, 109, 160. 79   Jingzhou diqu bowuguan, “Jiangling Zhangjiashan sanzuo Han mu,” 1–8. See also Zhangjiashan ersiqihao Han mu etc., Zhangjiashan Han mu zhujian, 29–30, 169–71. 80  The slips XSL 264, XSL 265–67, XSL 272, and XSL 273 can be found in Zhangjiashan ersiqihao Han mu etc., Zhangjiashan Han mu zhujian (ersiqihao mu) (shiwen xiuding ben), 45–46. The question mark in XSL 264 indicates that the transcriber was unsure of the graph.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


Let the postman deliver imperial edicts and express letters. Exempt him from corvée and taxation, and assign no other tasks to him. For areas with concerns of danger or near the border that are unsuitable for setting up postal stations, let soldiers of ting at the gates or those responsible for catching bandits deliver letters. In the Beidi, Shang, and Longxi Commanderies, set up one postal station every thirty li. For areas danger­ ous and narrow that are impossible for a mail carrier to pass, choose suit­ able locations that are nearby. Every postal station is to furnish beds and be equipped with a well and a mill. For every visiting official with county business without a servant, the postman should cook for him. If the visi­ tor has a servant, they should be furnished with utensils and provided with water and soup. 令郵人行制書、急書,復,勿令為它事。畏害及近邊不可置郵 者,令門亭卒、補盜行之。北地、上、隴西,卅里一郵。地險 狹不可郵者,得進退就便處。郵各具席,設井磨。吏有縣官事 而無僕者,郵為炊;有僕者假器,皆給水漿。(XSL 265–67) If a letter is not urgent but [the postman] takes the liberty to send it by post, the fine is two ounces of gold. 書不急擅以郵行,罰金二兩。(XSL 272) The postman must travel 200 li for the duration of one day and one night. Tardiness by one half day is punishable by 50 cane strokes. The punish­ ment for one half day to a full day is 100 cane strokes. For over one day, the fine is two ounces of gold. 郵人行書一日一夜行二百里。不中程半日笞五十;過半日至盈 一日笞百;過一日罰金二兩。(XSL 273) The code above specifies the distance between two postal stations, taking local conditions into consideration. It defines the duty of a postman and his privi­ lege. Each postal station must offer accommodations to visiting officials for business travel with the postman serving as cook. The code further spells out the penalty for tardiness and improper use of the postal service.

46 10


Contributions of Han Slips to the Understanding of the Han Postal System

We next review three examples where Han slips and fieldwork at archeological sites have helped to clarify our understanding of some general statements in classical texts. First, as Wang Yuquan has shown, in the lines “大率十里一亭,亭有長,​  十亭一鄉” in Han shu, the graph li is a unit of distance and should not be confused with li as “neighborhood.”81 It is unlikely for a Han village (xiang) to have 100 neighborhoods, since each neighborhood was assumed to have 100 households, making a xiang as large as a large county.82 From the remains of ting in archeological sites, we also learn that “十里一亭” is only an approxi­ mate statement. Second, the following passage in Han guanyi 漢官儀 (Han official ceremo­ nial) suggests that there were fewer ting than you: Install one ting in every ten li, with a ting leader and a ting lookout officer. Have one you in every five li, with an officer located at two and half li from the you to police evil-doing and burglary. 設十里一亭,亭長、亭候;五里一郵,郵閒相去二里半,司姦盜.83 From the “Statutes and Ordinances of the Second Year” cited earlier, we have learned that you could exist every ten, twenty, or thirty li depending on the region. Separately, on a slip unearthed from a Han tomb in Yinwancun 尹灣村 in Jiangsu, the numbers of ting and you in the Donghai 東海 Commandery are given as 688 and 34 respectively, with ting outnumbering you twenty to one.84 The entities that were spread with a density of one in every five li were most likely sui on the border and the Han guanyi could be referring to the inland counterpart of sui, which might have been called you at one time in history. The youting in Mozi could be its prototype. The notion of you in the Donghai Commandery is likely to be a large postal station; whereas the you in the Han guanyi is like a small police station.

81  See section 2.4 above. 82  Zheng Xuan cites the line “百戶為里” from the Wang du ji 王度記 of the Warring States in a commentary to Li ji zhushu 43.748b. 83  Hou Han shu 28.3624, n. 1. 84  The slip from Yinwancun is numbered YM6D1. See Lianyungangshi bowuguan, Yinwan Han mu jiandu, 61–67, 138–44.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


Third, the entry zhi 置 in a rhyme book of the Song has the following lines: “A courier station: to deliver by horses is called zhi and to deliver on foot is called you” 驛傳也,馬遞曰置,步遞曰郵.85 Xu Qian’s 許謙 (1270–1337) criticism of the last two lines, quoted in the Sheng’an jing shuo 升庵經說 by Yang Shen 楊慎 (1488–1559), calls the gloss “imagination and baseless talk” 想像妄說. “Since you is glossed as yi, if it were delivery on foot, why does the graph have horse as its radical?” 郵訓爲驛,若是步遞,字何以从馬乎.86 The argument offered by Xu Qian on the speed of you delivery is based on the radical of its gloss yi. From the Han slips in Juyan and Xuanquan, we find an element of truth in the rhyme book’s distinction between you and zhi. After all, in the early Han, zhi had relay horses and were separated by a distance longer than the distance of 30 li between two neighboring you. A courier traveling from one zhi to the next most likely did it on horseback. On the other hand, moving from one you to the next and back was entirely feasible on foot in a day. What Xu Qian identified was the discrepancy between two glosses. When you could be understood as “to deliver on foot,” it should not be glossed as yi. When you was merged into zhi, that distinction became invalid.

The postal system of the Han was an indispensable vehicle of communication between the imperial court and local governments. Radiant from the capital Chang’an (or Luoyang) was a network of probably thousands of relay stations. On the border, the postal system was integrated into the military defense sys­ tem with soldiers serving military duties and doubling up as mail carriers. If the evolution of the graph you 郵 is any indication, an early manifestation of a form of postal station, youting 郵亭, can be traced to the Warring States period, with its primary function being in reconnaissance and beacon signal­ ing. Postal relay of textual messages flourished later in the Qin and Han; and in the Han, its expansion in the west led to a network of beacons and postal stations. By the early Han, a postal station had to serve four essential functions: (1) transmitting of letters, (2) providing room and board to the visitor, (3) satis­ fying transportation needs of the visitor, and (4) maintaining a stable to house the animals used in postal service. When located on the border, a postal station is also part of the defense system. The interplay of these functions could be quite complex. A horse could be used to deliver official documents, to ­transport 85  Zengxiu huzhu Libu yunlüe 4.20a. 86  Sheng’an jing shuo 14.213.



a visitor, or to draw a carriage for either purpose. A soldier could be a mail cou­ rier and a postman could also be a cook. Because of these four functions, a relay station had to have a stable to care for horses, and have rooms, a kitchen, a mill, and a well to accommodate visitors and to house its regular residents. A relay station on the border also had to be ready for beacon signaling. Because of its multiple functions, a relay station was at once a postal sta­ tion, or you 郵, a posthouse, or zhuanshe 傳舍, and a stable, or jiu 廄, with relay horses, known as ji 騎. When all these functions were present, it was a zhi 置, and the terms like youzhi 郵置, zhuanzhi 傳置, jiuzhi 廄置, and jizhi 騎置 were used to refer to its parts. Ying Shao’s 應劭 (fl. 173–91) Fengsu tong 風俗 通 is quoted in a commentary to the Hou Han shu to say “you was changed to zhi in the Han” 漢改郵為置.87 This line does not appear in the received ver­ sion of the Fengsu tong. Modern scholars generally agree now that you was not changed into zhi but was merged to become one of the functions of zhi.88 In spite of its inaccuracy, the line attributed to Ying Shao signifies that zhi became an important building block of the postal system of the Han Empire. Perhaps you was no longer sufficient to encompass all the functions of a postal station in the Han and zhi was a neutral word to cover all its functions. Without the Han slips excavated from Juyan, Xuanquan, and other sites, the source of our knowledge of the Han postal service would have been limited to the received historical and literary texts. Han slips help us to clarify our under­ standing and challenge conventional readings of received texts. Bibliography Chen Mengjia 陳夢家. “Han dai fengsui zhidu” 漢代烽燧制度. Hanjian zhuishu 漢簡綴述, 153–77. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980. ———. “Hanjian kaoshu” 漢簡考述. Kaogu xuebao 1 (1963). Rpt. in Hanjian zhuishu. ———. “Hanjian nianli biaoxu” 漢簡年曆表敘. Hanjian zhuishu, 239–56. ———. “Hanjian suojian Juyan biansai yu fangyu zuzhi” 漢簡所見居延邊塞與防禦 組織. Kaogu xuebao 1 (1964). Rpt. Hanjian zhuishu, 37–95. ———. “Han Wu biansai kaolüe” 漢武邊塞考略. Hanjian zhuishu, 206. Chu Shibin 初師賓. “Juyan fenghuo kaoshi” 居延烽火考釋. In Hanjian yanjiu wenji, 355–64. Chunqiu Zuo zhuan zhengyi 春秋左傳正義. In Shisan jing zhushu. 87  Hou Han shu 68.2231, n. 1. 88  Hao and Zhang, Xuanquan Hanjian yanjiu, 20, 32.

Reconstructing the Postal Relay System of the Han Period


Duan zhu Shuowen jiezi 段注說文解字. Compiled by Xu Shen 許慎 (ca. 58–ca. 147). Commentary by Duan Yucai 段玉裁 (1735–1815). Rpt. Taipei: Guangwen shuju, 1969. Erya zhushu 爾雅注疏. In Shisan jing zhushu. Fan Xiangli 范香立. “Hanjian suojian cishi he duyou de zhineng chuyi” 漢簡所見刺 史和督郵的職能芻議. Daqing shifan xueyuan xuebao 28.1 (2008): 120–23. Gansu Juyan kaogudui 甘肅居延考古隊. “Juyan Han dai yizhi de fajue he xin chutu de jiance wenwu” 居延漢代遺址的發掘和新出土的簡冊文物. Wenwu 1 (1978): 1–25. Gansu sheng wenwu gongzuodui 甘肅省文物工作隊 and Gansu sheng bowuguan 甘肅省博物館, eds. Hanjian yanjiu wenji 漢簡研究文集. Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe, 1984. ———. “Ejina he xiayou Han dai fengsui yizhi diaocha baogao” 額濟納河下游漢代 烽燧遺址調查報告. In Hanjian yanjiu wenji, 62–84. Gansu wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo 甘肅文物考古研究所, Gansusheng bowuguan 甘肅省博物館, Zhongguo wenwu yanjiusuo 中國文物研究所, and Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan lishi yanjiusuo 中國社會科學院歷史研究所, eds. Juyan xin­ jian 居延新簡. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1994. Transcriptions of the slips from the 1970s can be found at http://ndweb.iis.sinica.edu.tw/woodslip_public/System/ Main.htm (accessed November, 2014). Giele, Enno. “New Glimpses of the Early Chinese Postal System,” unpublished manu­ script, 2004. An early version was presented at the Warring States Working Group (WSWG) Conference No. 17 on September 18, 2003 at Leiden, Netherlands. Translated by Tomiya Itaru 冨谷至. “ ‘Yū’ sei-kō—Shin Kan jidai o chūshin ni” 「郵」制考— 秦漢時代を中心に. Tōyōshi kenkyū 63.2 (2004): 203–39. Han shu 漢書. Compiled by Ban Gu 班固 (32–92). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1962. Hao Shusheng 郝樹聲 and Zhang Defang 張德芳. Xuanquan Hanjian yanjiu 懸泉漢 簡研究. Lanzhou: Gansu wenhua chubanshe, 2009. He Linyi 何琳儀, ed. Zhanguo guwen zidian 戰國古文字典. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1998. He Shuangquan 何雙全. “Han dai xibei yidao yu zhuanzhi: Jiaqu houguan, Xuanquan Hanjian ‘Zhuanzhi daoli bu’ kaoshu” 漢代西北驛道與傳置:甲渠候官、懸泉 漢簡《傳置道里簿》考述. Zhongguo lishi bowuguan guankan 1 (1998): 62–69. ———. “Han dai xibei yidao yu zhuanzhi” 漢代西北驛道與傳置. Zhongguo lishi bowuguan qikan 1 (1998): 62–69. Hou Han shu 後漢書. Compiled by Fan Ye 范曄 (398–446). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1965. Hou Xudong 侯旭東. “Xibei Hanjian suojian ‘zhuanxin’ yu ‘zhuan’” 西北漢簡所見 ‘傳信’ 與 ‘傳.’ Wen shi 3 (2008): 5–54. See also http://www.bsm.org.cn/show_article .php?id=1358 (accessed November, 2014).



Hu Pingsheng 胡平生 and Zhang Defang, eds. Dunhuang Xuanquan Hanjian shicui 敦煌懸泉漢簡釋粹. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2001. ———. “Ping ‘Zhuanzhi yu xingshu wuguan’ shuo’ ” 評‘傳置與行書無關’說. May 2010. http://www.bsm.org.cn/show_article.php?id=1255 (accessed November, 2014). Huainanzi jishi 淮南子集釋. Commentary by He Ning 何寧. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1998. Hucker, Charles O. A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985. Jingmenshi bowuguan 荊門市博物館, ed. Guodian Chu mu zhujian 郭店楚墓竹簡. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1998. Jingzhou diqu bowuguan 荊州地區博物館. “Jiangling Zhangjiashan sanzuo Han mu chutu dapi zhujian” 江陵張家山三座漢墓出土大批竹簡. Wenwu 1 (1985): 1–8. Lao Gan 勞榦. Juyan Hanjian: Kaoshi zhibu 居延漢簡:考釋之部. Taipei: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan, Lishi yuyan yanjiusuo, 1960. Legge, James. The Chinese Classics, etc.: Vol. 2, The Works of Mencius. London: Trübner, 1861. Rpt. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1960. Li Bingcheng 李并成. “Han Dunhuang jun de xiang, li, nanjing saiqiang he fengsui xitong kao” 漢敦煌郡的鄉、里、南境塞牆和烽燧系統考. Dunhuang yanjiu 2 (1993): 65. ———. “Han Dunhuang jun jingnei zhi, jizhi, yi deng weizhi kao” 漢敦煌郡境內 置、騎置、驛等位置考. Dunhuang yanjiu 3 (2011): 70–77. Li ji zhushu 禮記注疏. In Shisan jing zhushu. Li Jiemin 李解民. “Qin Han shiqi de yiri shiliushi zhi” 秦漢時期的一日十六時制. Jianbo yanjiu 2 (1996): 80–88. Li Junming 李均明, Juyan Hanjian biannian: Juyan bian 居延漢簡編年:居延編. In Xianggang Dunhuang Tulufan yanjiu zhongxin yanjiu congkan 香港敦煌吐魯番研 究中心研究叢刊 1, edited by Rao Zongyi. Taipei: Xinwenfeng chuban gongsi, 2004. Li Zhengyu 李正宇. “Dunhuang jun de biansai Changcheng ji fengjing xitong” 敦煌郡 的邊塞長城及烽警系統. Dunhuang yanjiu 2 (1995): 120. Lianyungangshi bowuguan 連雲港市博物館, et al, eds. Yinwan Han mu jiandu 尹灣漢墓簡牘. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1997. Liu Shihong 劉士紅. “ ‘De zhi liuxing su yu zhiyou er chuanming’ zhi ‘zhi’ zi bian ji qita” 德之流行速于置郵而傳命之置字辯及其他. Gansu lianhe daxue xuebao (shehui kexue ban) 23.6 (2007): 80–84. Loewe, Michael. The Government of the Qin and Han Empires: 221 BCE–220 CE. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2006. Luo Qingkang 羅慶康. “Yinshan fengsui tanwei” 陰山烽燧探微. Yiyang shizhuan xuebao 4 (1990): 77. Mozi jiangu 墨子閒詁. Commentary by Sun Yirang 孫詒讓 (1848–1908) and Sun Qizhi 孫啟治. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2001.

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Needham, Joseph, et al. Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 4: Physics and Physical Technology, part 3: Civil Engineering and Nautics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971. Shi ji 史記. Compiled by Sima Qian 司馬遷 (145–ca. 86 BCE). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959. Shisanjing zhushu 十三經注疏. Compiled by Ruan Yuan 阮元 (1764–1849). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980. Song Huiqun 宋會群 and Li Zhenhong 李振洪. “Han dai Juyan diqu youyi fangwei kao” 漢代居延地區郵驛方位考. Henan daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 33.1 (1993): 28–36. Tan Qixiang 譚其驤, ed. “Qin Xi Han Dong Han shiqi” 秦西漢東漢時期. In Zhongguo lishi dituji 中國歷史地圖集 II. Beijing: Ditu chubanshe, 1982. Wang Yuquan 王毓銓. “Han dai ‘ting’ yu ‘xiang’ ‘li’ butong xingzhi butong xingzheng xitong shuo” 漢代 ‘亭’與 ‘鄉’ ‘里’不同性質不同行政系統說. Lishi yanjiu 2 (1954). Rpt. in Wang Yuquan shilun ji 王毓銓史論集, 292–302. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2005. Wang Zhongluo 王仲犖. “Dunhuang shishi chu ‘Shazhou dudufu tujing’ canjuan kaoshi” 敦煌石室出《沙州都督府圖經》殘卷考釋. Zhongguo lishi dili luncong 1 (1992). Rpt. in Zhongguo Dunhuang xue bainian wenku: Dili juan 中國敦煌學百年 文庫:地理卷. Lanzhou: Gansu wenhua chubanshe, 1999. Wei Jian 魏堅 and Chang Shi 昌碩. “Juyan Han dai fengsui de diaocha fajue ji qi gong­ neng chutan” 居延漢代烽燧的調查發掘及其功能初探. In Ejina Hanjian shiwen jiaoben 額濟納漢簡釋文校本, compiled by Sun Jiazhou 孫家洲, 115–25. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2007. Wu Rengxiang 吳礽驤. “Han dai fenghuo zhidu tansuo” 漢代烽火制度探索. In Hanjian yanjiu wenji, 235–40. Xie Guihua 謝桂華, Li Junming, and Zhu Guozhao 朱國炤, eds. Juyan Hanjian shiwen hejiao 居延漢簡釋文合校. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1987. Transcriptions of these slips can be found at http://ndweb.iis.sinica.edu.tw/woodslip_public/System/ Main.htm (accessed November, 2014). Xu Leyao 徐樂堯. “Juyan Hanjian suojian de bianting” 居延漢簡所見的邊亭. In Hanjian yanjiu wenji, 298–334. Xue Yingqun 薛英群, He Shuangquan, and Li Yongliang 李永良. Juyan xinjian shicui 居延新簡釋粹. Lanzhou: Lanzhou daxue chubanshe, 1988. Yang Shen 楊慎 (1488–1559). Sheng’an jing shuo 升庵經說. In Congshu jicheng chu­ bian 叢書集成初編. Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1936. Yu Zhenbo 于振波. “Qin Han shiqi de youren” 秦漢時期的郵人. In Jianduxue yanjiu 簡牘學研究, vol. 4, edited by Xibei shifandaxue wenxueyuan lishixi 西北師範大 學文學院歷史系 and Gansu sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo 甘肅省文物考古研 究所, 34–41. Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe, 2004.



Zengxiu huzhu Libu yunlüe 增修互註禮部韻略. Commentary by Mao Huang 毛晃 (1151 jinshi). In Siku quanshu. Zhanguo ce 戰國策. Compiled by Liu Xiang 劉向 (ca. 77–6 BCE). Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1998. Zhang Jingjiu 張經久 and Zhang Junmin 張俊民. “Dunhuang Han dai Xuanquan zhi chutu de ‘jizhi’ jian” 敦煌漢代懸泉置出土的‘騎置’簡. Dunhuang xue jikan 2 (2008): 59–73. Zhang Junmin. “Dunhuang Xuanquan Hanjian suojian de ting” 敦煌懸泉漢簡所見 的 ‘亭’. Nandu xuetan 30.1 (2010): 10–21. Zhang Xiancheng 張顯成, ed. Qin jian zhuzi suoyin 秦簡逐字索引. Chengdu: Sichuan daxue chubanshe, 2010. Zhangjiashan ersiqihao Han mu zhujian zhengli xiaozu 張家山二四七號漢墓竹簡 整理小組, ed. Zhangjiashan Han mu zhujian (ersiqihao mu) 張家山漢墓竹簡(二 四七號墓). Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2001. Zhangjiashan ersiqihao Han mu zhujian zhengli xiaozu, ed. Zhangjiashan Han mu zhujian (ersiqihao mu) (shiwen xiuding ben) 張家山漢墓竹簡(二四七號墓)​  (釋文修訂本)​. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2006. Zhongguo jiandu jicheng bianji weiyuanhui 中國簡牘集成編輯委員會, ed. Zhongguo jiandu jicheng biaozhu ben 中國簡牘集成標注本. Lanzhou: Gansu ren­ min chubanshe, 2001–2005. Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan kaogu yanjiusuo 中國社會科學院考古研究所, ed. Juyan Hanjian jiayi bian 居延漢簡甲乙編. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980. Zhou li zhushu 周禮注疏. In Shisan jing zhushu.

chapter 2

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars: The Long and Eventful Life of Yan Zhenqing’s (709–785) Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter Amy McNair Letters have been collected as examples of calligraphy since the Later Han dynasty (25–220), when cursive script became an art of the elite. For collectors, a letter’s significance lay mainly in the style of the brushwork and its perceived power to evoke the personality of the writer. Typically, to contemporaries, the style is admired as sophisticated and cutting-edge, the product of an insider group with access to the right models and plenty of time to practice the art, while to later collectors, the style represents the epitome of the age in which it was produced. Further, thanks to the traditional belief in graphology, the lines of the characters are seen as traces of the author’s being that allow the viewer to “see the man in his writing.” In addition, since the verbal content of letters can be of the moment and because cursive script is traditionally held to be unpremeditated and highly expressive, a further appeal of letters is the sense of emotion and immediacy felt by the viewer as he or she re-traces the progress of the brush on the page. When collectors have a letter mounted in the hand scroll or album format, it becomes the core of a living document as later viewers inscribe their responses to the letter in colophons. When the letter is mounted, it is given a name, typically two or three characters from the first or second lines of the letter. The mounting and the naming turn the letter into a work of art. The name is written on a label on the scroll and used to record the letter’s presence in a collection. Famous early letters were also reproduced within “model-letters compendia” ( fatie 法帖), in which copies were engraved into stone plates, from which ink rubbings were taken and distributed as elegant gifts. Finally, famous letters became the source texts for “innovative transcriptions” (lin 臨), rather like musical compositions that can be played many ways. Artists creatively re-interpreted certain letters as a way of demonstrating their competence in canonical calligraphy styles and their own ingenuity, transcribing what had been private documents in public art formats such as hanging scrolls and fans. My case study for these developments is the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter (Liu Zhongshi tie 劉中使帖) by Yan Zhenqing 顏真卿 (709–785), now in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. This

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brief letter, which comments on military actions in 775, is exemplary not only for its extraordinary appearance—highly gestural cursive-script characters on blue paper—and the reputation of its author, a renowned loyalist statesman, scholar and aristocrat, but also for the rich documentation of its nearly thirteen-hundred-year life in the hands of numerous important collectors and the manifold responses by critics and artists. 1

Yan Zhenqing’s Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter

Though unsigned, the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter is nearly universally accepted as one of two extant ink-written autographs by the celebrated Tangdynasty calligrapher Yan Zhenqing.1 The letter comprises forty-one large characters in eight lines, written in a blend of running (xing 行) and cursive (cao 草) scripts, on a piece of dyed blue paper 28.5 cm high and 43.1 cm wide (fig. 2.1). It is undated, but an approximate date of the end of the year 775 may be deduced from the letter’s contents. In my translation, it reads: Recently, I heard that when Imperial Commissioner Liu arrived at Yingzhou, Wu Xiguang had already surrendered. This should comfort the hearts of those on the seaboard! I had also heard that though Cizhou was besieged by Lu Ziqi, the Sheli General had seized him alive. What a consolation! 近聞劉中使至瀛州,吳希光已降。足慰海隅之心耳。又聞 礠州 為盧子期所圍,舍利將軍捦獲之。吁足慰也。 Hou Yili, on the staff of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, has done an admirable job of researching the personages mentioned in the letter, which I will summarize in English here.2 The events described refer to the insurrection of Tian Chengsi 田承嗣 (704–778), which was a continuation of the catastrophic An Lushan Rebellion (755–62). After the deaths of the rebel leaders An Lushan 安禄山 (703–757) and Shi Siming 史思明 (703–761), several of their subordinates refused to submit to the throne and continued to drag out the uprising. In 763, in an attempt to pacify them, Emperor Daizong 代宗 (r. 762–79) appointed 1  Wang Zhuanghong 王壯弘 says it is a Tang copy, without explanation. See his Bei tie jianbie changshi, 113. Perhaps because the letter lacks a signature and an addressee, he considered it fragmentary, which could indicate a copy of a portion of a letter. 2  Hou Yili 侯怡利, entry on Yan Zhenqing’s Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter in Jin Tang fashu mingji, 177–81.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


Figure 2.1 Yan Zhenqing, Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter, ink on paper, ca. 775. National Palace Museum, Taipei.

them Military Commissioner and put them in charge of the Defense Command in the areas they controlled. Tian Chengsi was made Military Commissioner over five prefectures centered on the command at Weizhou (modern Daming, Hebei), in the area that is now approximately northwest Shandong and southwest Hebei provinces.3 Instead of pacifying Tian, however, this evidently put him in a position to expand the areas under his control. In 773, Xue Song 薛嵩 died. He was another rebel leader turned Military Commissioner, and the court appointed his younger brother to succeed him in governing the area that is now northern Henan and southeast Shanxi provinces. The following year, Tian Chengsi began his plot to invade that territory by inciting the subordinate generals of that command to revolt. In 775, he reported to the throne that they had rebelled and that he was leading troops to save the situation! Under this guise, he seized Xiangzhou (modern Anyang, Henan). At the same time, he also ordered his own generals Lu Ziqi 盧子期 to take Mingzhou (modern Yongnian, Hebei) and Yang Guangchao 楊光朝 to attack Weizhou (modern Jixian, Hebei). In the fourth lunar month of 775, the central government sent troops against Tian. Duplicitously, he sent a memorial asking to submit while ordering his general Lu Ziqi to capture Cizhou (modern Cixian, Hebei). At the beginning of the tenth month, Lu attacked Cizhou, and the city nearly fell. Four days later, two other military commissioners came to its rescue, and Lu suffered a 3  See Zizhi tongjian 222.7141.



great defeat at the Qing River. He was taken alive and brought to the capital, where he was beheaded. The line in the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter that says “though Cizhou was besieged by Lu Ziqi, the Sheli General had seized him alive” is a reference to this event. On the seventh day of the following month, Wu Xiguang 吳希光, who had been appointed prefect of Yingzhou (modern Hejian, Hebei) by Tian, surrendered the city.4 The person called Imperial Commissioner Liu in the letter was evidently sent to verify the return of Yingzhou to the imperial fold. He was very likely the renowned central official Liu Qingtan 劉清潭 (fl. late 8th c.).5 These events are referred to in the first line of Yan’s letter: “When Imperial Commissioner Liu arrived at Yingzhou, Wu Xiguang had surrendered.” Since both the capture of Lu and the surrender of Wu took place by the seventh day of the eleventh month of 775, the letter is considered to date to the end of that year. Although the events actually occurred in the reverse order from the sequence of references in Yan’s letter, Hou Yili explains this by suggesting that Yan, in his haste to write, may have dropped some verbiage before the sentence on Wu, such as riqian 日前 (earlier), that would have explained that this had happened prior. The last person mentioned in the letter is the Sheli General. According to the account given in the New Tang History (Xin Tang shu 新唐書), the general Wang Wujun 王武俊 turned over Lu Ziqi alive to Li Baochen 李寶臣, one of the Military Commissioners who came to the rescue of Cizhou.6 When Li moved to liberate Mingzhou, he displayed the captured Lu before the city walls, and the rebels surrendered the city. Hence, the Sheli General cited in Yan’s letter should be Wang Wujun. At the time the letter was written, Yan was serving in the south as Prefect of Huzhou, since he had been sent away from court by the grand councilor Yuan Zai 元載 (d. 777) to silence his outspoken criticism. Even though he was not personally involved in the events described in his letter, he still expresses considerable passion about the defense of the Tang state. To any contemporaneous reader, the text would have resonated with the emotions he felt and expressed in writing during his experience of the An Lushan Rebellion twenty years before, as shown in his other extant autograph work, the draft eulogy for his nephew Yan Jiming 顏季明 (d. 756), which expresses his anger and grief

4  Zizhi tongjian 225.7235 and Yu Xianhao, Tang cishi kao, 1388. 5  Given the name Zhongyi 忠翼 in 778, his role is described in Jiu Tang shu 119.3445 and Xin Tang shu 150.4809. 6  Xin Tang shu 210.5926.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


over the young man’s death in that war.7 To any knowledgeable later reader of this letter, it also summons up the image of Yan’s death ten years after this letter was written, when he was martyred for his loyalty to the state by yet another rebel leader.8 2

A Paragon of Loyalty

Though the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter is only four sentences in length, it is quite sufficient to summon up in the mind of the reader the personality and reputation of Yan Zhenqing. The scion of a family long distinguished for scholarship and service to the state, Yan counted among his ancestors the eminent official Yan Zhitui 顏之推 (531–ca. 591) and the historian Yan Shigu 顏師古 (581–645).9 After the early death of his father, Yan Weizhen 顏維貞 (670–712), he was educated by his mother, a member of the equally accomplished Yin 殷 clan, his uncle Yan Yuansun 顏元孫 (668–732) and his aunt Yan Zhending 顏真定 (654–737), and in 734, he earned the Presented Scholar ( jinshi 進士) degree by examination. He entered government service at the court of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–56) in 736 with the prestigious post of Editor in the Palace Library, which was reserved for men of unusual literary promise. After passing the special Examination for Erudites of Outstanding and Extraordinary Literary Expression (boxue wenci xiuyi 博學文詞秀逸) in 742, he was appointed to serve as District Defender of Liquan, a coveted post near the summer pleasure palaces of the Tang emperors. Due to his success in a series of provincial and metropolitan offices, in 749, he was called to court to serve as a Palace Censor. It was in this post that Yan’s outspoken honesty in defense of other men of integrity began to earn him the enmity of the grand councilor Yang Guozhong 楊國忠 (d. 756). In 753, in retaliation, Yang recommended Yan for appointment as Commandery Governor of Pingyuan, a walled city close by the Yellow River in Dezhou Prefecture (in modern Shandong province), far from the western capital in Chang’an. Late in 755, the Military Commissioner An Lushan rose in revolt against the Tang throne and led his armies south through Shandong on his way to the 7  The subject of emotion in letter-writing from this time period is treated in Anna M. Shields’s essay in this volume. 8  The Draft Eulogy for Nephew Jiming (Ji zhi Jiming wen gao 祭姪季明文稿) also belongs to the National Palace Museum, Taipei. See Jin Tang fashu mingji, no. 12. 9  The principal biographical sources for the life of Yan Zhenqing are Xin Tang shu 153 and Jiu Tang shu 128; see also McNair, The Upright Brush.



e­ astern Tang capital of Luoyang. As An passed through the area, he ordered Yan to submit his city, but instead, Yan organized the loyalist resistance efforts so successfully that An was forced to return from Luoyang to fight them. In that battle, Yan’s brother and nephew were killed. The Tang imperial armies came to their rescue, but were too soon diverted to defend the western capital, so many local officials switched allegiance to the rebels. Yan organized what was left of the loyalists, but they were defeated in the end. Yan escaped with his life and presented himself at court, prepared to accept the death penalty for his failure, but he was hailed by the court as a paragon of loyalty and given a high position. Yan’s reputation for loyalty only grew throughout the remainder of his life in service. By the age of seventy, Yan survived the tenure of Yuan Zai and returned to serve in high positions at court, where he wrote several important memorials on state ritual. Yet again, however, he ran afoul of powerful men who sought to silence him. Early in 783, the grand councilor Lü Qi 呂杞 (d. ca. 785) recommended that Yan—at the age of seventy-three—be sent out to Xuzhou to induce the rebel Li Xilie 李希烈 (d. 786) to surrender. Li captured Yan and tried to force him to serve in his own rebel court, asking him about the ritual to be used in his ascent of his throne. Yan rebuked him by saying, “I am an old man now, but once I did know state ritual. Now all I can remember is the ritual for a feudal lord’s audience of submission to the emperor.” In 785, the rebel leader, angry over the death of his brother, had Yan executed. When his death was reported to the emperor, he was granted the posthumous epithet of “Cultured and Loyal.” The content of this letter, then, encapsulates the entire career of Yan Zhenqing and his perfect record of unblemished loyalty to the state. Its joy over the defeat of rebels evokes the establishment of Yan’s reputation as a paragon of loyalty during the An Lushan Rebellion and its epiphany when he died as a loyalist martyr at the hands of another traitor. This is one reason why it was preserved. 3

“Seeing the Man in His Writing”

The feeling of communing with the personality of the writer is one of two traditional ways in which to appreciate a letter as calligraphy. The notion that writing expresses the personality of the author dates back to the Han dynasty at least. The scholar-official Yang Xiong 揚雄 (53 BCE–18 CE) said it succinctly in this well-known statement, “writing is the delineation of the mind”

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


書心畫也.10 This is a basic expression of characterology, which is the practice of judging the moral character of people.11 Characterology is based on the belief that the nature of the personality on the inside is inexorably expressed on the outside, so that a person’s character can be grasped from an examination of any of a person’s external manifestations, such as appearance, behavior, or written and spoken expression. A classic example of the sort of communion felt by those who accept the tenets of characterology is the statement by the historian Sima Qian 司馬遷 (145–90 BCE), who said, “when I read the writings of Confucius, I can envision the kind of man he was.”12 This belief also extended to handwriting. Graphology, or handwriting analysis, is the practice of perceiving character traits from a person’s handwriting. “Seeing the man in his writing” is attested as early as the first century, in the practice of appreciating and collecting personal letters and other hand-written manuscripts as a souvenir of the writer. The Han History (Han shu 漢書) contains a record of the eccentric scholar Chen Zun 陳遵 (fl. early 1st c.) that reported that although Chen was naturally good at calligraphy, it was his commanding appearance and unorthodox character that impelled the recipients of his letters to save them, as traces of his personality: Chen Zun as a rule was always drunk, but he still managed not to neglect his business. He was more than eight feet tall and had a long head and big nose; his appearance was indeed extraordinary. He was fairly well read in history, was himself a prolific writer of prose and poetry, and was a born calligrapher. When he wrote letters to people, the recipients always kept them and stored them away, because they regarded them as something magnificent.13 A related idea is that a virtuous character produces superior art. This belief was expressed by the Han-dynasty philosopher Wang Chong 王充 (27–97), who wrote, “the greater a man’s virtue, the more refined is his literary work.”14 In a well-known anecdote from the Tang period, Emperor Muzong (r. 821–24) asked his policy advisor Liu Gongquan 柳公權 (778–865), who was famous as 10  Fayan 5.3b. See also Michael Nylan’s translation “writing, is [the heart’s] images”; Exemplary Figures, 76–77. 11  This practice is described by the third-century writer Liu Shao 劉邵 in his Renwuzhi 人物志. See also Shryock, The Study of Human Abilities. 12  Shi ji 47.1947. 13  Slightly amended from the translation in Ledderose, Mi Fu, 30. 14  Forke, Lun-heng, 2:229.



a calligrapher, about the proper method for the brush. Liu replied: “The use of the brush lies in the heart. If your heart is upright, then your brush will be upright.”15 In other words, good art is founded on good character. The Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter has fourteen colophons appended to it, and most of the writers express one or both of these notions, that the personality of Yan Zhenqing is palpable in the calligraphy and that the letter is a fine artwork because of the noble character of the man who wrote it. Typically, the two sentiments are woven together. In the earliest colophon on the letter, the collector Wang Zhi 王芝 (d. ca. 1311) wrote: My lord’s heroism and righteousness may be imagined a hundred generations from now [from this letter], and it should be treasured. 公之英風義節可想見於百世之下,侅可寶也。 In the next colophon, the calligrapher and high official Xianyu Shu 鮮于樞 (1246–1302) said: His heroic spirit and valiant personality are manifest in every stroke of the brush. 然其英風烈氣見於筆端也。 In his colophon, the official Bai Ting 白珽 (1248–1328) wrote: It is in the Yingzhou Letter [i.e., the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter] that one may see the true expansiveness of Yan Zhenqing’s calligraphy; and as for its aura of loyalty and virtue, one is awestruck as though face to face with the living man himself! . . . The loyalty of Yan Zhenqing pierces the sun and the moon, and the quality of his skill was first-rate. His reputation as a master of calligraphy will endure for generations; how much more so his skill in ink and the marvels of his brush!16 瀛州帖視魯公它書特大而廪々忠義之氣如對生面。. . .魯公忠貫 日月,功載旂常。固不待 善書名于代。況筆精墨妙善是耶。 It can scarcely be a coincidence that these men who had witnessed the fall of the native Song dynasty in 1279 to the Mongol “barbarian” invaders were so 15  Jiu Tang shu 165.4310. 16   Translation by Chang Kuang-pin, “The Study and Influence of Yen Chen-ch’ing’s Work,” 196.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


enthusiastic in their appreciation for Yan’s loyalty and heroism. We need to remember that these colophons were written in a public setting at the behest of the owner. Because calligraphy scrolls such as Yan’s Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter were, in Ankeney Weitz’s fine formulation, “objects of public display and circulation, inscriptions and colophons were also public acts; thus, a seemingly personal sentiment became a statement of position.”17 Quite likely a public statement of admiration for the loyalist martyr Yan Zhenqing would have been seen as an expression of fidelity to the fallen Song dynasty (960–1279). 4

The Style of the Letter

The other principal reason for appreciating and collecting letters is the style of the calligraphy. Most personal letters were written in running script, cursive script or a blend of the two. As Qianshen Bai explains, in the first century, cursive script, which was commonly used to write letters, “had recently become a new vehicle for artistic expression among aristocrats.”18 Likely because cursive script uses the most organic gestures, it was seen as revealing the natural movements of the arm and hand and hence considered to have the greatest potential for self-expression. Unlike other formats that required writing in the more geometric regular script (kaishu 楷書), such as memorials, epitaphs or stele inscriptions, letters were the most elite format for calligraphy because they allowed the calligrapher to express his personality and showcase his ability at stylish, novel, advanced modes of cursive script. The most admired way to express one’s self artistically was to imitate the most sophisticated models. An anecdote from the Later Han History (Hou Han shu 後漢書) tells how Emperor Ming of the Han (r. 57–75) acquired such models from his cousin Liu Mu 劉睦 (fl. 1st c.): [Liu Mu] was good at calligraphy; his contemporaries took him as a standard and followed his model. When Liu was on his deathbed the emperor sent an express courier by horse to ask him to write ten letters in draft cursive script.19

17  Weitz, “Allegories, Metaphors, and Satires,” 167. 18  Bai, “Chinese Letters,” 381. 19  Ibid.



Over the course of the Six Dynasties period (420–589), the style of the aristocrat Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303–361), his son Wang Xianzhi 王獻之 (344–388) and other relatives became the most exclusive and sought-after style. The collecting and display of letters by these men was restricted to select gatherings of the other elite families that had fled to the south at the fall of the Western Jin (265–317) and to emperors who collected and practiced their style as a way to establish their cultural supremacy, such as Emperor Ming (r. 465–72) of the Liu Song dynasty (420–79). Of the emperor’s substantial calligraphy collection, the pieces by Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi were considered most precious.20 The first emperor of the succeeding Southern Qi dynasty (479–502) employed the services of Wang Sengqian 王僧虔 (426–485), a descendant of the Wang clan, as his personal calligraphy connoisseur, as he re-gathered the Liu Song imperial collection dispersed by warfare. The first emperor of the Liang dynasty (502–57) also collected the works of the Wangs. This royal focus on the Wang style resulted in an ever-increasing exclusivity for the style, since the actual works were removed from circulation by being sequestered in the palace, at the same time that the style acquired even greater cachet thanks to imperial patronage. This exclusive circle was broken by the Buddhist monk Zhiyong 智永 (fl. ca. 557–617), a seventh-generation descendant of Wang Xizhi who undertook to make eight hundred transcriptions of the Thousand Character Classic.21 Each copy had the thousand unique characters of this children’s primer written out in the Wang version of both cursive and running scripts, and Zhiyong distributed them to the many monasteries in the regions of eastern Zhejiang where he lived.22 Placed in the libraries of these monasteries, the scrolls could be viewed and copied by visiting students and scholars, thus amplifying the audience for the Wang style and its practice throughout the south. Certainly the original readers of Yan’s Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter and quite likely most of the later collectors who owned it were aware of the filiations between Yan and the Wang tradition. The monk Zhiyong was the teacher of Yu Shinan 虞世南 (558–638), the high official and connoisseur of calligraphy for Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty (r. 626–49). Lu Jianzhi 陸柬之 (585–638) was the nephew and student of Yu Shinan, and his son Lu Yanyuan 陸彥遠 was the uncle and calligraphy teacher of Zhang Xu 張旭

20  Ledderose, Mi Fu, 41–42. 21  For a reproduction of a section of one of these, now in the Ogawa collection, Kyōto, see Nakata Yūjirō, Chinese Calligraphy, pl. 31. 22  Ledderose, Mi Fu, 20.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


(675–759).23 As a young man, Yan traveled to Luoyang especially to meet with Zhang Xu and learn his style. While the connection to the Wang lineage was important to Yan’s status as a calligrapher, it was his study with Zhang Xu that is shown in this letter. The influence from Zhang Xu is what makes this letter attractive as participating in one of the most up-to-date and exclusive styles of Yan’s generation, the cursive tradition begun by Zhang Xu. Zhang was known to Yan through family connections; Zhang’s friend and relative He Zhizhang 賀知章 (659–744) was a member of the social circle that included Yan Zhenqing’s father and his wife’s uncle Wei Shu 韋述 (d. 757).24 In another letter, Yan described his study with Zhang, saying modestly that though he had sought him out, he had failed to learn anything: Since the time of the Southern Dynasties, many of my ancestors have been famous in their own day for their cursive, clerical, small seal, and large seal scripts, but in their descendants, that path has fallen into disrepair. Yet I once met with Administrator Zhang Xu and demonstrated my youthful lack of expertise to him. But since he was loathe to part with [his method], I could not gain any skill [at calligraphy].25 Yet in his preface to a set of poems on the cursive script of his younger contemporary, the Buddhist monk-calligrapher Huaisu 懷素 (725–785), Yan suggests he did learn Zhang’s method after all: The writing of cursive drafts arose in the Han dynasty. Du [Bo]du 杜伯度 [fl. late 1st c.] and Cui Yuan 崔瑗 [77–142] were the first to gain fame by their marvelous ability. It then came to Boying [Zhang Zhi 張芝, d. ca. 192], who was particularly adept at its beauties. Then it descended to Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi, after which Yu [Shinan] and Lu [Jianzhi] together inherited it. The oral formula was manually received, until it got to the Administrator of Wu Commandery, Zhang Xu . . . When I was young, I once went to stay with him and many times met with him to implore and urge him to teach me his brush method.26 23  Lu Xie 陸拹 (d. 880), Lin chi jue 臨池訣, in Lidai shufa lunwenxuan, 1:293. 24  See Yan’s epitaph for his father in Yan Lugong ji 7.12b. Also see Jiu Tang shu 190C.5034; Xin Tang shu 199.5683. 25  See his “Cursive and Seal Script Letter,” Yan Lugong ji 4.7a. 26  Wenzhong ji 12.88. The well-known text called The Twelve Concepts of the Brush Method of Administrator Zhang, which purports to be Yan’s record of his dialogue with Zhang is a fabrication of the Song dynasty. See Yu Shaosong, Shu hua shu lu jie ti 9.5b.



Huaisu also attested to Yan’s study with Zhang in this letter: When in my later years I took to roaming across China, what I regretted most was never having known Crazy Zhang the Administrator. Recently, in Luoyang I accidentally encountered Minister Yan Zhenqing, who said that he had received the Administrator’s brush method. Hearing this method [from Yan Zhenqing] was like having had the chance [to meet and hear it from Zhang Xu].27 Zhang Xu was a great celebrity of the High Tang period, and he was depicted by his contemporaries in the role of the artist whose genius is released by wine. In Du Fu’s 杜甫 (712–770) poem “The Eight Immortals in Drink” (Yinzhong ba xian 飲中八仙), the lines describing Zhang read: In Zhang Xu, three cups summon forth the Cursive Script Sage: he strips off his cap and bares his head before princes and lords, wielding his brush over the paper like clouds and mist.28 Based on this description, we should expect Zhang’s cursive script calligraphy to be highly gestural, daringly unbalanced, unrestrained by rules and flowing in an unbroken line. While no authentic ink-written work by Zhang survives, most scholars consider the engraved copy of his Stomach Ache Letter (Du tong tie 肚痛帖) to be a good representative of his style (fig. 2.2). Large, looselyorganized characters vary in size, several of which expand beyond the implied confines of their column into the one adjacent. Looping, circular forms dominate. Some characters that would seem unbalanced were they taken out of the column manage to seem balanced within its momentum. Straight lines are juxtaposed with curving strokes, creating an exciting tension. This could equally be a description of the style of Yan’s Imperial Com­ missioner Liu Letter. Even if we lacked the documentation, the fact of Yan’s practice of the cursive script manner of Zhang Xu is evident in the style of his letter. In addition, this manner is not unique to the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter, which is one reason why it is considered genuine, even though unsigned. Another work in the same mode from the same period of Yan’s life is the Wenshu Letter (Wenshu tie 文殊帖, fig. 2.3), which survives only in ink rubbing form. It is signed, and a description of the original letter by Mi Fu 米芾

27  Cangzhen Letter (Cangzhen tie 藏真帖), in Tang Huaisu san tie, 31. 28  Quan Tang shi, 1223.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


Figure 2.2 Zhang Xu, after. Stomach Ache Letter, ink rubbing.

(1052–1107) reveals that it, too, was written on blue paper.29 This letter was also saved because his use of the exclusive cursive mode of Zhang Xu, celebrated by the greatest poet of the day and learned through considerable effort by Yan, made this letter much more than just a piece of news to a friend. It made the letter into a work of art. Even by 775, it would still have had considerable cachet as a representative example of a sophisticated metropolitan style. 5

History of Collection

The whereabouts of the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter from its creation in 775 to the early 1120s are unknown, but this is not unusual for Tang-dynasty letters, since the cataloging of imperial and private collections was not practiced much until the twelfth century. The letter is listed along with twentyseven other works by Yan in the catalogue of the Song government collection, Catalogue of Calligraphy in the Xuanhe Era 宣和 (1119–1125) (Xuanhe shupu 宣和書譜), which was probably completed around 1122.30 On the lower left corner of the work proper is a fragmentary seal impression reading Shaoxing 29  Zhongguo shufa quanji 26:437. 30  Cited with the running script works. See Xuanhe shupu 3.59.



Figure 2.3 Yan Zhenqing, after. Wenshu Letter, ca. 775, ink rubbing. Song taben Yan Zhenqing shu Zhongyitang tie.

紹興, which demonstrates the letter remained in (or was returned to) government possession after the fall of Kaifeng in 1127 and was included in the Southern Song imperial collection in the Shaoxing era (1131–1162).31 The letter likely remained in the Song imperial collection until the fall of Hangzhou in 1279. One reason I think this is because the letter does not appear in the Hall of Loyalty and Righteousness Compendium (Zhongyitang fatie 忠義堂法帖), the engraved letters compendium of works by Yan Zhenqing created by Liu Yuangang (1180–1268) in 1215, suggesting Liu had no access to it.32 Since the earliest colophon that follows the work is dated to the early Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), it appears Yan’s Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter 31  Jin Tang fashu mingji, 179. 32  Devoted to the calligraphy of Yan Zhenqing, the stone slabs of the compendium are not extant, but a unique surviving Song-dynasty ink rubbing is held by the Zhejiang Provincial Museum in Hangzhou, reproduced as Song taben Yan Zhenqing shu Zhongyitang tie. See also Zhu Guantian, “Zhejiang bowuguan cang Song ta Yan Zhenqing ‘Zhong yi tang tie’.” On the history of the Compendium, see Lin Zhijun, Tie kao, 141–51 and Rong Geng, Cong tie mu, 3:1137–46.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


re-entered the public sphere with the violent end of the Song, like so many other objects from the imperial collection. The circle of friends and art collectors around Xianyu Shu and Zhou Mi 周密 (1232–1298) owned, traded and viewed many artworks, including Yan’s letter. In his colophon, Wang Zhi explains that the letter was in the collection of the high official Zhang Sili 張斯立 in 1286.33 Wang was obsessed with collecting art and may have been a small-time dealer.34 He says he acquired Yan’s letter by trading: To the right is the calligraphy of the Tang dynasty Grand Preceptor Yan Lugong [Zhenqing], the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter, which is a genuine work. It is recorded in the Catalogue of Calligraphy in the Xuanhe Era, and after the move to the south, it was entered into the imperial collection during the Shaoxing era. In the bingxu year of the Zhiyuan era (1286), I traded two genuine works for it, the Orchid Pavilion Poems transcribed by Lu Jianzhi and the Bushang Letter by Ouyang Shuaigeng [Ouyang Xun 歐陽詢, 557–641], with Zhang Xiujiang [Sili].35 The virile and firm brushwork in this letter is not unique, for the same sort of nobility and ardor are seen in his other letters, such as the Letter to Cai Mingyuan and the Hanshi Letter.36 My lord’s heroism and righteousness may be imagined a hundred generations from now [from this letter], and it should be treasured. Reverently inscribed at the Studio for Treasuring Ink by Wang Zhi of Daliang on the 12th day of the 3rd month. 右唐太師顏魯公書劉中使帖真跡。著載宣和書譜。南渡後,入紹 興內府。至元丙戌以陸柬之蘭停詩,歐陽率更卜商帖真跡二局 易得於張繡江處。此帖筆畫雄健不獨。與蔡明遠,寒食等帖相 頡頏而書旨慷慨激烈。公之英風義節可想見於百世之下,侅可 寶也。三月十有二日大梁王芝再拜謹題于寶墨齋。 The next colophon on the scroll is a simple signature by Qiao Kuicheng 喬簣成 (d. ca. 1313), who wrote, “Viewed by Qiao Kuicheng, zi Zhongshan, of Beiyan.” Qiao was another well-known collector who took an official post in

33  For biographical information on Zhang Sili, see Weitz, Zhou Mi’s Record, 106, n. 449. 34  Ibid., 90, n. 352. 35  See Zhou Mi, “Zhang Keyu Sili hao Xiujiang suo cang,” Yunyan guoyan lu 雲煙過眼錄 17.46. 36  For the Hanshi Letter (Hanshi tie 寒食帖) see Zhongguo shufa quanji 26: no. 49; for the Letter to Cai Mingyuan (Cai Mingyuan tie 蔡明遠帖) see 26: no. 9.



Hangzhou in 1289, where he became a friend of Xianyu Shu.37 In the opinion of Chang Kuang-pin and Hou Yili, Yan’s letter was probably still in the collection of Wang Zhi at this time, as well as when the next colophon, by the famous calligrapher, collector and high official Xianyu Shu was added.38 He wrote: Calligraphy by the Grand Preceptor Yan is rarely seen today. In my life, I have seen three genuine works: the Draft Eulogy for Jiming, the My Horse was Ill Letter and this letter.39 The Eulogy is in running-cursive, and the My Horse was Ill Letter is in running-regular; both are in small characters. This letter is in standard running script, and the characters are relatively larger. Although the script forms differ [from the first two], still his heroic spirit and valiant personality are manifest in every stroke of the brush. Looking at these words, how could one not know the ways of our forebears? Reverently written by Xianyu Shu. 顏太師之書世不多見。不肖平生見真跡三本,祭姪季明文,馬病 及此帖。祭姪行草,馬病行真,皆小而此帖正行差大。雖體製 不同,然其英風烈氣見於筆端也。此語豈可為不知考道哉。鮮于 樞拜手書。 In 1305, the high official Zhang Yan 張晏 (d. 1330) wrote the first of two colophons to the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter. In my opinion, he did not own the scroll at this time, despite the appearance of a seal impression on the work proper that reads “personal seal of Zhang Yan.” I believe this seal was added after he did come to own the scroll later, at which time he also wrote his second colophon. I base this opinion on the disparity in content and tone between the texts of the colophons, in addition to the difference in calligraphic manner between the two. Zhang’s first colophon is quite formal, and the use of his official titles suggests the owner expected him to add luster to the work with his high rank. He opens it by citing eight works by Yan that he had seen, including this letter, and then gives a conventional assessment of Yan’s style:

37  For biographical information on Qiao, see Weitz, Zhou Mi’s Record, 70, n. 251. 38  See Chang, “The Study and Influence of Yen Chen-ch’ing’s Work,” 192, and Jin Tang fashu mingji, 179. On Xianyu Shu, see Marilyn Wong Fu, “The Impact of the Reunification,” 371–433. 39  Zhou Mi noted that Qiao Kuicheng owned the My Horse was Ill Letter (Ma bing tie 馬病帖) in 1293 (Weitz, Zhou Mi’s Record, 298), and Xianyu himself acquired the Eulogy for Nephew Jiming in 1282 ( Jin Tang fashu mingji, 165).

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


Looking at this brushwork, “the hooks are like bent gold [wire] and the dots like falling rocks.”40 Dongpo [Su Shi 蘇軾, 1037–1101] said “the apogee of calligraphy was reached by Yan Lugong.”41 How true are these words! Respectfully written by Zhang Yan, Academician in the Academy of Scholarly Worthies and Grand Master for Thorough Counsel, on the 25th day of the 10th month in the winter of an yisi year, the 9th year of the Dade era [1305]. 觀於此書端可為『鉤如屈金,點如墮石』。東坡有云『書至於 顏魯公』。誠哉是言也。時大德九年歲在乙巳冬十月廿五日,集賢 學士,通議大夫張晏敬書。 The next two colophons were written when Yan’s letter was in the collection of Shi Chuhou 史處厚 (fl. early 14th c.). The substance of Bai Ting’s colophon has been given above, but he was plainly not the owner. At the end he extols the character of Shi Chuhou in such fulsome terms it is obvious the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter has been brought out by its owner for an appreciative colophon to be inscribed on the scroll by the visitor.42 As an eminent personage of Hangzhou, whose handsome calligraphy followed the style of Mi Fu, Bai would have been well positioned to add value to the scroll with his inscription. The next colophon, by the official Tian Yan 田衍 (1258–1322), is dated to 1309 and has much the same feel. He wrote: To the right is the genuine work, the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter by Yan Zhenqing, whose style name was Qingchen, the Grand Preceptor and Dynasty-founding Duke of Lu Commandery of the Tang dynasty. It has forty-one characters. My lord once studied calligraphy with Zhang Xu and learned his method of “[stains on the wall made by] rain from a leaky roof.”43 When I traveled to the capital, I saw many works by Yan. The 40  This quotes part of the characterization of Yan’s style made by the Song critic Zhu Changwen 朱長文 (1039–1098), in the entry on Yan Zhenqing in his Xu Shu duan 續書斷 of 1074: “Dots like falling rocks, strokes like summer clouds, hooks like bent gold [wire].” See Lidai shufa lunwenxuan 1:324. 41  Dongpo tiba 5.95. 42  The complete text of Bai’s colophon is reprinted in Xu Bangda, Gu shu hua guoyan yaolu, 80. 43  This is a reference to a supposed conversation between Huaisu and Yan Zhenqing recorded in the informal biography of Huaisu attributed to Lu Yu 陸羽 (733–804), the famous tea master of Tang China: “Huaisu said, ‘When I see summer clouds that look like so many strange peaks, I try to imitate them and their swift movements, like birds flying from a grove, or startled snakes slipping into the grass. Or like cracks in the walls along a road—



works I had in my collection included the Preface Sending off Xin Huang, the two Announcements of Office for Yan Zhaofu and Lady Yin, the Latter Half of the Letter on the Controversy over Seating Protocol, and the Return from Court [otherwise known as] the My Horse was Ill Letter.44 These had all been part of the imperial collection in Xuanhe and Shaoxing times.45 Yet none of them has the virile expression and heroic abandon of this letter. The only work it is comparable to is his [Eulogy for His Nephew] Jiming. The men of old said that calligraphy is a unitary art. If the man lacks character, though it be skillful, that would not be adequate to ennoble it. This is particularly true for my lord [Yan]. Respectfully viewed at the home of Shi Hou, Grand Minister of Langu, on a mid-autumn day in the jiyou year of the Zhida era [1309] by Tian Yan of Mengcheng. 右唐魯郡開國公太子太師顏真卿字清臣書劉中使帖真跡。四十 一字。公嘗學書於張旭,得屋漏雨法。衍游京師覽公書 最多。衍之所藏送辛晃序,顏昭甫殷夫人二誥,爭座後帖,朝 回馬病帖。皆經宣和紹興御府。然俱未若帖之雄放豪逸。豈特 入季明之室。將与元氣爭長。昔人云書一藝也。茍非其人雖工 不足貴也。惟公可以當之。至大己酉中秋日。拜觀於蘭谷大卿 史侯之第,蒙城田衍題。 The second colophon by Zhang Yan is the last by a Yuan-dynasty person, and it is significantly different from his first one. Not only is it three times the length, but the characters are larger and the calligraphy is inkier and more gestural. The content and style have a far more self-expressive, casual feel. After a long

all very natural.’ Yan Zhenqing asked, ‘What about stains from a leaky roof?’ Huaisu rose and grasped his hand, exclaiming, ‘You’ve got it!’.” See Lidai shufa lunwenxuan, 1:283. 44  The “announcement of office” for Lady Yin is actually the spirit road inscription for his aunt Yan Zhending; see Zhongguo shufa quanji 26: no. 35. The Return from Court and My Horse was Ill are two names for the same letter; see Zhongguo shufa quanji 26: no. 17. In the mid-Northern Song, the Letter on the Controversy over Seating Protocol belonged to a wealthy Chang’an family named An. When the sons came into their inheritance, they decided to split the family property, so they divided this long letter and had it remounted as two scrolls, according to Huang Tingjian. See his Shangu tiba 4.40. The Preface Sending off Xin Huang (Song Xin Huang xu 送辛晃序) is not extant. 45  The Letter on the Controversy over Seating Protocol (Zheng zuo tie 爭座帖), the Preface Sending off Xin Huang and the My Horse was Ill Letter are listed in the Xuanhe shupu entry on Yan, but not the two announcements of office. Perhaps they were in the Shaoxing era collection. See Xuanhe shupu, 59–60.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


discussion of various pieces by Yan that he had seen, including the size of the characters (“larger than a coin”) and the color of the paper (white or yellow), Zhang remarks that “seeing the movements of the brush and the dots and strokes is like seeing the man himself.”46 These are standard features of most colophons, but it is the closing statement that suggests he owned the scroll by this time. He describes the pleasure of unrolling the scroll at a quiet desk by a bright window to view it from time to time and how he “sighed deeply when he acquired this scroll.” He ends the colophon by saying that he has “reverently written this employing an inkstone once used by Su Shi and ink that belonged to Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅 [1045–1105] at the Studio for Encouraging Learning [Quanxuezhai 勸學齋].” If these were his scholarly implements and his studio, then surely he owned the work. Following Zhang Yan’s second colophon is another work that appears at first to be another colophon but is actually another letter (fig. 2.4). Now called Letter to Hua Zhongfu (Zhi Hua Zhongfu chidu 致華中甫尺牘), it was written by the famous calligrapher, painter and man of letters Wen Zhengming 文徵明 (1470–1559) to his younger friend, the wealthy collector Hua Xia 華夏 (1490–1563), whose style name was Zhongfu.47 Evidently, Wen had borrowed the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter from Hua, but was not able to keep it as long as he desired, and he seems to say that one reason he would like it back is to fix the title slip. Wen’s letter reads as follows: In the time since it came, I was only able to glance at it hurriedly, with no chance to reply. I am so ashamed! I am much indebted for the loan of my lord’s letter by Yan, but since I am anxious to return it immediately, I will not get to examine it closely. Meanwhile, I will send it quickly, but another day I hope to come in to the city [of Wuxi] to take it back for another look. I will be sure to! The title slip also needs to be corrected later, but I cannot say all [I wish to say here]. Zhengming bows his head to the ground to you, Zhongfu. 早來左顧匆匆,不獲穎回。甚媿!承借公顏帖,適歸僕馬 遑遽,不及詳閱。姑随使馳納,他日入城更望帶至一觀。千萬 千萬!簽題亦伺後便,不悉。徵明頓首中甫尊兄。

46  A complete transcription of this colophon is in Xu, Gu shu hua guoyan yaolu, 80. 47  I am very grateful to Li Heyun 李鶴雲 of Suzhou University for transcribing this letter for me. The dates for Hua Xia’s life are taken from Cai Shufang, “Hua Xia Zhenshangzhai shoucang yu ‘Zhenshangzhai tie’ yanjiu,” 21–23.



Figure 2.4 Wen Zhengming, Letter to Hua Zhongfu, ink on paper, Taipei, undated. National Palace Museum.

Brief as it is, this letter encapsulates Wen Zhengming’s relationship with Hua Xia. Wen was famously the scion of the literati society of fifteenth-century Suzhou, having studied literature with Wu Kuan 吳寬 (1435–1504), calligraphy with Li Yingzhen 李應禎 (1431–1493) and painting with Shen Zhou 沈周 (1427–1509), all of whom were illustrious friends of his well-placed father.48 Despite this ultra-elite education, Wen Zhengming took and failed the government examinations for office ten times and was only called to Beijing in 1523 to serve based on a recommendation. His sensitive and fastidious character found government office extremely trying, and he went home to Suzhou after only four years. Upon his return, he took up the role of educated gentleman in retirement, but while the ethos of literati life compelled him to reject the title of “painter,” lest he be mistaken for an artisan for hire, his situation none­ theless appears to have been that of a man who produced large quantities of calligraphy and painting as commodities for socially-sanctioned exchange.49 This letter is one such commodity-document, produced by a man of culture and reputation for a younger family friend of high social station and considerable wealth. Wen Zhengming had been a friend of the Hua family for three generations. The Hua clan was an eminent scholar-official family who had lived in Wuxi, Jiangsu, for close to a millennium. As an example of their social position and wealth, they are recorded as the largest contributors of grain to assist flood

48  Ming shi 387.7362. 49  See Shih Shou-ch’ien, “Calligraphy as Gift.”

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


v­ ictims in their area in 1453.50 Thanks to the industry and connections of Hua Xia’s grandfather Hua Tan 華坦 (1452–1545) and his grandmother Qian Shuoren 錢碩人 (n.d.), the daughter of another elite local clan, the family fortunes were built even higher. Wen Zhengming was not only friends with Hua Tan, but also with his eldest son, Hua Qin 華欽 (1474–1554). He wrote Qin’s epitaph.51 Hua Xia was Qin’s eldest son and was granted a position as a National University Student (guozisheng 國子生). He, too, married a girl of the Qian clan. Xia used his wealth to continue the family tradition of collecting books, historical documents, calligraphy, model-letters compendia and other epigraphic works, ancient ritual bronze vessels and paintings, and he enjoyed a solid reputation as a connoisseur. His studio in Wuxi that housed his collections was called the True Appreciation Studio (Zhenshangzhai 真賞齋). From all accounts, Hua Xia was very generous with his art collection, happily showing pieces to visitors and even lending them out to friends. As another means of sharing his collection, he was the first private citizen in the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) to produce an engraved calligraphy compendium of pieces he owned, which he called Model-letters from the True Appreciation Studio (Zhenshangzhai tie 真賞齋帖).52 The engraved model-letters tradition was begun in the tenth century, by the second emperor of the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127), and most of the later Song-dynasty compilations were also government-sponsored publications of works in the imperial collection.53 After the works were selected, they were copied and the copies engraved into wooden or stone slabs, from which ink rubbings could be made. These ink rubbings were given out by the emperor as a token of high esteem. In this way, works that would not ordinarily be seen could re-enter the realm of the public through these lithographic prints. Nearly two dozen model-letters compendia were produced during the Song dynasty, both officially and privately. Very few were produced under the Yuan dynasty, and when they began to be created again in the early Ming, they were typically re-engravings of the early Song imperial compendia, sponsored by Ming royal princes.54 Hua Xia’s modelletters compendium was made in 1522, and it contained works not seen in earlier publications. It was just three volumes, containing what he likely considered his most valuable pieces, but the quality was very high, and it 50  Cai Shufang, “Hua Xia Zhenshangzhai shoucang yu ‘Zhenshangzhai tie’ yanjiu,” 12. 51  Ibid., 9–11. 52  Zhongguo fatie quanji 13:9. 53  McNair, “The Engraved Model-letters Compendia.” 54  Wang Jingxian, “Mingdai congtie zongshu,” in Zhongguo fatie quanji 13:1–24. Only one Yuan-dynasty compendium is included in this set, in vol. 12.



was quite influential.55 Volume One contained a single work, the Memorial Recommending Ji Zhi (Jian Ji Zhi biao 薦季直表), said to have been written by Zhong You 鍾繇 (ca. 163–230). Zhong is generally considered the progenitor of the Wang tradition. The second volume contained one letter by Wang Xizhi, called the Yuan Sheng Letter (Yuan Sheng tie 袁生帖), which had belonged to the imperial collection in the late Northern Song. The third volume was much longer than the first two because it reproduced an entire scroll of letters by members of the Wang clan, called the Letters Submitted in the Wansuitongtian Era (Wansuitongtian jin tie 萬歲通天進帖). According to a Tang-dynasty source, in 697, Wang Fangqing 王方慶 (d. 702) submitted a collection of calligraphic works by twenty-eight of his illustrious ancestors to Empress Wu Zetian 武則天 (624–705).56 The empress had the scroll copied and returned to Wang Fangqing. The copy alone survived, to be known as the Wansuitongtian Era Album, and sections of what is believed to be this outline-and-fill-in copy are now in the Liaoning Provincial Museum. Hua had nine of these Wang family letters engraved in the third volume of his compilation. When the stone slabs were subsequently ruined in a fire, these same works were engraved again from the originals. For the second version, Wen Zhengming wrote a colophon for each volume. Wen Zhengming’s art appreciation activities with regard to Hua Xia’s calligraphy collection date back to at least 1519, when he wrote his earliest colophon for a work owned by Hua. This colophon was on an ink rubbing of volume six of the Model-letters in the Imperial Archives in the Chunhua Era (Chunhua ge tie 淳化閣帖), the initial Song-dynasty model-letters compendium, which may pinpoint the moment when Hua became interested in producing his own.57 In all, Wen wrote colophons for eight works of calligraphy owned by Hua. In 1549, he painted a picture of the True Appreciation Studio, with the master and a guest seated inside examining a scroll, set in a garden landscape with fantastical Lake Tai rocks, and in 1557, he added a long inscription at the end, entitled “Record of the True Appreciation Studio” (Zhenshangzhai ming 真賞齋銘), in which he extols the richness of Hua’s collections, lists the calligraphies and ink rubbings he possesses, and lauds his superb taste and connoisseurial acumen.58 Wen’s relationship with the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter, however, 55  The edition held by the Beijing Palace Museum is completely reproduced in ibid., 13:1–56. 56  This story is told in the anonymous “Narrative Record of Calligraphy in the Tang Court” (Tangchao xushu lu 唐朝敘書錄); Fashu yaolu 4.164–65. 57  Cai Shufang, “Hua Xia Zhenshangzhai shoucang yu ‘Zhenshangzhai tie’ yanjiu,” 28. 58  See the description in Clunas, Elegant Debts, 135–37. A detail from the painting, now in the Shanghai Museum, is reproduced as fig. 46; the colophon as fig. 73.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


actually pre-dated his friendship with Hua Xia. Around the time Hua Xia was born, the letter was in the collection of Shi Jian 史鑑 (1434–1496), in Wujiang 吳江, Jiangsu, on the southern edge of the Suzhou metropolitan area. It was there that the young Wen Zhengming first saw the letter, in the company of his teacher Li Yingzhen. According to the colophon Wen wrote on the letter forty years later, which is translated below, he first saw it around the year 1490. The letter also bears the impression of a seal belonging to Shen Zhou, Wen’s painting teacher, which suggests Shen either saw it at the home of his good friend Shi Jian or that he once owned the work. Like the paintings he did for Hua Xia, the Letter to Hua Zhongfu is meant to be a work of art in its own right, as well as a commodity that strengthens bonds with the recipient and creates value for him. While it could be viewed as a simple note that accompanied the return of the borrowed letter, its style and composition declare it to be something of greater interest and worth. Wen Zhengming was renowned for his skill at various modes of calligraphy. He was best known for his very fine small regular script, his running script in the style of Huang Tingjian, his “mad cursive” also in the style of Huang Tingjian, and his cursive script in the classical Wang manner of Zhao Mengfu 趙孟頫 (1254– 1322). In none of these modes, however, was he ever intentionally awkward. Awkwardness (zhuo 拙) is acceptable as an expression of sincerity in handwriting, but balance, evenness, and smoothness are generally the hallmarks of calligraphy by Wen. Yet in the Letter to Hua Zhongfu, he intentionally created characters of different sizes, some of which seem to collapse onto themselves, while others stretch and topple out of their columns. This is plainly a stylistic reference to the manner of Yan’s letter, with its awkward, leftward tilting, tumbling characters of differing sizes. The connoisseur Xu Bangda 徐邦達 (1911– 2012) pointed out how unusual this work is within Wen’s oeuvre: “This large running-cursive writing completely imitates the original letter, and such virile boldness is rarely seen.”59 Wen’s brush grip also echoes that used by Yan in his letter. Yan was famous for the use of the centered, or upright, brush, which creates blunt, unmodulated strokes. On this rare occasion, Wen also used the centered brushtip. Perhaps the most obvious reference to the Yan letter is the composition of the characters in Wen’s letter. Just as Yan’s letter is divided in the middle by the single character er 耳, which extends the full length of its column, so Wen’s letter is similarly divided by a full-column-length rendition of the word dai 帶. The modern artist and scholar Chang Kuang-pin 張光賓 described this very nicely: 59  Xu, Gu shu hua guoyan yaolu, 81.



[Wen’s letter] shows a subtle response to the spirit of this particular example of the Yan style. The unique rhythm of Yan’s brush has brought a distinctive zest to Wen Zhengming’s own hand; his astonishment and wonder seem to free his calligraphy from vulgar restraints. The zenith of his inspiration seems to me to be attained in the wonderful 帶, springing downwards in one great vertiginous swoop to fill the whole line in precisely the same manner as the 耳 in Yan’s own letter.60 It is evident Hua understood this letter from Wen as an artwork that increased the value of the Yan letter because he had the scroll remounted to include it. This is revealed by the other writing by Wen Zhengming within the scroll, which actually is a colophon. Written in Wen’s more everyday small regular script, it follows the Letter to Hua Zhongfu on a separate piece of paper. From this colophon, we learn more about the life of Yan’s letter: To the right is the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter by Yan Lugong [Zhenqing]. When I was young, I once viewed it at the home of the Shi family of Wujiang, in the company of my lord, the Chief Minister Li Yingzhen. My lord Li said of it, “Of the genuine works by Lugong extant, this letter is the best.” At this time, I had no wisdom and did not understand what he meant. But now, forty years on, with my age over sixty, having looked at Yan’s calligraphy many times, indeed there is none that surpasses it. Now because Hua Zhongfu likes to display this work, I have unrolled and viewed it over and over again. Its spirit and personality are so brilliant, this letter truly has what Mi [Fu] said: “loyalty and righteousness are expressed with zeal, in the pauses and presses in the thick bends.”61 This shows me how right my elder was. There are six colophons following the letter. The first is by Wang Yingsun [sic], the next by Minister of Imperial Sacrifices Xianyu [Shu], next after that by Zhang Yanqing [Yan], Bai Zhanyuan [Ting] and Tian Shimeng [Yan], and at the end another written by Yanqing. Evidently, after this letter was in the collection of Yanqing, it was transferred to [Wang] Yingsun. The statements in the colophons reveal this. Noting that the date of Yingsun’s colophon is later, I do not know the reason why it appears before those of the other gentlemen. At first I suspected a mistake was made during the mounting process, but now that [Hua] is considering changing [the mounting], it does seem Mr. Zhang’s seal impressions have not been split apart. Thus 60  Chang, “The Study and Influence of Yen Chen-ch’ing’s Work,” 208. 61  See Mi Fu, Shushi, 19–20.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


I note this here until we have a broader understanding. Written by Wen Zhengming of Changzhou on the 1st day of the 8th month, in a xinmao year, which is the 10th year of the Jiajing era [1531]. 右顏魯公劉中使帖。徵明少時嘗從太僕李公應禎觀於吳江史 氏。李公謂:魯公真跡存世者,此帖為最。徵明時未有識,不 知其言為的。及今四十年,年逾六十,所閱顏書屢矣, 卒未有勝 之者。因華君中甫持以相示,展閱數四,神氣爽然,米氏所謂 忠義憤發,頓挫鬱屈者,此帖誠有之,乃知前輩之不妄也。帖 後跋尾六通,首王英孫,次鮮于太常,又次張彥清,白湛淵,​ 田師孟,最後亦彥清書。盖此帖曾藏彥清所易於英孫耳。觀跋 語可見。按英孫所跋歲月空在後,不知何緣出諸公之前。初疑 裝池之誤,欲今改易而張公鈐印宛然不可折裂。姑記於此以俟 博識。嘉靖十年,歲在辛卯八月朔,長洲文徵明 題。 Wen not only mistakenly identified Wang Zhi as a contemporaneous painter named Wang Yingsun 王英孫 (1238–1312), but it appears he also misread the date of Wang Zhi’s inscription. There was a second Zhiyuan period in the late Yuan dynasty, which lasted from 1335 to 1340. If Wang had written during this period, his colophon would be out of chronological order, but there was no bingxu year in that second Zhiyuan period, so 1286 is the correct date. Still, Wen admits he is confused, saying he first thought there was a mistake, but then noticed that Zhang Yan’s seal impressions had not been ruined in a remounting. He probably wrote down the original order of the colophons as a record to posterity because Hua intended to have the scroll remounted and change the order of the colophons. As the colophon by Wang Faliang reveals (translated below), Wen’s record was indeed utilized later to put the colophons back in their original order when the scroll was remounted as an album in the nineteenth century. Likely the reason Hua wanted to redo the scroll was to include the letter that Wen had produced for him, thereby linking two masterpieces of past and present in one setting. Sometime after Wen’s colophon of 1531, and perhaps upon the death of Hua Xia in 1563, the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter left the Hua family collection. A record by the collector and cataloguer Zhang Chou 張丑 (1577–1643) says his father Zhang Yingwen 張應文 (1535–1593) purchased the letter in 1564, but that it later entered the voluminous collection of Xiang Yuanbian 項元汴 (1525–1590).62 One need not read Zhang’s record to know this fact, however, since the scroll is covered in impressions of Xiang’s seals, the typical treatment 62  Zhang Chou, Qinghe shu hua fang, chen ce 辰冊, 7–8 and 1.



for artworks he owned. Xiang was from a prominent family in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, which had grown wealthy over several generations of government service and business activity. He owned several pawnshops and amassed an extraordinary collection of important artworks, probably starting with objects that had been gathered by his father. In his collecting activities, Xiang was advised by the elder son of Wen Zhengming, Wen Peng 文彭 (1498–1573), who also carved some of the collector’s seals used by Xiang.63 The letter also bears the collectors’ seals of his older brother, Xiang Dushou 項篤壽 (1521–1586). Which brother owned it first is hard to say, though perhaps it came to Yuanbian after the death of Dushou. When Xiang Yuanbian died in 1590, his collection was distributed among his sons, at least three of whom were also well-known as collectors and connoisseurs: Xiang Dexin 項德新 (1571–1623), Xiang Deming 項德明 (ca. 1573–1630), and Xiang Dehong 項德弘 (b. 1573–1580, d. after 1630). It was probably while it was in the possession of Xiang Dehong that the next colophon was added to the scroll by the eminent artist and connoisseur, Dong Qichang 董其昌 (1555–1636). Information within the colophon tells us it was written sometime after 1603. In it, Dong says: Xianyu Boji [Shu] called the Draft Eulogy for Jiming “the second best calligraphy in the world and the best calligraphy in our family.”64 Here he says that the valiant brushwork in the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter expressed his personality. Its fame is not unearned. This scroll I have already had engraved in my Model-letters of the Hall of the Frolicking Goose. 鮮于伯幾號祭季明文天下法書第二吾家法書第一。此又號劉中 使帖烈氣筆法傳有所自。名不虛得。此卷余已刻於鴻堂帖中。 Dong Qichang was the most influential artist and critic of the late Ming and early Qing (1644–1911) periods. He began his long relationship with the collector Xiang Yuanbian when he was still a student through his acquaintance with Xiang’s eldest son Dechun 德純 (b. 1551).65 Over many decades, Dong had unrestricted access to Xiang’s superb collection, and he learned how to paint from copying the works in it. Obsessed with improving his calligraphy, he also studied and copied the many works of calligraphy Xiang owned. Dong wrote 63  Wong, “Hsiang Yüan-Pien and Suchou Artists,” 155–58. 64  In a colophon on Yan’s eulogy for his nephew, which he owned, Xianyu wrote, “the second best running script calligraphy in the world and the best calligraphy in our family.” See the reproduction in Jin Tang fashu mingji, 159. 65  See Wai-kam Ho, The Century of Tung Ch’i-ch’ang, 2:394.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


Xiang’s epitaph, which still survives in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum.66 Later, Dong was closest to his fifth son, Xiang Dehong, who avidly followed his father’s passion for collecting calligraphy and was known as a fine connoisseur and a generous host of art viewings at his home.67 Since Dehong inherited part of his father’s collection, it might have been from him that Dong borrowed the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter for his engraved modelletters project, the Model-letters of the Hall of the Frolicking Goose (Xihongtang tie 戲鴻堂帖) which was completed in 1603.68 The Model-letters of the Hall of the Frolicking Goose stands in stark contrast to Hua Xia’s pioneering Model-letters from the True Appreciation Studio. Where Hua reproduced artworks in his own possession, all from the classical ZhongWang tradition, Dong’s compendium is more like a scrapbook of works he had seen in the collections of others, dating from the Eastern Jin dynasty (317–420) through the Yuan (1279–1368). It even includes several items that were already engraved, such as works in earlier model-letters compendia or stele inscriptions, so that these pieces are actually re-engravings made from ink rubbings. While Hua’s compendium was universally admired for its high quality, Dong’s was generally derided. Wang Shu 王澍 (1668–1743), a connoisseur of modelletters compendia, said, “It’s a pity the carving was so bad and the characters so inaccurate, for now it stands as the worst model-letters compendium of all time.”69 Wang Kentang 王肯堂 ( jinshi 1589) said, “In my friend Dong Xuanzai’s Model-letters of the Hall of the Frolicking Goose, the copying was sloppy and the stone engraving poor . . . Xuanzai was such a capable calligrapher, and he wanted this to be handed down for a hundred generations . . . what a shame!”70 Thanks to Dong’s tremendous critical and artistic influence, indeed, his modelletters compendium was in such demand that it was re-engraved after his death. Shen Defu 沈德符 (1578–1642) recorded an interesting anecdote that explains the poor quality of at least one piece in Dong’s compilation:

66  Ibid., 1: pl. 69. 67  Ibid., 2:395 and 2:471. 68  On Dehong, see Ho, The Century of Tung Ch’i-ch’ang, 2:497. For the contents of Dong’s Xihongtang fatie, see Rong, Cong tie mu, 1:262–69. A complete copy of the 16-volume compendium is held in the Shanghai Museum. The remains of the stones are in the Anhui Museum, Hefei. A few pieces from the copy held in the National Library, Beijing, are reproduced in vol. 13 of Zhongguo fatie quanji. 69  Rong, Cong tie mu, 1:270. 70  Ibid., 1:270–71.



Dong Xuanzai’s engraving of the Model-letters of the Hall of the Frolicking Goose remains popular to this day. But since he was anxious to announce its completion, the craftsmanship was not good, so that when you compare [works in it] to their originals, they are not even close. Among the works in small regular script are several lines of the Huangting neijing [by Yang Xi 楊羲 (b. 330), in volume one] from the family collection of Chief Minister Han, whose sobriquet was Jingtang [Han Shineng 韓世能, jinshi 1568], which recently has been promoted as the best calligraphy in the world.71 Yet the engraving in the Model-letters of the Hall of the Frolicking Goose does not capture its likeness. Afterward, I met to discuss this with [our mutual friend] Han Zhoujun [fl. late 16th c.] to investigate the reason why. Han said, “When Dong came to borrow it to make a copy, I was afraid he would not return with it, so I made a free-hand copy of more than a hundred characters in order to satisfy him. I did not make a doubleoutline tracing copy and impress a seal on it because I never imagined he would so hastily have it engraved in stone.72 董玄宰刻戲鴻堂帖,今日盛行。但急於告成,不甚精工,若以 真蹟對校,不啻河漢。其中小楷有韓宗伯敬堂家黃庭內景數 行,近來宇內法書 , 當推此為第一。而戲鴻所刻幾並形似失 之。予後晤韓冑君,詰其故。韓曰『董來借摹,予懼其不歸 也,信手對臨百餘字以應之,並未曾雙鉤及過朱,不意其遽入 石也。』 A number of points of comparison indicate that the version of the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter engraved in Dong Qichang’s Model-letters of the Hall of the Frolicking Goose was also a freehand copy, rather than a more accurate copy made by the double-outline, or outline-and-fill-in, method. In that method, a tracing copy is made by laying a sheet of paper over the original and tracing the outlines of the characters. The outlines are then filled in carefully with small ink strokes. Comparing the original of the letter (fig. 2.1) to the ink rubbing from Dong’s compendium (fig. 2.5) shows many areas where the two do not agree. For example, in the er 耳 element inside the character wen 聞 (second character in the first column), the vertical stroke on the right is straight up and down in the original, but curved in the copy. As another example, a ligature connects the characters liu 劉 and zhong 中 in the original (third and fourth

71  On the Huangting neijing, see Ledderose, “Some Taoist Elements,” 254. 72  Rong, Cong tie mu, 1:272, quoting from Shen Defu, Wanli ye huo bian 萬曆野獲編, ch. 26, 658.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


Figure 2.5 Yan Zhenqing, after, Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter. Compiled by Dong Qichang, ca. 1603. Model-letters of the Hall of the Frolicking Goose.

characters in the first column), but not in the copy. Other infelicities include the inability of the copyist and/or the carver to render the scratchy ink texture called “flying white” in the long vertical tail of the character er 耳. It also appears the copyist filled in missing strokes of the characters suowei 所圍 (the last two characters in the third column from the left), unless the damage to the original was done after it was included in Dong’s compendium. In short, a close examination of the version of the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter in Dong’s compendium does nothing to change its reputation as substandard. Yet because numerous ink rubbings can be taken from engraved stones, probably many more people saw this version of Yan’s letter than the original. In a record dated to 1635, Wu Qizhen 吳其貞 (1607–after 1678) traced the history of the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter after Dong wrote his colophon.73 At some point after 1603, it left the Xiang family and was acquired by the collector Wu Yiming 吳翼明 (fl. 1573–1620) of Xin’an 新安. Xin’an is an archaic name for Shexian 歙县, Anhui province, famous as the home of fine ink-making, and evidently Wu Yiming was a maker of ink in the Wanli period (1573–1620).74 From there it went into the collection of Cao Rong 曹溶 (1613– 1685), and from there to a Yao Shuiweng 姚水翁 (n.d.). Wu Qizhen states that by 1635, the letter was in the possession of Zhang Yingjia 張應甲 (n.d.). This is corroborated by evidence on the scroll of the letter itself, where Zhang’s ownership seals can be seen impressed on the seams of the mounting at the front 73  Shuhuaji 書畫記, ch. 1, quoted in Xu, Gu shu hua guoyan yaolu, 81. 74  See Zhongguo gudai shougong yishujia zhi.



end. Another impression at the front reads “seal of Zhang Qia,” indicating that Zhang Yingjia handed down the letter to his son, Zhang Qia 張洽 ( jinshi 1676). Around the time Zhang Yingjia passed the letter to his son, the Ming dynasty collapsed, and the Manchu government took control of the south. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the next record on the scroll, which was inscribed in 1677, was written in Beijing. The high official Shen Quan 沈荃 (1624–1684) wrote: Looking closely at the genuine work in this scroll, I understand whence the brush method of monk Cangzhen [Huaisu] and the four great masters of the Song came.75 The colophons by the earlier worthies shine like the sun and the stars. What a treasure! I inscribed this because I viewed it on the 1st day of the 5th month, in summer, of the dingsi year of the Kangxi era [1677], at Wanyuzhai, outside the Zhengyang Gate of Yandu [Beijing]. Supervisor of the Household Administration of the Heir Apparent and Academician Reader-in-waiting of the Hanlin Academy, Shen Quan of Huating. 細觀此卷真蹟,知藏真沙門與宋四大家筆法之所自。前賢題識 炳如星日。噫!可寶也!康熙丁巳夏五朔觀於燕都正陽門外宛 羽齋因為題此。詹事府詹事兼翰林院侍讀學士華停沈荃。 Wanyuzhai was a bookshop in Beijing, located outside Qianmen Gate (given its proper name of Zhengyang Gate by Shen), which was one of several to specialize in producing Manchu-language publications in the Kangxi period (1662–1722).76 Although a number of Shen’s seals are impressed on the scroll, which would normally suggest he owned it, the fact that he states he is viewing it at a bookshop, plus the inclusion of his formal official titles in his signature, along with the very impersonal nature of his inscription, suggest he did not own it and was writing for someone he did not know intimately. Shen was one of the most important calligraphers of the Kangxi era, who followed the calligraphy style of his fellow Huating native, Dong Qichang, and it was surely seen as appropriate that he write a colophon immediately following the one by Dong. Another colophon of the same size characters and length was added immediately after Shen’s by Li Laitai 李來泰 (1624–1682). He also states that he is viewing the letter at the Wanyuzhai, and it is possible he viewed it the same 75  The “Four Great Masters of Song” are Cai Xiang 蔡襄 (1012–1067), Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, and Mi Fu. 76  Manwen guji jieshao.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


day as Shen and simply allowed Shen’s very precise description of the date to stand for both colophons. Li wrote: I had seen the Yingzhou Letter [i.e. the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter] as an ink rubbing from the Hall of the Frolicking Goose. It and the Eulogy for Nephew Jiming are both praised as “divine works.” Now, thanks to Bolongzhai, I am able to see the original work for the first time.77 The paper and ink are in fine condition, and I can see it is the greatest treasure between heaven and earth. That I should be holding this divine object is no accident. Respectfully inscribed at Wanyuzhai by Li Laitai. 瀛洲帖向見戲鴻堂墨刻中。與祭侄季明 並稱神品。茲於伯龍齋 頭得覩真跡。楮墨完好,知至寶在天壤間。自有神物獲持,非 偶然也。李來泰敬識於宛羽齋。 Li Laitai, who earned the jinshi degree in 1651, served in several government positions in the south, but when he was put in charge of farm irrigation in Suzhou, his radical ideas got him dismissed. He would not be in office again until 1679, when he took the special Erudite Literatus (boxue hongci 博學宏詞) examination and was put to work writing sections of the Ming dynastic history. This may be why he cites no official titles in his signature. He was famous as a poet by this time, which would explain why a person with no official titles would be asked to write a colophon. No seals or colophons were added for the next two hundred years. This is remarkable especially because these years encompass the reigns of the Kangxi emperor and the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736–95). Shen Quan was the Kangxi emperor’s tutor in calligraphy, so it seems surprising he would not recommend to the owners that they submit this work to the throne. The Qianlong emperor was particularly renowned for gathering into the palace vast quantities of the finest calligraphy and painting.78 How this work by one of the greatest calligraphers, enriched with colophons by later well-known personalities, escaped being drawn into the Qing imperial collection is hard to imagine.79 It was not spirited away, however. It never left Beijing.

77  Neither a search of the electronic version of Siku quanshu nor the internet turns up any reference to a Bolongzhai. 78  See Elliott, The Odyssey of China’s Imperial Art Treasures, 51. 79  Chuang Yen 莊嚴 (b. 1899), former Director of the National Palace Museum, said, “Most extraordinary is that it never entered the imperial collection after Song-Yuan times.” See



The next colophon was written sometime after 1872 by Wang Faliang 王法良 (1848–1909) on behalf of his father, the high official Wang Jintai 王金臺 ( jinshi 1853). To encourage his son’s calligraphy study as a child, Wang Jintai purchased letters by famous calligraphers for him to copy, and the boy became obsessed with calligraphy practice.80 As an adult, Faliang was famous for his ability to write in the manner of Yan Zhenqing’s regular script, and he was asked by Empress Dowager Cixi 慈禧 (1835–1908) to write the names on the placards for three buildings in the Forbidden City. His colophon reads as follows: To the right is Lugong’s Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter. In the renshen year of the Tongzhi reign [1872], [my father] obtained it from a shop in [Liuli]chang. The original mounting was silk, and the scroll was two zhang in length. It contained this extraordinary letter, and at the end were twelve colophons by ten men. First was [the one by] Tian, next Bai, next Zhang, next Zhang again, next Wang and between him and Xianyu was Qiao, and then was Dong. Following Dong were Wen’s [letter and colophon] in running and regular scripts, each a superb example. At the end were Shen and Li. It seems they guessed at the positions of the first six colophons before Dong’s, which were in the original mounting. Now we have paid careful attention to Wen’s colophon, which preserves the old sequence, and we also moved Dong to after Wen and before Shen when we had this remounted. [My father] has asked me to append this account here. Recorded at the end of the document by his son, Faliang. 右魯公劉中使帖。同治壬申得之廠肆。原裝係絹相,卷子長二 丈。有奇帖,尾題跋十二計人十。首田,次白,次張,又次 張,次王,與鮮于中間以喬,再次即董。董之次有文行楷各一 最。後為沈李。盖董之先文乃題於相絹而前六跋位置揆之。收 藏姓氏似尚參差。茲僅照文跋一仍舊次,竝移董於文後沈前改 裝成。附記數言命。兒子灋良錄於簡末。 According to the letter’s next owner, the Kuomintang official Li Shizeng 李石曾 (1881–1973), who had been a calligraphy student of Wang Faliang, the text of this colophon was transcribed by Wang Faliang but composed by

Chuang Yen, “Yan Zhenqing shu ‘Liu Zhongshi tie’ zhenji yu cangzhe Li Shizeng xiansheng,” in Shan tang qing hua, 173. 80  See “Wang Faliang shuxie Gugong san da dian bian’e.”

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


his father, Wang Jintai.81 Indeed, the two seal impressions at the end of the colophon belong to Wang Jintai. Wang clearly indicates they had the various colophons re-arranged to match the original order listed by Wen Zhengming, and they moved Dong Qichang’s inscription to the correct chronological position between those of Wen and Shen Quan. He does not say he had the scroll remounted as an album, but we know this from Li Shizeng’s account. It is quite obvious Shen Quan’s colophon was moved, since the seal impressions on both sides of the piece of paper he wrote on have been split in half. That this is the present mounting can also be demonstrated because Li Shizeng’s seal on the edge of the Wen Zhengming letter is intact. Wang Faliang’s style imitates the regular script of Yan Zhenqing, which has a very distinctive appearance. The forms of characters are broad and even, filling the imaginary square allotted each one, and horizontal strokes do not tilt on the vertical axis, reinforcing the upright look of the characters. Thanks to the traditional belief in graphology, this four-square appearance is commonly taken as a sign of Yan Zhenqing’s moral character, especially his reputation for unswerving loyalty. Wang’s rendition of Yan’s style also highlights the famous “flaws” in Yan’s writing: the “silkworm head and swallow tail” and the tiaoti 挑踢, or “flicking and kicking.”82 The first is seen in pie 撇 strokes (upper-rightto-lower-left curved stroke), where the “head” at the upper right beginning of the stroke is too large and the “tail,” created as the stroke moves down and to the left, is too thin. “Flicking and kicking,” a phrase coined by Mi Fu to disparage Yan’s style, probably refers to the distinctive mannerism of the indentations in the underside of the na 捺 (upper-left-to-lower-right diagonal) and hooked shu 豎 (vertical) strokes produced by lifting the brush just before the end of the stroke.83 Imitation of Yan’s regular script began in the eleventh century, with the circle of Ouyang Xiu 歐陽脩 (1007–1072), but there was a resurgence of artists imitating Yan’s regular script with the conquest of China by the Manchus in the seventeenth century. Fu Shan 傅山 (1607–1684), for example, deliberately used the style of Yan Zhenqing to express his feelings of loyalty for the fallen native Ming dynasty.84 In every period, the regular script style of Yan Zhenqing symbolized loyalty and patriotism. By 1872, China was in the midst of the Self-Strengthening Movement (ca. 1861–95), during which many ­government 81  From a colophon Chuang Yen recorded (Shan tang qing hua, 173) that is not reproduced in Jin Tang fashu mingji. 82  This is Wen Fong’s translation. See his Images of the Mind, 90. 83  See Ledderose, Mi Fu, 58, and Mi Fu, Haiyue tiba, 16–17. 84  See Bai, Fu Shan’s World, 102–3.



reforms were undertaken to modernize the country in the wake of the humiliating losses to the western powers in the Opium Wars. To espouse the calligraphic style of a man who stood up to the barbarian general An Lushan may not have been entirely unpolitical. The last private owner of the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter was Li Shizeng. Li was a protean figure of the twentieth century who began life as the son of Li Hongzao 李鴻藻 (1820–1897), a high ranking advisor to the Tongzhi emperor (r. 1862–74), well regarded for his calligraphy. In 1902, Li Shizeng was appointed attaché with China’s minister to France, but once there, he left official service to study agricultural science, where he engaged in research on soybeans and began to promote the production and consumption of soy-based foods in Europe.85 In 1906, he co-founded the first Chinese anarchist association and published the influential journal New Century, which criticized Manchu rule and promoted anarchism and revolution. When his old friend Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培 (1868–1940) became chancellor of Peking University in 1916, Li returned to China to join the faculty as professor of biology. In 1924, Li was elected to the Central Supervisory Committee at the first congress of the Kuomintang, and he was appointed chair of the committee in charge of the palace treasures when Puyi 溥儀 (1906–1967) was evicted from the Forbidden City.86 Li proposed the idea of creating the Palace Museum, and when it was established in 1925, he was installed as chairman of the board. In 1949, when the victory of the Communist forces was imminent, Li fled Beijing for Geneva, and from there went on to Uruguay, taking his library with him. In 1954, he established a second home in Taiwan, where he served as a policy advisor to Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975). Li died in 1973, honored as one of the “four elder statesmen of the Kuomintang.” In 1947, Li described how he came into possession of the Imperial Com­ missioner Liu Letter: The collection of works by master Yan held by these two gentlemen [Wang Jintai and Wang Faliang] was rich and high quality, but this album was its crowning glory. When I was very young I met Master Xiaoyun [Wang Jintai]. I cannot recall his appearance, [but I remember] he and Master Bichen [Wang Faliang] regarded each other as brothers, and they spent all their time together. Their colophon to the letter was composed by the father and transcribed by the son. Twenty years ago, our family organized a memorial library for our Li clan of Gaoyang. None of Master 85  Biographical information on Li taken from Shurtleff and Aoyagi, Li Yu-ying. 86  Boorman and Howard, Biographical Dictionary, 320.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


Bichen’s descendants were interested in continuing the former pursuits of their forebears, and so they gave this album to our library.87 兩先生收藏顏氏字帖既富且精,此冊為其冠。曉雲先生吾於幼 齡得見。不復憶其丰采,弼臣先生互相視如兄弟,恒朝夕相 處。此帖王氏跋,父為文,子作書。前二十年,吾家組織高陽 李氏紀念圖書館。弼臣子子方世兄以家人無復理其前人舊業之 意,遂以僅餘之冊歸圖書館。 From this account, it seems Li came into possession of the letter around 1927. He must have taken it with him when he fled Beijing and ultimately taken it to Taiwan. There is a short colophon written by him in late 1954 on the mounting to the left of Qiao Kuicheng’s signature.88 He appears to have willed it to the National Palace Museum, since museum publications say the album formally entered the collection in 1973, the year that Li died.89 6

Letters as Texts for “Innovative Transcription”

Yan Zhenqing’s letter began as a communication to a friend or colleague, which was probably saved as a memento of the man’s character, his skill as a calligrapher, and the dramatic events of the mid-Tang dynasty. In later centuries, it was collected as a valuable and meaningful art object and an art-historical monument embodying the cursive style of his teacher, Zhang Xu. It also became a canonical masterpiece to a wider audience as it was made into a multiple in a popular early seventeenth-century model-letters compendium. Although the original letter did not follow the conventional route into the imperial collection in the Qing dynasty, it ultimately did end up in the Palace Museum, and there—it might be thought—its life came to a peaceful end. Actually, it had already begun another existence in the eighteenth century, one which continues to flourish today. The creative re-interpretation, or “innovative transcription,” to use Katharine Burnett’s apt translation of a seventeenth-century meaning of lin 臨 (ordinarily read as “to copy”) 90 of famous letters was the last development in what is called the “letters tradition” (tiepai 帖派 or tiexue 帖學). In traditional

87  88  89  90 

Chuang, Shan tang qing hua, 173. See Jin Tang fashu mingji, 170. Ibid., 179. See Burnett, Dimensions of Originality, 210.



accounts, the letters tradition began with personal letters written by Wang Xizhi, Wang Xianzhi, and other elites of the Eastern Jin dynasty, and it was perpetuated in the form of originals and ink-written copies, as well as in modelletters compendia, to the end of the eighteenth century, when it was engulfed by the “stele tradition” (beipai 碑派 or beixue 碑學), which is still dominant today. 91 Dong Qichang was a master at the art of “innovative transcription” of earlier works by canonical calligraphers. In Burnett’s description, Dong’s innovative transcriptions “maintain the originary text but transform the style, typically through use of a different script, and often with an aesthetic different from the originary work.” His Calligraphy in Running and Cursive Scripts (Xing cao shu 行草書) of 1603, now in the Tokyo National Museum, is a handscroll containing a series of inventive imitations of famous works of calligraphy by early masters.92 For example, Dong’s version of Yan Zhenqing’s Record for Sending off Liu Taichong (Song Liu Taichong xu 送劉太沖敘) reproduces the text of that work in a manner that imitates Yan’s distinctive running script manner but utilizes the thin, delicate brushstrokes of Dong’s highly recognizable personal style.93 Burnett describes Dong’s 1632 version of Yan Zhenqing’s Letter on the Controversy over Seating Protocol by noting that “although he faithfully transcribes Yan’s text . . . Dong deviates from his classical model to assert his own aesthetic independence.” 94 A further stage of “innovative transcription” was developed by another famous seventeenth-century calligrapher, Wang Duo 王鐸 (1593–1652). Wang was devoted to the practice of the Wang style, but he did not learn it from originals or ink-written copies.95 By the seventeenth century, Song-dynasty ink rubbings of the original Model-letters in the Imperial Archives in the Chunhua Era were rare, yet thanks to the re-publication of that compendium in later re-engravings, letters by the Two Wangs in ink-rubbing form were readily available for study. Since the canon of letters in Model-letters in the Imperial Archives in the Chunhua Era was limited (160 letters by Wang Xizhi and 73 letters by Wang Xianzhi),96 it was like any other classic text, in that it could be 91  See Ledderose, Die Siegelschrift, especially his translation of the seminal texts by Ruan Yuan 阮元 (1764–1849), “On Southern and Northern Schools of Calligraphy” (Nanbei shupai lun 南北書派論) and “On Northern Steles and Southern Letters” (Beibei nantie lun 北碑南帖論). 92  See The Century of Tung Ch’i-ch’ang, vol. 2, pl. 5, pp. 198–99. 93  The Record for Sending off Liu Taichong is only preserved as an ink rubbing. It is found in volume nine of Dong Qichang’s Xihongtang fatie, which is devoted to letters and other works by Yan Zhenqing. 94  Burnett, Dimensions of Originality, 211. 95  Bai, Fu Shan’s World, 42. 96  See McNair, “Engraved Model-letters Compendia,” 212–13, and Rong, Cong tie mu, 1:8–11.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


memorized. Artists who could reproduce any Wang letter from memory began to treat the texts of the letters as available for re-composition. One of the earliest and most creative artists in this vein was Wang Duo. Qianshen Bai has analyzed the composition of a hanging-scroll work by Wang Duo called Copy of Wang Xizhi’s and Wang Xianzhi’s Letters, done in 1643.97 Bai terms it a “collage scroll” and describes it as follows: The first thirteen characters of this cursive scroll are an excerpt from Xianzhi’s Baonu tie in juan eleven of the Calligraphy Model-Book from the Chunhua Archives; the next twenty-six characters are copied from Xizhi’s Wuwei bianbian tie in juan eight of the same model-book; and the last ten characters are taken from another letter by Xizhi in the same juan entitled Jiayue tie.98 Bai concludes by saying that the new text has become “nearly incomprehensible.” Any original meaning from the letters is gone. The meaning of Wang’s new work has become the creative bravado and erudition of the artist, and for the viewer, the thrill of puzzle-solving if he or she can identify the fragments from the canonical originals now re-ordered and transformed within Wang’s wildly looping, scarcely legible cursive script. An inheritor of the artistic strategies of “innovative transcription” was the high official Qian Feng 錢灃 (1740–1795), one of the most renowned interpreters of the calligraphic works of Yan Zhenqing. While most officials at the court of the Qianlong emperor followed the styles of Zhao Mengfu or Dong Qichang, who were favored by the Kangxi emperor, Qian spent many years studying Yan’s regular script and running script. Qian’s choice of Yan’s style and texts as his subject matter is not surprising, given that Qian also had the temerity to stand up to powerful, corrupt figures at court, in his case, the powerful Manchu bannerman Heshen 和珅 (1746–1799).99 One fine example of Qian’s work is a rendition he made of a selected passage from the earliest known stele inscription by Yan Zhenqing, the Stele for the Duobao Pagoda in Chang’an (Duobao ta bei 多寶塔碑) dated to 752.100 This is clearly meant as an “innovative ­transcription” because only one section of the original inscription was selected and not for any evident reason of its content. Further, the style, while 97  Reproduced in Bai, Fu Shan’s World, fig. 1.20. 98  Ibid., 40. 99  See entry no. 54 by Hyon-jeong Kim Han, in Kuo and Sturman, Double Beauty. 100  In the collection of the Freer and Sackler Galleries, Washington, D.C. For a reproduction, see http://www.asia.si.edu/explore/china/calligraphy/F1998.83.asp (accessed November, 2014).



r­ecognizably that of Yan Zhenqing, is at the same time obviously different enough from the original to make Qian’s creative intent plain. Qian accentuates the sharper, more modulated type of regular script that Yan employed as a young man at the Tang court, rather than the blunter, unmodulated, latelife mode more commonly used by artists working in the Yan style. Lastly, the transition in format is highly theatrical. The medium has changed from the original white-on-black of an ink rubbing of the stele inscription to the black ink on white paper of an ink-written work, while the original format in which the ink rubbing would have been studied—cut and pasted into a volume or album—was altered to a long hanging scroll. The difference in format means a difference in audience, as well. The ink rubbing would have been viewed by one or two people in a private setting, while a hanging scroll is generally displayed on the wall in a public room, which would allow for a larger, more diverse viewership. Qian also transcribed and transformed Yan’s Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter (figs. 2.6 and 2.7). Here the transition in format has gone one step farther, to a matched pair of hanging scrolls, or duilian 對聯, on brilliantly colored paper. Texts on duilian are usually couplets from a poem, with one line on each scroll, and they are often on brightly tinted or pattern-printed paper.101 Qian created many of these duilian, writing out lines of poetry in Yan’s regular script mode and in his running script mode.102 But since the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter is not a couplet, to turn it into two matched scrolls, Qian had to divide it in half. In the spirit of creative re-interpretation, he preserved the most recognizable aspect of the composition of the original letter—the dramatic er 耳 character that fills a whole column with its tail—while deliberately re-breaking the original columns to achieve a new composition that fits the long hanging scroll format. Notice that he intentionally broke the lines in the two scrolls so that the character zhi 之 is balancing the bottom of the second column in each one. He signs the right-hand scroll, even though the text ends in the middle of the letter, since the composition would look very ­off-balance otherwise.103 At the end of the left-hand scroll, he signs his personal name and impresses his seals to conclude the new work of art.

101  On letter papers, see also Suzanne Wright’s essay in this volume. 102  Two excellent examples are reproduced in Kuo and Sturman, Double Beauty, nos. 54 and 55. 103  It is possible these two scrolls do not form a set, which would explain why a signature appears on the scroll with the first half of the letter and the apparent difference in color. I have not been able to view these scrolls directly.

Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars


Figure 2.6 Qian Feng, copy of Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter, first half, ink on red paper.

Figure 2.7 Qian Feng, copy of Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter, second half, ink on pink paper.



I do not think Qian made his version of the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter based on having seen the original. Had he been shown it by a proud owner, surely he would have been asked to write a colophon for it, since he was a person of high rank and demonstrated expertise in the style of Yan Zhenqing. Further, the style he used is not the Zhang Xu mode of the letter. The brushstrokes are considerably less sharp and modulated than those in the original, and there is a sense of order and containment that are at odds aesthetically with the original. Compare, for example, the characters xi 希 and guang 光 (fig. 2.1, third and fourth characters in second column; fig. 2.6, first and second characters in second column). The blunt, unmodulated brushwork Qian used could be a reference to the manner seen in Yan’s draft Eulogy for Nephew Jiming, a running-script work that was not done in the bravura Zhang Xu mode, or it could be a reference to the bland running-script mode of Mi Fu. This kind of complete re-invention is far more likely when the artist is working from memorized texts in model-letters compendia. For someone of Qian’s era, the most readily available version of the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter was in the Compendium from the Hall of the Frolicking Goose.

Reinterpretations of Yan’s Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter continue today. Consonant with his life-long promotion of modern education and traditional Chinese culture, Li Shizeng made the letter available for publication. In 1967, it was photo-reproduced in a lurid blue color in actual size in A Garland of Chinese Calligraphy, an oversize, two-volume Chinese-English set, which was published in Hong Kong with the express purpose of publicizing works of art in private collections.104 After Yan’s letter was given to the National Palace Museum in Taipei, it was published in a better-quality color reproduction in 1973 in the Masterpieces in the National Museum series of books, which was also widely distributed.105 Suddenly, this letter that had been known to so few in the last dynasty, except through a poor engraved copy, gained a public audience again as a genuine masterpiece of classical Chinese art. Now, at the time of this writing, the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter is available for study, imitation, and reinterpretation to anyone with Internet access. Simply search the characters for Liu Zhongshi tie, and not only will you be offered a selection of photo-reproductions of the original work, but you will also find 104  See Yiyuan yizhen: Fa shu 1: no. 5. Also reproduced are the colophons by Tian, Bai, Zhang, Qiao, Xianyu and Wen. 105  See Masterpieces of Chinese Calligraphy, pl. 3.

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ink-written copies and “innovative transcriptions” by present-day calligraphy enthusiasts, who are the latest interpreters and admirers of this thirteenhundred-year-old letter. Bibliography Bai, Qianshen. Fu Shan’s World: The Transformation of Chinese Calligraphy in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2003. ———. “Chinese Letters: Private Words Made Public.” In The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection, edited by Robert E. Harrist, Jr. and Wen C. Fong, 381–99. Princeton: The Art Museum, Princeton University Press, 1999. Boorman, Howard L. and Richard C. Howard, eds. Biographical Dictionary of Republican China. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967–79. Cai Shufang 蔡淑芳. “Hua Xia Zhenshangzhai shoucang yu ‘Zhenshangzhai tie’ yanjiu 華夏真賞齋收藏與 «真賞齋帖 » 研究.” MA thesis, Zhongguo wenhua daxue shixue yanjiusuo, 2004. Chang Kuang-pin. “The Study and Influence of Yen Chen-ch’ing’s Work in the Yüan Dynasty.” In The International Seminar on Chinese Calligraphy in Memory of Yen Chen-ching’s 1200th Posthumous Anniversary, 187–210. Taipei: Council for Cultural Planning and Development, Executive Yuan, R.O.C., 1987. Chuang Yen 莊嚴 (b. 1899). “Yan Zhenqing shu Liu Zhongshi tie zhenji yu cangzhe Li Shizeng xiansheng” 顏真卿書劉中使帖真蹟與藏著李石曾先生. In Shan tang qing hua 山堂清話. Taipei: Guoli gugong bowuyuan, 1980. Clunas, Craig. Elegant Debts: The Social Art of Wen Zhengming. London: Reaktion, 2004. Elliott, Jeannette Shambaugh. The Odyssey of China’s Imperial Art Treasures. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005. Fashu yaolu 法書要錄. Edited by Zhang Yanyuan 張彥遠 (ca. 815–ca. 880). Beijing: Renmin meishu chubanshe, 1984. Fayan 法言. Compiled by Yang Xiong 揚雄 (53 BCE–18 CE). Sibu beiyao ed. Fong, Wen. Images of the Mind. Princeton: Princeton Art Museum, 1984. Forke, Alfred, trans. Lunheng, pt. II. 2d ed. Rpt. New York: Paragon Book Gallery, 1962. Fu, Marilyn Wong. “The Impact of the Reunification: Northern Elements in the Life and Art of Hsien-yü Shu (1257?–1302) and Their Relation to Early Yüan Literati Culture.” In China under the Mongols, edited by John D. Langlois, 371–433. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981. Ho, Wai-kam, ed. The Century of Tung Ch’i-ch’ang. Kansas City, Mo.: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 1992.



Jin Tang fashu mingji 晉唐法書名蹟. Edited by Wang Yaoting et al. Taipei: National Palace Museum, 2008. Jiu Tang shu 舊唐書. Compiled by Liu Xu 劉昫 (887–946) et al. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1975. Kuo, Jason C. and Peter C. Sturman, eds. Double Beauty: Qing Dynasty Couplets from the Lechangzai Xuan Collection. Hong Kong: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2003. Ledderose, Lothar. Die Siegelschrift (Chuan-shu) in der Ch’ing-Zeit: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der chinesischen Schriftkunst. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1970. ———. Mi Fu and the Classical Tradition of Chinese Calligraphy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979. ———. “Some Taoist Elements in the Calligraphy of the Six Dynasties.” TP 70 (1984): 246–78. Lidai shufa lunwenxuan 歷代書法論文選. Shanghai: Shanghai shuhua chubanshe, 1979. Lin Zhijun 林志鈞. Tie kao 帖考. Hong Kong: Wanyou tushu gongsi, 1962. Manwen guji jieshao 满文古籍介绍. http://www.manchus.cn/plus/view.php?aid=1036 (accessed November, 2014). Masterpieces of Chinese Calligraphy in the National Palace Museum, Supplement. Taipei: Guoli gugong bowuyuan, 1973. McNair, Amy. “The Engraved Model-letters Compendia of the Song Dynasty.” JAOS 114 (1994): 209–25. ———. The Upright Brush: Yan Zhenqing’s Calligraphy and Song Literati Politics. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 1998. Nakata, Yūjirō. Chinese Calligraphy. New York: Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1983. Nylan, Michael, trans. 2013. Exemplary Figures / Fayan. Seattle: University of Washing­ ton Press. Mi Fu 米芾 (1052–1107). Haiyue tiba 海岳題跋. In Songren tiba 宋人題跋, Yishu congbian edition. Taipei: Shijie shuju, 1962. ———. Shushi 書史. Yishu congbian edition. Taipei: Shijie shuju, 1962. Ming shi 明史. Compiled by Zhang Tingyu 張廷玉 (1762–1755) et al. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974. Quan Tang shi 全唐詩. Edited by Peng Dingqiu 彭定求 (1645–1719). Taipei: Fuxing shuju, 1961. Rong Geng 容庚 (1894–1983). Cong tie mu 叢帖目. Hong Kong: Zhonghua shuju, 1980–1986. Shi ji 史記. Compiled by Sima Qian 司馬遷 (?145–?86 BCE). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959. Shih, Shou-ch’ien. “Calligraphy as Gift: Wen Cheng-ming’s (1470–1559) Calligraphy and the Formation of Soochow Literati Culture.” In Character and Context in Chinese

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Calligraphy, edited by Cary Y. Liu et al., 254–83. Princeton: The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1999. Shurtleff, William and Akiko Aoyagi. Li Yu-ying (Li Shizeng): History of His Work with Soyfoods and Soybeans in France, and His Political Career in China and Taiwan (1881– 1973). http://www.soyinfocenter.com/books/144 (accessed November, 2014). Shryock, John K., trans. 1960. The Study of Human Abilities: The Jen wu chih, by Liu Shao. New York: Kraus. Song taben Yan Zhenqing shu Zhongyitang tie 宋拓本顏真卿書忠義堂帖. Hangzhou: Xiling yinshe chubanshe, 1994. Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037–1101). Dongpo tiba 東坡題跋. In Songren tiba 宋人題跋. Yishu congbian ed. Taipei: Shijie shuju, 1962. Tang Huaisu san tie 唐懷素三帖. Xi’an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 1982. “Wang Faliang shuxie Gugong san da dian bian’e” 王法良書寫故宫三大殿匾額. http://www.chinanews.com/zhuanzhu/2001-10-09/618.html (accessed November, 2014). Wang Zhuanghong 王壯弘. Bei tie jianbie changshi 碑帖鑑別常識. Shanghai: Shanghai shuhua chubanshe, 1985. Weitz, Ankeney. “Allegories, Metaphors, and Satires: Writing about Painting in the Early Yuan Dynasty.” In Tradition and Transformation: Studies in Chinese Art in Honor of Chu-tsing Li, 163–73. Lawrence, Kans.: Spencer Museum of Art, 2005. ———. Zhou Mi’s Record of Clouds and Mist Passing Before One’s Eyes. Leiden: Brill, 2002. Wong, Kwan S. “Hsiang Yüan-Pien and Suchou Artists.” In Artists and Patrons: Some Social and Economic Aspects of Chinese Paintings, edited by Chu-tsing Li, 155–58. Seattle: Publication of Kress Foundation Department of Art History, University of Kansas, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, in association with University of Washington Press, 1990. Xin Tang shu 新唐書. Compiled by Ouyang Xiu 歐陽脩 (1007–1072) et al. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1975. Xu Bangda 徐邦达 (1911–2012). Gu shu hua guoyan yaolu 古書畫過眼要錄. Changsha: Hunan meishu chubanshe, 1987. Xuanhe shupu 宣和書譜. Edited by Gui Dizi 桂第子. Changsha: Hunan meishu chubanshe, 1999. Yan Zhenqing 顏真卿 (709–785). Wenzhong ji 文忠集. Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1936. ———. Yan Lugong ji 顏魯公集. Edited by Huang Benji 黄本驥 (1781–1856). Rpt. Taipei: Zhonghua shuju, 1970. Yiyuan yizhen: Fa shu 藝苑遺珍:法書. Compiled by Wang Shijie 王世杰 (1891–1981), Na Zhiliang 那志良 and Zhang Wanli 張萬里. Kowloon: Cafa Co., 1967. Yu Shaosong 余紹宋 (1885–1949). Shu hua shu lu jie ti 書畫書錄解題. Rpt. Taipei: Zhonghua shuju, 1980.



Yu Xianhao 郁賢皜. Tang cishi kao 唐刺史考. Hong Kong: Zhonghua shuju Xianggang fenju, 1987. Zhang Chou 張丑 (1577–1643). Qinghe shu hua fang 清河書畫舫. Taipei: Xuehai chubanshe, 1975. Zhongguo fatie quanji 中國法帖全集. Edited by Qi Gong 启功 (1912–2005) and Wang Jingxian 王靖憲. Wuhan: Hubei meishu chubanshe, 2002. Zhongguo gudai shougong yishujia zhi 中國古代手工藝術家志. Compiled and edited by Zhou Nanquan 周南泉 and Feng Naien 冯乃恩. Beijing: Zijincheng chubanshe, 2008. Zhongguo shufa quanji 中國書法全集, vols. 25–26: Sui Tang Wudai bian 隋唐五代編, Yan Zhenqing 顏真卿 1–2. Edited by Zhu Guantian 朱關田. Beijing: Rongbaozhai, 1993. Zhou Mi 周密 (1232–1308). Yunyan guoyan lu 雲煙過眼錄. Yishu congbian ed. Taipei: Shijie shuju, 1962. Zhu Guantian 朱關田. “Zhejiang bowuguan cang Song ta Yan Zhenqing ‘Zhong yi tang tie.’ ” 浙江博物館藏宋拓顏真卿忠義堂帖 Shupu 43 (1980): 18–24. Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑑. Compiled by Sima Guang 司馬光 (1019–1086). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1956.

chapter 3

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers Suzanne E. Wright Paper is one of the items traditionally classed as the Four Treasures of the Scholar’s Study (wenfang sibao 文房四寶), along with ink, brush and inkstone. It is not known when these four writing implements came to be regarded as a group, but the earliest treatise to deal with them as such is that written by Su Yijian 蘇易簡 (957–995), Wenfang sipu 文房四譜 (Four guides to the scholar’s study), which has a postface by Su dated to 986. This text collects together extracts from various sources that provide evidence of the history, manufacture, use and appreciation of the items. Ink, paper and inkstone are treated in one juan 卷, while the brush is treated in two, presumably because of the addition of a section on brush force, dealing with calligraphy.1 The invention of paper has been credited to Cai Lun 蔡倫 (fl. ca. 61–121), of ink to Wei Dan 韋誕 (179–253), and of the brush to Meng Tian 蒙恬 (d. 210), but archaeological evidence proves that these writings implements and materials existed long before their traditional dates of origin. Writing brushes have been excavated from several sites dating to the Warring States period (482– 221 BCE); a brush discovered in the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng, Hubei Province, datable to 433 BCE or later is believed to be the earliest such find.2 It seems likely, however, based on the existence of inscriptions that appear to have been written with a brush, that this implement was used long before the Warring States period. The methods of making brushes do not appear to have changed remarkably over the course of Chinese history; bamboo and wood have been the most common materials for the handle, while rabbit, deer and goat hairs have been most frequently used for the tip. The ink of the Four Treasures generally refers to that material in solid form, which was then ground with water to make a liquid. Most such ink was made using soot, combined with a glue of some type, preservatives and perfumes. An early recipe for making ink is included in Jia Sixie’s 賈思勰 Qimin yaoshu 齊民要術, a sixth-century treatise on agriculture, livestock and food

1 See Amy McNair’s essay in this volume for more on calligraphy in an epistolary context. 2 Tan Weisi, Zeng hou Yi mu, 143. The dating of the tomb is discussed on pp. 39–44. Early evidence regarding use of the brush is discussed in Tsien, Written on Bamboo and Silk, 176–82.

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preparation.3 Ink cakes have been excavated, however, from sites dating as early as the Warring States period; for example a small piece of solid ink was found together with an inkstone and grinder in a Warring States period tomb at Shuihudi, Yunmeng, Hubei province.4 As with the brush, the use of black and red ink in the Neolithic and Shang periods is inferred from painting on ceramic wares and writing on oracle bones.5 Among the Four Treasures, ink and paper are the two objects that were least likely to be preserved long term, and both were the subject of woodblockprinted catalogs in the Ming dynasty that were meant to draw attention to their aesthetic qualities and perhaps encourage owners to collect rather than consume them. The two largest and most copiously illustrated of the ink catalogs are Fangshi mopu 方氏墨譜 (Fang’s guide to ink) produced by Fang Yulu 方于魯 (fl. 1570–1619) in 1588 and Chengshi moyuan 程氏墨苑 (Cheng’s garden of ink) published by Cheng Dayue 程大約 (1541–ca. 1616) in 1605; both ink makers were from Huizhou, in present-day Anhui province, and they were business rivals.6 Such catalogs generally avoid direct mention of the commercial ventures with which they were linked, but one seventeenth-century woodblock-printed book of ink cake designs, Mo shi 墨史 (History of ink), authored by Cheng Yi 程義 (fl. 1662–1722), another Huizhou native, seems to have been produced specifically to promote the sale of Cheng’s product; in addition to information on the production of ink and encomia from friends of Cheng, a section titled “Wuxuezhai mo mu” 悟雪斋墨目 (Catalog of Wuxuezhai inks) lists ink sticks by their names and specifies the grade, weight and price of at least the better quality items.7 Once ink was produced in solid form it became necessary to grind and mix it with water to produce a liquid substance for writing. Inkstones were made for this purpose, most commonly of stone or ceramic, but also occasionally of metal or lacquer. Examples of this form consisting of a stone base and grinder have been found from the pre-Han periods, such as the set excavated together with the above-mentioned ink cake from tomb four at Shuihudi, which according

3  Qimin yaoshu, 538–39. This recipe is translated in Tsien, Written on Bamboo and Silk, 185. 4 “Hubei Yunmeng Shuihudi shiyi zuo etc.,” 53, plate 5. Tomb 4, in which these items were discovered, is dated to the late Warring States through comparison with tomb 7, which is dated to 256 BCE in an inscription, see p. 59. 5 Tsien, Written on Bamboo and Silk, 183. 6 The fullest discussion of these two works is found in Lin, “The Proliferation of Images.” 7 This catalog is described in Shu Chao, “Ji moshu sizhong,” 72–73.

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to the excavation report, was fashioned from cobblestones.8 Dating even earlier are simple grinding palettes that resemble mortar and pestle, which have been found at Neolithic sites.9 By the Han dynasty, inkstones seem to have been much more common judging from the frequency of archaeological finds and the larger numbers of Han-dynasty stones that were collected by connoisseurs. Su Yijian’s Wenfang sipu is the first study of inkstones, but it was followed by a number of specialist works in the Song dynasty, such as Yan pu 硯譜 (Inkstone guide) by Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007–1072) and Yan shi 硯史 (History of inkstones) by Mi Fu 米芾 (1051–1107).10 While there were many other types of objects that one might find in a scholar’s study—brushrest, brushpot, water dripper, seal paste box, wrist rest, etc.— the concept of the Four Treasures groups together the essential items needed for writing or painting. Writings about brushes, ink, inkstones and paper focus on practical matters, such as production techniques, as well as connoisseurship of their aesthetic qualities, but surely the seminal factor in the emergence of the Four Treasures as a group is its capacity to emblematize literacy. 1

Techniques of Paper Decoration

Despite the attribution of the invention of paper to Eastern Han official Cai Lun in 105 CE, archaeological finds prove the existence of paper in the early Western Han dynasty (206 BCE–9 CE), around three centuries earlier.11 While the development of the first techniques to enhance the letter paper surface 8 “Hubei Yunmeng Shuihudi shiyi zuo etc.,” 53, plate 7:5. Tsuen-hsuin Tsien (Written on Bamboo and Silk, 190) states that this inkstone is of Qin date, but as the authors of the excavation report place tomb 4 in the late Warring States period through comparison with another dated tomb at the site, it seems both ink and inkstone belong to the pre-Qin era. 9 Zhang Wei reproduces an inkstone excavated from Jiangzhai 姜寨 village, Lintong 臨潼 county in Shaanxi Province found with some pieces of black pigment in The Four Treasures, 37, 42. 10 Zhiyi Yang discusses the early history and connoisseurship of inkstones in her dissertation “Dialectics of Spontaneity,” 188–92. 11 Perhaps the earliest extant document on paper is a fragment of a map discovered in 1986 at Fangmatan 放馬灘, Gansu Province in a tomb dated to the early Western Han. Gansusheng Wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo etc., “Gansu Tianshui Fangmatan Zhanguo Qin Han muqun de fajue,” 9, color plate 1. The discovery of a tablet dating to the Qin dynasty that bears the character 紙 (paper) may push back the date of the invention of paper even further. Tsien, Written on Bamboo and Silk, 147.



probably occurred during the Eastern Han, it is only in the post-Han period that we have evidence of this from contemporary historical texts and archaeological evidence.12 From the third century there is evidence of both the dyeing of paper and a technique called coating (tubu 涂布), in which powdered materials were applied to the surface with glue or similar materials. Both dyeing and coating were most commonly used to create a brighter, more even surface that would be suitable for writing or painting.13 By the fourth century at the latest, historical records indicate that papers were being made in multiple colors and with decorative, though probably not yet pictorial, patterns. Huan Xuan 桓玄 (369–404), the general who briefly dethroned Emperor An of Jin 晉安帝 in 403 and proclaimed himself emperor of a new dynasty named Chu 楚, ordered the office of Bureau of Standards to make “peach blossom paper” in blue, red, pale green and green 玄令平准作 青赤縹綠桃花紙. No doubt this order was related to Huan’s pronouncement in 404 CE that henceforth paper would be used for court documents rather than jian 簡, thin bamboo or wood strips that had been in use as a writing surface for centuries.14 Colored papers were also used in non-official contexts; in his preface to Yutai xinyong 玉臺新詠 (New songs from Jade Terrace), Xu Ling 徐陵 (507–583) describes in poetic language the process of compiling this text, mentioning the use of multicolored patterned or variegated paper, literally “five-color flower paper” (wuse huajian 五色花箋).15 Dyed papers for use by both government offices and private individuals continued to be made in the Tang dynasty. While we do not know if the colors of the papers ordered by Huan Xuan for use by his short-lived government were significant in any way, different colors of hemp paper had specific usages in the Tang. According to the Hanlin zhi 翰林志 (Record of the Hanlin [Academy]), during the Tang dynasty administrative codes required that imperial decrees having to do with conferrals, summons, regulations, and disciplinary actions were to be written on white rattan paper; all messages of comfort to the troops should be on yellow hemp paper; all recommendations to the Taiqing gong 12 Many modern writings cite the definition of the term huang 潢 as “to dye paper” in the Shi ming 釋名 as the earliest evidence for such embellishment. This definition is not found in the Shi ming as it exists today. Rather, it is found in juan 4 of the Song dynasty Guang yun 廣韻, where the Shi ming is quoted as the source. 13 The earliest evidence for dyeing and tubu 涂布 is detailed in Pan Jixing, Zhongguo zaozhi jishu shi gao, 65–66. See also Tsien, Science and Civilisation in China, 74 and 77. 14 Huan’s pronouncements are found in a passage attributed to the Jin Dynasty (265–420) figure Ying Dezhan 應德詹 in Chuxue ji 21.517. 15 Yutai xinyong, preface, p. 2. Translation from Birrell, New Songs from a Jade Terrace, 340.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


Daoist temple should be written on blue rattan paper with red characters, and so on.16 It is in the Tang dynasty that we have the first solid evidence of the association of a specific type of decorated paper with an individual. The Tang female poet Xue Tao 薛濤 (ca. 768–ca. 831) is credited with the design of stationery paper that was smaller in size than most paper of the period and dyed red.17 Xue Tao sent her poems to writer and official Yuan Zhen 元稹 (779–831) stating, “I commit them to the red stationery that I always carry with me” 總向紅箋寫自隨.18 Not long after her lifetime, she was already associated with decorated paper as is evidenced by the poem “Qi cai jian ge” 乞彩箋歌 (Begging for color stationery: A song) by Wei Zhuang 韋莊 (ca. 836–910). In this poem Wei says he has no Pine Flower 松花 paper, the type of stationery modified by Xue Tao. He writes “I wouldn’t grudge a myriad gold pieces for one sheet” and explicitly makes the link with Xue Tao by saying, “Last night Xue Tao came to me in a dream”一紙萬金猶不惜。  薛濤昨夜夢中來.19 Eventually this type of paper came to be known as “Xue Tao paper”; frequent reference to Xue Tao’s paper is made in later writings, and in the Ming dynasty a facsimile of this stationery was produced, according to Fang Yizhi 方以智 (1611–1671).20 The Song dynasty is the earliest period from which we have extant examples of decorated paper. Two writings—Tongnian tie 同年帖, by Li Jianzhong 李建中 (945–1013), and Dong zhi tie 動止帖, a letter by Shen Liao 沈遼 (1032–1085)—employ paper decorated with a similar pattern.21 Tongnian tie is comprised of two letters written on different pieces of paper that have been mounted together; the first, larger sheet is undecorated, but the second, narrow strip of paper has a subtle, loose design of swirling waters. Shen Liao’s letter to a friend suffering from boils or sores of some sort is inscribed on paper bearing a more rigorous design in which sections of near-parallel curvilinear lines, punctuated with areas of bubbly froth, converge and diverge slightly to create an effect of three-dimensional, surging individual waves held in a careful 16 Li Zhao, Hanlin zhi, 3a. See Tsien, Science and Civilisation in China, 55. 17 An excellent summary of research on this topic can be found in Li-ling Hsiao, “Xue Tao Stationery.” 18 Hsiao, “Xue Tao Stationery,” 161. 19 A complete translation of this poem can be found in Hsiao, “Xue Tao Stationery,” 163–64. The original Chinese can be found in Quan Tang shi 20.8043–44. 20 Pan, Zhongguo zaozhi, 122; Fang Yizhi, Wuli xiaoshi, 8:1. 21 The Li Jianzhong calligraphy is reproduced in Qi and Shen, Song Jin Yuan shufa, plate 3; the Shen Liao calligraphy in Zhongguo shuji daguan, plate 12.



balance with the overall two-dimensional, decorative pattern (fig. 3.1).22 Both of these designs, as well as others found on paper believed to date to the Song, are examples of shuiwen zhi 水紋紙 (watermark paper), also known as yahua 壓花 (pressed designs) paper, according to Pan Jixing.23 Historical records indicate that this type of design was produced in the Tang dynasty, although no examples survive.24 Watermark paper could be made either by weaving threads into a pattern or design and placing this on the screen used to make laid paper or by creating a wood or metal die and impressing the design directly into the paper surface.25 A few examples of paper bearing discrete pictorial watermark designs also survive from the Song and Yuan periods, when watermark paper continued to be popular. According to Pan Jixing, Han ma tie 韓馬帖, a letter by Mi Fu in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, bears a design of a building among clouds.26 A slightly later example is that of a painting of bamboo attributed to the late Song-early Yuan dynasty artist Li Kan 李衎 (1245–1320), executed on a sheet of what must have been intended as letter paper, decorated with images of fish swimming and geese in flight (fig. 3.2).27 This paper was coated with wax and was calendered; this may be why the designs seem 22 Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037–1101) mentions paper with printed water designs ( yinban shuizhi) in a colophon to a painting by Pu Yongsheng 蒲永昇. Su Shi, Jingjin Dongpo wenji, 2:995. See also Su Bai, Tang Song shiqi de diaoban yinshua, 77. Wave designs remained popular as letter paper decoration in later periods, and a practice recorded by Zhou Lianggong 周亮工 (1612–1672) provides an example of one way that such paper might be re-purposed. Zhou states that poorer families in his home region around Kaifeng pasted sheets of waterpattern paper on their walls in the belief that images of water could prevent fire. Shu ying ze lu, 1:246. See Zhang Tiexian, “Cong shu jian tan dao shi jian,” 35. 23 Pan, Zhongguo zaozhi, 85. 24 Pan Jixing cites a passage in Li Zhao’s 李肇 (fl. 806–820) Tang guoshi bu 唐國史補 regarding such designs. Pan, Zhongguo zaozhi, 85. 25 Pan, “Zhongguo gudai jiagong zhi etc.,” 38. Liang Ying prefers the term yaguang 壓光, which he coined, rather than yahua. He discusses three possible methods for the production of this type of paper: a material containing wax or glue could be applied to a wood block and the paper pressed over it; paper could be pressed onto a wood block and the wax- or glue-based material brushed over it; or this material could be applied to the paper which would then be impressed onto the block. Liang Ying, “Manhua caijian,” 37–39. 26 Pan, Zhongguo zaozhi, 98. This design is not visible to me in available reproductions of this letter. 27 This painting is part of a composite handscroll titled Junzi lin 君子林 (Forest of gentlemen) that is comprised of seven paintings of bamboo by Yuan and Ming artists as well as a frontispiece and colophons by Qianlong and others. The scroll is fully reproduced and its various elements cataloged in Duan Yong, Qianlong “Simei” yu “Sanyou,” 110–21.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers

Figure 3.1 Shen Liao. Dong zhi tie, detail. Album leaf, ink on paper decorated with wave pattern. 27.1 × 37.6 cm. Shanghai Museum.




Figure 3.2 Li Kan, att. Ink Bamboo, section of Forest of Gentlemen, detail. Handscroll, ink on paper decorated with goose and fish design. H 32.5 cm. The Palace Museum, Beijing.

to repel the black ink of the bamboo and appear in the negative within the superimposed painting.28 Another type of decoration that appeared in the Tang dynasty, but the earliest extant examples of which date to the Song, is the use of metallic materials including gold and silver foil, powder or pigments. Examples of non-epistolary calligraphic works by the Huizong 徽宗 emperor (r. 1100–1126) written on paper either printed or painted with a background design in gold pigment exist. A version of the Qianziwen 千字文 (Thousand character essay) in the Liaoning Provincial Museum is executed on a paper decorated with a pattern of dragons among stylized cloud motifs; the imperial associations of the The designs are more legible, however, in a black and white reproduction in Pan, Zhongguo zaozhi, 99. The associations of letters with birds and fish are discussed later in this essay. 28 Pan, Zhongguo zaozhi, 98.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


dragon make this an appropriate image for an imperial work and the use of gold pigment underscores the status and wealth of the writer. 29 Here, as in the Li Kan painting, the gold pigment repels the black ink, so the imagery emerges from within the characters. All of the above-mentioned methods of embellishing letter paper continued in use during the Ming dynasty with the addition of new type of decoration: woodblock-printed designs. The use of decorated papers increased markedly over the course of the Ming, judging from extant letters, reaching a peak in the last century of that period. This development was no doubt related to the increased interest in epistolary practice in general. From the sixteenth century on, a much larger number of publications consisting solely of letters, both historical and contemporary, appear in China; at the same time there appear greater numbers of letter-writing manuals, and encyclopedic publications including information about letter writing. Larger numbers of letters survive from the later Ming on, as well, perhaps indicating an increase in their collection. Sun Mou 孫謀, a resident of Nanjing, wrote in 1629 about the popularity of letters papers in that city and the development of stationery paper design during the Ming:30 I have heard members of the previous generation say that from the beginning of our dynasty that all “inquiries about the weather” and “impartings of feelings” were written to the left of the main text [of the letter], but if there was no secondary content, there might be [a design]. Beginning with Mr. [Wang] Yangming 王陽明, there were [designs], but only kuixing 魁星, qilin 麒麟, and chihu 螭虎.31 In the beginning there were no engraved designs. . . . From [1588–89], suddenly stationery began to have short lines of small, carved characters. The Ministry of Rites put forward a request for an imperial order that the style of letter papers should accord 29 Reproduced in Qi and Shen, Song Jin Yuan shufa, plate 45. Another work by the Huizong emperor that is also in the Liaoning Provincial Museum, Cai Xing chi 蔡行勅 (Imperial edict to Cai Xing), is written on paper decorated with the “eight treasures” in gold pigment. Reproduced in Song Huizong Zhao Ji shu Cai Xing chi. 30 Sun Mou was a painter and calligrapher from Lishui 溧水 in Zhejiang province. His biography is found in Chen Zuolin, Jinling tongzhuan, 2:657–58. 31 The kui star is the largest in the Big Dipper constellation; it is also considered a manifestation of the god of literature. Qilin and chihu are fantastic creatures. The philosophical ideas of Wang Yangming (1472–1529) and his followers were sometimes blamed for a perceived decline in morality at court in the late Ming. See Hucker, “The Tung-lin Movement of the Late Ming Period,” 161.



with antiquity and exhibit frugality, etc., etc. From [1601–1602] many people from Xin’an [in Huizhou district of present-day Anhui province] engaged in trade in Baimen [Nanjing], and made a name for their letter paper. They added gorgeous images to [the papers] by first applying wax, then scraping away the designs and dyeing them in five colors. This shop aimed to exhaust its skill and to attain bewitching [effects]; then that household competed for rare and marvelous works, each topping the other. First it was flowers, birds and animals; later it was landscapes and figures, and finally heavenly phenomena, symbols and signs, clothing and regalia, and even sacrificial vessels and collectibles. They plumbed the absurd and the strange and all searched high and low for the new and unusual. [Their papers] changed from month to month and year to year. No doubt they dazzled the senses in order to make sales. So carts and horses dash to the important spots, and with perspiring faces people gaze at the such-and-such studio, the such-and-such hall, the such-andsuch pavilion, which fill the great marketplaces throughout the capital. Alas, ornamentation (wen 文) has achieved the upper hand and natural substance (zhi 質) been defeated. Elegance ( ya 雅) is appreciated, and simplicity (pu 樸) has been dispersed. All day within my bambooed windows and vined door, I receive cards and I seal letters; all are of this type. I have collected over four hundred of these papers. If one discarded the vulgar and inelegant, [they would number] eight or nine out of ten; only [what is left] is worth preserving. From this one can determine the depths reached by these latter-day extravagances.32 The variety, and occasional complexity and beauty, of letter papers from the time of Sun Mou on can still be seen due to the increasing popularity of the practice of collecting letters in this period. The simplest type of addition to paper is the pragmatic addition of lines dividing the surface into columns, either printed or hand-drawn. One popular variation on this was to print the letter paper surface with a schematized image of jian 簡, the bamboo or wood strips, tied together with cords, which were used for writing in the Han dynasty and later (fig. 3.3). Border designs were another popular type of decoration, usually consisting of botanical elements such as plum blossoms, bamboo, or pine, or cloud or water designs. The decoration on a letter by Lu Zhi 陸治 (1496–1576) is typical, consisting of a rectangular border design with images 32 This passage is part of an inscription dated 1629 recorded by Miao Quansun in Yun zi zai kan biji 9a–b.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


Figure 3.3 Bao Tingbo 鮑廷博 (1728–1814). Letter. Ink on paper with woodblock-printed design of bamboo or wooden strips. Shanghai Library.



Figure 3.4 Lu Zhi. Letter. Ink on paper with woodblock-printed design of plum and bamboo. Shanghai Library.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


Figure 3.5 Wang Shizhen. Letter. Ink on paper with polychrome woodblock-printed design. H ca. 19 cm. Princeton University Art Museum / Art Resource, NY.

of bamboo and what appears to be plum blossoms sandwiched between the framing lines, printed in blue (fig. 3.4). A third type of decoration are discrete images of animals, figures, landscapes, or objects, placed somewhere on the page. A particularly spectacular example is found on a letter by Wang Shizhen 王士禛 (1634–1711) in the Princeton University Art Museum (fig. 3.5). This image of birds attracted to a seeding plant growing from a rock face is beautifully and crisply printed in multiple colors. While writers often wrote over designs on the page, whether they were framing elements or discrete pictures, here Wang deliberately avoids writing across the printed image.33 In the Qing period, epistolary arts seem to have thrived as the population grew and literacy rates continued to rise. Letter paper designs became ever more demanding of the viewer’s attention, increasing in size, variety, and intensity of color, their relationship with the letter text becoming more and more equal. Some letters come to resemble a layered combination of pictorial album and text, with a different image on each page, as in a letter written by the 33 See the catalog entry by Bai Qianshen in Harrist and Fong, The Embodied Image, 212–13. The same paper was used by one Gao Wentao 高文濤 to inscribe a poem for a friend, now in the Shanghai Library. Reproduced in Liang Ying, Chidu fengya, 219.


Figure 3.6 Gao Shixian. Letter. Ink on paper with polychrome woodblock-printed design. Zhejiang Library.


Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


Figure 3.7 Zhang Zhaoxiang 張兆祥. Wenmeizhai baihua shijian pu. 1911. H 29.3 cm. Polychrome woodblock-printed design. National Library of China.

painter and calligrapher Gao Shixian 高時顯 (1878–1952) (fig. 3.6). The designs on this letter paper rival the images in the 1911 letter paper catalog Wenmeizhai baihua shijian pu 文美齋白花詩箋譜 (Guide to one hundred flowers poetry paper of Culture and Beauty Studio) in terms of their dominance on the page and prove that in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, boldly colored, large designs were considered appropriate for stationery papers (fig. 3.7). Late Qing letter paper designs reflect the interests of literati, such as paleography and the study of antiquities, with numerous examples of letters penned across images of carved texts, jades and bronzes with their cast inscriptions. A letter by the painter, calligrapher and epigrapher ( jinshixuejia 金石學家, lit. scholar of metal and stone) Yu Shaosong 余紹宋 (1885–1949) is written on paper that bears what appears to be a reproduction of an inscription carved in stone (fig. 3.8). The text is a shortened version of the familiar exhortation based on the content of the Da xue 大學 (Great learning): “Cultivate oneself,



Figure 3.8 Yu Shaosong. Letter. Ink on paper with design of woodblock-printed inscription in style of the Huashan stele. Zhejiang Library.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


r­ egulate the family, put the country in order, then pacify the world” 修身齊家 治國平天下.34 The caption to the design states that the text has been composed with characters plucked from the Xiyue Huashan Temple Stele (Xiyue Huashan miao bei 西嶽華山廟碑), from the Eastern Han dynasty, a favorite model among late imperial calligraphers. Some letter papers are printed with imagery that suggests China’s struggles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to find its place in the world. Jiang Biao 江標 (1860–1899) was the education commissioner for Hunan province in the 1890s where he promoted Western Studies, including the study of geography, foreign languages and the sciences.35 Reflecting these interests, he designed his own letter paper featuring a globe seen from two different perspectives, with the caption “Communication and transportation within the world” (fig. 3.9).36 In the twentieth century, due largely to the interest of the writer Lu Xun 魯迅 and the scholar Zheng Zhenduo 鄭振鐸, letter paper designs began to be collected, reproduced and studied; new letter papers were created, often by well-known artists of the day, but many designs in the style of earlier periods became popular once again. 2

Function of Letter Paper Designs

The relationship of letter paper designs to letter text is multifaceted. Letter papers were used for a wide variety of purposes: short notes delivered to nearby friends or acquaintances within the same city, more formal letters written to keep in touch with family and others, messages written on specific occasions such as birthdays or weddings, and for non-epistolary reasons such as painting and calligraphic works. Publications devoted to letter paper designs were first produced in the late Ming, and these give the clearest indication of how specific designs might have been chosen to match the content of a letter or to pay homage to its recipient. Luoxuan biangu jianpu 蘿軒變古箋譜 (Trumpetvine Pavilion guide to variations on letter paper designs) was published in 1626 by Wu Faxiang 吳發祥 (ca. 1578–after 1657) and Shizhuzhai jianpu 十竹齋箋譜 (Ten Bamboo Studio guide to letter paper designs) in 1644 by Hu Zhengyan 胡正言 (1584/5– 1674), both in Nanjing, the same city where Sun Mou wrote of the fevered 34 Li ji zhushu 42.983. 35 Platt, Provincial Patriots, 76. 36 See Bai, “Chinese Letters,” 396. The translation of the caption is Bai’s.


Figure 3.9 Jiang Biao. Letter to Shen Xuanhuai. Ink on paper with woodblock-printed image of globe. Qing dynasty, 1897–99. The Chinese University of Hong Kong.


Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


c­onsumption of stationery papers.37 Relatively little is known about Wu Faxiang and his business establishment; the publishing career of Hu Zhengyan is better documented, and the Ten Bamboo Studio continued to publish, and probably to sell letter paper, in the early Qing.38 Comparison of five versions of Shizhuzhai jianpu in the National Library, Beijing proves that this work was issued twice, in close succession, probably in 1644 and then again in 1645.39 A third catalog, Yin shi jianpu 殷氏笺譜 (Master Yin’s guide to letter papers), which appears to date to the same period, reportedly is in a private collection in Japan.40 These compilations are among the very finest examples of late Ming woodblock printing, produced through a new technique, in which a separate block is carved to print each color or to layer colors. It is remarkable that three such publications, at least, were produced in such a short period, especially since it is not until 1911 that another catalog of letter paper, much more modest in scale, would be published, Wenmeizhai baihua shijian pu (fig. 3.7). 37 It is uncertain why two such publications appeared in the same city in such a short time span. Nanjing was well-situated in terms of access to materials and was one of several printing centers of the late Ming; it also served as the secondary capital of the Ming dynasty and attracted many scholars, merchants and artisans to live and work there, but it is not clear that decorated letter paper was particularly associated with this city. 38 Hu’s publishing career is discussed in Wright, “Hu Zhengyan.” 39 The five copies of Shizhuzhai jianpu in the collection of the Beijing Library are as follows: catalog no. 13130, one fascicle, the first of the four-fascicle edition, published separately, 1644–45, complete; no. 16298, four fascicles, 1644–45, incomplete but the best of the fourfascicle versions; no. 17002, four fascicles, 1644–45, incomplete second and third fascicles only; no. 01468, four fascicles, 1645–46, incomplete; no. 16998, four fascicles, 1645–46, incomplete. Two of these five are differentiated by the use of replacement blocks in some designs, by substitutions and additions of designs, and by changes in the spatial relationships of design and printed inscriptions and seals. Of particular significance is the addition at the end of the second fascicle of an entire section of motifs, titled “Like orchids” (Ru lan 如蘭). The “Like orchids” category is not listed in the table of contents for fascicle two in earlier printings, precluding the possibility that the designs are simply missing from extant copies of that volume, none of which are complete. Thus, this section must have been added at a later date. This discrepancy explains a problem in dating brought to public attention by Wang Bomin. Although the two prefaces to Shizhuzhai jianpu are both dated to 1644, Wang noticed that one of the designs in the “Like orchids” section had an inscription dated to 1645, suggesting that the work was not actually published until that year. Wang Bomin, Zhongguo banhua shi, 117, n.5. However, as the “Like orchids” designs have proven to be a later addition, the first printing of the catalog can be firmly dated to late 1644 or early 1645, with a second printing following closely thereafter. 40 Two designs from this catalog are reproduced in Kuroda and Okada, Shina kohanga zuroku, plate 59. One of these designs is also found in Luoxuan biangu jianpu.



The designs in this book combine a framing band of cloud motifs with botanical imagery of a size and presence that would seem to preclude their actual use for writing, although, in fact, letters written on similar papers do exist. Both Wu Faxiang and Hu Zhengyan produced and sold individual letter papers. The prefaces to the two catalogs make clear that one of the aims of the publishers was to preserve these papers in a format that would not be so susceptible to destruction. In the preface to Luoxuan biangu jianpu, Yan Jizu 顔繼祖 (jinshi 1619) says, “how laughable that once used these papers are nothing but straw dogs,” a reference to the practice in ancient times of using straw figures in the shape of dogs as sacrifices.41 Yan draws attention to the ephemerality of letter papers; once used, they are rarely saved, except occasionally for their value as calligraphic works or historical documents. Likewise, in the second preface to Shizhuzhai jianpu, Li Kegong 李克恭 says, “This work is to be transmitted along with valuable legacies such as bronze vessels and the stone drums and not allowed to decay. Although this is just a remnant of [Hu Zhengyan’s] work, from it one can imagine how much of his art has sunk from view.”42 Both catalogs contain large numbers of designs categorized according to subject matter. All of the designs are discrete images: figures, butterflies, antiquities, flowers, landscapes, and so on. Many of the designs do not seem to have a particular meaning associated with them; these may be multivalent, auspicious images or objects associated with elite culture. A particularly intriguing group of motifs relate to historical anecdotes; these are unusual because, rather than illustrating the tales with narrative or figural imagery, an object or objects is isolated from the story. For example, a design in Shizhuzhai jianpu consists of a vivid green fish among green water grasses and bears the twocharacter title “Thinking of carp” (Si lu 思鱸, fig. 3.10). From this two-character phrase the viewer deduces that this is not merely a representation of a carp in its natural environment, but the image of a carp as remembered by some unnamed person. It is, in fact, a food dish of the Wu region longed for by Zhang 41 Yan Jizu’s preface is translated in full in Wright, “Visual Communication and Social Identity,” 24–27. For Yan’s biography see Ming shi 21.6424. The reference to “straw dogs” (chugou 芻狗) can be found in chapter 14 (天運) of the Zhuangzi, trans. Watson, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 158–59. 42 Li Kegong’s preface is translated in full in Wright, “Visual Communication and Social Identity,” 47–52. Li Kegong was the grandson of Li Deng 李登 (zi Shilong 士龍, hao Ruzhen), a native of Shangyuan with whom Hu studied calligraphy in his younger days. Li Deng’s biography is included in Guo Tingxun, Ben (Ming) chao fensheng renwu kao, 12.41b–43a.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


Han 張翰 (3rd c. BCE) and for which he left the service of Prince Jiong 冏 (d. 302) of Qi 齊 to return south, and thus was not present when Qi fell and the Prince died.43 Thus, “thinking of carp” became a metaphor for retirement and the prescience to avoid political disaster.

Figure 3.10 Hu Zhengyan. Thinking of carp. From Shizhuzhai jianpu. 1644. Polychrome woodblock-printed design. From facsimile by Rongbaozhai. National Library of China. 43 Jin shu 8.2384.



Other images relate to filial piety, virtuous wives and mothers, friendship, loyalty, and so on. We can gain a better understanding of how such designs might have been used as letter paper designs by looking at letter templates in letter-writing manuals of the period. One of the most substantial of such texts from the late Ming is Ru mian tan 如面談 (Like speaking face to face), which contains over 1,800 sample letters. A modern edition of this work, from an unidentified original, bears a preface ascribed to Zhong Xing 鍾惺 (1574–1625), the late Ming writer and official and the putative author or compiler of the publication.44 In the “Family and Dependents” section is a sample letter, titled “Letter from a younger brother away from home to his elder brother,” which reads in part: When our parents are in the [family] hall, there is only my brother to be relied upon for the morning and evening delicacies. It is as if you were bringing them happiness by dancing in motley {Lao Laizi wore multicolored clothing and played in motley.} Our parents’ hearts are brought delight. {Di means “come to”; Yu means “happiness.”} 二親在堂。朝夕甘旨。惟兄是賴。若舞綵  老萊子斑衣戲綵 承歡。親心底豫。底至也豫樂也45 The smaller characters—their translations are enclosed in curly brackets—are interpolated into the letter text to explain allusions or characters with which the reader might not be familiar, thus suggesting that this publication was meant for those not conversant with more abstruse textual references. This excerpt alludes to the story of Lao Laizi, the filial son who dressed in juvenile clothing and acted the child in order to make his parents feel younger. A letter paper design that relates to the same tale can be found in Shizhuzhai jianpu (fig. 3.11). It appears in the section titled “Ru mu” 孺慕 (A child’s adoration for a parent) and consists of a single item of clothing, made of several different patterned fabrics. The hem and sleeves fly out to one side as if blown by the wind, providing a sense of movement, a frequently used device in this catalog. The caption at the upper right reads “Lai’s garment” (Lai yi 萊衣), indicating that this is the “five-color garment” Lao Laizi is supposed to have worn to make his parents feel young again.

44 Another manual with the same title, attributed to Feng Menglong, also exists. 45 Zhong Xing, Ru mian tan, 1.11.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


Figure 3.11 Hu Zhengyan. Lai’s garment. From Shizhuzhai jianpu. 1644. Polychrome woodblock-printed design. From facsimile by Rongbaozhai. National Library of China.

We cannot assume, however, that the letter paper catalogs document the use of actual letter papers; Wu Faxiang and Hu Zhengyan may very well have augmented their normal stock of letter paper designs to enhance the promotional potential of these publications as advertisements for their other products. And while the designs in the catalogs sometimes convey specific messages— of congratulation, sympathy, wishes for long life—they more often seem to



f­unction as generalized representations of cultural literacy or conventional virtue, illuminating attributes, qualities and interests with which the writer wished to be associated, a trend also seen in extant letters. No letters written on paper produced by the Trumpetvine Pavilion have come to light, and only a small number from the Ten Bamboo Studio. Of the extant Ten Bamboo Studio letter papers, all but one are simple framing devices: double lines with vaguely botanical elements at the cardinal directions; a rectangular frame around which winds a bare vine; and a double frame within which is interspersed stalks of bamboo, clumps of grass, orchids and unidentifiable floral elements, all printed in blue. Only the latter bears a descriptive caption: “Dreaming of bamboo paper” (Meng zhu jian 夢竹箋); however, this does not seem to refer to a specific anecdote or convey a specific meaning.46 The single extant letter written on paper with a design from Hu’s catalog was authored by Zou Zhilin 鄒之麟 (d. 1654), a 1610 jinshi who held office in Beijing for a brief period but then retired for several decades.47 When the Prince of Fu was enthroned as the Hongguang emperor in Nanjing in 1644, Zou came out of retirement to serve again until the fall of the city to the Manchus in the following year. The design on Zou’s letter, “Auspicious grain” ( jia he 嘉禾), is nearly identical to that in Shizhuzhai jianpu, although the placement of the caption and seal on the letter paper and in the catalog differ (fig. 3.12). The motif is not one that demands a specific type of usage. Nonetheless, the content of Zou’s letter, which apparently concerns his role as a middleman in the trade of antiquities, does not seem particularly well suited to the political symbolism of the multi-headed grain, which is supposed to appear during periods of good governance. It reads:48 The examination period has been extended. This will allow you quiet contemplation for a while longer. I happen to have a Xuande censer. Its color has the most ancient sheen. I am sending it over. See if you have some silver, then it can be pawned. He wants ten taels. I look forward to [?] Lin bows his head.

46 These are reproduced in Liang Ying, Chidu fengya, 28, 29, 32–25. 47 Sun Chengze, writing some time before 1660, said that Zou was removed from office because of his involvement in a heterodox group. This and other biographical information on Zou is fully translated in Little, “Notes on Zou Zhilin,” 338. 48 I am grateful for the assistance of Bai Qianshen and Tsao Hsingyuan in the transliteration and translation of Zou’s letter and that of Han Jing introduced below.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers

Figure 3.12 Zou Zhilin. Letter. Ink on Ten Bamboo Studio paper with polychrome woodblock-printed design. The Palace Museum, Beijing.




試期改緩似為 足下可靜攝以待適有宣爐一個其色 古潤之極奉過 首有銀可當之渠欲十金也 望□ 麟頓首 The line breaks, which are reproduced in the translation and transcription above, cannot be explained by the conventions of letter-writing in China, which require writers to begin a new line to indicate respect toward their correspondent or a third party.49 It seems that, as in the Wang Shizhen letter mentioned previously (fig. 3.5), Zou deliberately avoided writing over the printed design. This letter is undated and its recipient unknown, however, we can speculate that the paper was purchased during the one- to two-year period that Zou Zhilin spent in Nanjing at the Southern Ming court. Thus, Zou’s use of the image of double-headed grain may have been meant to commemorate an actual sighting of an auspicious omen, to communicate a sense of faith in the new regime, or perhaps even as to induce Heaven to bestow its mandate on the emperor. It is possible, too, that the letter was written some time after the fall of the Southern Ming and Zou’s return to his hometown of Wujin 武進 (modern-day Changzhou). Based on Zhou Lianggong’s 周亮工 entry on Zou Zhilin in his Du hua lu 讀畫錄 (Record of looking at paintings), Stephen Little speculates that in retirement Zou supported himself by selling his paintings and calligraphy, and his role as a dealer in antiquities or go-between may also date to this later period of his life.50 Occasionally one does find letters written on decorated paper where a clear relationship between the image and the letter text can be drawn. A letter by Han Jing 韓經 (fl. early 15th c.) provides an example of a letter for which the paper was carefully chosen to match its content.51 The letter concerns an elegy written by Han for the father of a friend:

49 Such conventions are also discussed in Lik Hang Tsui’s essay in this volume. 50 Little, “Notes on Zou Zhilin,” 338. Zou’s biography in Du hua lu is translated by Little, pp. 332–37; and by Kim, “Chou Liang-kung,” 2:54–56. For another interpretation of the relationship between the text of Zou’s letter and the design, see Hsiao Li-ling, “Yinyuxing de shengchan moshi,” 61–64. 51 This unpublished letter is in the collection of Princeton University Art Museum.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


I am presenting you with an elegy for your departed father. The vulgarity [of my effort] is shameful. Just read it [to discern] my feelings. For your farewell handscroll, besides that of Binzhi, I tried to get two more poems, but couldn’t get more. I am very [?] that we did not have time to hold a farewell banquet. The road is long. Take care of yourself. I send my best wishes. I’ll say no more. 5th month, 16th day. Jing bows his head. 今先翁輓詩舉 上鄙俚可媿姑見 情耳送行卷 賓之之外更索 得二首不能多也 □甚不及攀餞 遠道惟 保嗇乃至祝在 諸不二 五月十六日經頓首 The letter is written on paper decorated with a large picture of a day-lily. Also known by the name wang you cao 忘憂草, or “trouble-forgetting plant,” this flower was appropriate to use in the context of mourning. A paper to be used for a letter regarding a sensitive subject such as the death of a parent—an event fraught not only with personal but also social significance—was likely chosen with greater care than usual to achieve an appropriate correspondence in mood or theme with the content of the letter. There are also designs that frame, sometimes literally, the text as epistolary. The paper used by Li Kan for his painting of bamboo is of this type (fig. 3.2). The combination of geese among clouds and fish in water as a design, along with the caption “Geese fly and fish submerge” 雁飛魚沉, identify this as stationery paper. The goose motif is an allusion to the story of the Han general Su Wu 蘇武 (d. 60 BCE) who was captured by the Xiongnu. Years later, when the Han and the Xiongnu were at peace, the emperor asked for the return of Su Wu but the Xiongnu chieftain falsely reported that he had died. According to Han shu 漢書, the Han ambassador to the nomads learned that Su and others were still alive and used a ruse, saying that the emperor had shot down a goose to the foot of which was tied a letter saying that the Chinese captives were still



being held. Confronted with this story, the Xiongnu released the prisoners.52 The image of a goose delivering a letter from afar became a popular trope in Chinese literature. The convention of the fish as letter carrier already appears in an ancient folksong, recorded in the early anthology Wen xuan 文選, which reads in part: 客從遠方來 遺我雙鯉魚 呼兒烹鯉魚 中有尺素書

A guest came from far away And gave me a pair of carp. I called the boy to cook the carp; In its belly there was a letter.53

This sort of indexical design was promoted by the late Ming/early Qing author and publisher Li Yu 李漁 (1610/11–1680) who followed in the footsteps of Wu Faxiang and Hu Zhengyan by producing letter papers that he sold, along with books, in a shop he opened in the Jiezi yuan 芥子園 (Mustard Seed Garden) whilst living in Nanjing, between 1657 and 1677. These seem to have contributed substantially to his income, and he warned others against copying his designs and directed readers to his shop.54 In the section on “Stationery” (Jianjian 箋簡) in Li’s book Xianqing ouji 閒情偶寄 (Casual expressions of idle feeling) he proposes a union of form and function in letter paper design:55 They are called jianjian 箋簡, and in these two characters—jian [writing paper] and jian [bamboo slip]—there is inexhaustible innate meaning. Besides “fish letters” and “goose silk,” can’t one employ the style of bamboo slips? Create a likeness of the form of books? Aren’t handscrolls, albums, fans, brocade screens and embroidered hanging scrolls the ground on which one wields the brush? One can leave an inscription on a stone wall, and banana leaves have served as paper; is this—my own personal theory—previously unheard of? 既名箋簡,則箋簡二字中便有無窮本義。魚書雁帛而外,不有 竹刺之式可為乎?書本之形可肖乎?卷冊便面,錦屏繡軸之

52 Han shu 8.2466. 53 Wen xuan 27.1277–78. 54 Hanan, The Invention of Li Yu, 13–14. See also Chang and Chang, Crisis and Transformation, 72. 55 Li Yu, Xianqing ouji, 255. Patrick Hanan notes that this interest in form following function is seen in Li’s comments on other objects as well as notepaper. The Invention of Li Yu, 72.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


上,非染翰揮毫之地乎?石壁可以留題,蕉葉曾經代紙,豈意 未之前聞,而為予之臆說乎? Li produced two sets or categories of papers, “Refined events” (yunshi 韻事) in eight designs and “Brocade paper” ( jinjian 錦箋) in ten designs. What are “refined events”? Inscribing stone, inscribing a scroll, fans, book chapters, bamboo slips, snow on banana palm, scrolls, and albums. The ten types of brocade designs imitate the idea of brocade palindromes; the entire surface is brocaded, with an area of crepe-like patterns left for people to write. After one has written, there is no distinction between the writing and the woven palindrome.56 韻事者何?題石、題軸、便面、書卷、剖竹、雪蕉、卷子、冊 子是也。錦紋十種,則盡仿回文織錦之義,滿幅皆錦,止留 紋 缺處代人作書,書成之後,與織就之回文無異。 A few of Li’s letters written on his own papers survive, and these bear out the evidence of Xianqing ouji. A letter in the collection of the Shanghai Library is written on a printed paper designed to resemble a woodblock-printed book (fig. 3.13). At the far right is a blank section with a title slip within which is printed “Book chapter letter: Newly produced by the Old Man in the Fisherman’s Hat” 書卷啟:笠翁新制, Li Yu’s style name. The rest of the sheet is printed with framed sections of lined columns; these consist of two sets of five columns separated in the center by a narrower column that resembles the “central seam” (zhongfeng 中缝) that in printed books usually bears the title of the text and the page number. At the top of this column is printed “conducting business in 10 sections” 十部從事, presumably referring to the ten columns within which one would write one’s letter; at the bottom there are two rows of smaller characters that read: “blocks are the collection of the Mustard Seed Garden / those who steal and carve [this design] will be investigated” 芥子園藏板竊 刻者必究. While Li sold his notepaper and made gifts of it to friends and acquaintances, he did not follow in Hu Zhengyan and Wu Faxiang’s footsteps and produce a letter paper catalog.57 It is clear that the potential of letter paper design to provide a type of commentary on written text was perceived in the late Ming. A book that explicitly cites letter paper design as the source for one aspect of its illustrations is 56 Li Yu, Xianqing ouji, 255. 57 Hanan, The Invention of Li Yu, 3, 5.



Figure 3.13 Li Yu. Letter. Ink on Mustard Seed Garden paper with woodblock printed design of book format. Shanghai Library.

the anonymous historical novel Sui Yangdi yanshi 隋煬帝艶史 (The romantic history of Emperor Yang of the Sui); this work is attributed to one Qidong yeren 齊東野人, the “Rustic from the Sticks” in Robert Hegel’s translation, with prefaces dated to 1631.58 This work gives a fictionalized account of the life of Emperor Yang (569–618), the second and last emperor of the Sui dynasty (581–618), who was held responsible for the fall of the dynasty because of his licentious behavior and neglect of duty. In the first volume of the text are grouped eighty folios of illustrations, two for each chapter of the novel.59 The recto of each sheet bears a narrative illustration of an event in the 58 Hegel, Reading Illustrated Fiction, 85. Robert E. Hegel provides a synopsis of the entire novel and relates the content to events of the Ming dynasty. In addition, he describes the editions of the work that he has studied in an appendix. Reading Illustrated Fiction, 84–103, and 241–44. 59 The volume that I have studied most closely in the East Asian Collection of the Hoover Institution lacks illustrations for chapters 21 through 25, corresponding to juan three of the novel. William H. Nienhauser notes that a copy he consulted in the Graduate Library at National Taiwan University is missing the same set of illustrations. See his “A Reading of the Poetic Captions,” 20. The blocks from which the Hoover volume was printed were somewhat worn, judging from the fuzziness of some of the lines; they had also suffered numerous small losses. Possibly by the time of this issue some of the blocks had been completely lost and were not replaced. I was first alerted to the use of letter paper motifs in the illustrations to Sui Yangdi yanshi by Ma Meng-ching who had written an unpublished paper on this text. She has since published an article on this same topic, “Sui Yangdi yanshi de tushi pingdian.”

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


c­orresponding chapter; in the margin at lower left is inscribed the chapter heading which indicates the subject of the picture. On the verso of each page are lines of poetry, not drawn from the text of the drama but from other sources, written in a variety of calligraphic styles. Each quotation is framed by a different decorative border, with a brief notation in the lower right margin to indicate the significance of the motifs used. Several items in the guidelines for readers explain the relationship of these different elements and explicitly state that the decorative frames on the verso sheets are derived from stationery paper designs: The lines of poetry have all been woven into borders in the fashion of Xue Tao and Raven Threads, etc. . . . These brocaded borders were all created to accord with the figural images. For instance, for the scene “Taking liberties with Xuanhua,” the pattern “twining vine” was used; for “Bestowing a double-diamond knot,” “linked rings” was used. . . . Not one is inappropriate. Although one might say this is minor entertainment, its significance is actually deep.60 In the recto illustration for the first half of chapter thirty-two, we see a narrative scene of Emperor Yang in dishabille enjoying the company of four equally scantily clad young women; in the foreground a fifth woman is rushed to the emperor’s chamber on horseback, accompanied by four male attendants (fig. 3.14, right). The title of the scene, at lower left, is “Cinnabar pills extend spring”; the chapter describes how the emperor begins to take cinnabar because his sexual activities are sapping his strength. On the verso is a portion of the poem “Four Seasonal Grievances of the Border Government” by the tenth-century poet Lu Rubi 盧汝弼 (d. 923), here identified as Lu Bi (fig. 3.14, left). It reads: “In the middle of the night a fire appears—I know the enemy is here. /In a moment they completely encircle the Helan Mountains” 半夜火來知有敵,一時齊保賀 蘭山.61 The juxtaposition of a nighttime scene of sexual excess, the emperor surrounded by female partners, with the literary image of an encampment 60 My translation was aided by Nienhauser’s rendering of the same four items (“A Reading of the Poetic Captions,” 20–21) and by the translation of some material not included in Nienhauser’s abridged version by Ma Meng-ching in “Verbal and Visual Modes of Commentary.” Ma also translates the other items in the reader’s guidelines, omitted by Nienhauser, in her Appendix II. “Raven Threads” refers to letter paper with column lines in black (wusilan 烏絲欄). 61 This poem is included in Wei Hu, Caidiao ji, 142–43, where Lu Rubi’s name is given as Lu Bi. A biography of Lu can be found in Jiu Wudai shi 60.809.



Figure 3.14 Anonymous. Cinnabar pills extend spring. Sui Yangdi yan shi. 1631. H ca. 26 cm. Stanford University Library.

under attack is incongruous; it could be a purely satiric juxtaposition, but might also be read as a reference to the threat to the emperor’s health posed by his activities and to the imminent loss of his kingdom due, at least in part, to his self-indulgence. Framing the lines of poetry is a border of double lines enclosing blossoms interspersed with butterflies and bees; the caption at lower right reads “Bees clamor and butterflies cry” 蜂喧蝶嚷. Bees and butterflies attracted by flowers is a common metaphor for men’s sexual attraction to women, which here underscores the content of the recto scene. This layering of visual and poetic imagery to provide both illustration and commentary on the events of the book parallels the purpose of the novel itself, which, in Robert Hegel’s words, uses “the Sui as a metaphor for the crumbling Ming.”62 One can find numerous other printed texts from the seventeenth century that utilize such paired narrative and non-narrative images in a 62 For a discussion of the correspondences between events of the novel and the reign of the Wanli 萬曆 emperor of the Ming (r. 1563–1620), see Hegel, The Novel in SeventeenthCentury China, 91–103. My thanks to an anonymous reader who raised this point.


Chinese Decorated Letter Papers

similar fashion, although no others explicitly cite letter papers as the source for designs. Another use of the imagery of decorated letter papers to reference the act of letter-writing is found in a set of woodblock-printed illustrations for an edition of Xixiang ji 西廂記 (Record of the western chamber) published by Min Qiji 閔齊伋 (1580–after 1661) of Wucheng 烏程 (modern-day Huzhou), Zhejiang province, in 1640 or later. Besides the half-length portrait of the heroine Yingying, there are twenty leaves corresponding to the twenty acts of Wang Shifu’s 王實甫 (ca. 1250–1300) play.63 One of several leaves that use letter paper type designs is the ninth, which illustrates the penning of the hero Student Zhang’s first love note to Yingying, which is so admiringly described by the maid Crimson in the play (fig. 3.15). The imagery of the print is quite spare. On the right half of the folio page appears a partially unrolled paper scroll embellished with a decorative border of reserve wave and floral designs against a red ground, which frames six columns of neat characters, followed by two seals. These lines are taken directly from Wang’s play, but do not constitute the entire letter; rather, it is the poem appended to Zhang’s message that is quoted. On the left side of the composition is a carp rising out of water toward a bird in flight above, from whose feet dangle the ends of a ribbon—goose and fish—those conventional references to the delivery of letters. Drawing on motifs that refer to the delivery of letters across great distances by extraordinary means might seem hyperbolic for an illustration of the conveyance of a message by a maid-servant from one part of a temple compound, where most of the play takes place, to another. However, the carp and goose function not only as a pictorial sign that the text at right is epistolary, but also may be read as a reference to the omitted part of Zhang’s letter, the main body of which begins: “Since I have been separated from your mien, the geese have been rare, the scales have disappeared.” 自別顏範,鴻稀鱗絕.64 In this illustration, the illustrative modes of letter papers are the primary means for pictorial reference to the action of the play, suggesting a high degree of familiarity with this form of pictorial language on the part of the viewer.

63 All of the leaves except the portrait of Yingying are numbered. Edith Dittrich refers to the portrait as the twenty-first leaf, but presumably it would have served as the frontispiece to the illustrations, a practice we see in other illustrated texts of the period. Dittrich, “Ein frühes Album,” 33. See also the excellent study of these illustrations by Kobayashi, “Mindai hanga no seika,” 39. 64 Wang Shifu, Xixiang ji, 97; translated in Wang Shifu, The Story of the Western Wing, 195.


Figure 3.15


Min Qiji. Leaf 9 from Xixiang ji. Polychrome woodblock print. Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst Köln, Inv. Nr. R 62,1 (9). Photo: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv, rba_c021074.

The appearance of letter paper design catalogs and the apparent popularity of decorated letter papers and their distinctive pictorial language are only one aspect of an interest in epistolary practices in the late Ming and early Qing. In this period there is an increase in the publication of letters and letter-writing manuals and expanded opportunities for writers to see their correspondence in print. A deepening self-consciousness regarding the act of letter-writing would have drawn greater attention to the materials used in writing: brush, ink, inkstone, paper, etc. This is apparent in the appearance of woodblockprinted catalogs of such objects, greater numbers of texts which discuss and evaluate scholars’ accoutrements, in the greater prestige of artists who created these items, and the involvement of well-known painters and calligraphers in their design or manufacture. After the seventeenth century, synecdochal designs that obliquely reference historical anecdotes seem to have fallen out of favor. Letter papers continued to be graced with pictorial designs, sometimes of impressive size in relation to the paper surface, of a variety of subjects. Figures, which are seldom seen on letters of the seventeenth century or earlier, perhaps because of the practice of over-writing the image, became more popular in the nineteenth.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


While some of the designs that appear in the Shizhuzhai jianpu were created by painters working in Nanjing at the time, it is not clear if these images were created for letter papers or were first made for Hu Zhengyan’s manual of calligraphy and painting, Shizhuzhai shuhua pu 十竹齋書畫譜 (Ten Bamboo Studio guide to calligraphy and painting), and then appropriated for the letter paper catalog as well. In the twentieth century, however, well-known artists such as Qi Baishi 齊白石 (1864–1957) created designs for stationery papers and earlier artists’ work was copied by producers of papers, at the same time that there was a revival of interest in earlier letter paper designs.65 Bibliography Bai, Qianshen. “Chinese Letters: Private Words Made Public.” In The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection, edited by Robert E. Harrist, Jr. and Wen C. Fong, 381–99. Princeton: The Art Museum, Princeton University Press, 1999. Birrell, Anne, trans. New Songs from a Jade Terrace: An Anthology of Early Chinese Love Poetry. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1986. Chang, Chun-shu and Shelley Hsueh-lun Chang. Crisis and Transformation in Seventeenth-Century China: Society, Culture and Modernity in Li Yü’s World. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992. Chen Zuolin 陳作霖, ed. Jinling tongzhuan 金陵通傳. N.p.: Ruihua guan, 1904; rpt. Taipei: Chengwen chubanshe, 1970. Chuxue ji 初學記. Compiled by Xu Jian 徐堅 (659–729) et al. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1962. Dittrich, Edith. “Ein frühes Album chinesischer literarischer Farbenholzschnitte im Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst in Köln.” Beiträge zur Kunst Ostasiens, Mitteilungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens, vol. 48. Tokyo: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens, 1968. Duan Yong 段勇. Qianlong “Simei” yu “Sanyou” 乾隆〈四美〉與〈三友〉. Beijing: Zijincheng chubanshe, 2008. Fang Yizhi 方以智. Wuli xiaozhi 物理小識. Siku quanshu zhenben shiyi ji 四庫全書珍 本十一集, vols. 131–32. Taipei: Shangwu chubanshe, 1981. Gansusheng Wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo and Tianshuishi Beidaoqu wenhuaguan 甘肅省 文物考古研究所、天水市北道區文化館. “Gansu Tianshui Fangmatan Zhanguo Qin Han muqun de fajue” 甘肅天水放馬灘戰國秦漢墓群的發掘. Wenwu no. 2 (1989): 1–11, 31, color plates 1 and 2. 65 See, e.g., letter paper designs by Qi Baishi and after Huang Shen 黄慎 (1687–1772) in Lai, Chinese Decorated Letter-Paper, 104, 105, 134.



Guang yun 廣韻. Edited by Chen Pengnian 陳彭年 (961–1017) and Qiu Yong 邱雍. Taipei: Zhonghua shu ju, 1965. Guo Tingxun 過庭訓, comp. Ben (Ming) chao fensheng renwu kao 本(明)朝分省人 物考. Taipei: Chengwen chubanshe, 1971. Han shu 漢書. Compiled by Ban Gu 班固 (32–92). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1962. Hanan, Patrick. The Invention of Li Yu. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988. Harrist, Robert E., Jr. and Wen C. Fong, eds. The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection. Princeton: The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1999. Hegel, Robert E., Reading Illustrated Fiction in Late Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. ―――. The Novel in Seventeenth-Century China. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981. Hsiao Li-ling 蕭麗玲. “Yinyuxing de shengchan moshi: Shizhuzhai jianpu de bianji yuanze” 隱喻型的生產模式—《十竹齋箋譜》的編輯原則. Hanxue yanjiu 28.2 (2010): 57–86. ―――. “Xue Tao Stationery: Delivering Love for a Thousand Years.” Southeast Review of Asian Studies 33 (2011): 160–68. “Hubei Yunmeng Shuihudi shiyi zuo Qin mu fajue jianbao” 湖北雲夢睡虎地十一座 秦墓發掘簡報. Wenwu 9 (1976): 51–62, plates 1, 6–7. Hucker, Charles O. “The Tung-lin Movement of the Late Ming Period.” In: Chinese Thought and Institutions, ed. John K. Fairbank, 132–62. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1957. Jin shu 晉書. Compiled by Fang Xuanling 房玄齡 (578–648). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974. Jiu Wudai shi 舊五代史. Compiled by Xue Juzheng 薛居正 et al. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju chubanshe, 1977. Kim, Hong-nam. “Chou Liang-kung and his ‘Tu-hua-lu’ (Lives of Painters): PatronCritic and Painters in Seventeenth Century China.” PhD diss, Yale University, 1985. Kobayashi Hiromitsu 小林宏光. “Mindai hanga no seika: Kurun shiritsu Tōa bijutsukan shozō Sūtei jūsan nen (1640) kan Min Seiki Seishō ki hanga ni tsuite” 明代版畫 の精華-ケルン市立東亞美術館所藏崇禎十三年(1640)刊閔齊伋本西廂記 版畫につイて. Kobijutsu 85 (1988): 32–50. Kuroda Genji 黑田源次 and Okada Isaburō 岡田伊三次郎. Shina kohanga zuroku 支那古版畫圖錄. Tokyo: Bijutsu Konwakai, 1932. Lai, T. C. Chinese Decorated Letter-Paper. Kowloon, Hong Kong: Swindon Book Co., 1978. Li Yu 李漁. Xianqing ouji 閒情偶寄. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2000. Li Zhao 李肇. Hanlin zhi 翰林志. Baichuan xuehai 百川學海, 2. N.p.: Yiwen yinshuguan, n.d.

Chinese Decorated Letter Papers


Liang Ying 梁颖. “Manhua caijian (san)” 漫話彩箋 (三). Shoucangjia 135.2 (2008): 36–40. ―――. Chidu fengya: Ming Qing caijian tulu 尺素風雅:明清彩箋圖錄. Jinan: Shandong meishu chubanshe, 2010. Li ji zhushu 禮記注疏. In Shisanjing zhushu 十三經注疏. Compiled by Ruan Yuan 阮元 (1764–1849). Taipei: Yiwen yinshuguan, 1955. Lin, Li-chiang.“The Proliferation of Images: The Ink-Stick Designs and the Printing of the Fang-shih mo-p’u and the Ch’eng-shih mo-yüan.” PhD diss., Princeton University, 1998. Little, Stephen. “Notes on Zou Zhilin.” Artibus Asiae 54.3–4 (1994): 327–46. Ma Meng-ching. “Verbal and Visual Modes of Commentary in the Sui Yang-ti Yen shih.” Unpublished paper, Stanford University, June 16, 1995. ――― 馬孟晶. “Sui Yangdi yanshi de tushi pingdian yu wan Ming chuban wenhua” 《隋煬帝豔史》的圖飾評點與晚明出版文化. Hanxue yanjiu 28.2 (2010): 7–56. Miao Quansun 繆荃孫. Yun zi zai kan biji 雲自在堪筆記. Guxue hui kan 古學彙刊, section 56, vol. 9. Shanghai: Guocui xuebaoshe, 1912. Ming shi 明史. Compiled by Zhang Tingyu 張廷玉 et al. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974. Nienhauser, William H., Jr. “A Reading of the Poetic Captions in an Illustrated Version of the ‘Sui Yang-ti Yen-shih’.” Hanxue yanjiu 6.1 (1977): 17–35. Pan Jixing 潘吉星. Zhongguo zaozhi jishu shi gao 中國造紙技術史稿. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1979. ―――. “Zhongguo gudai jiagong zhi shi zhong: Zhongguo gudai zaozhi jishu shi zhuanti yanjiu zhi wu” 中國古代加工紙十種-中國古代造紙技術史專題研 究之五. Wenwu 2 (1979): 38–48. Platt, Stephen R. Provincial Patriots: The Hunanese and Modern China. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. Qi Gong 啓功 and Shen Peng 沈鵬. Song Jin Yuan shufa 宋金元書法. Zhongguo meishu quanji: Shufa zhuanke pian 中國美術全集:書法篆刻篇, vol. 4. Beijing: Renmin meishu chubanshe, 1986. Qimin yaoshu 齊民要術. Compiled by Jia Sixie 賈思勰. N.p.: Zhong zixue mingzhu jicheng bianyin jijinhui, 1977. Quan Tang shi 全唐詩. Edited by Peng Dingqiu 彭定球. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1960. Shu Chao 書巢. “Ji moshu sizhong” 記墨書四種. Wenwu 6 (1979): 72–75. Song Huizong Zhao Ji shu Cai Xing chi 宋徽宗趙佶書蔡行勅. Hong Kong: Shupu she, 1976. Su Bai 宿白. Tang Song shiqi de diaoban yinshua 唐宋時期的雕版印刷. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1999. Su Shi 蘇軾. Jingjin Dongpo wenji shilue 經進東坡文集事略. Beijing: Wenxue guji kanxing she, 1957.



Tan Weisi 譚維四. Zeng hou Yi mu 曾侯乙墓. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2001. Tsien, Tsuen-hsuin. Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology, part I: Paper and Printing. Cambridge: University Press, 1985. ―――. Written on Bamboo and Silk. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Wang Bomin 王伯敏. Zhongguo banhua shi 中國版畫史. Shanghai: Renmin meishu chubanshe, 1961. Wang Shifu 王實甫. The Story of the Western Wing, trans. Stephen H. West and Wilt L. Idema. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. ―――. Xixiang ji 西廂記. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1978. Watson, Burton, trans. The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968. Wei Hu 韋穀. Caidiao ji 才調集. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1993. Wen xuan 文選. Compiled by Xiao Tong 蕭統 (501–531). Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1986. Wright, Suzanne E. “Hu Zhengyan: Fashioning Biography.” Ars Orientalis 35 (2008): 129–54. ―――. “Visual Communication and Social Identity in Woodblock-Printed Letter Papers of the Late Ming Dynasty.” PhD diss., Stanford University, 1999. Yang, Zhiyi. “Dialectics of Spontaneity: Art, Nature, and Persona in the Life and Works of Su Shi (1037–1101).” Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 2012. Yutai xinyong 玉臺新詠. Compiled by Xu Ling 徐陵. Beijing: Zhongguo shudian 1986. Zhang Tiexian 张鐵弦. “Cong shujian tandao shijian” 從書簡談到詩箋. Wenwu 1 (1961): 34–37. Zhang Wei. The Four Treasures: Inside the Scholar’s Studio. San Francisco: Long River Press, 2004. Zhong Xing 鐘惺. Ru mian tan 如面談. Shanghai: Zhongyang shudian, 1936. Zhongguo shuji daguan 中國書蹟大觀, vol. 6. Edited by Shanghai bowuguan 上海博 物館. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1988–89. Zhou Lianggong 周亮工. Shuying zelu 書影擇錄. Meishu congshu 美術叢書, vol. 1: 241–50. Nanjing: Jiangsu guji chubanshe, 1986.

chapter 4

Material and Symbolic Economies: Letters and Gifts in Early Medieval China* Xiaofei Tian This essay examines a group of letters in early medieval China, specifically from the turn of the third century and from the early sixth century, about gift giving and receiving. Gift-giving is one of the things that stand at the center of social relationships across many cultures. “The gift imposes an identity upon the giver as well as the receiver.”1 It both produces social relationships and affirms them; it establishes and clarifies social status, displays power, strengthens alliances, and creates debts and obligations. This was particularly true in the chaotic period following the collapse of the Han empire at the turn of the third century, often referred to as the Jian’an 建安 era (196–220), after the reign title of the last Han emperor. At such a time of social disintegration, gift-giving practices—along with feasting, a powerful social institution that brought people together and reinforced the values of fellowship and civility—constituted material and symbolic exchanges that fostered bonds, rebuilt hierarchical structures and reconstituted the community. Modern gift theory was largely initiated by anthropologist Marcel Mauss (1872–1950) in the early twentieth century, and has subsequently become a subject of interdisciplinary inquiry in fields as diverse as anthropology, sociology, economics, folklore, history, and literary theory. The greatest contribution of Mauss was to situate the apparently simple exchange of gifts within a complicated network of social rules and obligations and to show that reciprocity is a key aspect of gift-giving, which operates as a process of exchange and circulation.2 Derrida extends the idea of reciprocity and argues that, since all * The draft of this paper was read at the Workshop “Letter Writing and Epistolary Culture in China” at the University of Colorado at Boulder in August 2012 and, in part, at the Medieval Workshop at Rutgers University in May 2013. I thank the participants of the workshops and my discussant at the Medieval Workshop, Professor Meow Hui Goh, for questions and comments. 1  Schwartz, “The Social Psychology,” 2. 2  Mauss’s most famous work is Essai sur le Don, Forme et Raison de l’Échange dans les Sociétés archaïques, translated by Ian Cunnison into English as The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���5 | doi ��.��63/9789004292123_006



gifts implicate the recipient in social obligations, a true gift must not appear as a gift, or it would not be a gift at all: “For there to be gift, there must be no reciprocity, return, exchange, countergift, or debt.”3 Derrida’s argument about the impossibility of the gift draws attention to the gift’s aggressive nature: in that it implicitly demands a return, a gift is just like an insult or a blow. Indeed, sometimes a gift itself serves as an insult: in the early third century, the minister of the Shu-Han kingdom, Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181–234), once sent the gift of female clothes to his nemesis Sima Yi 司馬懿 (179–251), the Wei commander, in a desperate effort to challenge Sima Yi to military action; Sima Yi’s refusal to fight proved the best return gift because it matched Zhuge Liang’s present in its ill intention.4 To study gift-giving is therefore to study the process of exchange and circulation in which an object takes on additional value, economic or symbolic or both, besides its use value. The exchange of letters in many ways evokes the exchange of gifts. To address a letter to someone implicitly carries with it a request for timely response and reciprocation, and epistolary conventions create a complex system of rules and constraints that define and maintain social relations. Furthermore, a letter itself is also a material object. As Antje Richter states in her ground-breaking study of epistolary culture in early medieval China, “The materiality of letters is more pronounced than that of many other genres.”5 This fact is particularly important in the case of a famous calligrapher whose handwriting is prized for its aesthetic and commercial value.6 In a well-known story, the statesman Xie An 謝安 (320–385) deliberately wrote his reply in the blank end space of a letter from Wang Xianzhi 王獻之 (344–386), a celebrated calligrapher, and sent it back to Wang to show that he did not care to preserve Wang’s calligraphy, to Wang’s chagrin.7 This story underlines the physical nature of a letter and highlights the resemblance of the presentation of a letter to that of a gift. Thus, exchanging letters regarding giving and receiving a gift constitutes yet another 3  Derrida, Given Time, 12. 4 Sanguo zhi 3.103. The anecdote originally appears in Sun Sheng’s 孫盛 (302–73) Weishi Chunqiu 魏氏春秋, cited in Pei Songzhi’s 裴松之 (372–451) commentary to Sanguo zhi. In analyzing Gawain and the Green Knight, Britton J. Harwood remarks that “with insults, reciprocal blows, and gifts, the recipient controls not only the nature but the timing of the return.” Harwood, “Gawain and the Gift,” 487. 5  Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 17. 6  For a description of the emergence and subsequent prevalence of this phenomenon in early medieval China, see the section on “Calligraphy and Letter Writing” in Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 23–26. 7  The anecdote can be found, among other early sources, in Zhang Huaiguan’s 張懷瓘 (fl. early 8th c.) Shu duan 書斷, which was completed in 724. Lidai shufa lunwen xuan, 205.

Material and Symbolic Economies


layer of object transference, one that delimits and accentuates the symbolic significance of gift exchange. In the letters discussed in this essay, the transaction between letter writer and letter recipient happens on both the material and discursive level. The letters constitute a verbal and material economy that is closely tied to the production of value of the circulated objects, and enable a new balance to be established between donor and recipient. The presence of the letters gives nuances to and even defines the gifts, and infinitely complicates the concept of reciprocity in gift exchange as initially proposed by Marcel Mauss. 1

The Gift of Death and Life

Like any social action, the general significance of gift giving must be instantiated in specific contexts. The symbolic nuances of a gift vary in different situations, and letters accompanying gifts are often essential for the correct interpretation of the gifts. In this section I focus on a pair of letters exchanged between Cao Cao 曹操 (155–220), the powerful warlord, and Yang Biao 楊彪 (142–225), an eminent senior minister, as well as a pair of letters exchanged between Cao Cao’s wife, Lady Bian 卞 (159–230), and Yang Biao’s wife, Lady Yuan 袁.8 As we will see, the letters of the gift givers are not only crucial for the receivers to decipher the meaning of the gifts but also constitute a gift in themselves that requires proper encoding. Yang Biao was from an old elite family that had occupied prestigious official positions in the Han court for generations. Seeing that Cao Cao had become the sole power-holder at the court and the days of the Han dynasty were numbered, Yang Biao had retired under the pretext of frail health in 206. His son Yang Xiu 楊修 (d. 219), however, served on Cao Cao’s staff. Because of his impressive family background and outstanding talent, Yang Xiu was eagerly sought after by Cao Cao’s sons, Cao Pi 曹丕 (187–226) and Cao Zhi 曹植 (192– 232), who competed fiercely with each other to be Cao Cao’s chosen heir and tried to gain personal influence by winning the allegiance of worthy men. In 8  The letters are preserved in juan 10 of Gu wen yuan 古文苑, a Tang/Song anthology of preTang literature. For a recent study of the making of Gu wen yuan, see Wang Xiaojuan, Gu wen yuan lungao. Fragments of Cao Cao’s letter are also seen in Sui, Tang, and Song encyclopedias such as Beitang shuchao 北堂書鈔, Chuxue ji 初學記 and Taiping yulan 太平御覽. The letters are preserved in an abbreviated form in Yin Yun’s 殷芸 (471–529) Xiaoshuo 小說, an anecdotal collection that is lost and has been reconstituted from various works. Yin Yun Xiaoshuo, 91–93.



217, Cao Cao, already enfeoffed as King of Wei by the Han emperor, designated Cao Pi as the Crown Prince. Two years later, concerned that Yang Xiu’s intelligence and his friendship with Cao Zhi might cause political instability, Cao Cao had Yang Xiu executed.9 After Yang Xiu’s execution, Cao Cao sent a number of lavish gifts to Yang Biao and his wife along with the following letter.10 Cao lets you know: I share with you, sir, the great principle within the four seas. 足下不遺 You, sir, did not abandon me, 以賢子見輔 and sent your worthy son to assist me. 比中國雖靖 Lately, although the Central Plains have been appeased, 方外未夷 the distant regions are not yet pacified. 今軍征事大 The current military affairs are grave matters, 百姓騷擾 and the common folk are not at ease. 吾制鐘鼓之音 I set the tone of bells and drums, 主簿宜守 which my administrators should observe. 而足下賢子恃豪父之勢 And yet, relying on the influence of his powerful father, 每不與吾同懷 your worthy son frequently went against my wishes. 即欲直繩 I had wanted to regulate him with law, 顧頗恨恨 but found it too regrettable. 謂其能改 I had hoped that he would change his ways, 遂轉寬舒 but he only grew increasingly lax. 復即宥貸 If I should have forgiven him again, 將延足下尊門大累 he would have caused your honorable clan great trouble. 便令刑之 So I had him executed. 念卿父息之情 When I think of a father’s love for his son, 同此悼楚 I share your parental grief. 亦未必非幸也 Nevertheless, this is not necessarily a misfortune for you, sir. 操白 與足下同海內大義

9   Sanguo zhi 19.558–560. 10  “Yu taiwei Yang Biao shu” 與太尉楊彪書, Gu wen yuan 10.81. Quan Sanguo wen 3.1070. For modern annotations, see Cao Cao ji yizhu, 184–85; Cao Cao ji zhu, 174–76.

Material and Symbolic Economies


Now I present you, sir, with two brocade coats, 八節銀角桃杖一枚 an eight-section peach wood staff with silver inlaid handle, 青氈床褥三具 three sets of blue felt beddings, 官絹五百匹 five hundred bolts of government silk, 錢六十萬 six hundred thousand cash, 畫輪四望通幰七香車一乘 a four-windowed curtained carriage made of seven aromatic woods with painted wheels, 青牸牛二頭 two black cows, 八百里驊騮馬一匹 one fine eight-hundred-league steed, 赤戎金裝鞍轡十副 ten sets of copper-decorated saddles and reins made of crimson flannel, 鈴眊一具 one tapestry with hanging bells, 驅使二人 and two servants. 並遺足下貴室 I also present your esteemed wife with 錯綵羅縠裘一領 one many-colored robe of thin gauze, 織成靴一量 one pair of brocatelle boots, 有心青衣二人 and two thoughtful maids 長奉左右 who will remain in her service. 所奉雖薄 Although my gifts are insignificant, 以表吾意 they are meant to convey my sentiments. 足下便當慨然承納 I ask you, sir, to accept them generously 不致往返 and spare the messenger from going back and forth. 今贈足下錦裘二領

If the rich gifts described in the letter had been sent without this letter, they most likely would have been construed as a gesture of consolation and placation, an expression of feelings of guilt on Cao Cao’s part and his attempt to compensate for the taking of Yang Xiu’s life, but the presence of the letter greatly complicates the picture. The letter opens with the assertion that he, Cao Cao, shares with Yang Biao “the great principle within the four seas.” What the “great principle” might be is anyone’s guess—the modern annotators take it to refer to Cao Cao and Yang Biao’s common vassalage to the house of the Han,11 and that might very well be the case, as Cao Cao kept up the appearance of being a subject to the Han emperor all his life. Rhetorically, the assertion places Yang and Cao on the same side, which is also the righteous side. This makes it difficult for Yang 11  Cao Cao ji yizhu, 185.



to oppose Cao on ideological grounds. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the word “share” (tong) appears three times in the letter: the first time is in this assertion, and the third time is when Cao claims he shares Yang Biao’s grief as a father. These gestures of accord, sympathy, and pacification are, however, undercut by the ominous threat, not so thinly veiled, in the main body of the letter. Just as the second time Cao uses the word “share” is to denounce Yang Xiu for going against his wishes (bu yu wu tong huai, lit. “not sharing my concerns”), he intimates that any failure to “share” Cao Cao’s concerns leads to dire consequences. In the letter, Cao Cao describes the contemporary political situation as a precarious one. Under such circumstances, it is all the more important for his staff to strictly follow the orders of their leader, and any recalcitrance is understood not only as personally disrespectful to Cao Cao himself but also as implicitly endangering to the state. “And yet, relying on the influence of his powerful father, Your Lordship’s worthy son frequently went against my wishes.” To attribute Yang Xiu’s delinquency to a misplaced family pride and his reliance on an influential father is an important rhetorical move, for it directly connects Yang Xiu’s transgressions with Yang Biao himself. The inherent menace of such a claim is unmistakable. After stressing his forgiveness of Yang Xiu’s past offenses, Cao Cao declares: “If I should have forgiven him again, he would have caused Your Lordship’s honorable clan great trouble. So I had him executed.” Cao Cao turns everything around by showing Yang Biao how he has done him an enormous favor by executing his son. In order to drive the lesson home, Cao Cao reiterates it in no ambiguous terms: “this,” he says, “is not necessarily a misfortune for Your Lordship.” What follows is a list of lavish gifts for Yang Biao and his wife. It is worth noting that the gift of six hundred thousand cash is discreetly inserted in the middle of the inventory of clothes, carriage, horse, servants, and so on and so forth; as a result, even the monetary gift takes on the aura of an “object” for use in daily life like other things and loses some of its crassness. Nevertheless, the gift list raises the question of value: how much, after all, could be considered an adequate compensation paid to the parents for the taking of their son’s life? The answer is, obviously, nothing—or at least nothing of economic value. But Cao Cao’s letter makes it clear that the real gift he bestows on Yang Biao is the gift of life: by executing Yang Biao’s wayward son, Cao Cao has saved Yang Biao himself and his entire clan.12

12 The extermination of an offender’s whole clan was not an uncommon punishment, and indeed Cao Cao himself was known to mete out such punishment to his enemies, a fact that must have added weight to his words of intimidation. See Sanguo zhi 1.44, 1.53.

Material and Symbolic Economies


In this case, it is evidently not possible, nor desirable, for Yang Biao to reciprocate Cao Cao’s gifts in any material form. The principle of reciprocity nevertheless holds true. In some ways, Cao Cao’s material gifts—money, clothes, horse, carriage, and other things—are return gifts for Yang Biao’s initial, equally physical gift of his “worthy son,” who, as Cao suggests at the beginning of the letter, was sent to Cao by Yang Biao himself. The material objects transferred from Cao Cao to Yang Biao are payment given as reparation for services and loss of life. But Cao’s letter constitutes a gift in a more immaterial form, which places Yang Biao under the obligation to acknowledge and give back something similar in nature to complete the gift-giving sequence. Yang Biao’s reply letter, as we will see, proves to be an adequate return gift. The two letters are placed side by side below to demonstrate the perfect symmetry between Cao Cao’s letter and Yang Biao’s reply.13 彪 白 。 雅 顧 隆 篤 , 每 蒙 接 納 ,  私自光慰。. Cao lets you know: I share with you, sir, Biao lets you know. You favor me the great principle within the four seas. deeply and sincerely. As I frequently have the honor of being received by you, I feel flattered and comforted in my heart. 小兒頑鹵,謬見采錄,不能期 效,以報所愛。 You, sir, did not abandon me, and sent My humble son was disobedient and your worthy son to assist me. dim-witted; he had been selected and appointed by mistake. I could not expect him to accomplish anything to repay those who loved him. 方 今 軍 征 未 暇 , 其 備 位 匡 政 ,  當 與 戮 力 一 心 , 而 寬 玩 自 稽 ,  將違法制。 Lately, although the Central Plains have The current military affairs are been appeased, the distant regions are extremely busy. As he was made not yet pacified. The current military to fill in a position and assist your

13  “Da Cao gong shu” 答曹公書, Gu wen yuan 10.81. Quan Hou Han wen 51.756.

142 affairs are grave matters, and the common folk are not at ease. I set the tone of bells and drums, which my administrators should observe. And yet, relying on the influence of his powerful father, your worthy son frequently went against my wishes.

I had wanted to regulate him with law, but found it too regrettable. I had hoped that he would change his ways, but he only grew increasingly lax. If I should have forgiven him again, he would have caused your honorable clan great trouble. So I had him executed.


governance, he should have been of one mind with you. Instead, he was lax and careless in regulating himself, and violated laws and rules.

相子之行,莫若其父,恆慮小 兒必致傾敗。足下恩恕,延罪 迄今。 In observing and evaluating a son’s behavior, no one is better than his father. I had always worried that my son would one day meet with downfall. You, sir, had graciously tolerated him and postponed his punishment until now.

近聞問之日,心腸酷裂,凡人 情誰能不爾。深惟其失,用以 自釋。 When I think of a father’s love for On the day when I heard the news, his son, I share your parental grief. my heart was rent in pieces. This, I Nevertheless, this is not necessarily a am afraid, is human nature; who misfortune for you, sir. would not feel the same? All I can do is to reflect deeply on his wrongdoing and by this means console myself.

Now I present you, sir, with two brocade coats, an eight-section peach wood staff with silver inlaid handle, three sets of blue felt beddings, five hundred bolts of government silk, six hundred thousand cash, a four-windowed curtained carriage made of seven aromatic woods with painted wheels, two black cows,

所惠馬及雜物,自非親舊,孰 能至斯。 As for the horse and other miscellaneous things you presented me with, only relatives and old friends would do so much.

Material and Symbolic Economies


one fine eight-hundred-league steed, ten sets of copper-decorated saddles and reins made of crimson flannel, one tapestry with hanging bells, and two servants. I also present your esteemed wife with one many-colored robe of thin gauze, one pair of brocatelle boots, and two thoughtful maids who will remain in her service. 省覽眾賜,益以悲懼。 Although my gifts are insignificant, they As I examine the various gifts you are meant to convey my sentiments. I have bestowed on me, they only ask you, sir, to accept them generously increase my sorrow and apprehension. and spare the messenger from going back and forth. In his reply, Yang not only responds to Cao point by point, but also elaborates on each statement made in Cao’s letter while following strictly, to borrow Cao’s musical metaphor, the “tone” set by Cao. To Cao’s reconciliatory remark about sharing the “great principle within the four seas,” he responds by expressing gratitude for Cao’s favor and reception. To Cao’s reference to Yang Xiu as his “worthy son,” he responds by describing Yang Xiu as “disobedient and dim-witted.” He echoes verbally Cao’s description of the contemporary political situation, and basically declares that Yang Xiu deserved his punishment. While Cao criticizes Yang Xiu for failing to share his concerns (tong huai), he agrees that Yang Xiu should indeed have been “of one mind” (yi xin) with Cao. He recognizes Cao’s “gracious tolerance” of Yang Xiu’s faults, and admits to feeling pain over his execution. His apologetic remark, “This, I am afraid, is human nature; who would not feel the same?” reverberates Cao’s comment on “a father’s love for his son,” but this remark is immediately followed by his admission of Yang Xiu’s wrongdoing, an act of reason to counteract the natural overflow of fatherly grief. As opposed to the detailed itemizing and description of the gifts in Cao’s letter, however, Yang Biao reduces the long list to a brief mention of “the horse and other miscellaneous things,” an understatement becoming his status as a senior minister from an old noble family. And yet, he shows his acute awareness of the symbolic value of the objects and his understanding of Cao Cao’s “sentiments,” of which the objects are a mere sign, by saying that the gifts “only increase my sorrow and apprehension.” In short, Yang Biao’s reply gives Cao



Cao exactly what he wants and expects: an acknowledgement of the power imbalance between them and of total submission. Cao Cao’s gifts to Yang Biao, like the gifts given out by Merovingian and Carolingian kings and nobles, were meant to placate and subdue, and must be treated “as a category of power and as a political strategy.”14 Without his accompanying letter, however, the gifts might simply be regarded as compensation for a life taken and/or an expression of guilt. Cao Cao’s letter makes it clear that guilt is certainly not a part of the “sentiments” which he wishes to convey. Instead, he demonstrates to Yang Biao both his good will by giving lavish material gifts and the potentially dire consequences of rejecting his good will by bestowing the most costly gift of all: the gift of life. To refuse the material things would thus mean rejecting the gift of life that comes along with them. Yang Biao understands this well and duly fulfills the obligations Cao Cao’s giving creates in him: he accepts the gifts, and writes a reply letter affirming his submission as a gesture of reciprocation. It is intriguing to observe another pair of letters exchanged between Cao Cao’s wife, Lady Bian, and Yang Biao’s wife, Lady Yuan, under the same circumstances. The central question to be considered here is why it is apparently acceptable for Lady Yuan to reject Lady Bian’s gifts. Once again, the letters play a vital role in bringing out the meaning of the sending and refusing of the gifts. Lady Bian’s letter is as follows:15 Bian knocks her head on the ground. Your esteemed family did not abandon us, And your worthy son assisted in the governance of the state. 每感篤念 I was always moved by such profound concerns 情在凝至 And felt immensely grateful. 賢郎盛德熙妙 Your worthy son possessed bright and marvelous virtue, 有蓋世文才 And was endowed with a literary talent matchless in the world. 闔門欽敬 My entire family admired and respected him, 寶用無已 And treasured his service endlessly. 方今騷擾 The political situation today is turbulent, 卞頓首 貴門不遺 賢郎輔佐

14  Curta, “Merovingian and Carolingian Gift Giving,” 677. 15  “Yu Yang Biao furen Yuan shi shu” 與楊彪夫人袁氏書, Gu wen yuan 10.82. Quan Sanguo wen 12.1120.

Material and Symbolic Economies


And the army is frequently deployed. The Recorder was like his lord’s arms and legs,16 And in planning for military campaigns, He should respectfully consult his superior. The gong and drum beat has been publically established, 而聞命違制 And yet he disobeyed an explicit order. 明公性急忿然 His Lordship, who has a short temper, was provoked to anger, 在外輒行軍法 And applied military punishment immediately in the army outside. 卞姓當時亦所不知 I did not know anything about it when it happened; 聞之心肝塗地 Then, upon hearing the news, my heart was broken. 驚愕斷絕 Shocked and grieved to no end, 悼痛酷楚 I felt such an incredible sadness 情自不勝 That it was unbearable. 夫人多容 You, madam, have a large heart, 即見垂恕 And deign to forgive me. 故送衣服一籠 Thereupon I present you with a case of clothes, 文絹百匹 A hundred bolts of patterned silk, 房子官錦百斤 A hundred catties of government brocade from Fangzi,17 私所乘香車一乘 My personal carriage made of aromatic wood, 牛一頭 As well as an ox. 誠知微細 I certainly know these gifts are very humble, 以達往意 But they are meant to convey my sentiments. 望為承納 I hope you, madam, will agree to accept them. 戎馬屢動 主簿股肱近臣 征伐之計 事須敬咨 官立金鼓之節

Lady Yuan’s reply letter reads:18 彪袁氏頓首頓首

Biao’s wife, Yuan, knocks her heard on the ground repeatedly.

16  Yang Xiu was serving as Recorder on Cao Cao’s staff at the time of his execution. 17  “Brocade” ( jin 錦) should be emended to “cotton” (mian 綿). Fangzi (in modern Hebei) was famous for its high-quality cotton in the Han. 18  “Da Cao gong furen Bian shi shu” 答曹公夫人卞氏書, Gu wenyuan 10.82. Quan Hou Han wen 96.991.



Although the distance between us is short, I have not visited you for a long time. I suffer from longing for you, My pent-up feelings piling like mountains. Lord Cao has rectified and saved the world; Places near and far all rely on him for peace. People within the four seas turn to him for protection, 莫不感戴 And there is nobody who is not deeply grateful. 小兒疏細 My humble son was careless and shallow; 謬蒙采拾 He had been chosen for office by mistake. 未有上報 Indeed, he was unable to repay the favor 果自招罪戾 And only got himself in trouble. 念之痛楚 When I think of this, I am so pained 五內傷裂 That my inner organs are wounded and torn. 尊意不遺 You do not abandon me, 伏辱惠告 And stoop to write me about it. 見明公與太尉書 I have already seen His Lordship’s letter to the Grand Marshall,19 具知委曲 So I am well acquainted with the details. 度子之行 In evaluating a son’s behavior, 不過父母 No one is better than his father and mother. 小兒違越 My humble son transgressed by disobeying orders 分應至此 And received the punishment he deserved. 憐其始立之年 I only pity him for having ended his life 畢命埃土 When he was just turning thirty years old,20 遺育孤幼 And for having left behind a fatherless young child. 言之崩潰 Even as I speak of it, I am breaking down. 明公所賜已多 His Lordship has already bestowed many gifts on us, 又加重賚禮 To which you now add so much more. 頗非宜荷受 It is not appropriate for me to accept them. 輒付往信 I have asked the messenger to take them back.21 路跂雖近 不展淹久 歎想之勞 情抱山積 曹公匡濟天下 遐邇以寍 四海歸仰

19  Yang Biao was Grand Marshall, one of the “Three Dukes,” a prestigious title with little actual power. 20  According to Sima Biao’s 司馬彪 (243–306) Xu Han shu 續漢書, cited in the Hou Han shu commentary, Yang Xiu was forty-four years old (forty-five by Chinese reckoning) when he died. Hou Han shu 54.1789. 21  In punctuating the last four lines of the letter, I have followed Zhou Lengjia rather than Yan Kejun. See Yin Yun Xiaoshuo, 92–93.

Material and Symbolic Economies


Compared with her husband’s letter to Yang Biao, Lady Bian’s letter is much more conciliatory in tone, praising Yang Xiu’s abilities and expressing sadness for his death. While she does defend the justice of Cao’s decision and her phrasing of the current military situation echoes Cao’s own, she is also apologetic about his “short temper,” hinting that if she had known in time, she might have tried to do something to help. The gifts she offers, consisting of clothes, textiles, and most notably her own carriage, are less extravagant compared with Cao’s gifts but more “feminine” and personal. Lady Yuan’s reply largely constitutes a mirror image of Lady Bian’s letter. If Lady Bian praises Yang Xiu and conveys regrets about Cao Cao’s temper, then she unsurprisingly eulogizes Cao Cao’s accomplishments and affirms that Yang Xiu did deserve his punishment. In contrast with the more restrained epistles of Cao Cao and Yang Biao, her letter lays stress on the emotional aspect of the incident, lamenting Yang Xiu’s premature death and his orphaned son; and yet, the intensely emotive tone is in sync with Lady Bian’s open expression of feelings. However, by refusing the gifts, Lady Yuan rejects Lady Bian’s attempt to create a social bond between the two of them. It is interesting to see how Lady Bian delineates a space for herself as an independent person, however delusional it might be, by distancing herself from her husband (“he has such a temper”; “I had no idea that he did that”; and “yes he sent gifts, but these gifts are mine”). Lady Yuan, on the other hand, defines herself entirely as Yang Biao’s wife and Yang Xiu’s mother: she refers to herself as “Biao’s wife, Yuan,” instead of simply “Yuan;” she reveals that Yang Biao has shared Cao Cao’s letter with her; she states that “no one knows [Yang Xiu] better than his own father and mother,” By doing so, she manages to escape from being drawn into a friendship “between the girls.” Again, power is at the roots of the issue. In describing gift giving practice in medieval Iceland, William Ian Miller observes that gift giving “gave rise to social relations and adjusted the status of the parties in relation to each other. The giver gained prestige and power from the exchange. He exacted deference from the receiver and obliged him to reciprocate.”22 By turning down Lady Bian’s gifts and emphasizing the prematurity of her son’s death, Lady Yuan denies Lady Bian the satisfaction of mollifying her guilty conscience, refuses to put herself in personal debt to Lady Bian and to be dominated, and insists on the irrevocable nature of her loss. Ultimately, of course, all this is acceptable only because they happen in the women’s quarters, the more private and personal world “inside,” in contrast with the “outside” mentioned in Lady Bian’s letter and represented by Yang Biao’s interaction with Cao Cao. 22  Miller, “Gift, Sale, Payment, Raid,” 23.



One final point to make about Lady Yuan’s letter is a philological one embroiled with ideological implications. The last four lines of her letter could be easily punctuated as follows: 明公所賜已多 又加重賚 禮頗非宜 荷受輒付往信

His Lordship has already bestowed many gifts on us, To which you now add so much more. It is not quite right in terms of propriety. Upon receipt, I have asked the messenger to take them back.

That is, instead of reading li 禮 as “gift” at the end of the second line, we could read li as “[according to or in terms of] ritual propriety” at the beginning of the third line; and instead of reading he shou (to accept) at the end of the third line, we could read it as “[upon] receipt” at the beginning of the fourth line. If we adopt this reading, the tone of the letter is much more austere, even on the edge of being disrespectful, as Lady Yuan alludes to the ritual improperness of Lady Bian’s gift giving (in contrast, the other reading stresses the impropriety of the acceptance of the gifts). Since classical Chinese texts have no punctuation marks, it is up to the reader to punctuate a text according to her interpretation. The ambiguity of Lady Yuan’s phrasing further complicates the power struggle implicit in gift giving, and demonstrates the crucial role played by letters in the signification of the gifts. 2

Give and Take: Cao Pi’s Gift Politics

During the waning years of the Han dynasty, in a world torn apart by war, famine and plague, the foremost task facing a political leader was to rebuild the community and gather people around himself. Cao Cao and his sons were intent on collecting resources, both material and symbolic, in the form of people and objects. In the previous section we discuss Cao Cao and Lady Bian’s gift-giving; in this section we will examine another set of letter and object transactions initiated by their son, Cao Pi, beginning with an instance in which Cao Pi is the receiver of a gift. According to Wei lüe 魏略, Cao Pi learned that Zhong You 鍾繇 (151–230) had a valuable jade in his possession and coveted it; when Zhong heard of this, he gave the jade to Cao Pi, who subsequently wrote a letter to thank Zhong for his generosity.23 The letter, usually dated to 215, turns out to be a fascinating 23  Wei lüe, a history of Wei written by Yu Huan 魚豢 (fl. 3rd c.), is no longer extant. This incident and the letter are cited in Pei Songzhi’s Sanguo zhi commentary. See Sanguo

Material and Symbolic Economies


demonstration and performance of political power. Both father and son were masters of making use of words as political strategies, but unlike Cao Cao, who spoke with the assurance of someone in charge when writing to Yang Biao, Cao Pi had to contend with the uncertainty of his own status at the time of writing to Zhong You. With his characteristic reflectiveness and delicateness, Cao Pi produces a verbally and psychologically intricate document. Effectively incorporating the classical and literary tradition, he crafts a voice that is both artful and human in its all too palpable desires and its aspiration to authority. 丕白 Pi lets you know: 良玉比德君子 A fine jade is compared to the virtue of a noble man; 珪璋見美詩人 Precious jade ritual vessels are eulogized by the Shi poet. 晉之垂棘 The jade from Chuiji of Jin, 魯之璵璠 The yufan jade of Lu, 宋之結綠 The Congealed Green of Song, 楚之和璞 And He’s Jade of Chu:24 價越萬金 Their prices exceed ten thousand gold pieces; 貴重都城 They are more valuable than great cities. 有稱疇昔 They were commended in the past, 流聲將來 And their reputation extends into the future. 是以垂棘出晉 Therefore when the Chuiji jade left Jin, 虞虢雙禽 The domains of Yu and Guo both fell;25

zhi 13.396. The letter is also included in Wen xuan 文選, compiled by Xiao Tong 蕭統 (501–531), with some variants. “Yu Zhong dali shu” 與鍾大理書, Wen xuan 42.1899–1900. Also see Quan Sanguo wen 7.1088. See David R. Knechtges’ essay, “Letters in the Wen xuan,” in this volume. 24  “He’s Jade” is named after its discoverer, Bian He from Chu. Bian He found an uncut jade and presented it to the king of Chu, who had his jade craftsman look at it; the craftsman declared it to be a worthless piece of rock, and the king subsequently had Bian He’s foot cut off as a punishment for lying to the king. When the king died, Bian He presented the jade to his successor; the same happened, and Bian He lost his other foot. When the third Chu king was enthroned, Bian He held the jade and wept for days and nights until the king sent someone to cut open the stone and find a priceless jade inside. This jade later was owned by the King of Zhao (see below). 25  The domain of Jin was undertaking a military campaign against the domain of Guo, and offered its Chuiji jade to the domain of Yu as an exchange for giving the Jin army access to Guo. The ruler of Yu agreed against his minister’s advice; after conquering Guo, the Jin army on its way back took Yu as well. Zuo zhuan 12.199, Duke Xi, 2nd year.



和璧入秦 相如抗節

When He’s Jade entered Qin, Xiangru remained steadfast to principle.26

Opening with allusions to the Classics, the letter immediately brings out the symbolic meaning of the material object being transferred, and draws the reader’s attention to the political consequences of the misplacement of a gift of jade. The Wen xuan commentator Li Shan 李善 (d. 689) identifies the first line of the letter as a reference to Li ji 禮記: “Confucius said, ‘A noble man’s virtue is compared to jade,’ ”27 and the second as a reference to a Shijing 詩經 couplet: “Gentle and dignified, / like jade ritual vessels.”28 While a commentator like Li Shan often only singles out the one line or couplet that bears directly on the text being annotated, the entire text surrounding that one line or couplet would have resonated with a well-educated reader from the third century. The Shijing poem from which the couplet is taken, “Juan E” 卷阿, is taken by the Mao school of Shijing commentary to be Duke Shao’s advice to the young King Cheng of Zhou to seek worthy men and employ them.29 While such exact contextualization is doubtful, in this case the poem itself does allude to the “many admirable officers” of the king, and so justifies a political reading of the poem. Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127–200), an older contemporary of Cao Pi and one of the most influential early commentators on Shijing, takes “gentle and dignified” (yongyong ang’ang 顒顒卭卭) as the qualities of a ruler; indeed, the Han dictionary Erya 爾雅 glosses yongyong ang’ang as descriptive of “the virtue of a king.”30 The intimate relation of a precious jade to the ruler, not to his advisors no matter how admirable they are, is not an insignificant issue. Its importance is borne out by the story associated with the second of the four famous jades of the past listed in Cao Pi’s letter, namely the yufan jade of Lu. According to Zuo zhuan 左傳, the yufan jade was customarily carried by the rulers of Lu, but the powerful minister Ji Pingzi 季平子 (d. 505 BCE) wore the jade when he was acting as regent; after Ji Pingzi died, his retainer Yang Hu 陽虎 wanted to bury 26  The King of Qin coveted the famous “He’s jade” of Zhao and offered to exchange fifteen cities for it. the Zhao minister Lin Xiangru took the jade to Qin, but knowing the King of Qin was being insincere in his offer of exchange, he secretly sent someone to smuggle the jade out of Qin and back to Zhao. Shi ji 81.2439–2441. 27  Wen xuan 42.1899; Li ji 48.1031. 28  Mao shi 17.628. 29  Mao shi 17.626. 30  Er ya 3.57.

Material and Symbolic Economies


the jade with him, but was opposed by Zhongliang Huai 仲梁懷. Zhongliang Huai’s rationale was simple: the yufan jade belonged to the ruler; now that a new ruler was established, the jade should go to the new ruler instead of following Ji Pingzi, a minister, underground.31 A highly symbolic ritual object like jade must be kept in the right hand, otherwise the consequences could be disastrous, as illustrated by the example of the domain of Yu that was destroyed because it became greedy for the Chuiji jade, the state treasure of the domain of Jin, or, in the case of the ambitious Qin that tried to seize the illustrious “He’s jade,” the king of Qin set out to swindle but only wound up being swindled. The physical properties of a precious jade resemble the virtue of a “noble man,” who exerts rightful ownership over the jade because of this material/spiritual affinity. The “noble man” ( junzi 君子) is literally “the son of a lord,” the archaic meaning of the term junzi. Cao Pi was certainly worthy of such an appelation by virtue of his birth and his father’s status. The very enumeration of the four famous jades of the past in Cao Pi’s letter subtly conveys to Zhong You the message about rightful ownership, as the verbal structure echoes another letter in history—the one written by Fan Sui 范睢 to King Zhao of Qin (r. 306–251 BCE). Fan Sui, still a humble commoner at the time, is trying to persuade the king to give him an audience. He compares worthy men (such as himself) to precious jades that have been overlooked by good craftsmen before being recognized for what they truly are: Besides, I have heard that Zhou has Di’e, Song has Congealed Green, Liang has Xuanli, and Chu has He’s Jade. These four treasures came from the earth and were all misrecognized by fine craftsmen; but in the end they turned out to be famed vessels of the world. This being the case, might not those abandoned by sage kings bring profit to a state? 且臣聞周有砥砨,宋有結綠,梁有縣藜,楚有和朴,此四寶 者,土之所生,良工之所失也,而為天下名器。然則聖王之所 弃者,獨不足以厚國家乎? 32 Presumably, however, what really moved King Zhao is the remark immediately following the above passage, which makes a jab at the noble lords holding too much power at the expense of the king’s interest. This remark, slyly inserted in the middle of Fan Sui’s letter, would certainly strike a chord with King Zhao, 31  Zuo zhuan 55.958, Duke Ding, 5th year. 32  Shi ji 79.2405.



who was contending with his powerful uncle and brothers for control over the state. I have heard that those who are good at profiting one’s household take from the state, and that those who are good at profiting the state take from the noble lords. When a wise ruler presides over the world, then the noble lords are unable to monopolize profit. Why is this? It is because they would have taken from the ruler’s glory. 臣聞善厚家者取之於國,善厚國者取之於諸侯。天下有明主則 諸侯不得擅厚者,何也?為其割榮也。 Both worthy men and precious jades—a figure of the worthy men—must become the possession of the ruler; only an unwise ruler would allow his courtiers to take for themselves what should belong to the ruler alone. This much is made clear by Fan Sui’s letter to the King of Qin—and through borrowing, echoing, and extending the classical and literary tradition, by the opening passage of Cao Pi’s letter to Zhong You. Then Cao Pi turns to speak of his own lack, and the desire borne out of the lack, in implicit contrast with Zhong You’s possession of the jade: 竊見玉書稱美玉 I have seen beautiful jade described in a book on jade:33 白如截肪 “The white ones are like sliced fat; 黑譬純漆 The black ones are like pure lacquer; 赤擬雞冠 The red ones may be compared to the crest of a rooster; 黃侔蒸栗 The yellow ones equal the color of steamed chestnut.” 側聞斯語 Though I have heard of such, 未睹厥狀 I have never actually witnessed it.

33  I suspect “a book on jade” ( yu shu 玉書) should read “Wang’s book” (Wang shu 王書), the characters for yu and wang resembling each other closely. “Wang’s book” would be a reference to the first-century scholar Wang Yi’s 王逸 work entitled Zhengbu lun 正部 論, which was lost in the 6th c. See Sui shu 34.998. A fragment quoted in the early Tang encyclopedia Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚 reads: “Someone asks me about the standard for jade. I reply, ‘The red ones are like the crest of a rooster; the yellow ones are like steamed chestnut; the white ones are like pork fat; the black ones are like pure lacquer. This is the standard for jade’ ” 或問玉符,曰:赤如雞冠,黃如蒸栗,白如豬肪,黑如純漆,玉 之符也. Yiwen leiju 83.1428.

Material and Symbolic Economies


It is interesting to observe how desire is fanned by reading, with the textual “seeing” and the real-life “witnessing” paired off in contrast. Textual knowledge laid out in sensuous detail precedes actual knowledge, and acts as a powerful inducement to seek out the latter. 雖德非君子 義無詩人 高山景行 私所仰慕 然四寶邈焉已遠 秦漢未聞有良比也 求之曠年 不遇厥真 私願不果 飢渴未副

Although my merit is not that of a noble man, And I lack the qualities of a shi poet, A high mountain and a great thoroughfare Are what I have always admired and looked up to. However, those four treasures are already distant, And I have never heard of a good match for them in Qin and Han. I had been seeking it for many years, But never encountered its true form. My private desire remained unfulfilled, My hunger and thirst were never satisfied.

“A high mountain and a great thoroughfare” is another allusion to a Shijing poem, in this case the poem “Ju xia” 車舝, a poem that is traditionally interpreted as an officer’s expression of joy at the prospect of obtaining a beautiful and virtuous bride for his king. The phrase is taken from the last stanza of the poem, and, in a convoluted interpretation typical of the Han commentators, is understood as a metaphor for the virtue of the ancients admired by the king once the king comes under the influence of his virtuous queen.34 What deserves notice is that, through the use of such a phrase, Cao Pi once again creates a direct relation between jade and virtue, and reiterates the symbolic meaning of a precious jade through deliberate echoes of the classical tradition. More importantly, he places himself in the position of political authority such as that of a king, and the apparently modest claim—“Although my virtue is not that of a noble man”—produces, by way of negation, the very parallel between Cao Pi himself and a noble man figured as a precious jade. The Shijing poem speaks of the desire for a beautiful bride; Cao Pi’s passage cited above speaks of his desire for a beautiful jade. Both desires are articulated in the framework of “virtue.” Cao Pi’s phrasing throughout this passage echoes not only the Shijing poem seeking a worthy mate but also the political discourse of seeking worthy advisors. The keyword linking the material, erotic, and political spheres is the phrase “hunger and thirst.” Noticeably, the Shijing poem contains a couplet: “It was not hunger or thirst I felt; / I longed 34  Mao shi 14.484.



for an encounter with [her] virtuous words” 匪饑匪渴, 德音來括. The couplet is ambiguous as to the exact rhetorical function of the phrase “hunger and thirst”: Zheng Xuan proposes that even though the officer was hungry and thirsty while fetching the beautiful bride for his king, he did not feel hungry or thirsty because he was so keen to bring her back.35 Alternatively, “hunger and thirst” could also be regarded as a metaphor for the desire for the virtuous and beautiful bride. The use of the phrase “hunger and thirst” to describe the ruler’s desire for worthy men is not at all uncommon in contemporary political discourse. Zhang Hong 張紘 (151–211), a southerner who had served under Cao Cao for some time, states in his letter to his son that the longing of a wise ruler for worthy men is “like hunger and thirst.”36 Ying Yang 應瑒 (d. 217), in a poem composed at a banquet given by Cao Pi, exhorts his colleagues to respect their positions in order to “answer your [Cao Pi’s] concerns of hunger and thirst.”37 In Cao Pi’s own discussion of Emperor Wen of the Han, he describes the Han emperor as follows: “Emperor Wen’s eager desire for worthy men was stronger than hunger and thirst; his employment of them was speedier than going with the current.”38 When Cao Pi’s desire for a beautiful jade is described in the same terms, the jade takes on a symbolic value much higher than its material value. While Fan Sui compares a worthy man to a (figurative) beautiful jade, Cao Pi is comparing a (real) beautiful jade to a worthy man. There are some further twists and turns in Cao Pi’s final attainment of the object of his desire. According to Wei lüe, when Cao Pi heard of the jade in Zhong You’s possession, “he wanted to have it, but found it hard to speak of it publicly, so he asked the Marquis of Linzi in private to convey his wish to Zhong You through someone else.”39 Here is Cao Pi’s version of the event: 近日南陽宗惠叔 Lately, Zong Huishu of Nanyang mentioned that40 稱君侯昔有美玦 Your Lordship had once come into possession of a fine jade ring. 35  Mao shi 14.484. 36  Quan Hou Han wen 86.941. 37  Ying Yang, “Attending at a Gathering Held By the Leader of Court Gentlemen for Miscellaneous Uses at Jianzhang Terrace” (Shi wuguan zhonglang jiang Jianzhang tai ji 侍五官中郎將建章臺集). Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 360. 38  Quan Sanguo wen 8.1098. 39  Sanguo zhi 13.396, cited in Pei Songzhi’s commentary. The Marquis of Linzi refers to Cao Zhi. 40  Zong has a variant, Song 宋, in Yiwen leiju.

Material and Symbolic Economies


I was both surprised and overjoyed upon hearing of this, 笑與抃會 And I clapped my hands in laughter. 當自白書 I should have written you in person, 恐傳言未審 But I was worried that hearsay might not be accurate, 是以令舍弟子建 Therefore I asked my younger brother Zijian 因荀仲茂時從容喻鄙旨 To convey my sentiments through Xun Zhongmao at leisure. 乃不忽遺 You did not neglect my wish, 厚見周稱 But satisfied it most generously. 鄴騎既到 When the rider came from Ye 寶玦初至 And the precious jade ring first arrived, 捧匣跪發 I held the case with both hands, straightened up my back while on my knees to open it— 五內震駭 My five inner organs were shocked and stunned, 繩窮匣開 For as the rope was unfastened and the case opened up 爛然滿目 A brilliance filled my eyes. 猥以蒙鄙之姿 I, with my ignorant and base demeanors, 得睹希世之寶 Was able to see a treasure rare to find in the world, 不煩一介之使 Without troubling a single emissary, 不損連城之價 Without paying the price of many cities. 既有秦昭章臺之觀 While I possess the view enjoyed by King Zhao of Qin on Zhang Terrace, 而無藺生詭奪之誑 I never needed to perform Master Lin’s deceptive snatching. 聞之驚喜

Cao Pi describes his reception of the jade with much theatricality. His initial reaction to the information about the jade—laughing, clapping—might be very physical, even loud, but is nothing compared to his reaction upon actually seeing the jade. To straighten up one’s back while sitting (i.e., being on one’s knees) is a gesture that indicates great attention and/or respect. In sharp contrast with the sensuous language of colors and images used to describe beautiful jades earlier in the letter, he says nothing about the physical appearance of this jade; instead, the only term he uses is lanran, “brilliant,” a term depicting light. The rhetorical effect thus created is striking, as this jade is elevated to



a level of ethereal beauty far above the norm of precious jades, and Cao Pi is apparently so dazed and overwhelmed by its splendor that he loses his ability for words. This prompts us to revisit his earlier remark that he had been seeking for years without encountering the “true form” (zhen 真) of a precious jade: the term, zhen, is the same term that is used to indicate immortal beings. The phrase, “the rope was unfastened and the case opened up,” on a verbal and structural level evokes a sentence from Shi ji that is so famous for the scene it depicts that it has become a common saying in Chinese: “The King of Qin opened the map; when the map was unrolled to its end, the dagger appeared” 秦王發圖,圖窮而匕首見.41 This is of course the scene of the King of Qin—later the First Emperor of Qin—receiving the map of the rich land that was given to Qin as a gift from the King of Yan, but the gift-bearer, Jing Ke 荊軻, turned out to be an assassin who made a failed attempt on King of Qin’s life. The verbal echo in Cao Pi’s letter is no doubt meant to be humorous and ironic. Nevertheless, it draws attention to the common issue of desire and power underlying the receipt of gifts in both cases. Cao Pi’s modest claim about his “ignorant and base demeanors” is undercut by his self-alignment with yet another Qin ruler, King Zhao, who was none other the recipient of Fan Sui’s letter cited earlier. What deserves note is Cao Pi’s changing reference to the role played by Lin Xiangru 蔺相如 in the recovery of He’s Jade: earlier in the letter, Cao Pi praises Lin Xiangru for remaining “steadfast to principle;” but now he portrays Lin Xiangru’s recovery of the jade in a negative light (“deceptive snatching”). It seems that in describing his own coming into possession of Zhong You’s jade, Cao Pi is wavering between identifying himself with King Zhao of Qin and with Lin Xiangru. The desire to represent himself as a ruler prompts him to choose the former identification, albeit (as he emphatically points out) without having to use the former’s ruses and pay his price, even though the claim that he did not have to deploy a single emissary contradicts the fact that he had indeed deployed not one, but two emissaries—Cao Zhi and Xun Zhongmao. And yet, his reference to Lin Xiangru, the crafty protector of “He’s Jade” against the Qin, seems to bespeak his anxiety about the manner in which he acquires Zhong You’s jade. With this rhetorical conflict unsolved, Cao Pi brings his letter to an end. As if to forestall any accusation that he has “deceptively snatched” Zhong’s jade, he stresses its nature as a “bountiful gift”—in other words, something freely given; he also presents Zhong with a return gift.

41  Shi ji 86.2534. The common saying is tuqiong bixian 圖窮匕見.

Material and Symbolic Economies

嘉貺益腆 敢不欽承 謹奉賦一篇 以讚揚麗質 丕白


Your bountiful gift is rich and magnificent, How dare I not receive it with deference? Now I respectfully present you with a poetic exposition, In order to praise its beautiful substance. Pi lets you know.

Only a fragment of Cao Pi’s poetic exposition ( fu) on the jade is still extant.42 The fragment is quite striking and deserves to be included here: 有昆山之妙璞 There is a marvelous uncut jade from the Kunlun Mountain, 產曾城之峻崖 produced under the steep cliffs of the Tiered Wall.43 嗽丹水之炎波 It is washed in the fiery waves of the Cinnabar River, 蔭瑤樹之玄枝 and shaded by the black boughs of the Jasper Tree.44 包黃中之純氣 Holding within the pure aura of the Yellow Center,45 抱虛靜而無為 it embraces empty quietude and non-action. 應九德之淑懿 Corresponding to the beauty of the Nine Virtues, 體五材之表儀 it embodies the manifestations of the Five Elements.46 The jade is praised for its celestial origin from the mythical land, a statement that corresponds to the indication in the letter that the jade transcends the standard precious jade of the mortal world. More importantly, the jade is shown to incorporate four colors: it is washed in the “Cinnabar River” and shaded by the “black boughs” of the Jasper Tree; the Yellow Center is a term for the human heart, the center of the five inner organs that is believed to correspond to the yellow “Earth” element of the Five Elements. Finally, the color white is implied in the Daoist statement about “empty quietude and non-action,” evoking a phrase from Zhuangzi: “An empty chamber gives rise to whiteness [i.e., a bright light]” 虛室生白.47 Thus the four colors of white, black, red, and yellow, each 42  Yiwen leiju 67.1186. 43  Kunlun Mountain is the legendary dwelling place of immortal beings and the Tiered Wall is its highest peak. 44  Many rivers are known as the Cinnabar River. See Shanhai jing, 16, 25, 27, 41, 90. Jasper Tree grows on the Kunlun Mountain. Huainanzi 4.133. 45  The “Yellow Center” refers to the heart, which, according to the theory of five elements and five colors, occupies the center and thus belongs to the element of earth and possesses the color of yellow. 46  There are various theories of what the Nine Virtues are. The Five Elements are: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. 47  Zhuangzi jishi 2.150.



of which characterizes an individual jade in the book on jade Cai Pi has read, all find their expression in one single jade that embodies completeness and ultimate perfection. Zhong You loses his jade but acquires a literary representation of his jade as a return gift. He knows, however, that the real gift from Cao Pi is something else. His reply makes his gratitude quite clear. I once had the honor, of which I was completely unworthy, to serve near the throne, and was given this penannular jade ring. The elders from the Directorate for Imperial Manufactories, who were familiar with objects from old times, commended its pattern and texture, and predicted that it would eventually find its rightful place. However, I thought Your Highness must have far more precious jades in your possession, so I held it in contempt and did not present it to you. It is my fortune that Your Highness should lower yourself to express approval of it, which truly delighted me. In the past, Mr. He was solicitous and thoughtful, loyal and honest; I, on the other hand, had to wait for your instruction first [before presenting the jade to you], and for this reason I feel deeply ashamed. 昔忝近任,并得賜玦。尚方耆老頗識舊物,名其符采,必得處 所。以為執事有珍此者,是以鄙之,用未奉貢。幸而紆意,實 以悅懌。在昔和氏殷勤忠篤,而繇待命,是懷愧恥。 While Cao Pi makes generous use of the classical and literary tradition in speaking of jade, Zhong You only cites the story of Bian He 卞和. The ability to appreciate a beautiful jade and a worthy man are connected explicitly in the Bian He story, and the latter ability is a defining quality of a wise ruler. Thus Zhong You is implicitly acknowledging Cao Pi as a good ruler for his acuity of perception; he also apologizes deeply for his own failure as a subject, who should have presented the jade sooner without prompting. What is most remarkable about this letter is the fact that Zhong You is thanking Cao Pi for taking his jade. We must not regard this as a mere rhetorical flourish. The jade had been completely obscure while it was in Zhong You’s possession, and after it was transferred to Cao Pi, it fell into oblivion again; for a brief moment, however, during its transition from one owner to another, it shone forth with the dazzling brilliance created by Cao Pi’s letter. Without Cao Pi’s letter, we would never have known anything about the jade or about Zhong You’s one-time ownership of the jade. Paradoxically, Zhong’s ownership is only manifested through the very loss of his possession, as Cao Pi has made Zhong You the owner of the jade by taking it from him and expressing, in a

Material and Symbolic Economies


well-crafted letter, his gratitude for the “gift.” Cao Pi’s desire for the jade also produces a surplus value inscribed on the material object that is brought out by his letter. In other words, Cao Pi’s letter augments the value of the jade by many times its original worth, whatever it had been. Georg Simmel (1858–1918), the German sociologist, accentuates the psychological aspect of economic exchange by stating, Exchange takes place not for the sake of an object previously possessed by another person, but rather for the sake of one’s own feeling about an object, a feeling which the other previously did not possess. The meaning of exchange, moreover, is that the sum of values is greater afterward than it was before, and this implies that each party gives the other more than he had himself possessed.48 This aptly describes the exchange taking place between Cao Pi and Zhong You. With its symbolic value, beautiful jade figured as worthy man would ultimately contribute to the expansion of Cao Pi’s political capital. Cao Pi needed to gather and collect, and thus to end the circulation of a precious object—or a talented man—by possessing it/him; a good example is his competition with his brother Cao Zhi for “possession of” Handan Chun 邯鄲淳.49 As Fan Sui’s letter to King Zhao of Qin suggests, hoarding is good for the prince but bad for the courtier. And yet, the prince must also balance the economy by bestowing gifts. As the medievalist A. J. Gurevich argues, “Generosity is an inseparable trait of the monarch,” who must distribute his wealth to retain “social influence.”50 While costly material gifts, land and titles are no doubt necessary, the prince’s gifts do not have to always possess a high economic value as long as they possess a high symbolic value. Among Cao Pi’s many extant missives to Zhong You, two are gift letters: in one case, he gave Zhong You a bouquet of chrysanthemum flowers; in another case, a “Five-Tastes Cauldron.” In each case the letter is crucial for foregrounding the symbolic value of the gift. The chrysanthemum letter is translated as follows:51

48  Simmel, “Exchange,” 44. 49  Wei lüe, cited in Pei Songzhi’s commentary, Sanguo zhi 21.602. The verb used for Cao Zhi’s asking for Handan Chun’s service is to “seek” (qiu 求), the same term used by Cao Pi for jade in his letter. 50  Gurevich, Categories of Medieval Culture, 252, 249. 51  “Jiu ri yu Zhong You shu” 九日與鍾繇書, Yiwen leiju 4.84.



Years and months come and go, and suddenly it is the ninth day of the ninth month again. “Nine” is a yang number; now that both month and day happen to correspond to it, people cherish the name [of the “Double Ninth”] and believe it contributes to permanence.52 For this reason imperial banquet and sumptuous parties are held on this day. This month matches the musical pitch of “No Emergence,” which means that none of the various trees and plants come out and grow.53 And yet, the sweet-smelling chrysanthemum alone blooms profusely. If not for holding within the pure harmony of heaven and earth, and embodying the gentle energy of fragrant virtue, how else could this be? Of old, when Qu Ping lamented his gradual aging, he longed to ingest the fallen blossoms of autumn chrysanthemum.54 For sustaining one’s body and prolonging one’s life, nothing is more precious than this flower. I respectfully present you with a bouquet to help with the method of Pengzu.55 歲往月來,忽復九月九日。九為陽數,而日月並應。俗嘉其 名,以為宜於長久,故以享宴高會。是月律中無射,言羣木庶 草無有射而生。至於芳菊,紛然獨榮。非夫含乾坤之純和,體 芬芳之淑氣,孰能如此?故屈平悲冉冉之將老,思食秋菊之落 英。輔體延年,莫斯之貴。謹奉一束,以助彭祖之術。 The ingestion of chrysanthemum flowers is supposed to contribute to health and longevity. The gift of chrysanthemum flowers on the “Double Ninth” conveys Cao Pi’s good wishes for Zhong You. Cao Pi also invests the flowers with symbolic meaning, evoking the metaphorical value of the flower as a figure of virtue in the poem “Li sao” attributed to Qu Ping, better known as Qu Yuan. While Qu Yuan is supposedly lamenting his alienation from an unwise king in the “Li sao,” Cao Pi inserts himself in the position of a wise ruler who knows how to treat his worthy ministers. The Five-Tastes Cauldron is a ritual vessel divided into five segregated sections, with each section reserved for cooking one flavor. After Cao Pi was named heir by Cao Cao, Zhong You presented the mould of a Five-Tastes Cauldron to 52  That is, “nine” ( jiu 九) puns with “permanence” ( jiu 久). 53  “The pipe of the ninth month is called ‘Wu she.’ ‘She’ means emergence. ‘Wu she’ means that at the time the yang energy all rises up and myriad things are withdrawn and no longer come out” 九月之管名為無射,射者出也, 言時陽氣上升,萬物收藏無復 出也. Jin shu 22.679. 54  This refers to a passage from the poem “Li sao” 離騷 attributed to Qu Yuan 屈原 (Qu Ping). 55  Pengzu was famous for his legendary longevity.

Material and Symbolic Economies


Cao Pi, who subsequently had a cauldron made on the mould and gave the cauldron to Zhong You with the following letter.56 In the past, the Yellow Emperor had three tripods, and the Zhou had nine precious cauldrons; but they each had only one body that was used to produce one flavor. How could they compare to this fu vessel that allows five flavors to emit aromas simultaneously? Cooking in a tripod is to feast the heavenly god above and to nourish the sage and worthy. In illuminating virtue and soliciting blessings, nothing could be more marvelous. Therefore, only a Grand Man can produce such a vessel, and only such a vessel is suitable for great virtue. Now this marvelous fu even exceeds the beauty of a tripod. The Zhou minister in charge, Kaofu of the state of Song, Kong Kui of Wei and Wei Ke of Jin: these four courtiers had had their names carved on bells and tripods on account of their eminent achievements and virtue. Your Highness respectfully serves the Great Wei to augment the sagely transformation of the common folk. When it comes to magnificent virtue, none could compare with you. This is truly what the Chamberlain for Ceremonials should write an inscription for and have it carved on the sacrificial vessels in the ancestral temple. Therefore I have composed this inscription and had it carved on the mouth of the fu. I hope it will be able to give adequate praise of your great merit and immortalize it. 昔有黃三鼎,周之九寶,咸以一體使調一味,豈若斯釜,五味 時芳?蓋鼎之烹飪,以饗上帝,以養聖賢,昭德祈福,莫斯之 美。故非大人,莫之能造;故非斯器,莫宜盛德。今之嘉釜,  有逾茲美。夫周之尸臣,宋之考父,衞之孔悝,晉之魏顆,彼 四臣者,並以功德勒名鍾鼎。今執事寅亮大魏,以隆聖化。堂 堂之德,於斯為盛。誠太常之所宜銘,彝器之所宜勒。故作斯 銘,勒之釜口,庶可贊揚洪美,垂之不朽。 This letter bears a remarkable similarity to Cao Pi’s jade letter in its rhetorical strategies, most notably its evocation of the classical and literary tradition, and its enumeration of examples from the past serves only to accentuate the superiority, completeness, and perfection of the present object. The tone of the letter is, however, much more confident and straightforward. Although the “Great Wei” was still a feudal fiefdom rather than a dynasty at the time of writing, Cao Pi, the newly designated heir apparent, was already speaking from 56  “Zhu wu shu fu cheng yu Zhong You shu” 鑄五熟釜成與鍾繇書, Sanguo zhi 13.394–395.



the position of imperial authority, this time not nearly so subtly as in his jade letter. 3

A Man of Taste

The last two letters cited in the previous section both have to do with food: chrysanthemum, rather than an object of aesthetic appreciation, is meant to be ingested; the Five-Tastes Cauldron, like all the impressive bronze tripods from the classical period, is basically a cooking utensil, considered in modern Chinese pop culture to be the ancestor of the “hot pot.” Unlike his father Cao Cao, Cao Pi tried to represent himself as a man of refined taste, in food, drink, and clothes. It was not just a matter of personal difference, but also a matter of different political situation. Cao Cao, who himself came from a less than illustrious background, was eager for the endorsement of old families such as Yang Biao’s;57 but in a time of political instability and civil war, the service of talented people, regardless of their social status, was much more important to him. If the old families did not support him, he would not hesitate to use brutal force. His decision to execute Kong Rong 孔融 (153–208), an eminent member of the elite and the twentieth-generation descendant of Confucius, was a good example of his policy.58 He also issued several famous directives about seeking talented men regardless of their moral standing.59 As a dynasty founder ruling over a unified and stabilized north China, Cao Pi needed prestige and the backing of old families more than his father did; contending with the kingdom of Wu in the southeast and the kingdom of Shu in the southwest, he needed to also establish political legitimacy and cultural superiority—the two being regarded one and the same—over his rivals. What Cao Pi sought was a cultural aura, the aura of a “noble man” ( junzi). He prized himself on being a man with discernment, not just in the sense of recognizing worthy men, but also in the sense of possessing a sophisticated taste in literary, sartorial, and culinary matters. One way of establishing himself as an authority in such matters was to liberally offer appraisal of literary writings, clothes, food, and drink. Cao Pi’s attempt to represent himself as a judge of literary talents is best manifested in his “Discourse on Literature” (Lun wen 論文), which has been well translated

57  Cao Cao’s father, Cao Song 曹嵩 (d. 193), was the adopted son of a eunuch. Sanguo zhi 1.1. 58  Sanguo zhi 12.370–73. 59  Sanguo zhi 1.32, 44.49.

Material and Symbolic Economies


and discussed.60 His statement on sartorial and culinary tastes is less known and deserves to be quoted here: Only someone from a family of gentry for three generations understands clothes; only someone from a family of gentry for five generations understands food and drink. This just goes to show how difficult it is to know anything about clothes, food, and drink. 三世長者知被服,五世長者知飲食,此言被服飲食難曉也。 61 In a propaganda war, Cao Pi repeatedly issued directives to his courtiers criticizing the foods and textiles of Shu and Wu. Gift exchange between the states became an occasion for flaunting wealth and power as well as disparaging one’s enemy states for their inferior products and poor taste. In these cases, gift giving was indeed “a form of surrogate warfare,” in which each side tried to impress and overcome the enemy state with competitive gift giving.62 In a banquet poem entitled “Grand” (Shanzai xing 善哉行), Cao Pi speaks of bountiful food and beautiful music being brought forth for his enjoyment.63 大酋奉甘醪 狩人獻嘉禽 齊倡發東舞 秦箏奏西音 有客從南來 為我彈清琴 五音紛繁會 拊者激微吟 淫魚乘波聽 踴躍自浮沈 飛鳥翻翔舞 悲鳴集北林

The Grand Steward offered sweet ale; The Royal Huntsman presented excellent fowl. Qi entertainers performed eastern dances, A Qin harp gave forth the tunes of the west. A guest came from the south And played the clear zither for me. The five notes were conjoined in abundance, The one who strummed it stirred a faint chant. Sturgeons were riding the waves to listen, They leapt up, diving and rising to the surface. Birds in flight danced, soaring around, They sang touchingly, roosting in the northern grove.

We notice that music is proffered from all four directions: the eastern dances, the tunes of the west, the zither-player from the south, and finally, the singing 60  “The Discourse on Literature,” included in the Wen xuan, is excerpted from a much longer treatise on literature in Cao Pi’s work known as Normative Discourses (Dian lun 典論). For a translation and discussion, see Owen, Readings in Chinese Literary Thought, 57–72. 61  Yiwen leiju 67.1187. Quan Sanguo wen 6.1082. 62  Curta, “Merovingian,” 698. 63  Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 393.



birds in the northern grove. This effectively situates the poet himself in the center—the fifth direction—to which bounties flow from all around. The concept of the five directions, with the corresponding Five Phases, was a part of the Han cosmology that was inseparable from political philosophy and state ideology, and represented the mapping of the Han empire’s geography. The center is where political authority lies; in positioning himself at the center, Cao Pi takes advantage of the geographical location of the Wei on the traditional “Central Plains” (i.e., Chinese heartland in the Yellow River region) and repeatedly stresses in his writings, either explicitly or implicitly, the status of the Wei as the Central Kingdom (Zhongguo). This is clearly seen in Cao Pi’s gift letters to Sun Quan 孫權 (182–252), the ruler of Wu, as well as in his communications addressed to his courtiers disparaging the local products of Wu and Shu. Cao Pi’s gifts to Sun Quan were all chosen with care. In a number of letter fragments, we learn that he had sent Sun Quan one piebald horse, one white marten coat, five cakes of “rock honey,” and a thousand abalones.64 Whether these gifts were sent all at once is questionable, but considering the authority and power assumed in sending gifts to the head of a state, they seem to have all been sent after Cao Pi succeeded to Cao Cao or was enthroned as emperor. We will leave aside the piebald horse for the time being and examine the marten coat, the “rock honey,” and the abalones—in other words, gifts of clothes and food. Marten (hun 鼲) is popularly known as the “gray squirrel” (hui shu 灰鼠); it most likely refers to the sable, a marten species that inhabits the forest in northern China and other places across the northern hemisphere such as Mongolia and Siberia. Although sables are primarily brown in color, individuals may have a patch of fur on the throat that can be gray, white or pale yellow. A white sable coat is rarer and more valuable than a brown sable coat, but more importantly, it is an aggressively northern gift. “Rock honey” likewise 64  The letter fragments are preserved in different places in Taiping yulan. See Taiping yulan 694.3230 (horse and marten coat), 857.3941 (rock honey), and 938.4301 (abalone). Probably because all three fragments mention Zhao Zi 趙咨 as the messenger, Yan Kejun pieced them together into one missive. Quan Sanguo wen 7.1090. However, we do not know how many trips were undertaken by Zhao Zi and if the gifts were given to Sun Quan all at once. Wu li 吳歷, a historical work written by Hu Chong 胡沖 (fl. 243–80) and cited in Pei Songzhi’s commentary to Sanguo zhi, states that in the spring of 222, Sun Quan reported to Cao Pi that he had won a great military victory over Liu Bei 劉備 (161–223), the ruler of Shu; as a reward, Cao sent to Sun Quan “a marten fur coat, a set of ‘Bright Light’ armor and horse(s),” and “he also had his Normative Discourses as well as his poetry and fu copied out on silk and sent to Quan.” Sanguo zhi 47.1125.

Material and Symbolic Economies


is marked by its geographical associations. It is cane sugar, which originated from India but came to China through the Silk Road. The Chinese term “rock honey” might have been a translation of the Sanskrit word śarkarā, which has the meaning of gravel, grit, and pebbles, and is referred to as the “rock honey of the Western Kingdoms” 西國石蜜.65 While the Wei was well positioned geographically to carry on trade relations with Central Asian states, the Wu would not have been able to do so easily. The case of abalone is intriguing. The History of the Southern Dynasties (Nan shi 南史) records the following story about Chu Yuan 褚淵 (435–82), a prominent Southern aristocrat:66 At the time, the land to the north of the Huai River belonged to [Wei],67 and there was no abalone in the south. Occasionally it made its way to the south, and a single piece was worth several thousand cash. Someone once gave Yanhui [i.e., Chu Yuan’s style name] thirty pieces of abalone. Though Yanhui was eminent, he lived in poverty, and one of his retainers suggested that he sell the abalone, saying, “You could get a hundred thousand cash that way.” Yanhui’s face dropped and replied, “I regard this as food, not as a commodity; I had no idea they could be exchanged for money. I have accepted the gift begrudgingly; now, even though I am not well-to-do, how can I sell food for money!” He shared the abalone with his relatives and friends and ate them up in no time. 時淮北屬[魏],江南無復鰒魚,或有間關得至者,一枚直數千 錢。人有餉彥回鰒魚三十枚,彥回時雖貴,而貧薄過甚,門生 有獻計賣之,云可得十萬錢。彥回變色曰:“我謂此是食物,  非 曰財貨,且不知堪賣錢,聊爾受之。雖復儉乏,寧可賣餉取錢 也。” 悉與親游噉之,少日便盡。 This fascinating story about gift, money, and commodity in the Southern Dynasties exemplifies A. J. Gurevich’s description of the medieval noble lords’ attitude toward wealth: “Wealth as seen by the lords was not an end in itself, nor was it something that should be accumulated or economic improvement or development;” rather, it was a way of widening his circle of friends and of 65  Cao Pi uses the phrase “the Western Kingdoms’ grapes and ‘rock honey’ ” 西國葡萄石蜜 in one of his letters to his courtiers. See below. 66  Nan shi 28.751. 67  The character “Wei” is present in the citation in Taiping yulan 938.4301. The Wei refers to the Northern Wei dynasty (386–534), not the Wei dynasty established by Cao Pi.



reaffirming his power, and so it would be best to “squander it in spectacular fashion,” “in the full glare of publicity.”68 Chu Yuan’s act of conspicuous consumption affirmed his noble birth and distinguished him from a profit-seeking merchant. The story also conveys the scarcity and desirability of abalone in south China in the early fifth century. We do not know if this was the case in the early third century, but no matter whether abalone was easily obtainable in the kingdom of Wu or not, the gift of abalone from Cao Pi, just like marten and cane sugar, was meant to demonstrate the economic power and the bountiful natural resources of the “Great Wei”: the Wei had everything produced in north, south, and the Western Region. Apparently Cao Pi had also given Sun Quan more than once the gift of horses, another northern specialty and an important military and economic asset.69 His letter accompanying the gift of two horses survives in a better shape.70 Previously the emissaries Yu Jin and Guo Jitu had spoken [to you] of the Zou Wu and Tieli horses.71 Yu Jin was originally supposed to take them to you in person; but in case that you, General, want them sooner, Xu Feng is ordered to take them to you now.72 These two horses are Our personal mounts; they are quite tame and good at galloping. They are the best selections from several tens of thousands of horses. Truly it is pleasure 68  Gurevich, Categories of Medieval Culture, 247–48. 69  In contrast, Sun Quan gave Cao Pi ships, the southern equivalent of horses. This is reflected in Cao Pi’s letter of acknowledgement. Taiping yulan 770.3545. Quan Sanguo wen 7.1090. 70  The text used here is the Yiwen leiju version with one emendation adopted from Taiping yulan. Yiwen leiju 93.1623–624. It also appears, with some variants, in Taiping yulan 894.4102. Yan Kejun again did a reconstruction by combining those two versions. Quan Sanguo wen 7.1090. 71  For this sentence I have adopted the textual variant in Taiping yulan, which reads: 前使 于禁及王敦去時所道騶吾鐵驪馬. Zouwu is a mythical beast running at a very fast speed; Tieli refers to a black horse. This textual variant seems to work better than the Yiwen leiju version, because Cao Pi specifies two horses later in the letter. The phrase “wei wu” 遺吾 in the Yiwen leiju version might have been a scribal error for “Zouwu” 騶吾, which was not a common term. Yan Kejun’s version reads: “Previously the emissaries Yu Jin and Guo Jifu had spoken [to you] of my Xianli horse” 前使于禁郭及夫所道吾纖 驪馬. Yu Jin 于禁 (d. 221) was a Wei general. Neither Wang Dun nor Guo Jitu/Guo Jifu is attested to in other historical sources from this period. 72  The desire to identify every name leads modern commentators to take Xu Feng as a reference to Xu Sheng 徐盛 and Ding Feng 丁奉, both Wu generals. It is odd to refer to one by family name and another by first name. I take Xu Feng to be one person, who might very well be a Wei courtier. This line could also be parsed as “give them to Xu to present to you.”

Material and Symbolic Economies


to ride them. Although the Central Kingdom is rich in horses, renowned fast-running steeds are few and far between. 前使于禁郭及土所遺吾纖驪馬。本欲使禁自致之,念將軍儻欲 速得,今故以付徐奉往。此二馬,朕之常所自乘,甚調良善 走,數萬匹之極選者,乘之真可樂也。中國雖饒馬,其知名絕 足,亦時有之耳。 The letter is remarkable in its conceit. Cao Pi first assumes that Sun Quan must be extremely eager to get the horses. Then, behind the two horses loom “several tens of thousands of horses,” a display of the Wei’s economic and military power; finally, he observes that the Central Kingdom is “rich in horses.” The last statement is framed in a modest claim, which, however, only serves to accentuate the preciousness and restricted accessibility of the horses being given, and to underscore the generosity of the giver. On the other hand, Cao Pi theatrically turns up his nose at gifts—especially food gifts—from Wu. Wu li records that Sun Quan once gave some large oranges to Cao Pi. Cao Pi addressed a communication to his courtiers, The south produces oranges. They are so sour that they ruin one’s teeth. Sweet ones are few and far between.73 南方有橘,酢正裂人牙,時有甜耳。 Ironically, apparently Cao Cao had once tried to have some orange trees transplanted to the Copper Bird Park in the city of Ye (in modern Hebei), but the botanical venture of the political and military genius turned out to be disastrous. According to Cao Zhi’s “Fu on the Orange” (Ju fu 橘賦), the orange trees all died in the cold climate of north China. Calling orange a “precious tree,” Cao Zhi laments: “I stroke its slim branches and heave a sigh, saddened by how difficult it is to transform plants and trees” 拊微條以歎息,哀草木 之難化.74 The lament sounds faintly comic because of its cosmic proportions, with hua implying the moral transformation of the common folk exercised by the Confucian monarch, even though Cao Zhi probably did not see the humor of it. In Cao Pi’s collection there are several communications addressed to his courtiers that disparage the food products of Wu and commend those of the “Central Kingdom.” These documents, referred to as “edicts” (zhao 詔) in their encyclopedic sources because of Cao Pi’s status as emperor, effectively 73  T  aiping yulan 966.4417. Yiwen leiju 86.1477. 74  Q  uan Sanguo wen 14.1129.



function as public letters.75 These “edicts” are texts on the margins of the amorphous genre of “letter,” and it is entirely conceivable that they were issued with the full intention of receiving rejoinders from the courtiers that chime in with His Majesty’s wise judgment, although the imperfect textual record from this period prevents us from seeing the rejoinders today.76 One such edict from Cao Pi reads: The south produces longans and lychees; how can they compare with grapes and rock honey of the western kingdoms? They are quite sour, and their taste is inferior even to that of the ordinary date of the Central Kingdom, not to mention Anyi’s dates presented to the throne. 南方有龍眼荔枝,寧比西國蒲萄石蜜乎?酢且不如中國凡棗 味,莫言安邑御棗也。 77 An entry cited in Taiping yulan partially overlaps with the quotation above but includes an additional remark: The south produces longans and lychees; how can they compare with grapes and rock honey of the western kingdoms? Now We bestow the lychees on civil and martial officers, so that they shall all know this fruit has an bland flavor.

75  For the challenge posed by letters for genre typology across cultures, see Antje Richter’s lucid analysis in her study, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 38–40. While a letter was known by many names in early medieval China, varying by particular circumstances and the relationship between letter writer and addressee, what constitutes a “letter” has remained constant across time. I find the definition of a “letter” given in Richter’s study pertinent and useful: “It is a communication written on a tangible medium by one historical person and addressed to another (or, as the case may be, by one narrowly circumscribed group to another), which, in order to reach its spatially removed addressee, undergoes some form of physical transmission involving a third party and is, more often than not, part of an exchange.” Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 37. 76  A later example is that in the early 6th c. Emperor Wu of the Liang (464–549; r. 502–49) entrusted the monk Fayun 法雲 (467–529) to disseminate his rebuttal of a minister Fan Zhen’s 范縝 (ca. 450–510) anti-Buddhist treatise through letters, which received more than sixty rejoinders from princes and courtiers. The correspondences are all preserved in Hongming ji 弘明集, a sixth-century collection of writings on Buddhism. See Tian, Beacon Fire and Shooting Star, 59–60. 77  “Zhao qun chen” 詔群臣, Yiwen leiju 87.1486.

Material and Symbolic Economies


南方有龍眼荔支,寧比西國蒲陶石蜜乎?今以荔支賜將吏,啖 之則知其味薄矣。 78 Another communication contrasts the best southern rice unfavorably with the best rice of the north: To the south of the Yangzi River only Changsha claims to have good rice, but how could they even hold a candle to the non-glutinous rice of Xincheng [in modern Henan]? When you cook it in the direction the wind is blowing, you can smell its fine aroma from five leagues away. 江表唯長沙名好米,何時比新城粳稻也?上風炊之,五里聞香。 79 Yet another communication sings the praises of the grape: There are many kinds of precious fruit from the Central Kingdom. Let us now speak of the grape for you. When the vermillion summer is transitioning into autumn but the remaining heat still lingers on, one gets drunk and wakes up with a hangover, and eats grapes covered with dews. They are sweet but not cloying, crisp but not acerbic, cool but not cold; with an enduring flavor and abundant juice they get rid of irritation and relieve nausea. One can also use grapes to make wine, which is sweeter than ale. One becomes drunk from it easily but recovers just as easily. Just talking about it makes one’s mouth water, not to mention actually eating it. How could fruits from other places match it? 中國珍果甚多,且复為說蒲萄:當其朱夏涉秋,尚有餘暑,醉 酒宿醒,掩露而食,甘而不䬼,脆而不酸,冷而不寒,味長汁 多,除煩解䬼。又釀以為酒,甘于麴蘖,善醉而易醒。道之固 以流羨咽唾,况親食之耶?他方之果,寧有匹者? 80 The most notable thing about the grape letter is the distinction made between the “Central Kingdom” and “other places” (tafang 他方), although the grape is no more of a native product of the “Central Kingdom” than cane sugar. All three communications cited above use rhetorical questions to dramatically emphasize the author’s point of view and leave little room for any counter 78  “Yu chao chen shu” 與朝臣書, Taiping yulan 971.4438. 79  Taiping yulan 839.3882. Also in Yiwen leiju 85.1449. 80   “Zhao qun chen,” Taiping yulan 972.4440. For another translation, see Knechtges, “Gradually Entering the Realm of Delight,” 238.



argument. Unlike letters exchanged between equals, a public letter addressed by a ruler to his courtiers making a point usually expects a simple and positive response, but a response it expects nevertheless. In such letters Cao Pi also criticizes the textiles of Wu and Shu. “East of the [Yangzi] River produces hemp cloth; how could it compare with silk, gauze, damask and chiffon?” 江東爲葛,寧比羅紈綺縠.81 He expresses frustration with the unreliability of the famous Shu brocade: “The Shu brocade I have obtained at different times is never consistent in quality; it is quite shocking” 前後每得蜀錦殊不相比,適可訝. He belittles the gold foils used to decorate fabrics from Shu: “The gold foils from Shu that have come to Luoyang are all of a poor quality. The products of those outlying regions have nothing but an undeserving reputation” 蜀薄來至洛邑,皆下惡,是為下土之物,   皆有虛名.82 He gives a summary statement: “For precious objects, one must look to the Central Kingdom” 夫珍玩必中國.83 Cao Pi freely dispenses his opinions regarding food and clothes. In one communication he extols the pear of Zhending (in modern Hebei): “Zhending’s pears presented to the throne are as large as a fist, sweet like honey and crisp like icicles. They can relieve irritation and slake thirst” 真定御梨,大若拳,   甘若蜜,脆若凌,可以解煩釋渴.84 He also passes on to his court the unflattering assessment of Shu food products made by a former Shu general: “According to Magistrate Meng of Xincheng, Shu piglets, lamb, chickens and ducks all have a bland flavor, and that is why the Shu people love to use sugar and honey when they cook” 新城孟太守道蜀肫羊鶏騖味皆淡,故蜀人 作食,喜著飴蜜.85 In a letter to a courtier Liu Ye 劉曄 (d. after 234), Cao Pi teases him that “Mr. Liu’s cap is slightly on the short side, resembling that worn by a country bumpkin” 劉生帽裁製微不長,有似里父之服.86 81  “Zhao qun chen,” Taiping yulan 816.3758. 82  “Zhao qun chen,” Taiping yulan 815.3753. 83  “Zhao qun chen,” Yiwen leiju 67.1187. 84  “Zhao qun chen,” Taiping yulan 969.4429. 85  “Zhao qun chen,” Taiping yulan 857.3942. The Magistrate of Xincheng was Meng Da 孟達 (d. 228), who capitulated to Wei in early 220. Thanks to this remark, we learn that early medieval Sichuan cuisine was probably rather sweet. It was apparently not only devoid of the hot taste of the chili pepper of the New World, but perhaps not even “numbing,” ma 麻, a sensation in the mouth not unlike the effect of oral anesthesia achieved by the native Chinese huajiao 花椒 or fagara. See Knechtges’ discussion of the huajiao in “Food and Drink,” 233. 86  “Yu Liu Ye shu” 與劉曄書, Taiping yulan 687.3196.

Material and Symbolic Economies


Liu Ye was, however, far from a “country bumpkin.” He was a scion of the imperial house of the Han. Cao Pi, the descendant of a son of a Han palace eunuch, turned the table around by representing himself as a true connoisseur of food, drink, and clothes. Tirelessly writing epistles to his courtiers as well as to his opponents, he sent them strategically chosen gifts for display and persuasion. Both the gift of his own writings, copied out on expensive silk, and that of costly material objects were meant to demonstrate the cultural power and political legitimacy of the Wei regime, which was repeatedly promoted as the center, the gathering place of cultural and material resources. Through passing literary, culinary, and sartorial judgment in his letters, Cao Pi showed himself to be the central figure in the center, a man of fine taste. 4 Relocation In the foregoing sections we have discussed a number of letters accompanying gifts or expressing thanks for gifts from the turn of the third century. Early medieval gift letters went into two distinct, though related, directions in the fifth century: one is the writing of verse epistles regarding gift giving and receiving; the other is the transformation of a prose letter form called qi 啟 or qishi 啟事 into an elaborate “thank-you note.” Although the former had a powerful impact on the later tradition, in the fifth and sixth century the dominant form of expressing thanks for gifts from a superior was the latter. While verse epistles regarding gift giving and receiving may be directed to a social equal, a qi is used to express thanks to a superior, often a member of the royal family. The qi began as a simple, straightforward communiqué about official business, not limited to the expression of gratitude for gifts. In its function as a thankyou note, however, it gradually became more and more refined and flowery, culminating in a well-crafted piece of parallel prose in the first half of the sixth century. In later times writing a poem to give thanks for a gift was extremely common, but judging from the textual evidence we have, this practice seems to start flourishing only in the late Southern Dynasties, i.e., the fifth and sixth century. Earlier Cao Pi had sent a poetic exposition to Zhong You to thank him for the gift of jade, but by this point poetry seems to have become the preferred genre as a return gift. The thank-you poem is also an off-shoot of the verse epistle known as zengda shi 贈答詩 (“presentation-reply poetry”), for when a late Southern Dynasties poet addresses a thank-you poem to a friend,



s/he often seems to be responding to the friend’s poem accompanying the gift rather than to the gift alone.87 In one rare case, the poems from both gift donor and receiver have survived. Dao Gai 到溉 (477–548), a renowned man of letters, wrote a poem entitled “Giving a Mottled Bamboo Staff to Ren Xin’an and Presenting Him with a Poem” (Xiang Ren Xin’an banzhuzhang yin zeng shi 餉任新安班竹杖因贈詩). “Ren Xin’an” refers to Ren Fang 任昉 (460–508), a senior writer and scholar, who had served as Magistrate of Xin’an. Ren Fang replied with “In Response to Dao Jian’an’s Gift of Staff” (Da Dao Jian’an xiang zhang shi 答到建安餉杖詩).88 In most cases, however, only the poem from gift donor or receiver is still extant. For instance, Wang Yun 王筠 (481–549), a well-known court poet, sent a bouquet of chrysanthemum to Xie Ju 謝舉 (d. 548) along with a poem entitled “I Picked Chrysanthemums from My Garden to Give to Grand Councilor Xie Ju” (Zhai yuanju zeng Xie puye Ju shi 摘園菊贈謝仆射舉詩); on another occasion, he sent some pomegranates to Liu Xiaowei 劉孝威 (496?–549), also a renowned poet, along with an ardent poetic profession of friendship, “I Picked Pomegranates to Give to Liu Xiaowei” (Zhai anshiliu zeng Liu Xiaowei shi 摘安 石榴贈劉孝威詩). In both cases we do not have a thank-you poem from Xie Ju or Liu Xiaowei, if they had written any. An extant poem by Wang Yun gives thanks for some plums from a colleague, with the title “In Response to the Red Plums from Yuan the Grand Master of the Palace with Golden Seal and Purple Ribbon” (Da Yuan jinzi xiang zhuli shi 答元金紫餉朱李詩).89 Two gift poems by a woman poet named Liu Lingxian 劉令嫻, who was Liu Xiaowei’s sister, deserve special note.90 One is a quatrain accompanying a gift of gardenia presented to a Lady Xie, in which Liu makes a witty pun about the name of gardenia (zhizi 梔子) and “this person” (zhizi 之子): “the gardenia/this person touches my heart most of all” 梔子最關人.91 The other is a poem expressing gratitude to a Ms. Tang, an entertainer, for her gift of threaded needles.92 Threading needles was a custom observed by young women on the 87  See Zeb Raft’s essay on zengda shi in the four-syllable line, “The Space of Separation: Medieval Chinese Poetry of ‘Presentation and Response,’ ” in this volume. Also see Zhao Yiwu, Changhe shi yanjiu; Jiang Yaling, Wen xuan zengda shi. 88  Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 1855, 1599. 89  Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 2019, 2017, 2020. 90  For women’s letters in late imperial China, see Ellen B. Widmer’s essay, “Letters as Windows on Ming-Qing Women’s Literary Culture,” in this volume. 91 “Zhao tongxin zhizi zeng Xie niang yin fu ci shi” 摘同心栀子贈謝娘因附此詩. Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 2132. 92 “Da Tang niang qixi suo chuan zhen shi” 答唐娘七夕所穿鍼詩. Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 2131.

Material and Symbolic Economies


eve of the seventh day of the seventh month, a festival celebrating the reunion of the separated heavenly lovers, the Cowherd and the Weaving Girl. To thread needles with many-colored threads swiftly and successfully in the moonlight on this night was regarded as a good sign for obtaining dexterity in needlework. In her poem, after giving obligatory praises of Ms. Tang’s needlework skills, Liu Lingxian adds a personal touch by reflecting on her circumstances: “The widow’s boudoir is devoid of silks and damasks, / Holding your gift in my hands, I feel pity for myself” 孀閨絕綺羅,攬贈自傷嗟. Liu Lingxian was married to Xu Fei 徐悱 (495–524), himself a fine poet, who had died an untimely death while serving as administrator at Jin’an 晉安 (in modern Fujian). Xiao Gang 蕭綱 (503–51), also known by his posthumous title Emperor Jianwen of the Liang 梁簡文帝 (r. 549–51), once sent a poem to thank the Prince of Nanping for some cherries.93 倒流映碧叢 點露擎朱實 花茂蝶爭來 枝濃鳥相失 已麗金釵瓜 仍美玉盤橘 寧以梅似丸 不羡萍如日 永植平臺垂

Reversed in the currents: the reflection of a verdant grove; Sprinkled in dewdrops, scarlet fruits held high. When flowers are lush, butterflies vie to visit; Amidst leafy boughs birds lose one another’s tracks. It is not only lovelier than the Golden Hairpin melon,94 But also more beautiful than the orange in the jade plate.95 How could one compare bayberries to pellets?96 Nor do we covet the duckweed fruit as large as the sun.97 Always planted beside the Level Terrace,98

93 “Feng da Nanping wang Kang lai zhuying shi” 奉答南平王康賚朱櫻詩. Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 1949. 94  “Gold Hairpin” is the name of a kind of melon. See Lu Ji’s 陸機 (261–303) “Fu on the Melon” (Gua fu 瓜賦). Quan Jin wen 97.2015. 95  Orange in the jade plate is an allusion to an anonymous “old poem” from the late Eastern Han. Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 335. 96  Bayberry is a subtropical tree, also known as Chinese Bayberry or popularly as “yumberry.” Shen Ying’s 沈瑩 (d. 280) Linhai yiwu zhi 臨海異物志 states: “Bayberry’s fruits are like pellets” 楊梅其子如彈丸. Taiping yulan 972.4442. Zhang Hua’s 張華 (232–300) Bowu zhi 博物志 also states: “As for cherries, some of them are like pellets” 櫻桃者或如彈丸. Yiwen leiju 86.1479. 97  When the king of Chu was boating on the river, the boatman obtained a fruit that was big, round, “red like the sun” and “as sweet as honey.” No one but Confucius could identify it as the “duckweed fruit,” which he said was a good omen for the king. Kongzi jiayu 2.18. 98  Level Terrace was part of the Prince Xiao of Liang’s park. Shi ji 58.2083.



長與雲桂密 It forever remains intimate with cassias in the clouds.99 徒然奉推甘 In vain you have upheld the value of yielding the sweets, 終以愧操筆 For in the end I am ashamed in taking up the brush. Like Cao Pi’s fu on the jade gift that begins with a portrayal of the jade’s divine origin and extraordinary attributes, the poem offers a vivid depiction of the cherries replete with references to the literary tradition. It ends with a modest claim of the poet’s meager talent, implying that the textual representation of the thing does not do full justice to the real thing. Just as Cao Pi’s fu very much falls into the category of “poetic expositions on things” (yongwu fu 詠 物賦), Xiao Gang’s poem evokes the poetic subgenre known as “poetry on things” (yongwu shi 詠物詩), which showcases a poet’s erudition and descriptive power. The genre of qi as thank-you note, though a prose form, shares the characteris­ tics of poetry and poetic expositions on things. As mentioned earlier, a qi was an official communiqué addressed to superiors.100 The literary critic Liu Xie 劉 勰 (ca. 460s–520s) thus discusses qi in his work Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍: “Qi” has been very popular since the Jin dynasty, and its use overlaps with memorials (biao) and reports (zou). It is used to discuss matters of governance and affairs of the state, so it is an alternative of the report; it is also used to decline the conferral of official titles or express gratitude for imperial grace, in which case it is a substitute for the memorial. It must be restrained and observes the rules; its pace must be swift; it must be to the point, light, and clear; it must be embellished without being excessive: these are the general principles of a qi.101 自晉來盛啟,用兼表奏。陳政言事,既奏之異條;讓爵謝恩,亦表 之別幹。必斂轍入規,促其音節,辨要輕清,文而不侈,亦啟之 大略也。

99  See Guo Pu’s 郭璞 (276–324) encomium on the cassia tree: “The cassia grows in the southern frontier, towering above others on the high mountain. . . . Its aura dominates a hundred kinds of medicinal plants; lush and prosperous, it rises upright into the clouds” 桂生南裔,拔萃岑嶺 . . . 氣王百藥,森然雲挺. Quan Jin wen 122.2158. 100  According to Fu Qian’s 服虔 (fl. 2nd c.) Tongsu wen 通俗文, “official communiqués are called qi” 官信曰啟. Taiping yulan 595.2810. But all the extant early examples of qi are addressed to one’s superiors, including but not limited to the emperor, and the term qishi 啟事 (to report official business) clearly indicates reporting to superiors. 101  Liu Xie, Wenxin diaolong 23.873. For Liu Xie’s work and early medieval Chinese letters, see Pablo Ariel Blitstein’s article in this volume.

Material and Symbolic Economies


By the time when Liu Xie wrote his Wenxin diaolong at the turn of the sixth century, qi as a thank-you note had become so intricate that it seemed nothing but “excessive.” Though usually brief, it is densely allusive and applies strict parallelism. Its excessiveness is also embodied in an excess of meaning: by recreating the material gift with beautiful words drawn from the literary tradition, the author of a well-crafted thank-you note endows the gift with a surplus of symbolic value that far exceeds its economic value, so that a qi, as a textual representation of the gift and a return gift, constitutes an adequate repayment for the donor’s grace. The remainder of this section will be devoted to an analysis of three qi expressing gratitude for the gift of oranges written by courtiers of the Liang 梁 dynasty (501–57). The period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties was again a period of disunion; but unlike the Three Kingdoms period, the south now was dominated by a series of Han Chinese dynasties while the north was ruled by non-Han ethnic peoples. For the first time in Chinese history the south stopped being a peripheral region to the “Central Kingdom” and became established as a cultural center. The making of the south was very much a result of the successful literary and cultural programs of the sophisticated southern court, especially under the long rule of Emperor Wu of the Liang, who, along with his three talented sons, Xiao Tong 蕭統 (501–531), Xiao Gang, and Xiao Yi 蕭繹 (508–555), actively promoted cultural enterprises. The Xiao princes, especially Xiao Tong and Xiao Gang, were fascinated with Cao Pi, Cao Zhi, and their literary coterie from the Jian’an era; Xiao Tong represented the Jian’an era in his monumental literary anthology Wen xuan in such a way that the selections created an idealized image of the Jian’an, which the Xiao princes upheld as their own model. This is the background against which we must read the three orange letters, which all evoke the writings of the Cao family and, through these allusions, demonstrate the working of the contemporary cultural politics. Liu Qian 劉潛 (484–550), better known as Liu Xiaoyi 劉孝儀, was the brother of Liu Xiaowei and Liu Lingxian. Translated below is his thank-you note to the Crown Prince for a gift of “sour-peel oranges growing by the city wall” (Xie Donggong ci cheng pang ju qi 謝東宮賜城傍橘啟):102 多置守民

Many people were assigned as guards of the orange trees—

102  Yiwen leiju 86.1479. The Crown Prince could be either Xiao Tong or Xiao Gang, who was designated as heir apparent in 531 after Xiao Tong’s untimely death.



This was a lucrative office in the Jin;103 Fine silks were earned for nothing— During the Han owning orange groves was compared to enjoying a fief.104 固以 Indeed these oranges might 俛疋穰橙 Deign to be matched with the coolie orange of the Rang Prefecture, 俯連楚柚 And condescend to claim a connection with the pomelo of Chu.105 寍似魏瓜 But in no way should they be likened to the melon of Wei 借清泉而得冷 That must rely on a clear spring to become cool;106 豈如蜀食 And certainly they are superior to the food from Shu 待飴蜜而成甜 That only becomes sweet with sugar and honey.107 重似 Furthermore,108 晉為厚秩 坐入縑素 漢譬封君

103  According to Yang Fu’s 楊孚 (fl. 77) Yiwu zhi 異物志, “Orange tree has white blossoms and red fruits. The orange fruit has an aromatic peel and tastes good. An office with the salary of three hundred bushels of grain is established in the region of Jiaozhi [modern northern Vietnam] to supervise the presentation of oranges to the throne.” 橘白華赤 實,皮馨香有味,交阯有橘官長一人,秩二百石,主貢御橘. Yiwen leiju 86.1477; also cited in Taiping yulan 626.2936, with a variant: “three hundred bushels of grain.” The Nanfang caomu zhuang 南方草木狀, authored by the Western Jin writer Ji Han 嵇含 (262–306), includes a similar entry, but with the additional information that the orange officer was established “since the time of Emperor Wu of the Han” 自漢武帝. Han Wei liuchao biji xiaoshuo, 265. 104  “Those who . . . grow a thousand orange trees at Jiangling . . . possess the wealth that is equivalent of a fief of a thousand households” 江陵千樹橘 . . . 此其人皆與千戶侯等. Shi ji 129.3272. Li Heng 李衡 (fl. 3rd c.), a Wu magistrate, famously compared the thousand orange trees he owned to “a thousand wooden slaves” 木奴千頭 and said the orange grove would earn the family an income of over a thousand bolts of silk every year. Quan Sanguo wen 73.1444. 105  Rang Prefecture was in Nanyang 南陽 (in modern Henan). The coolie orange of Rang is lauded in Zhang Heng’s 張衡 (78–139) “Fu on the Southern Metropolis” (Nan du fu 南都 賦). Quan Hou Han wen 53.768. Lü Buwei, Lüshi chunqiu 14.741: “Among fruits, the most delicious ones are . . . the pomelos of Yunmeng” 菓之美者 . . . 雲夢之柚. 106  This refers to Cao Pi’s letter to Wu Zhi 吳質 (177–230), in which he recalls the pleasures enjoyed on their outings together: “We floated sweet melons in a clear spring” 浮甘瓜於 清泉. Quan Sanguo wen 7.1089. 107  This refers to Cao Pi’s recounting of Meng Da’s report about the bland food of Shu (see above). 108  Here si 似 should probably be emended to yi 以.

Material and Symbolic Economies


They cast shadows in the sun-warmed moat, Their splendid blossoms hanging over the parapet wall of metal. 信可 Truly they are 珍若榴於式乾 More precious than the pomegranate of the Shiqian Palace,109 貴蒲萄於別館 And more prized than grapes planted at royal villas.110 倒影陽池 垂華金堞

Liu Qian’s thank-you note is a fine example of the epistolary genre of qi, characterized by its brevity and its use of parallelism throughout. It begins by tracing back to Han and Jin dynasties and stating the economic and political importance of the orange trees: orange groves, like a noble lord’s fiefdom, confer wealth on individuals; the presentation of oranges to the throne from the farthest south also demonstrates the far-reaching power of the empire. Next, the author praises the orange as being a sort of a “better equal” to fruits of both north and south, respectively represented by the coolie orange of the Rang Prefecture and the pomelo of Chu. This sets the stage for the next statement, which alludes to no less than two of Cao Pi’s letters and disparages the foods of Shu and Wei. Such a rhetorical move not only avenges the Wu orange once scorned by Cao Pi but also implicitly aligns the author’s position with none other than the kingdom of Wu. The Liang courtier, however, could very well take pride in the cultural and political resources of the south, and Liu Qian ends his note with an echo of the opening lines by claiming the orange’s superiority to the fruits—pomegranate and grape—cherished by the Jin and Han royalty. While pomegranate and grape were both imported exotic fruits, the orange was native to the south—as a matter of fact, grown right by the wall of the capital city. Indeed there was no need to look beyond one’s own backyard. The presence of textual references throughout the letter except in one sentence draws attention to that sentence: “They cast shadows in the sun-warmed moat, their splendid blossoms hanging over the parapet wall of metal.” The “sun-warmed moat” stresses the southern facing of the moat, a positioning well suited to the growth of orange trees; it also highlights the southern 109  The Shiqian Palace was a Wei and Western Jin palace in Luoyang. Fruit trees were apparently planted in front of it. One source mentions there were two cherry trees. Yiwen leiju 86.1479. Ying Zhen’s 應貞 (d. 269) preface to his “Fu on the Pomegranate” (Anshiliu fu 安石榴賦) states that when he was working in the Imperial Library, there was a pomegranate tree in front of the office where he was on night duty. Yiwen leiju 86.1481. 110  After grapes were introduced into China, they were “planted everywhere beside the imperial villas” 離宮別觀傍盡種蒲萄. Shi ji 123.3174.



origin of the orange, which is considered a yang fruit of the sun; Cao Zhi writes thus in his “Fu on the Orange”: “It inherits the fiery energy of the great yang, and delights in the splendor of the bright sun” 稟太陽之烈氣, 嘉杲日之休 光.111 In Liu Qian’s couplet, the orange blossoms (hua) are placed in the corresponding position of “reflection/shadow” (ying). Since the orange blossoms are white, there is an implied color contrast: dark shadow cast in water vs. pale, sun-drenched blossoms. The black and white contrast is striking against the “metal parapet wall,” with “metal” being the same word as “gold/goldencolored” ( jin), the color of the orange fruit. The only parallel couplet devoid of textual allusions in the letter presents a charming vignette and showcases the consummate descriptive skill of an accomplished court writer. Another extant letter by Liu Qian is addressed to the Prince of Jin’an, Xiao Gang’s title before he was named the Crown Prince in 531, in which Liu Qian thanks Xiao Gang for the gift of citrus fruit.112 The fruit is gan, sweet-peel tangerine, not ju, sour-peel orange; but as we will see, the author does not care much about the botanical distinction when deploying literary allusions: 便得 削彼金衣 咽茲玉液 甘踰萍實 冷亞水圭 立消煩䬼

Right away one could Peel away its golden coat, And drink its jasper juice.113 Its sweetness exceeds the duckweed fruit,114 Its coolness is only second to the watery jade.115 It immediately gets rid of frustration and nausea,

111  Quan Sanguo wen 14.1129. 112  “Xie Jin’an wang ci gan qi” 謝晉安王賜甘啟. Yiwen leiju 86.1475–476. 113  Li You 李尢 (44–126), “Qi kuan” 七款: “Golden coat, vermillion interior” 金衣朱里. Quan Hou Han wen 50.747. “Jasper juice” usually refers to elixir. 114  For the “duckweed fruit,” see above. 115  For “watery jade” shui gui 水圭, Yan Kejun has “a jug of ice” (bing hu 冰壺). Quan Liang wen 61.3317. Shui gui, however, might be an error for bing gui 氷圭, which appears in “Fu on the Melon” (Gua fu 瓜賦) by Liu Zhen 劉楨, a member of Cao Pi and Cao Zhi’s literary coterie: “Its sweetness exceeds the honeycomb, and its coolness is second only to the icy jade” 甘逾蜜房, 冷亞冰圭. Quan Hou Han wen 65.829. These two lines also appear in a thank-you note attributed to Liu Jun 劉峻 (461–521), which is included in Quan Liang wen 57.3286. The compiler Yan Kejun cites as his source a work on oranges, Ju lu 橘錄, written by Han Yanzhi 韓彥直 (1131–after 1178), but the attribution is not attested in any earlier source.

Material and Symbolic Economies

頓除酩酊 追嗤齊相 進不剖之實 遠笑魏君 逢裂牙之味


And cures the hangover at once.116 I snicker at the prime minister of Qi from long ago— Who ingested the fruit without cutting it open;117 I laugh at the emperor of Wei in the distant past— Who encountered the taste that ruined his teeth.

This letter mimics the process of the ingestion of the fruit by representing a movement from the exterior to the interior. It opens with an “opening” of the fruit, and, as the author takes in the juice of the orange, he finds it both sweet and cold, which eliminates physical and spiritual discomfort. With a renewed spirit he looks back at the minister and ruler of the past: northerners who did not know how to eat the orange properly or who “encountered” a poor specimen of the orange. He unabashedly celebrates the here and now, for his prince bestows a gift of orange far superior to the one given to the Wei ruler, and more importantly, the gift is lavished on a minister who understands how to appreciate it. Ironically, Liu Qian uses Cao Pi’s very words praising a northern fruit (i.e., the grape) to extol the southern produce, but in the end the joke is on Cao Pi, who ruined his teeth on sour oranges from the southern king. The letter ends with condemning the wrong kind of opening—the fruit that was not peeled, and the teeth that were literally “cracked”—and thus comes full circle by echoing the right kind of opening at the opening. The last orange letter to be discussed (“Xie lai ju qi” 謝賚橘啟) was written by Yu Jianwu 庾肩吾 (487?–551), one of the leading poets of the Liang court. 光分璇宿 影接銅峰

Its light is divided from the Northern Dipper;118 Its shadow touches the copper hills.119

116  This is an allusion to Cao Pi’s letter on the grape (see previous section). 117  According to a story recorded in Shuo yuan 說苑 compiled by Liu Xiang 劉向 (77–6 BCE), Duke Jing of Qi sent his minister Yanzi 晏子 on a diplomatic mission to Chu. The king of Chu gave him an orange and a peeling knife, but Yanzi ate the orange without peeling it. When the Chu king reminded him of his faux pas, Yanzi replied that it was not that he did not know he should peel the orange before eating it, but that a subject should not cut open a fruit in front of a ruler unless the ruler ordered him to do so. Shuo yuan 12.406. 118  According to Chunqiu yundoushu 春秋運斗樞, a Han astrological work, “the Xuan and Shu Stars disintegrates and turns into oranges” 璇樞星散為橘. Yiwen leiju 86.1477. The Shu Star and Xuan Star are the first and second of the seven stars of the Northern Dipper, and “Xuan Shu” becomes a general reference to the Northern Dipper. 119  Yang Xiong’s 揚雄 (53–18) “Fu on the Shu Capital” (Shu du fu 蜀都賦) contains the line praising the local products of Shu: “Orange groves, copper-producing hills” 橘林銅陵. Quan Han wen 51.402.



去青馬之迢遞 Having left the distant land of the black horses,120 服朱闉之爽塏 It grows accustomed to the sunny aridness of the vermillion barbican. 楚原洪筆 In an ode, the majestic brush of Qu Yuan of Chu 頌記不遷 Records its refusal to relocate; 陳王麗藻 The Prince of Chen’s beautiful rhapsody 賦稱遙植 Claims its transplantation from afar.121 昔 In the past, 朝歌季重 Jizhong, the Magistrate of Zhaoge, 纔賜海魚 Was only given some ocean fish;122 大理元常 Yuanchang, Chamberlain for Law Enforcement, 止蒙秋菊 Received nothing more than autumn chrysanthemums.123 The “Ode to the Orange” (Ju song 橘頌), attributed to Qu Yuan, is one of the “Nine Pieces” (Jiu zhang 九章) in the Lyrics of Chu (Chu ci 楚辭). As David Hawkes notes, the orange tree “was traditionally supposed not to grow naturally anywhere north of the River Yangtze.”124 The ode opens with these lines: 后皇嘉樹 橘徠服兮 受命不遷 生南國兮

This fine tree between heaven and earth, Orange it is, settling down and becoming accustomed to the soil here. It receives the command of heaven not to relocate, But only grows in the southern land.

These lines from a literary classic constitute the core around which Yu Jianwu structures his letter. Writing in the tradition of poems/poetic expositions on things, Yu Jianwu begins by recounting the origin of the orange. It is a mystical place in the celestial sphere, and the golden color of the orange is implicitly 120  Ying Shao 應劭 (fl. late 2nd c.) cites a lost work, Yi Yin shu 伊尹書: “To the east of the Ji Mountain, at the place where the black horses are, there are black kumquats that ripen in summer.” 箕山之東,青馬之所,有盧橘夏孰. Han shu 57.2559. There is a variant for qing ma that reads qing niao (blue birds). Shi ji 117.3028. 121  Cao Zhi was enfeoffed as the Prince of Chen. His “Fu on the Orange” contains the lines: “Transplanted from ten thousand leagues away, it was on display in the park of the Copper Bird.” 播萬里而遙植,列銅爵之園庭. Quan Sanguo wen 14.1129. 122  Jizhong is the courtesy name of Wu Zhi, a close friend of Cao Pi. He had served as magistrate of Zhaoge at one point, and during his term there Cao Pi addressed several letters to him. The gift of fish was presumably sent to him by Cao Pi. 123  Yuanchang is Zhong You’s courtesy name. 124  Hawkes, The Songs of the South, 178.

Material and Symbolic Economies


conveyed in its “light,” which it receives from the Xuan and Shu stars. Fascination with the interplay of reflection/shadow ( ying) and light is a peculiar Liang phenomenon,125 and light is often portrayed by its opposite and negation. Sure enough, the next line in the parallel couplet turns from light to shadows, from heaven to earth, from a dazzling constellation to copper-producing mountains that cast dark shadows under the bright fruit-stars. As the letter shifts the viewpoint from the celestial to earthly realm, the orange too is shown to have relocated. It comes to settle in the part of the mortal world that is marked by the vermillion color, that is, the fiery south. Interestingly, the humid south is not traditionally characterized as sunny and arid (shuang kai 爽塏). Jiang Yan 江淹 (444–505), an older contemporary of Yu Jianwu, uses shuang kai to depict north China in his “Fu on Lamenting a Thousand Leagues” (Ai qianli fu 哀千里賦): “Although the north of the Yellow River is sunny and arid, / [I remain steadfast] like the oranges and pomelos that do not relocate” 雖河北之爽塏,猶橘柚之不遷.126 In his use of the compound Yu Jianwu may very well be focusing on the meaning of the first character, i.e., “shuang” as “brightly lit,” which is an attribute of the sunny south. By such a rhetorical shift of emphasis he manages to empower the south with a positive trait that is usually associated with the north. Once the orange settles in the south and becomes accustomed ( fu 服, evoking laifu 徠服 in the “Ode to the Orange”) to its soil, it finds its true home. Citing the “Ode to the Orange” and then Cao Zhi’s “Fu on the Orange,” Yu Jianwu makes a satirical jab at the Cao family. From this point on, the rhetorical move follows the same trajectory as that in Liu Qian’s second letter: not only are the Xiao princes, as opposed to the Cao family, blessed with the celestial fruit native to the southern land, but the Liang courtier also receives a gift far superior to those received by the Wei courtiers Wu Zhi and Zhong You. In these thank-you notes, the orange becomes the locus of an empiric discourse that attempts to establish the south as a new cultural and political center vis-à-vis earlier times and the present-day rival state in the north. The Cao Wei princes, frequently alluded to in these letters, constitute the very norm and standard against which the Liang princes and courtiers measure the present; they are both the role models to be emulated and the competitors to be surpassed. The three orange letters embody the contemporary cultural politics; more importantly, with their dense allusions and rhetorical flourishes, they

125  For a detailed discussion of this phenomenon, see Tian, Beacon Fire and Shooting Star, 211–59. 126  Quan Liang wen 33.3143.



become a code language that can only be deciphered by insiders possessing the same level of erudition and literary training. By writing such letters to their princes, the courtiers show themselves to be men of fine taste who know how to properly savor the delicious princely gift; and the princes, in turn, are placed by these letters in the position of understanding readers who know exactly how to appreciate these delectable return gifts.

This essay considers the issue of material and symbolic economies underlying letters regarding the transfer of objects in early medieval China. While modern gift theory, initiated by Marcel Mauss, largely deals with the gift objects themselves, I argue that the letter accompanying a gift plays a crucial role in the creation and interpretation of the meaning of the gift object. Context can certainly shed much light on a gift-exchange, but the letter of the donor (and sometimes the letter of the receiver as well) helps us more than anything to decode the sign that is the material object being transferred from one person to another. A letter also constitutes a gift in itself. When it accompanies a gift of material object, this double gifting complicates the process of exchange and circulation, and prompts us to reconsider the workings of reciprocity in gift-giving. None of the gift recipients discussed in this essay is known to have sent a material return gift to the donor, but they all give back textual repayments. This is quite obvious in Cao Pi’s thank-you letter to Zhong You for the gift of jade, with which he encloses a poetic exposition praising the jade, and in the sixthcentury thank-you notes for the gift of oranges from the Liang princes. In other cases, one could argue that the gifts being given are already “return gifts” for services rendered. For instance, Cao Pi’s gift of chrysanthemum flowers and Five-Tastes Cauldron to Zhong You for being a loyal servant to the Wei, the Liang princes’ gifts of oranges to their courtiers, or even Cao Cao’s lavish gifts to Yang Biao, which could be read as a return gift for having had the “use” of Yang Biao’s son. There is no need to reciprocate with material gifts in such cases, although the donor might still expect to receive a letter of acknowledgment and appreciation. Indeed, sometimes one may legitimately wonder if a prince handed out food gifts to his literary courtiers just for the sake of getting a wellcrafted thank-you letter in return to satisfy his own aesthetic craving. In any case, the exquisite thank-you note of the late Southern Dynasties functions just like Cao Pi’s poetic exposition on jade: it is the textual substitute for the material gift and constitutes an adequate return gift because it creates a surplus value for the gift itself.

Material and Symbolic Economies


The importance of the letter in deciphering the meaning of a gift is nowhere demonstrated so clearly as in a gift being offered under dubious circumstances with a short gift message. At the beginning of this essay I have mentioned Zhuge Liang’s insulting gift of female clothes to the Wei general Sima Yi, so it is fitting to end the essay with a gift message to Zhuge Liang from none other than Cao Cao himself. The message, most likely a fragment of the original letter, is simple enough: “I am presenting you now with five catties of cloves to convey my humble sentiments” 今奉雞舌香五斤,以表微意.127 The clove was an exotic product from the far south. According to Ying Shao, during the Han Dynasty members of the Imperial Secretariat would keep cloves in their mouths to sweeten their breath when reporting to the emperor. He records a humorous story involving cloves. Diao Cun 刁存, a senior Palace Attendant with bad breath, was given some cloves by Emperor Huan 桓帝 (r. 147–67). Not knowing what the clove was, Diao Cun thought it was poison and that he was asked to commit suicide. He went home to bid a tearful farewell to his family. When his colleagues and friends heard, they all came to visit him, and laughed heartily upon seeing the “poison.” They offered to take some of the “poison” themselves, and only then did Diao Cun recognize his ignorance.128 Cao Cao’s gift of cloves to Zhuge Liang—a high-level minister serving one of his arch-enemies—could be subject to various interpretations. It could be a simple demonstration of respect. Or, it could be a subtle gesture to win Zhuge Liang over to Cao Cao’s side: since Cao Cao remained a Han subject all his life, the cloves, which were the hallmark of a Han Secretariat Court Gentleman, could be construed as an invitation to Zhuge Liang to occupy a prestigious position at the Han court. Or it could be taken as an insult, as it implied that Zhuge Liang had bad breath—metaphorically (i.e., giving bad counsel to his lord) and/or literally. Without the context in which the gift-giving took place and without a more detailed letter accompanying the gift, we will never find out exactly what the gift meant or what it was supposed to mean, whether it was a “straightforward” gift or, since interpreting a gift symbolically was not an uncommon phenomenon in the third century, a sign that is deliberately left ambiguous and intended to elicit multiple readings.129 127  Quan Sanguo wen 3.1070. 128  Quan Hou Han wen 34.666. 129  A contemporary example of making symbolic interpretations of gifts can be found in the third-century historian Sima Biao’s work, Zhan lüe 戰略. Meng Da, the Shu general who capitulated to Wei in 220, later had second thoughts about it. He communicated with Zhuge Liang, who tried to persuade him to come back to Shu. Meng Da reportedly sent to



Bibliography Cao Cao ji yizhu 曹操集譯注. Annotated by Anhui Bo xian Cao Cao ji yizhu xiaozu 安 徽亳縣曹操集譯注小組. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979. Cao Cao ji zhu 曹操集注. Annotated by Xia Chuancai 夏傳才. Henan: Zhongzhou guji shubanshe, 1986. Chunqiu Zuo zhuan zhengyi 春秋左傳正義. In Shisanjing zhushu. Curta, Florin. “Merovingian and Carolingian Gift Giving.” Speculum 81 (2006): 671–99. Derrida, Jacques. Given Time. 1. Counterfeit Money. Translated by Peggy Camuf. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Er ya zhushu 爾雅注疏. In Shisanjing zhushu. Gu wen yuan 古文苑. Annotated by Zhang Qiao 章樵 (d. 1235). Sibu congkan edition. Gurevich, A. J. Categories of Medieval Culture. Translated by G.L. Campbell. London: Routledge, 1985. Han Wei liuchao biji xiaoshuo daguan 漢魏六朝筆記小說大觀. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1999. Han shu 漢書. Compiled by Ban Gu 班固. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1962. Harwood, Britton J. “Gawain and the Gift.” PMLA 106.3 (1991): 483–99. Hawkes, David, trans. The Songs of the South: An Ancient Chinese Anthology of Poems by Qu Yuan and Other Poets. New York: Penguin Books, 1985. Hou Han shu 後漢書. Compiled by Fan Ye 范曄 (398–446). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1965. Huainanzi 淮南子. Compiled by Liu An 劉安 (179–122 BCE). Taipei: Zhonghua shuju, 1981. Jiang Yaling 江雅玲. Wen xuan zengda shi liubianshi 文選贈答詩流變史. Taipei: Wenjin chubanshe, 1999. Jin shu 晉書. Compiled by Fang Xuanling 房玄齡 (579–648) et al. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974. Knechtges, David R. “Gradually Entering the Realm of Delight: Food and Drink in Early Medieval China.” JAOS 117 (1997): 229–39.

Zhuge Liang the gifts of a jade ring ( jue 玦), a brocatelle (zhicheng 織成) safeguard and some storax incense (suhe xiang 蘇合香). A Shu officer leaked the information to Shen Yi 申儀, a Wei magistrate. According to the Shu officer, “Zhuge Liang said, ‘The jade ring ( jue) means Meng had made up his mind ( jue); zhicheng means a plan has been formed (cheng); storax incense (suhe xiang) means things have fallen into place (he)’.” 玉玦者巳 決, 織成者言謀巳成, 蘇合香者言事巳合. The story may be apocryphal, but it shows that giving symbolic interpretation of gifts was a distinctly acceptable possibility. Taiping yulan 359.1780.

Material and Symbolic Economies


Kongzi jiayu shuzheng 孔子家語疏證. Annotated by Chen Shike 陳士珂. Shanghai shudian, 1987. Lidai shufa lunwe xuan 歷代書法論文選. Shanghai: Shanghai shuhua chubanshe, 1979. Li ji zhushu 禮記注疏. In Shisanjing zhushu. Liu Xiang 劉向. Shuo yuan shuzheng 說苑疏證. Annotated by Zhao Shanyi 趙善詒. Shanghai: Huadong shifan daxue chubanshe, 1985. Liu Xie 劉勰. Wenxin diaolong yizheng 文心雕龍義證. Annotated by Zhan Ying 詹鍈. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1989. Lu Qinli 逯欽立, ed. Xian Qin Han Wei Jin Nanbeichao shi 先秦漢魏晉南北朝詩. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1995. Lü Buwei 呂不韋. Lüshi chunqiu jiaoshi 呂氏春秋校釋. Annotated by Chen Qiyou 陳奇猷. Shanghai: Xuelin chubanshe, 1984. Mao shi zhengyi 毛詩正義. In Shisanjing zhushu. Mauss, Marcel. The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. Translated by Ian Cunnison. New York: W. W. Norton, 1967. Miller, William Ian. “Gift, Sale, Payment, Raid: Case Studies in the Negotiations and Classification of Exchange in Medieval Iceland.” Speculum 61.1 (1986): 18–50. Nan shi 南史. Compiled by Li Yanshou 李延壽 (fl. 7th c.). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1975. Owen, Stephen. Readings in Chinese Literary Thought. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992. Quan Han wen 全漢文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan Hou Han wen 全後漢文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan Liang wen 全梁文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan Sanguo wen 全三國文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen 全上古三代三國六朝文. Compiled by Yan Kejun 嚴可均 (1762–1843). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1958. Richter, Antje. Letters and Epistolary Culture in Early Medieval China. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013. Sanguo zhi 三國志. Compiled by Chen Shou 陳壽 (233–97). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959. Schwartz, Barry. “The Social Psychology of the Gift.” American Journal of Sociology 73.1 (1967): 1–11. Shanhai jing jiaozhu 山海經校註. Annotated by Yuan Ke 袁珂. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1980. Shi ji 史記. Compiled by Sima Qian 司馬遷 (ca. 145–85 BCE). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959. Shisanjing zhushu 十三經注疏. Compiled by Ruan Yuan 阮元 (1764–1849). Taipei: Yiwen yinshuguan, 1955.



Simmel, Georg. On Individuality and Social Forms: Selected Writings. Translated by Donald Levine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971. Sui shu 隋書. Compiled by Wei Zheng 魏徵 (580–643) et al. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1973. Taiping yulan 太平御覽. Taipei: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1975 reprint. Tian, Xiaofei. Beacon Fire and Shooting Star: The Literary Culture of the Liang (501–557). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Asia Center, 2007. Wang Xiaojuan 王曉鵑. Gu wenyuan lungao 古文苑論稿. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2010. Wen xuan 文選. Compiled by Xiao Tong 蕭統 (501–31). Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1994. Yin Yun 殷芸. Yin Yun Xiaoshuo殷芸小說. Compiled and annotated by Zhou Lengjia 周楞伽. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1984. Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚. Compiled by Ouyang Xun 歐陽詢 (557–641) et al. Taipei: Wenguang chubanshe, 1974. Zhao Yiwu 趙以武. Changhe shi yanjiu 唱和詩研究. Lanzhou: Gansu wenhua chubanshe, 1997. Zhuangzi jishi 莊子集釋. Compiled by Guo Qingfan 郭慶藩 (1844–1896). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961.

part 2 Contemplating the Genre


Letters in the Wen xuan David R. Knechtges The Wen xuan 文選 compiled at the court of the Liang prince Xiao Tong 蕭 統 (501–531) is the earliest extant Chinese anthology arranged by genre. It is one of the most important sources for the study of Chinese literature from the Warring States period to the Qi and Liang. The Wen xuan contains 761 pieces of prose and verse by 130 writers. The most commonly used version divides the works into thirty-seven genres: fu 賦 (exposition or rhapsody), shi 詩 (lyric poetry), sao 騷 (elegy), qi 七 (sevens), zhao 詔 (edict), ce (patent of enfeoffment), ling 令 (command), jiao 教 (instruction), cewen 策文 (examination question), biao 表 (petition), shang shu 上書 (letter presented to a superior), qi 啟 (communication), tanshi 彈事 (accusation), jian 箋 (memorandum), zouji 奏記 (note), shu 書 (letter), xi 檄 (proclamation), duiwen 對文 (dialogue), shelun 設論 (hypothetical discourse), ci 辭 (song/rhapsody), xu 序 (preface), song 頌 (eulogy), zan 贊 (encomium), fuming 符命 (mandate to rule based on prophetic signs), shi lun 史論 (disquisition from the histories), shi shu zan 史述贊 (evaluation and judgment from the histories), lun 論 (disquisition), lianzhu 連珠 (epigram), zhen 箴 (admonition), ming 銘 (inscription), lei 誄 (dirge), ai 哀 (lament), beiwen 碑文 (epitaph, stele inscription), muzhi 墓志 (grave memoir), xingzhuang 行狀 (conduct description), diaowen 弔文 (condolence), jiwen 祭文 (offering).1 Some editions of the Wen xuan have thirtyeight categories with the addition of yi 移 (dispatch) between shu and xi. Luo Hongkai 駱鴻凱 adds the yi 移 category because the “Yi shu rang taichang boshi” 移書讓太常博士 (A letter reprimanding the professors of the Ministry of Ceremonies) by Liu Xin 劉歆 (d. 23) and the “Beishan yiwen” 北山移文 (Proclamation on [or from] North Mountain) by Kong Zhigui 孔稚珪 (447– 501) should be separated from the shu 書 that precede it.2 A similar proposal was also made by the Qing scholar Chen Jingyun 陳景雲, who is cited in the

1  The standard edition of the Wen xuan is based on a printing done by the Song scholar You Mao 尤袤 (1127–1181) in 1181. This edition became the basis for the edition prepared under the direction of Hu Kejia 胡克家 (1757–1816) in 1809. The most useful modern printing of the Hu Kejia edition is Wen xuan (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1986). 2  Luo Hongkai, Wen xuan xue, 24.

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Wen xuan kaoyi 文選考異 of Hu Kejia 胡克家 (1757–1816).3 The contemporary Wen xuan scholar Fu Gang 傅剛 surmises that Luo Hongkai was following his teacher Huang Kan 黃侃 (1886–1935) who lists the Liu Xin and Kong Zhigui pieces under the genre yi 移.4 Although Chen and Huang do not state their reasons for their suggestion that the yi had dropped out of the text, they likely conjectured that because the Wen xuan preface says that pieces were arranged chronologically, there is a problem with the order of the pieces in the shu 書 section, for Liu Xin’s piece follows the “Chong da Liu Moling Zhao shu” 重答劉 秣陵沼書 (Letter replying to Liu Zhao of Moling) by Liu Jun 劉峻 (462–521). Liu Xin lived in the Former Han, and Liu Jun is from the Liang period. If Liu Xin’s piece belonged in the shu category, it should have been inserted with the Former Han shu presumably after the “Bao Sun Huizong shu” 報孫會宗書 by Yang Yun 楊惲 (d. 56 BCE). There is also textual support for the existence of the yi category. The Wuchen Wen xuan prepared by Chen Balang 陳八郎 in Shaoxing 31 (1161), which is held by the Taiwan Guojia tushuguan, places the Liu Xin and Kong Zhigui pieces in the yi category. A twenty-one juan Japanese manuscript of the Wen xuan also contains the yi category as does the Jigu ge 汲 古閣 edition of Mao Jin 毛晉 (1599–1659) printed sometime between 1621 and 1644, and the Korean edition of 1506–21, which has a textual filiation with the Chen Balang edition. In the woodblock edition of Chen Balang 陳八郎 of the Southern Song a thirty-ninth category, the nan 難 (refutation), is added. There were genre anthologies long before the Wen xuan was compiled in the second decade of the sixth century. Thanks to the “Jingji zhi” 經籍志 (Monograph on bibliography) of the Sui shu 隋書, compiled in the seventh century, we know the names of a large number of anthologies from the Wei, Jin, Nanbeichao period. According to this catalogue, 107 anthologies in 2,213 juan were still extant in the seventh century. It also mentions another 142 anthologies in 3,011 juan that were lost in the destruction of libraries that took place at the end of the sixth century.5 Only a small number of works listed in this catalogue has survived to the present day. In addition, a few of the works listed in the catalogue are not anthologies but treatises on literature. Virtually all of the anthologies listed in the “Jingji zhi” have long been lost. However, there are two anthologies for which partial information survives.

3 Wen xuan 43.1956. 4 Huang Kan and Huang Zhuo, Wen xuan pingdian, 46; and Fu Gang, Zhaoming Wen xuan yanjiu, 185. 5 Sui shu 35.1089.

Letters in the Wen xuan


The first is the Wenzhang liubie ji 文章流別集 (Collection of writings divided by genre) compiled by Zhi Yu 摯虞 (d. 311).6 Zhi Yu was a famous historian, scholar, and writer of the Western Jin. Zhi Yu’s anthology was quite large. The original version consisted of sixty juan. However, the most common version that circulated from the Tang through Song, when it seems to have disappeared, was in thirty juan. This is the same size as the original version of the Wen xuan. Although Zhi Yu’s collection does not survive, we know something about its content from the “Lun” 論 or “Disquisitions” that he wrote for the work. Both from the title of the collection and from the extant portions of the “Lun” we also know that Zhi Yu arranged the works by genre, the names of which include: (1) song 頌 (eulogy); (2) fu 賦 (exposition or rhapsody); (3) shi 詩 (poetry); (4) qi 七 (sevens); (5) zhen (admonition); (6) lei 誄 (dirge); (7) ai ci 哀辭 (lament); (8) ai ce 哀策 (laments for members of the imperial family); (9) ming 銘 (inscription); (10) bei 碑 (epitaph, stele inscription); (11) she lun 設 論 (hypothetical disquisition); (12) shu 述 or 述贊 (evaluations or appraisals from the histories); (13) tu chen 圖讖 (prognostication texts). There undoubtedly were many more genres than these. The second anthology about which we have some information is the Han lin 漢林 (Grove of writings) compiled by the Eastern Jin scholar Li Chong 李充 (d. ca. 362).7 Like Zhi Yu, Li Chong also wrote lun 論 in which he discusses literary works and writers. The Han lin was lost by the early Tang. All that survived in the Tang were the lun 論 (disquisitions). Only a few fragments of the lun survive, but from them we know the names of some of the genres that it included: (1) fu 賦 (exposition or rhapsody); (2) shi 詩 (poetry); (3) zan 贊 (encomium); (4) biao 表 (petition); (5) bo 駁 (refutation); (6) lun 論 (disquisition); (7) zouyi 奏議 (presented opinion); (8) xi 檄 (proclamation). Like the Wenzhang liubie ji, the Han lin must have had more than these eight genres.

6 For reconstructed texts see Xu Wenyu, Wen lun jiang shu, 67–84; Tseng and K’o, Liang Han Wei Jin Nanbeichao, 184–86; Guo Shaoyu, Zhongguo lidai wen lun xuan, 1:190–205; Mu and Guo, Wei Jin Nanbeichao wenlun quanbian, 88–96; Yu and Zhang, Wei Jin Nanbeichao wenlun xuan, 179–184. For studies see Guo Shaoyu, “Wenzhang liubie lun”; Wang Gengsheng, “Zhi Yu de zhushu”; Kōzen Hiroshi, “Shi Gu Bunshō ryubetsu shi ron kō”; Allen, “Chih Yü’s Discussions”; Mou Shijin, “Wenzhang liubie zhi lun”; Deng Guoguang, Zhi Yu yanjiu; Lizhi, “Lun Wenzhang liubie ji; Hu Dalei, “Wenzhang zhi”; Yu Shiling, Xi Jin wenxue kaolun, 188–201; Wendy Swartz, “Classifying the Literary Tradition.” 7 For a reconstruction see Xu Wenyu, Wen lun jiangshu, 59–65; Mu and Guo, Wei Jin Nanbeichao wenlun quanbian, 100–102. For studies see Toda, “Ri Chū”; Funazu, “Ri Chū”; Yu Lixiong, “Lun Li Chong Han lin lun.”



The Liu bie lun and the Han lin are the only two pre-Wen xuan anthologies whose contents are somewhat known. However, there was a number of large genre anthologies that were compiled from the time of Zhi Yu to the Liang period, when the Wen xuan was compiled. Some of them were large collections such as the Ji yuan 集苑 by Xie Hun 謝混 (d. 412) in 60 juan, Ji lin 集林 in 200 juan compiled at the court of Liu Yiqing 劉義慶 (403–444), and the Wen yuan 文苑 by Kong Huan 孔逭 (fl. ca. 480) in 100 juan.8 In its introduction to the anthology section of the catalogue, the Sui shu “Jing ji zhi” says the following about the development of the zongji 總集, which literally means “comprehensive collection”: After the Jian’an period, literature proliferated, and the collected works of many writers increased at a steady rate. Zhi Yu [d. 311] of the Jin, concerned that readers would become tired of reading so much, selected the best works, and pared down the weeds. Beginning with poetry and fu he made a systematic arrangement by genre, and compiled them together. He called it the Liu bie (Distinguished by type). Later authors of collected works and anthologies of literary extracts were created one after another. Men who composed literary works considered them as a profound resource, and they took them as a model.9 This passage is instructive. It tells us first of all that because so much writing began to appear beginning with the Jian’an period scholars felt obliged to provide selections of writings arranged by genre. It also tells us what Zhi Yu’s purpose was in compiling the Liu bie ji: the number of writings available for readers had increased to the point scholars began to compile small “reader’s digest” collections that allowed easier access to literary works, and also to provide a selection of what were deemed the best writings. However, the main function of compiling such works was not only just to supply reading material, but to select examples of writings in different genres on which people who were learning how to write could model their own compositions. Although the Wen xuan is the only pre-Tang genre anthology to survive, it is one of the latest anthologies that was compiled during the Wei, Jin, Nanbeichao period. However, the compilers of the Wen xuan do not mention what their sources were. Scholars have speculated that one of the main sources for material was the bieji 別集 or individual collected writings of a particular writer. 8 Sui shu 35.1082. The Sui shu does not record the name of the compiler of the Ji yuan. It is attributed to Xie Hun in the monograph on bibliography of the Xin Tang shu 60.1621. 9 Sui shu 35.1089–90.

Letters in the Wen xuan


However, recently Professor Wang Liqun 王立群 has published a detailed study in which he argues that the main sources for the Wen xuan were such anthologies as Wenzhang liu bie ji, Han lin, and perhaps others. The evidence for this comes from citations of these works in the Wen xuan commentary of Li Shan 李善 (d. 689), who cites frequently from Zhi Yu and Li Chong. In his careful examination of these citations, Wang Liqun discovered that many of the pieces selected in the Wen xuan were also contained in the Wenzhang liu bie ji and Han lin. What is even more important about Wang Liqun’s discovery is that in a number of instances, he was able to show that the version selected in the Wen xuan must have come from one of these anthologies, rather than some other source such as the collected works of a particular writer.10 For example, in his introductory note to “Wei Cao Hong yu Wei Wendi shu” 為曹洪與魏文 帝書 by Chen Lin 陳琳 (ca. 160–217), Li Shan cites Chen Lin’s collected works as listing the title for this work as “Yu Wendi jian” 與文帝牋 (Memorandum to Emperor Wen).11 Wang Liqun suggests that this difference in title is evidence that the compilers of the Wen xuan did not take the text from Chen Lin’s collected works but from some other source.12 The most likely source is a general anthology. There may also have been another source used by the compilers of the Wen xuan: single genre anthologies. The “Jing ji zhi” of the Sui shu lists a large number of such works. These single genre anthologies include collections of letters. For example, already in the Jin period, Wang Lü 王履 (n.d.), who is not otherwise known, compiled a Shu ji 書集 (Collection of letters) in 88 juan.13 There were also collections of a single writer’s letters. One famous example is the Ying Qu shulin 應璩書林 (Grove of letters by Ying Qu) in 8 juan compiled in the Southern Qi by Xia Chisong 夏赤松.14 Ying Qu 應璩 (190–252) was perhaps the most prolific letter writer of the Wei, Jin, Nanbeichao period. The largest number of letters in the Wen xuan is in the shu section, which in the thirty-nine-genre version contains 22 pieces.15 However, this is not the only category that includes epistolary writing. For example, shu exchanged between Liu Kun 劉琨 (271–318) and Lu Chen 盧諶 (285–351) are attached to 10 11 12 13 14 15

Wen xuan chengshu yanjiu, 32–50. Wen xuan 41.1880. Wen xuan chengshu yanjiu, 37. Sui shu 35.1089. Sui shu 35.1089. On the shu in the Wen xuan see Guo and Li, “Lun Wen xuan zhi shuti”; Ding Liya, “Cong Wen xuan ‘shu’ lei”; Fu Gang, Zhaoming Wen xuan yanjiu, 298–99; Li Nailong, “Lun Wen xuan ‘shu’ lei”; Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 63–64.



poems, which are in the shi 詩 section of the Wen xuan.16 There are other genre groups that arguably are also letters in the proper sense of the word. One obvious example is jian 牋, which I render as “memorandum.” The main distinction between jian and shu is that the jian is a letter written by an inferior to a person superior in rank.17 The Wen xuan contains 9 pieces in this section. We have also mentioned the yi 移 (dispatch), which in many editions of the Wen xuan is placed in the shu section.18 I will discuss the two examples of the yi below. There are several genre categories that are admixtures of petition and letter. Of the Wen xuan genre groups, there two examples of these types, the qi 啟 (communication) and shang shu 上書 (letter of submission). During the Wei and Jin, and even into the Liu-Song period the qi was virtually indistinguishable from other petition forms such as biao and zou. However, already in the Liu-Song period, we begin to see a special type of qi, which is basically a kind of “thank-you note” or “letter of thanks.”19 For example, Bao Zhao 鮑照 (414?– 466) has a short piece titled “Xie ci yao qi” 謝賜藥啟 which I would propose to translate “Note of Thanks for a Gift of Medicinal Herbs.”20 There are three qi pieces in the Wen xuan that I will discuss below. The Wen xuan contains seven examples of shang shu.21 All but one of them are from the Qin-Han period. It is not entirely clear why the compilers of the Wen xuan placed them in this category. The one feature they share in common is that all but one are addressed to a person who holds the noble title wang 王, which depending on the period designates either a king or prince. (The one exception is the shang shu by Sima Xiangru, which he presented to Emperor Wu of the Former Han.) One could argue that these pieces are better thought of as petitions addressed to a royal or imperial court. Dr. Eva Yuen-wah Chung in her PhD dissertation on Han letters treats all of the Qin and Han pieces as letters.22 However, recognizing their affinity with the petition form, she translates the word shang shu as “memorial.” At the end of this article, I provide a list of the letters contained in the shu, jian, yi, qi, and shang shu categories of the Wen xuan along with a summary of their contents and bibliographical information. Here I will offer a brief review 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Wen xuan 25.1168–70, 25.1177–79. For a brief discussion of the jian section of the Wen xuan see Li Nailong, “Wen xuan ‘jian’ wen.” See Li Nailong, “Wen xuan ‘yi’ lei.” See Tao Peng, Liuchao pianwen yanjiu, 126–27 and Xiaofei Tian’s chapter in this volume. Qian Zhenlun, Bao Canjun ji, 2.32. On the shang shu in the Wen xuan see Li Nailong, “‘Shang shu’.” Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’.”


Letters in the Wen xuan

of this material in order to determine what this selection of works tells us about the early medieval Chinese letter as a genre. Fu Gang has prepared a table of the contents of the “prose” sections of the Wen xuan organized by period.23 If one extracts everything from the table but the epistolary genres, his table looks as follows: Period

Genre Name


Western Han Eastern Han Sanguo Western Jin Eastern Jin Song Southern Qi Liang Total

上書 (6), 書 (3), 移 (1) 書 (1) 牋 (6), 書 (14) 書 (2) None None 牋 (1), 移 (1) 上書 (1), 啟 (3), 牋 (2), 書 (2)

10 1 20 2 0 0 2 8 43

What is immediately striking about this table is that almost half of the epistolary pieces come from the Sanguo period. This is somewhat misleading because most of these works were actually written in the Jian’an period, which is technically the last reign period of the Later Han. Fu Gang also has compiled another table that shows the distribution of prose genres by author.24 Here is his table minus the non-letter genres: Period

Writer and Genres


Western Han

李斯 1 (上書), 鄒陽 2 (上書 2), 枚乘 2 (上書 2), 司馬相如 1 (上書 1), 李陵 1 (書 1), 司馬遷 1 (書 1), 楊惲 1 (書 1), 劉歆 1 (移 1) 朱浮 1 (書 1)


Eastern Han

23 24

Zhaoming Wen xuan yanjiu, 288. Zhaoming Wen xuan yanjiu, 290.




(cont.) Period

Writer and Genres



孔融 1 (書 1), 曹植 2 (書 2), 楊修 1 (牋 1), 繁欽 1 (牋 1), 陳琳 2 (牋 1, 書 1), 吳質 3 (牋 2, 書 1), 阮瑀 1 (書 1), 曹丕 3 (書 3), 應璩 4 (書 4), 阮籍 1 (牋 1), 嵇康 1 (書 1) 孫楚 1 (書 1), 趙至 1 (書 1) None None 謝朓 1 (牋 1), 孔稚珪 1 (移 1) 任昉 5 (啟 3, 牋 2), 江淹 1 (上書 1), 丘遲 1 (書 1), 劉孝標 1 (書 1)


Western Jin Eastern Jin Song Southern Qi Liang


2 8

The only addition I would make to this table is the two shu by Liu Kun and Liu Chen that are contained in the shi section. Since they were written during the transition between the Western and Eastern Jin, they could be included in either period. The table given above shows that the writers with three or more letters are Ren Fang (5), Ying Qu (4), Cao Pi (3), and Wu Zhi (3). However, as we shall see, Ren Fang’s “letters” represent a special type of epistolary writing which I will discuss below. Thus, the vast majority of letter writers comes from the Jian’an and Wei periods. Another notable feature of the two tables is the paucity of letters from the Western Jin, and the total absence of letters from the Eastern Jin and Song periods. The most obvious omissions from the Western Jin are the letters of Lu Ji 陸機 (261–303) and his brother Lu Yun 陸雲 (262–303). Lu Yun has a large number of letters extant.25 Thirty-five of them are addressed to Lu Ji. Scholars have studied them as important sources for the literary thought of the Lu brothers.26 The Lu brothers’ letters contain many local expressions from their home Wu area, and it is very likely that the compilers of the Wen xuan excluded them on the grounds that this “low register” language was not appropriate for an anthology of “refined literature.” The only work in the Wen xuan that contains low-register language is “Zou tan Liu Zheng” 奏彈劉整 25


Liu Yunhao, Lu Shilong wenji jiaozhu 10.1211–1327. For studies see Kamatani Takeshi, “Riku Un ani e no shokan”; Satō Toshiyuki, Riku Un kenkyū; Sujane Wu, “Clarity, Brevity, and Naturalness,” 208–38. See Fu Gang “ ‘Wen gui qing sheng’ shuo.”

Letters in the Wen xuan


(Petition impeaching Liu Zheng) by Ren Fang 任昉 (460–506) which contains colloquial language depositions given by illiterate servants. However, the text of the piece contained in the original version of the Wen xuan compiled at Xiao Tong’s court excluded these portions. They were inserted into it by the Tang commentaor Li Shan.27 The deletion of the colloquial language passage by the Wen xuan compilers in this impeachment petition may indicate their aversion to low register language. Another important writer of letters in the Eastern Jin period is Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303–361). In addition to 11 shu and jian, Wang Xizhi is credited with almost 700 notes (shu tie 書帖), many of which may be in his original hand. Most of the notes are addressed to relatives and friends.28 The compilers of the Wen xuan did not select any writings by Wang Xizhi, including his famous “Lanting Preface.”29 As in the case of the letters of Lu Ji and Lu Yun, the compilers of the Wen xuan may have excluded Wang Xizhi’s shu tie because most of them are written in a low register language. The Wen xuan compilers also excluded notable letters from the Liu-Song period. One famous example is the “Yu zhong yu zhu shengzhi shu” 獄中與諸 甥姪書 (Letter from prison to my nephews) by Fan Ye 范曄 (398–446).30 This letter is an important statement of Fan Ye’s views on writing. Fan Ye claimed to shun the vocation of wenshi 文士 (literary man) and asserts that in writing yi 意 (thought, meaning) is the most important consideration. He implies that writing such as shi, fu, and some types of prose is inferior to writing that conveys a moral message. Although Fan Ye’s letter is a well-crafted work of parallel prose, perhaps because he denigrated genres that the compilers of the Wen xuan so highly valued they excluded it from their anthology. Another famous parallel prose letter that was not included in the Wen xuan is the “Deng Dalei an yu mei shu” 登大雷岸與妹書 (Letter to my younger sister upon ascending the bank of Thunder Lake) by Bao Zhao 鮑照 (ca. 414– 466).31 This letter is one of the first of a number of letters that use parallel prose to describe a landscape scene. Qian Zhongshu 錢鍾書 has deemed it not only the best of Bao Zhao’s writings, but the best prose work of the Liu-Song 27 28 29

30 31

Wen xuan 40.1809. See i.a. Morino Shigeo and Satō Toshiyuki, Ō Gishi zen shokan; and Antje Richter, “Beyond Calligraphy.” The exclusion of the “Lanting Preface” has long been a controversial issue in Wen xuan studies. See i.a., Knechtges, Wen xuan, Volume One, 42, 513–14; Shimizu Yoshio, “Ō Gishi ‘Rantei jo’.” For a translation see Egan, “The Prose Style of Fan Ye,” 339–42. For a study and translation see Su Jui-lung 蘇瑞隆, “‘Versatility within Tradition’,” 200– 213; “Bao Zhao: Letter to My Younger Sister.” See also Su Jui-lung, Bao Zhao shiwen yanjiu, 117–23.



period.32 Thus, it is difficult to explain why the Wen xuan compilers excluded a letter of such literary merit. The Southern Qi prose section contains only two putative examples of letters, one of which is a memorandum by Xie Tiao 謝朓 (464–499) written to his former patron Xiao Zilong 蕭子隆 (474–494), Prince of Sui 隨, whom Xie Tiao had served in Jingzhou. This is a personal piece in which Xie Tiao expresses his warm regard for Xiao Zilong. The other is the famous “Beishan yiwen” (Proclamation on [or from] North Mountain) by Kong Zhigui. This is one of the two yi in the Wen xuan. Although there is much scholarly discussion about the purpose of this piece, its form is quite clear. In the opening lines Kong Zhigui writes: The essence of Mount Zhong and the spirit of the Grass Hut monastery gallop through the mists on the post road and engrave a dispatch in the mountain courtyard. 鍾山之英,草堂之靈。馳煙驛路,勒移山庭。 Mount Zhong (modern Zijin 紫金 Mountain) was located north of the capital of Jiankang. This is the North Mountain of the title. The Grass Hut is the name of the hermitage on Mount Zhong that Zhou Yong 周顒 (441?–491?) lived in during official leaves or periods when not in office. According to the prevailing interpretation, which is disputed by some scholars, Zhou Yong had left Mount Zhong to take up office in Haiyan 海鹽 (modern Haiyan, Zhejiang).33 After his term had expired, Zhou Yong wished to visit his hermitage on his return to the capital. Kong Zhigui addressed the proclamation to the natural forces of Mount Zhong to prevent him from returning to Northern Mountain. Whatever the circumstances of the composition, unless one is prepared to consider a piece addressed to a mountain an epistle, this piece cannot be considered a letter in the conventional sense. The other yi in the Wen xuan is “Yi rang taichang boshi” 移書讓太常博士 (A letter berating the professors of the Ministry of Ceremonies) by Liu Xin 劉 歆 (d. 23). In 6 BCE, Liu Xin requested that the Zuo zhuan, the Mao version of the Shi jing, the remnants of the Book of Rites, and the old text version of the Classic of Documents be established as official texts in the national university. When he met with strong criticism from important officials, he submitted a letter to the professors of the national university, berating them for their stubborn opposition to his proposal. The word yishu 移書 in the title does not 32 33

Guanzhui bian 4:1313. See i.a. Wang Yunxi, “Kong Zhigui”; Cao Daoheng and Shen Yucheng, “Kong Zhigui.”

Letters in the Wen xuan


designate a genre, but simply means “to send a letter.” The phrase is taken from the biography of Liu Xin in the Han shu which writes: “Emperor Ai ordered Liu Xin and the professors of the Five Classics to discuss their meaning. Some of the professors were unwilling to offer a reply. Liu Xin then sent a letter to the professors of the Ministry of Ceremonies berating them” 歆因移書太常博士 責讓之.34 Liu Xin’s piece thus clearly is a letter. The five pieces by the distinguished prose writer Ren Fang present a special case. He has 17 prose pieces in the Wen xuan. Of the two pieces in the jian 牋 section, one is addressed to Xiao Yan 蕭衍 (464–549, r. 502–49) just before he was named emperor of the newly founded Liang dynasty. Xiao Yan had just appointed Ren Fang record keeper. In a short note, Ren Fang mentions that he has known Xiao Yan for almost twenty years. He expresses his admiration and gratitude to him for appointing him to this position. This piece can be considered a personal letter. Ren Fang’s second piece in the jian section is quite different. On 24 February 502 a group of court of officials wrote to Xiao Yan urging him to accept the title of Duke of Liang in preparation for eventually urging him to accept the abdication of the imperial throne from the Southern Qi emperor. Thus, this piece more properly belongs in the petition category. The same may be said of the “Wei Zheng Chong quan Jin wang jian” 為鄭沖勸 晉王牋 (Memorandum on behalf of Zheng Chong exhorting the Prince of Jin) by Ruan Ji 阮籍 (210–263), which Ruan Ji composed to urge Sima Zhao 司馬昭 (211–265) to accept the title of Duke of Jin and the Nine Bestowals. All three of the qi 啟 pieces included in the Wen xuan are by Ren Fang. Two are good examples of the thank-you note. In one letter, Ren Fang replies to an edict from Emperor Wu of the Liang who had requested him to write a matching piece to a poem on the subject of the Seventh Night of the Seventh Lunar month. In the note, he expresses thanks to the emperor for sending him a copy of the poem, and he expresses his admiration for the emperor’s poetic skill. Ren Fang wrote the second thank-you note on behalf of Bian Bin 卞彬 (fl. 480–500) who expresses gratitude to Emperor Wu for refurbishing the tomb of his great-great grandfather, the famous Eastern Jin statesman Bian Kun 卞 壼 (281–328). The third qi is addressed to the Grand Mentor Xiao Luan 蕭鸞 (452–498). Ren Fang had been in mourning for his deceased father and mother. In 494, Xiao Luan ordered him to take up a post as recorder on his staff. Ren wrote this qi requesting that he not be forced to curtail his mourning rites. The piece is more in the form of a petition than a letter. This is another example where the distinction between letter and petition is blurred. The following is a list of the letters in the Wen xuan. 34

Han shu 36.1967.

200 1


Letters in the Shu 書 Section

Li Ling 李陵 (d. 74 BCE), “Da Su Wu shu” 答蘇武書 (Letter replying to Su Wu) This letter is a reply to a letter from Li Ling’s friend Su Wu 蘇武 (d. 60 BCE), both of whom were held as captives of the Xiongnu. Most scholars do not consider this letter genuine. 1.1

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:510– 26; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2912–22; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1881–91; Whitaker, “Some Notes on the Authorship”; Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 316–39; Feng Siyi, “Dunhuang xieben”; Zhang and Liu, “Guanyu Li Ling ‘Yu Su Wu shi’”; Wang Lin, “Li Ling ‘Da Su Wu shu’”; trans. Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 529–47.

Sima Qian 司馬遷 (ca. 145–ca. 86 BCE, alt. birth year 135 BCE, alt. death year 90 BCE), “Bao Ren Shaoqing shu” 報任少卿舒 (Letter replying to Ren Shaoqing) In this letter Sima Qian replies to Ren An 任安 (d. 91/90 BCE) requesting him to recommend worthy and able men for office. In his reply, Sima Qian claims that as “punished remnant” 刑餘之人 and “remnant of the knife and saw” 刀 鋸之餘, he could not “recommend the empire’s most distinguished men” 薦 天下豪俊哉. He then devotes much of the letter to explaining why he had chosen to submit to the humiliating punishment of castration after he had come to the defense of Li Ling. His main concern was to complete the Shi ji 史 記, which he regarded as a filial duty bequeathed to him by his father. 1.2

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Wang Li, Gudai Hanyu, 2:855–71; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:527–55; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2923–44; Gao Buying, Liang Han wen juyao, 87–108; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1891–908; Chen Jinzhong. “Shi ‘Bao Ren An shu’ de jige wenti”; He Shihua, “‘Bao Ren An shu’”; Xu Shuofang, “‘Bao Ren An shu”; Cheng Jinzao, “Lun Wang Guowei”; Shi Ding, “Sima Qian”; Xue Zhengxing, “‘Bao Ren An shu’”; Fuehrer, “The Court Scribe’s Eikon Psyches”; Chen Zhisheng, “Sima Qian zhi xin”; Schaab-Hanke, “Anfechtungen eines Ehrenmannes”; Knechtges, “‘Key Words’”; trans. Chavannes, Les Mémoires historiques, 1:ccxxvi–ccxxxviii; Watson, Ssu-ma Ch’ien, 57–67; Dzo, Sseu-ma, 153–60; Hightower in Birch and Keene, Anthology, 95–102; Owen. Anthology, 136–42; Watson, Records of the Grand Historian, Han Dynasty II, 227–37.

Letters in the Wen xuan


Yang Yun 楊惲 (d. 54 BCE, alt. 56 BCE), “Bao Sun Huizong shu” 報孫 會宗書 (Letter replying to Sun Huizong) Yang Yun was the grandson of Sima Qian. After holding high positions at the imperial court, Yang Yun was dismissed from office. He moved to the countryside and engaged in money-making activities. His friend Sun Huizong wrote him a letter criticizing him for this conduct. In his reply, Yang Yun defends his actions. 1.3

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Wang Li, Gudai Hanyu, 2:871–75; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:556–63; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2945–50; Kong and Han, Liang Han zhujia sanwen xuan, 106–15; Gao Buying, Liang Han wen juyao, 160–161; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1908–14; trans. Margouliès, Le Kou-wen chinois, 101–5; Margouliès, Anthologie, 208–11; Watson, Early Chinese Literature, 116–19; rpt. in Birch and Keene, Anthology, 159–61.

1.4 Kong Rong 孔融 (153–208), “Lun Sheng Xiaozhang shu” 論盛孝章書 (Letter discussing Sheng Xiaozhang) This is a letter Kong Rong addressed to Cao Cao in 204 urging him to have Sheng Xian 盛憲 (d. ca. 204) invited to the Han court to serve as commandant of cavalry. Kong Rong had been concerned about Sheng Xian’s welfare because of animosity from the Wu military leader Sun Ce 孫策 (175–200). Cao Cao agreed to grant him the post, but before the commission reached him, Sun Ce’s younger brother Sun Quan 孫權 (182–252) had already executed Sheng Xian. The Wen xuan title for this letter probably is not the earliest title. In the Guiji dianlu 會稽典錄 of Yu Yu 虞預 (fl. early 4th c.) it is simply designated “Cao gong shu” 曹公書 (Letter to his excellency Cao). Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:564– 69; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2951–54; Gao Buying, Liang Han wen juyao, 284–86; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1914–18; Wu Yun, Jian’an qizi ji jiaozhu, 82–86; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:769–70.

Zhu Fu 朱浮 (d. 57), “Wei Youzhou mu yu Peng Chong shu” 與彭寵 書 (Letter to Peng Chong in my capacity as regional governor of Youzhou) Zhu Fu wrote this letter in 26 while serving as regional governor of Youzhou 幽 州 (modern northern Hebei). During this time he came into conflict with the governor of Yuyang 漁陽 (southwest of modern Miyun 密雲, Beijing), Peng Chong (d. 29). Peng Chong was an irascible, violent sort who was quite proud of his military achievements. He became increasingly resentful that he had 1.5



not been properly rewarded. Zhu Fu secretly reported to the throne a number of alleged crimes Peng had committed, including accepting bribes, killing a friend, and hoarding weapons and grain. Upon hearing of this, Peng Chong launched an attack on Zhu Fu. Zhu Fu then wrote a letter to admonish him. This letter is not in the proper sequence, for Zhu Fu lived long before Kong Rong. It should precede Kong Rong’s letter listed above. Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:571– 77; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2955–60; Kong and Han, Liang Han zhujia sanwen xuan, 162–69; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1918–23; Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 114–16; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:770–72.

Chen Lin 陳琳 (b. ca. 160, d. 217), “Wei Cao Hong yu Wen Wendi shu” 為曹洪與魏文帝書 (Letter on Behalf of Cao Hong to the Emperor Wen of Wei) Chen Lin wrote this letter in 215 to Cao Pi 曹丕 (187–226) in the voice of Cao Cao’s cousin, Cao Hong 曹洪 (d. 232). The main portion of the letter is a refutation of a letter that Cao Pi had written to Cao Hong concerning the reasons why Cao Cao defeated Zhang Lu 張魯 (fl. 191–215), the leader of the Celestial Masters sect in Hanzhong 漢中 (modern Nanzheng 南政, Shaanxi). At the beginning of the letter Cao Hong says that Chen Lin was too busy to write anything, and he, Cao Hong, has dared to compose this letter. Later in the letter, he has Cao Hong say that his letter is not ghost-written, an accusation Cao Pi had made in a previous letter to him. 1.6

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:578– 90; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2961–69; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1923–29; Wu Yun, Jian’an qizi ji jiaozhu, 176–84.

Ruan Yu 阮瑀 (ca. 170–212), “Wei Cao gong zuo shu yu Sun Quan” 為曹公作書與孫權 (Letter written on behalf of Duke Cao to Sun Quan) Ruan Yu composed this letter in 212 in Cao Cao’s name to Sun Quan urging him to quit his alliance with Liu Bei and join Cao Cao. He also declares that Cao Cao has not been weakend by his defeat in the battle at the Red Cliff. He also subtly threatens Sun Quan by telling him that Cao Cao has constructed ships at his base in Qiao. 1.7

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:591– 612; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2970–82; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming

Letters in the Wen xuan


wen xuan, 3:1933–43; Wu Yun, Jian’an qizi ji jiaozhu, 462–71; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:773–78.

Wei Wendi 魏文帝, Cao Pi 曹丕 (187–226), “Yu Zhaoge ling Wu Zhi shu” 與朝歌令吳質書 (Letter to Magistrate of Zhaoge, Wu Zhi) This is a letter that Cao Pi wrote to Wu Zhi 吳質 (178–230) in the fifth lunar month of Jian’an 20 (215). This is the title given in the Wen xuan. There are several problems with this title. First, the position that Wu Zhi held at Zhaoge 朝歌 (modern Qi 淇 county, Henan) was that of zhang 長 (administrator) not ling 令 (magistrate).35 This is confirmed by the Wei lüe 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢 (3rd c.) cited in the Sanguo zhi commentary of Pei Songzhi 裴松之 (372–451) and the Dian lüe 典略 by Yu Huan cited in the commentary of Li Shan in the Wen xuan (42.1894). Second, according to the Wei lüe Cao Pi wrote this letter in 215 while residing in a “small fortress” in Mengjin 孟津 (northeast of modern Mengjin, Henan) when Cao Cao was waging his western campaign in Hanzhong. By this time Wu Zhi had left Zhaoge and taken up the post of magistrate of Yuancheng 元城 (modern Daming 大名, Hebei), which was located about 60 kilometers east of Ye 鄴 (modern Linzhang 臨漳, Hebei). Thus, his title should have been Yuancheng ling 元城令 when Cao Pi wrote this letter to him. In addition, Cao Pi in his letter mentions sending a courier to Ye and having him make a detour to carry the letter to Wu Zhi. Yuancheng was east of Ye, and thus the rider would have had to go all the way to Yuancheng and then circle back to Ye. This is further evidence that Wu Zhi was in Yuancheng at this time.36 In the You Mao version of the letter the date is given as the eighteenth day of the fifth month. This would correspond to 2 July 215. However, the Chen Balang, Chaling, and Mao Jin editions of the Wen xuan give the date as the twenty-eighth day of the fifth month, which is 12 July 215. Gao Buying considers this the more credible reading.37 In the letter Cao Pi recounts the outings he had engaged in with his companions at Nanpi 南皮, which was located about 200 kilometers northeast 1.8


36 37

In the Eastern Han, the position of ling was of higher rank than that of zhang. The former’s rank was from 600 to 1,000 bushels, while the rank of the latter was from 300 to 500 bushels. The ling governed a county of 10,000 households and more, while the zhang was responsible for a county of less than 10,000 households. See Bielenstein, The Bureacracy of Han Times, 100. For a detailed discussion of the problem of the correct title and the chronology involved in Wu Zhi’s official assignments, see Hsiang-Lin Shih, “Jian’an Literature Revisited,” 227–30. Wei Jin wen juyao, 2.



of Ye. On these occasions they discussed the Classics and the Masters texts, played tanqi 彈棋 (pellet chess) and encirclement chess, engaged in lofty conversation, and listened to zither music. He also mentions that one of their dear companions, Ruan Yu, had passed away. Cao Pi was not yet emperor at this time, and thus the author’s name Emperor Wen of Wei in the title is anachronistic. This is the case for all of the other letters by Cao Pi in which he is designated Emperor Wen of Wei. Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:613–18; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2983–86; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1944–46; Yi Jianxian, Wei Wendi ji quanyi, 178–81; Wei Hongcan, Cao Pi ji jiaozhu, 255–57; Chu Hsiao-hai, “Du Wen xuan”; Yu Shaochu, “‘Nanpi zhi you’”; Mei Zhengzheng, “Cao Pi”; Ding Hongwu, “Wen xuan”; trans. Cutter, “Cao Zhi’s Symposium Poems,” 3–4; Watson, “Cao Pi,” 7–11; Wang Ping, The Age of Courtly Writing, 127–28; Shih Hsiang-lin, “Jian’an Literature Revisited,” 230–31.

1.9 Wei Wendi, “Yu Wu Zhi shu” 與吳質書 (Letter to Wu Zhi) Cao Pi probably wrote this letter to Wu Zhi on the third day of the second lunar month of Jian’an 23, which corresponds to 18 March 218. At the beginning of the letter, Cao Pi laments that four years have passed since he has seen Wu Zhi. He then recounts the passing of Xu Gan 徐幹 (170–217), Chen Lin, Ying Yang 應暘 (d. 217), and Liu Zhen 劉楨 (d. 217), who all died in the epidemic of 217. Cao Pi tells of the merry gatherings and outings in which he and his courtiers engaged prior to this time. They drank wine, listened to zither and flute music, and composed poetry. He mentions that he has compiled a collection of the writings of these men. He follows with a series of comments on the writings of Xu Gan, Ying Yang, Chen Lin, Liu Zhen, and Wang Can 王粲 (177–217). Cao Pi ends the letter lamenting that he is growing old (he was only thirtytwo at the time), about the same age as Liu Xiu 劉秀 (5–57 BCE), the founding emperor of the Eastern Han. However, he does not consider himself a match for Liu Xiu in virtue. He also considers that whatever luster he has, he has borrowed from his father, Cao Cao. He states that because all of his movements are now being observed, he will never again be able to engage in the outings that he enjoyed in the past. In the final lines of the letter Cao Pi asks Wu Zhi if he has any new writings to show him. Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:619– 26; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2983–86; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1946–51; Yi Jianxian, Wei Wendi ji quanyi, 182–87; Wei Hongcan, Cao Pi ji jiaozhu, 258–62; Matsumoto, “Sō Hi to Go Shitsu”; Fukui, “Sō Hi no ‘Yo Go Shitsu sho

Letters in the Wen xuan


in tsuite”; Huang Shuling, “Cao Pi ‘Yu Wu Zhi shu’ jiao zheng”; Chu Hsiao-hai, “Du Wen xuan”; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:780–82; Miao, “Literary Criticism,” 1030–32; Holzman, “Literary Criticism,” 123–25; Watson, “Cao Pi,” 7–11; Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 65–66, 84–85, 123; Shih Hsiang-lin, “Jian’an Literature Revisited,” 231–34.

Wei Wendi, “Yu Zhong dali shu” 與鍾大理書 (Letter to Grand Judge Zhong) Cao Pi wrote this letter in 215 when he was in Mengjin. He had heard that Zhong You 鍾繇 (151–230) possessed a precious jue 玦 (jade circlet). In the first section of the letter he refers to four famous jades of antiquity. In the second section he recounts how he asked his brother Cao Zhi to use the good offices of Xun Hong 荀宏 to request the jade circlet from Zhong You. Zhong You then sent a courier from Ye to deliver the jade to Cao Pi in Mengjin. In the last part of the letter Cao Pi expresses his sincere gratitude to Zhong You for presenting him with this precious gift. 1.10

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:627– 41; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2993–96; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1951–53; Yi Jianxian, Wei Wendi ji quanyi, 188–92; Wei Hongcan, Cao Pi ji jiaozhu, 263–66; Chu Hsiao-hai, “Du Wen xuan”; trans. Debon, “Der Jadering des Chung Yu”; Xiaofei Tian’s chapter in this volume.

1.11 Cao Zhi, “Yu Yang Dezu shu” 與楊德祖書 (Letter to Yang Xiu) Cao Zhi probably wrote this letter to Yang Xiu 楊修 (175–219) in 216. Yang Xiu was one of Cao Zhi’s best friends and advocated his selection as heir designate over Cao Pi. In the first part of the letter Cao Zhi singles out six writers of the time whom Cao Cao has recruited to the court in Ye: Wang Can, Chen Lin, Xu Gan, Liu Zhen, Ying Yang, and Yang Xiu. However, he criticizes Chen Lin for his lack of skill in composing fu. Cao Zhi remarks that all writings have some flaws. The most important statement in the letter is Cao Zhi’s claim that the fu is a “minor art” 辭賦小道 because it cannot promote moral principles. He cites Yang Xiong’s 揚雄 (53 BCE–18 CE) famous claim that “a grown man does not compose fu” 壯夫不為. Although Cao Zhi was a skilled fu writer, he believed that composition of belles lettres was not as noble a calling as service to the state and the establishment of a legacy of achievement that could be handed down to later ages. Annotations, Studies, Translations: Zhao Youwen, Cao Zhi ji jiaozhu, 1.153–59; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:633–41; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi,



4:2997–3004; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1954–60; Liu Yuanzhi, “Cao Zhi”; Sun Jing, “Wen xuan Cao Zhi”; Cui Jibao, “Cao Zhi”; Wu Weijie, “Sanguo shidai shuxin yanjiu”; trans. Holzman, “Literary Criticism,” 116–19; Miao, “Literary Criticism,” 1028–30; Wong, Early Chinese Literary Criticism, 27–37; Ho, “Cao Zhi,” 12–14; Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 82 (excerpt).

1.12 Cao Zhi, “Yu Wu Jizhong shu” 與吳季重書 (Letter to Wu Zhi) Cao Zhi probably composed this letter in 215 when Wu Zhi was serving as administrator of Zhaoge. Wu Zhi had visited Cao Zhi in Ye, and then returned to Zhaoge where he received this letter from Cao Zhi. At the beginning of the letter Cao Zhi mentions the joyful feasts that they engaged in at Ye. He describes Wu Zhi as “soaring like a hawk, sighing like a phoenix, and glaring like a tiger” 鷹揚其體,鳳歎虎視. Cao Zhi then declares that his grand ambition was “to lift up Mount Tai to use for meat, pour out the Eastern Sea to use for wine, fell the bamboo of Yunmeng to use for flutes, and chop down the catalpas on the banks of the Si River to use for zithers” 願舉太山以為肉,傾東海以為 酒,伐雲夢之竹以為笛,斬泗濱之梓以為箏. He also recounts the feasting and drinking in a hyperbolic, epideictic style: “Eating was like filling a giant ravine, drinking was like pouring into a leaking goblet” 食若填巨壑,飲若 灌漏巵. In the next section, Cao Zhi regrets that the time of their gatherings passed much too quickly. In the final section of the letter, Cao Zhi sings the praises of Wu Zhi’s writing skill displayed in his letter. He also comments on Zhaoge where Wu Zhi held office. This was a place where Mo Di, who disliked music, had turned his chariot around because the name Zhaoge meant either “singing in the morning,” or “singing at court.” Zhaoge was also the capital of King Zhou, the last ruler of the Yin, whose music was considered to be that of a fallen state. Cao Zhi remarks that unlike Mo Di, Wu Zhi enjoyed music. However, Wu Zhi apparently had indicated that he did not consider his post in Zhaoge prestigious enough. Cao Zhi urges him to work hard in this current position. Annotations, Studies, Translations: Zhao Youwen, Cao Zhi ji jiaozhu, 1.142–46; Xiong Yongqian, Wei Jin Nanbeichao pianwen, 14–28; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:642–47; Gao Buying, Wei Jin wen juyao, 44–48; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3005–9; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1960–64; Cao Haidong, Xinyi Cao Zijian ji, 455–60; Mu and Guo, Wei Jin Nanbeichao wenlun quanbian, 24–27, Matsumoto, “Sō Hi to Go Shitsu,” 292–322; trans. Cutter. “Cao Zhi,” 72–73, 136–39; Cutter. “Cao Zhi’s Symposium Poems,” 5–6; Shih Hsiang-lin, “Jian’an Literature Revisited,” 218– 19; R. Joe Cutter’s chapter in this volume.

Letters in the Wen xuan


Wu Zhi, “Da Dong’e wang shu” 答東阿王書 (Letter replying to the Prince of Dong’e) This is a letter that Wu Zhi wrote in 215 replying to a letter that Cao Zhi had sent him after he had returned to his post in Zhaoge where Wu had been serving for four years as administrator. At the beginning of the letter, Wu Zhi praises the elegant style of Cao Zhi’s letter and expresses his gratitude for Cao Zhi’s sincere solicitude for him. In the next section of the letter, Wu Zhi declares that his status is more humble than that of a horse or dog, and that his virtue his slighter than goose down. Although he has been privileged to participate in the festive gatherings hosted in the Wei palaces in Ye, he claims that he lacks the talent and achievements of the three famous Warring States figures of Mao Sui 毛遂 who served the Lord of Pingyuan 平原, Feng Xuan 馮諼 who was a retainer of the Lord of Mengchang 孟嘗君, and Hou Ying 侯贏 who was an advisor to the Lord of Xinling 信陵君. At one point he even says that having serving the “supremely exalted” Cao Zhi, he finally realized how humble and insignificant his “hundred-league” post in Zhaoge was. This is clearly a subtle suggestion that Wu Zhi hoped for a position in a more prestigious place. Wu Zhi then repeats phrases from Cao Zhi’s letter in which Cao Zhi states that his ambition was to “pour out the sea to make wine, annex the mountains to make meat, fell the bamboo of Yunmeng, and cut down the catalpas on the banks of the Si River.” Wu Zhi declares that his ambition is not that bold. He would prefer to cast off his seals and seal cords, study the teachings of Confucius, and read the “essential words” of Laozi. He also states that he no longer wishes to enjoy the company of beautiful women (he says he will have only ugly women for companions!), and he resolves to intimidate the Sushen 肅愼 state north of the Yellow River and the Baiyue 百越 in the south, inducing the former to present the five-leaved chaste tree and the latter to send a white pheasant (an auspicious tribute item) to the Wei court. Having subdued these lands, “how would Sun Quan and Liu Bei be worth our consideration?” 又況權備,夫何足視乎. In the final section of the letter, Wu Zhi thanks Cao Zhi for the fu pieces he has given him. He praises Cao Zhi as the “patriarch of fu writing, and the mentor for writers” 實賦頌之宗,作者之師也. He compares the group composition gatherings at the Ye court to the recitation of Shi jing poems by seven courtiers of Zheng in the Chunqiu period at a feast given by the ruler of Zheng for the visiting chief minister of Jin, Zhao Meng 趙孟.38 Wu Zhi notes that men of Zhaoge are skilled in fu writing. Many of them are former court officials, who 1.13


Zuo zhuan, Xiang 27.



also recite fu compositions. This is his of way saying that Zhaoge may not be such a backwater after all. However, Wu Zhi ends the letter by remarking that his small command does not provide sufficient opportunity for him to “make his name known” 不足以 揚名. Using phrases that Cao Zhi had used in his letter, Wu Zhi say “if one does not change his track and team, how can he exert his efforts on behalf of the state. Now, dwelling in this place and seeking great achievement is like hobbling the hooves of a fine steed and demanding that it run a thousand leagues, or putting a monkey in a cage and expecting it to perform ingenious tricks.” 若 不改轍易御,將何以効其力哉!今處此而求大功,猶絆良驥之足, 而責以千里之任;檻 猨猴之勢,而望其巧捷之能者也. Cao Zhi was not appointed Prince of Dong’e until 229, and thus this title is anachronistic. Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:648– 56; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3010–17; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1964–69; Matsumoto, “Sō Hi to Go Shitsu, 292–322; trans. Shih Hsiang-lin, “Jian’an Literature Revisited,” 219–20.

Ying Qu 應璩 (190–252), “Yu Man Gongyan shu” 與滿公琰書 (Letter to Man Gongyan) This is a letter Ying Qu wrote to Man Bing 滿炳, whose zi was Gongyan. Man Bing was the son of Man Chong 滿寵 (d. 242), whose natal place was Changyi 昌邑 in Shanyang 山陽 commandery (south of modern Juye 巨野, Shandong). Man Chong was one of Cao Cao’s most trusted military leaders. During the early Wei dynasty he participated in campaigns against Wu. In 238, Man Chong was appointed defender-in-chief. During this time Ying Qu served on his staff. Little is known about Man Bing. Based on Ying Qu’s letter, we know that Man Bing had visited Ying Qu in Luoyang, where Ying Qu was serving as palace attendant. Lu Kanru dates this event to 239.39 After Man Bing left, Ying Qu was about to send a letter to Man Bing when a messenger arrived from Man Bing inviting Ying Qu to come to a gathering at the Zhang River. Because of pressing business, Ying Qu was unable to go. He wrote this letter instead. In the letter Ying Qu first thanks Man Chong for coming to visit him. He recalls the feasts that he enjoyed together with Chong Man. At the end of the letter he expresses regret that he cannot attend the gathering at Zhang Water 漳渠, which is another name for the Zhang River where the city of Ye was located. Ying Qu describes the scenery at the Boyang 伯陽 Lodge. Although 1.14


Zhonggu wenxue xinian 2:526.

Letters in the Wen xuan


Li Shan seems to equate this with a temple dedicated to Laozi, it actually has nothing to do with the Taoist sage. Boyang rather refers to the ancient fortified city of Boyang.40 Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:657– 62; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3018–21; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1969–72; trans. Lin, “Rediscovering Ying Qu,” 56, 72 (excerpt).

Ying Qu, “Yu shilang Cao Changsi shu” 與侍郎曹長思書 (Letter to Attendant Gentleman Cao Changsi) Ying Qu wrotes this letter to Cao Changsi 曹長思 who is not otherwise known. From the letter we learn that Cao must have been one of Ying’s close friends. Thus, in the opening lines Ying expresses his longing and admiration for Cao. He follows by mentioning the great success that two of Ying’s contemporaries, Wang Su 王肅 (195–256) and He Zeng 何曾 (199–278) have had in their official careers. Ying complains that since he has no one to assist him in promoting his advancement, he will “fold his wings on an old branch” 歛翼於故枝 and dwell in solitude. In the next long section Ying Qu mentions four men of antiquity, Chen Ping 陳平 (d. 178 BCE), Yang Xiong, Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (179–104 BCE), and Chen Zun 陳遵 (1st c. BCE). When Ying declares that he is inferior to them in virtue, learning, talent, and even ability to provide wine for guests, one senses that this is another complaint about his impoverished state. At this point he tells Cao that “a sad wind rises from his inner chambers, and red dust covers his armrest and couch” 悲風起於閨闥,紅塵蔽於机榻. One of his few companions is a man named Scholar Yuan 袁生, who is not otherwise known. He is only able to engage in “pure conversation” (qing tan 清談) with him. At the end of the letter Ying Qu asserts that success and failure is simply a matter of the natural course of things, and that there is nothing one can do about one’s plight. 1.15


According to the Kuodi zhi 括地志 by Li Tai 李泰 (618–652), another name for it was Hanhui cheng 邯會城 (southwest of modern Feixiang 肥鄉, Henan, see He Cijun, ed., Kuodi zhi jijiao, 2.83). It was located on the Zhang River about fifty kilometers northeast of Ye. This area was also the location of “stone-ink” or graphite wells and salt ponds. (See Zuo Si 左思, “Wei du fu” 魏都賦, Wen xuan 6.267–68, Li Shan commentary.) This site has recently been identified as located at modern Qingliu cun 清流村. The ancient site of Boyang cheng reputedly has been covered by the Yuecheng 岳城 Reservoir. See Tang Jigen, “Cao Cao mu zhenxiang,” 25.



Annotations, Studies, Translations: Xiong Yongqian, Wei Jin Nanbeichao pianwen, 44–52; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wen­xuan yizhu, 5:648–56; Wei Fengjuan, Wei Jin Nanbeichao zhujia, 111–14; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3022–26; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1972–74; trans. Lin, “Rediscovering Ying Qu,” 56–57 (excerpt).

Ying Qu, “Yu Guangchuan zhang Cen Wenyu shu” 與廣川長岑文 瑜書 (Letter to Admininstrator of Guangchuan, Cen Wenyu) Ying Qu wrote this letter to Cen Wenyu, who was serving as administrator of Guangchuan (southwest of modern Jing 景 county, Hebei). During this time Guangchuan had been suffering from an extended drought. It was so hot, sand and pebbles melted, and plants were scorched and shriveled. There was absolutely no shade to be found. Guangchuan officials placed clay dragons and mud effigies in shrines to pray for rain. This went on for ten days with no effect. Ying Qu then declares that these were not the proper methods for obtaining rain. He cites the examples of ancient rulers such as Yu of Xia and Tang of Yin who exposed themselves to the sun and offered their bodies as sacrificial victims to end long droughts and immediately obtained the blessings of rain. He suggests that officials of his time lack the moral character of the ancients, and thus their methods of praying for rain are useless. 1.16

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:668– 72; Qu Shouyuan. Wen xuan daodu, 281–86; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3022– 30; You Zhicheng, Zhaoming wen xuan jiaodu, 1:131–35; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1974–76; trans. Lin, “Rediscovering Ying Qu,” 72–73 (excerpt).

Ying Qu, “Yu congdi Junmiao Junzhou shu” 與從弟君苗君冑書 (Letter to my cousins Junmiao and Junzhou) Ying Qu wrote this letter around 250 to his paternal cousins Ying Junmiao and Ying Junzhou. He begins the letter by recounting a recent excursion he had taken in the Beimang 北邙 hills north of Luoyang. After crossing the Yellow River, he found the view so vast and expansive, his visual acuity was sharpened. Upon arriving at his destination, he drank spring wine and strolled in thatched huts which were cooler than grand mansions. He also went boating on a pond, recited verse beneath willow trees, shot birds with corded arrows, and fished in deep pools. In the next section, Ying Qu tells of his return to Luoyang where he took up a solitary life style. He complains that from his house on the bank of the Luo River he was disturbed by the noise and dust of the city and marketplace. He considers emulating Confucius’ disciple Min Ziqian who declared he would become a recluse on the Wen 汶 River after he had been offered the 1.17

Letters in the Wen xuan


position of steward in Qi.41 Ying Qu says he wishes to plow fields at Shanyang 山陽 (east of modern Jiaozuo 焦作 city, Henan), and fish in the waters of the Dan 丹 River which flowed west of Shanyang. In the last section of the letter, we learn that Junjiao and Junzhou had earned the respect of the residents of their district who wished to honor them with an official post and a fief. However, Ying Qu tells them that based on his long service in a military command, rarely did anyone meet with success in his official career. He complains that he did not have anyone to help him to obtain high positions, and he also lacked family assets that would have allowed him to enjoy a comfortable retirement. He urges them not to seek wealth and honor, but follow his example of “avoiding the toil of the heavy burdens” 免負 擔之勤 of official service. He declares that he will become a recluse who raises chickens, plants millet, and devotes his energy to reading texts in order to “establish his character and spread his fame” 立身揚名. The implication is that he wishes his two cousins to do likewise. Annotations, Studies, Translations: Xiong Yongqian, Wei Jin Nanbeichao pianwen, 29–43; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wen­xuan yizhu, 5:648–56; Wei Fengjuan, Wei Jin Nanbeichao zhujia, 115–21; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3031–36; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1976–81; trans. Lin, “Rediscovering Ying Qu,” 53–54, 72 (excerpt).

Xi Kang 嵇康 (224–263) “Yu Shan Juyuan juejiao shu” 與山巨源絕 交書 (Letter to Shan Tao severing friendship) Xi Kang wrote this letter to his friend Shan Tao 山濤 (205–283) in 261 or 263. Shan Tao was about to leave the Bureau of Appointments in the Department of Personnel, and he recommended Xi Kang as his replacement. Xi Kang wrote this letter in which he expressed indignation at being asked to compromise his principles by accepting high office. He then reputedly broke off his friendship with Shan Tao. However, recently Xu Gongchi has argued that this letter has nothing to do with severing friendship with Shan Tao. He adduces evidence to show that the received version of the title with the words “breaking off friendship” was probably added to the letter after the Liu-Song period or even in the Qi-Liang era. He also shows that Xi Kang continued to maintain a good relationship with Shan Tao, and even entrusted Shan Tao to care for his son Xi Shao 嵇紹 (252–304) who was only ten years old when Xi Kang was executed. 1.18


Lunyu 論語 6.9.



Annotations, Studies, Translations: Dai Mingyang, Xi Kang ji jiaozhu, 2:112–29; Wei Jin Nanbeichao wenxue shi, 210–27; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:682–701; Wei Fengjuan, Wei Jin Nanbeichao zhujia, 126–41; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3037–50; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1985–99; Han Geping, Zhulin qixian, 372–83; Cui Fuzhang, Xinyi Xi Zhongsan ji, 128–47; Zhou Xunchu, Tang chao Wen xuan, 2:469–503; Ōkawa, “Kei Kō no ‘Majiwari o tatsu sho’ ni tsuite”; Lü Lihan, “Lun Xi Kang”; Gu Nong, “‘Yu Shan Juyuan juejiao shu’”; Zhang Bo, “Xi Kang”; Jansen, “The Art of Severing Relationships”; Xu Gongchi, “Xi Kang”; Zhang Bo, “Xi Kang”; Tian and Xu, “‘Yu Shan Juyuan juejiao shu’”; Bao Xiuyan, “Xi Kang ‘Yu Shan Juyuan juejiao shu’”; Zeng Piaopiao, “‘Yu Shan Juyuan juejiao shu’”; Zhu and Xu, “‘Yu Shan Juyuan juejiao shu’”; trans. Meyer, Chinese Painting, 75–87; Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:783–89; Hightower in Birch and Keene, Anthology, 162–66; Bauer, Das Antlitz Chinas, 154–55.

Sun Chu 孫楚 (d. 293), “Wei Shi Zhongrong yu Sun Hao shu” 為石仲 容與孫皓書 (Letter written on behalf of Shi Bao to Sun Hao) Sun Chu’s natal place was Zhongdu 中都 in Taiyuan 太原 commandery (modern Pingyao 平遙, Shanxi). Both his grandfather Sun Zi 孫資 (d. 251) and his father Sun Hong 孫宏 served in official positions during the Wei. However, they were strong supporters of the Sima clan. Ca. 264, Sun Chu served as an aide to Shi Bao 石苞 (d. 272), who was one the most powerful generals under Sima Zhao. When Sima Zhao dispatched two emissaries to the court of Sun Hao (242–283), who had newly succeeded to the throne of the state of Wu, Shi Bao had Sun Chu compose a letter in his name. When he arrived in Wu, Sun Chu did not present the letter to Sun Hao. 1.19

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:701–20; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3051–63; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:2000–2013; Zhou Xunchu, Tang chao Wen xuan, 2:503–55; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:789–94; Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 94 (excerpt).

Zhao Zhi 趙至 (ca. 245–282), “Yu Xi Maoqi shu” 與嵇茂齊書 (Letter to Xi Maoqi) The Wen xuan contains the “Yu Xi Maoqi shu” 與基茂齊書 (Letter to Xi Maoqi) under the name of Zhao Jingzhen 趙景真. Jingzhen is Zhao Zhi’s zi. Maoqi is the zi of Xi Fan 嵇蕃, who was the son of Xi Kang’s older brother, Xi Xi 嵇喜 (ca. 220–ca. 290). However, the Wen xuan commentator Li Shan cites the Jin ji 晉紀 (Jin annals) of Gan Bao 干寶 (d. 336) which claims Lü An 呂安 (d. 263) wrote the letter to Xi Kang. Other early sources that attribute the letter to Lü An include the Wen xuan commentary of Li Zhouhan 李周翰 (fl. 718) and the Wen xuan chao 文選鈔, a Tang period commentary cited in the Wen xuan jizhu 1.20

Letters in the Wen xuan


文選集注 manuscript. According to the Jin ji, Lü An’s older brother Lü Xun 呂 巽 (n.d.) seduced Lü An’s wife. When Lü An exposed his odious act, Lü Xun accused his brother of slandering him. Lü Xun was favored by Sima Zhao, and he ordered Lü An banished to a remote border area. From his place in exile he wrote a letter to Xi Kang in which he wrote: And then I look back at my shadow on the Central Plain, and my roused spirit wells up like clouds. I grieve for the people, lament the age, and my stirred feelings rage like the wind. Like a dragon I gaze at the great fields, like a tiger I howl at the world. My fierce spirit vigorously flourishes, my bold aspirations embrace the four directions. I long to ascend the cloud ladder, to traverse the eight extremities, push aside hardships, to sweep away filth, to shake the sea, to flatten mountains, to kick the Kunlun peaks so they lean westward, to step on Mount Tai so that it tilts eastward, to cleanse the nine regions, and to purge the universe. 若迺顧影中原,憤氣雲踊,哀物悼世,激情風烈,龍睇大野,虎 嘯六合,猛氣紛紜,雄心四據,思躡雲梯,橫奮八極,披艱掃 穢,蕩海夷岳,蹴崑崙使西倒,蹋太山令東覆,平滌九區,恢 維宇宙,斯亦吾之鄙願也。 Offended by these words, Sima Zhao had Lü An put into prison. Xi Kang tried to plead on his behalf, but Sima Zhao ordered both Lü An and Xi Kang executed. Li Shan also cites Xi Shao ji 嵇紹集, the collected works of Xi Kang’s son, who is quoted as writing that some people have erroneously claimed that Lü An wrote this letter to his late father Xi Kang. According to Xi Shao, Xi Fan was his elder cousin (as mentioned above he was the son of Xi Xi, Xi Kang’s elder brother). He and Zhao Zhi were the same age and on good terms. When Zhao Zhi went to Liaoxi, he sent this letter to Xi Fan. Li Shan did not commit himself on the authorship question. However, two Tang period sources claim right of authorship for Zhao Zhi The Jin shu includes the letter in the biography of Zhao Zhi. Lu Shanjing 陸善經 (fl. 742–58), whose commentary is preserved in the Wen xuan jizhu, argues that the part of the letter in which the author says “you sir plant roots in a fragrant garden” 吾子植根芳苑 clearly do not apply to Xi Kang. He specifically rejects Gan Bao’s assertion that it was written by Lü An. Modern scholars have debated the issue of authorship. Yu Jiaxi, Dai Mingyang, and Zhou Zhenfu have argued that the author is Lü An. More recently, Dong Hongqi, Fan Rongqi, and Chu Hsiao-hai assign authorship of the letter to Zhao Zhi.



Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:721– 22; Gao Buying, Wei Jin wen juyao, 136–40; Qu Shouyuan. Wen xuan daodu, 287–95; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3064–71; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:2013–21; Zhou Xunchu, Tang chao Wen xuan, 2:556–85; Luo Guowei, Dunhuang ben wen xuan, 3–15; Tang Zhangru, “Jin shu Zhao Zhi zhuan zhong suojian de Cao Wei shijia zhidu”; Holzman, La Vie et la pensée de Hi K’ang, 40–41; Dai Mingyang, Xi Kang ji jiaozhu, 435–43; Ding Hongqi, “Wen xuan Yu Xi Maoqi shu kao”; Tong Qiang, Xi Kang pingzhuan, 141–45; Fan Rong, “‘Yu Xi Maoqi shu’”; Wang Shucai, “Wei Jin zhi ji wenxuejia Zhao Zhi shengping kaoshu”; Chu Hsiao-hai, “Zhao Zhi”; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:794–97; Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 102 (excerpt).

Qiu Chi 丘遲 (464–508), “Yu Chen Bozhi shu” 與陳伯之書 (Letter to Chen Bozhi) In 505, Emperor Wu sent Xiao Hong 蕭宏 (473–526) on a military expedition against the Northern Wei. Qiu Chi served as his aide and secretary. In 502, the Liang general Chen Bozhi (n.d.) defected to the Northern Wei. Xiao Hong commanded Qiu Chi to compose a letter persuading Chen to surrender to the Liang. Chen reputedly was so moved by the letter, he returned to the Liang bringing an army of 5,000 soldiers with him. 1.21

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Wei Jin Nanbeichao wenxue shi, 643–51; Chang Jen-ch’ing, Lidai pianwen xuan, 1:117–27; Xiong Yongqian, Wei Jin Nanbeichao pianwen, 139–56; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wen­xuan yizhu, 5:733–42; Wei Fengjuan, Wei Jin Nanbeichao zhujia, 308–16; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3072–79; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:2021–28; Gao Buying, Nanbeichao wen juyao, 1:478–89; Yu Dacheng. “Qiu Chi yu Chen Bozhi shu shuo yi”; Jiang Juqian. “Qiu Chi ‘Yu Chen Bozhi shu’”; Fukui, “Kyū Chi no Chin Hakushi ni atafuru sho” ni tsuite”; Lai Hanping. “Qiu Chi de yu Chen Bozhi shu”; Gu Nong, “Qiu Chi he tade ‘Yu Chen Bozhi shu’”; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:797–800; Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 80–81 (excerpt).

Liu Jun 劉峻 (462–521), “Chong da Liu Moling Zhao shu” 重答劉秣 陵沼書 (Letter again replying to Liu Zhao of Moling) In 502, shortly after Xiao Yan took the throne as emperor of the Liang dynasty, he summoned Liu Jun together with He Zong 賀踪 (n.d.), Ren Fang, and Yin Jun 殷鈞 (484–532) to edit books in the imperial collection. During the early years of his reign, Xiao Yan invited scholars to a gathering at which they were tested on the number of allusions they could recite on various topics. On one occasion, the scholars including Shen Yue 沈約 (441–513) and Fan Yun 范雲 (451–503) deferred to Xiao Yan. However, when it came to the topic of “bro1.22

Letters in the Wen xuan


cade coverlet,” Liu Jun enumerated ten-plus allusions. Xiao Yan reputedly was deeply offended by Liu Jun’s impudence and never again invited him to the literary gatherings. Liu Jun then composed a long expository essay, “Bian ming lun” 辯命論 (Disquisition on fate), which is more than a disinterested disquisition on the way in which one’s life is controlled by fate, but mainly is a complaint about Liu Jun’s failure to obtain recognition in his time. At the end of the piece he resolves to be content with his lot and continue to cultivate his character. The magistrate of Moling 秣陵, Liu Zhao 流沼, disagreed with Liu Jun’s conclusion, and they exchanged a series of letters debating the matter. Liu Zhao died before he could send his last letter. Liu Jun wrote this letter in reply after Liu Zhao’s death. Annotations, Studies, Translations: Xiong Yongqian, Wei Jin Nanbeichao pianwen, 157– 65; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:743–46; Luo Guowei, Liu Xiaobiao ji, 23–26; Wei Fengjuan, Wei Jin Nanbeichao zhujia, 328–331; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3080–83; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:2028–31; Gao Buying, Nanbeichao wen juyao, 1:446–50; Chen Qingyuan, “Xuan jian kong long you hen ru he”; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:800–801.


Letter in the Yi 移 Section

Liu Xin 劉歆 (d. 23), “Yi rang taichang boshi” 移書讓太常博士 (A letter berating the professors of the Ministry of Ceremonies) In 6 BCE, Liu Xin requested that the Zuo zhuan, the Mao version of the Shi jing, the remnants of the Book of Rites, and the old text version of the Classic of Documents be established as official texts in the national university. When he met with strong criticism from important officials, he submitted a letter to the professors of the national university, berating them for their stubborn opposition to his proposal. 2.1

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:747–61; Gao Buying, Liang Han wen juyao, 188–98; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:3084–93; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:2031–43; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:801–5; Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 482–95.




Letters in the Shi 詩 Section


Lu Chen 盧諶 (285–351), “Zeng Liu Kun shu” 贈劉琨書 (Letter sent to Liu Kun) Annotations, Studies, Translations


Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 3:524–36; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 3:541–59; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 2:1087–95.

Liu Kun 劉琨 (271–318), “Da Lu Chen shu” 答盧諶書 (Letter replying to Lu Chen) Liu Kun was a prominent writer and military leader during the transition between the Western and Eastern Jin. Lu Chen was a nephew of Liu Kun’s wife. In 314, The Xianbei Duan Pidi 段匹磾 (d. 322) assumed the position of regional inspector of Youzhou (modern southern Hebei). On 4 January 317, Liu Kun fled to Duan Pidi, who had sent Liu Kun a letter inviting him to join him at his administrative headquarters in Ji 薊 (southwest of modern Beijing). About the same time Lu Chen accepted a position on Duan Pidi’s staff as mounted escort. He wrote a letter to Liu Kun along with a long four-syllable-line poem in twenty eight-line stanzas to express regret that he must leave Liu Kun. In both the letter and poems, Lu Chen recasts phrases that were popular among the xuanxue 玄學 thinkers of the Wei-Jin era. However, instead of using them to make abstract philosophical points, Liu Kun employs xuanxue rhetoric to convey the depth of his regard for Liu Kun. Liu Kun wrote a letter in reply along with a set of eight twelve-line four-syllable-line poems. The letter is interesting for Liu Kun’s confession of his youthful attraction to the eccentric mode of conduct that prevailed among the elite in Luoyang in the 290s. He tells of his youthful interest in Zhuangzi’s theory of placing all values at the same level and not making distinctions and his admiration for the “unrestrained abandon” of Ruan Ji 阮生之放曠. Liu Kun says that these intellectual pursuits led him to disdain the conventional concern with good and bad fortune, life and death, good and evil. He also believed that one should be dispassionate and avoid feeling either sorrow or joy. In the next section of his letter, Liu Kun tells Lu Chen that he had changed his earlier view. He now considers that “Lao Dan and Zhuang Zhou put forth errant nonsense, and Ruan Ji engaged in reckless behavior” 知聃、周之為虛 誕,嗣宗之為妄作也. Why did he come to this conclusion? Liu Kun basically changed his mind because of his personal experience. He had seen the Jin state fall, and many friends and family members, including his parents, had been killed. As much as he tried to dispel his sorrow, he could not do so. 3.2

Letters in the Wen xuan


Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 3:524– 36; Wei Fengjuan, Wei Jin Nanbeichao zhujia, 193–97; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 3:524–36; Gao Buying, Wei Jin wen juyao, 141–44; Zhao Tianrui, Liu Kun ji, 66–78; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 2:1080–85; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:412–13, 418–19; Knechtges. “Liu Kun, Lu Chen,” 45–47, 57–58.


Letters in the Jian 牋 Section

Yang Xiu, “Da Linzi hou jian” 答臨淄侯牋 (Memorandum replying to the Marquis of Linzi) This is Yang Xiu’s reply to the letter that Cao Zhi had sent to him in 216. In the first part of the letter, he commends Cao Zhi for his praise of Wang Can, Chen Lin, Xu Gan, Liu Zhen, and Ying Yang, but denies that his writing is of the same worth as theirs. He lavishes praise on Cao Zhi’s writing. However, at the end of the letter he takes exception to Cao Zhi’s assertion that the fu is an inferior genre of writing, and he even insists that service to the state and leaving behind an outstanding reputation are not incompatible with mastery of writing (wenzhang 文章). 4.1

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:452– 57; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2866–72; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1844–49; Zhou Xunchu, Tang chao Wen xuan, 2:431–50; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:752–54; Holzman, “Literary Criticism, 120–21.

Po Qin 繁欽, “Yu Wei Wendi jian” 與魏文帝牋 (Memorandum to Emperor Wen of Wei) Po Qin wrote this letter to Cao Pi in 217 to report about a fourteen-year-old boy who was a skilled throat-singer. 4.2

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:458– 61; Wei Fengjuan, Wei Jin Nanbeichao zhujia, 40–44; Gao Buying, Wei Jin wen juyao, 58–60; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2873–76; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1849–53; Zhou Xunchu, Tang chao Wen xuan, 2:450–60; Fan Ziye, “Humai yu Hujia”; Gao Huaping, “Po Qin ‘Yu Wen Wendi jian’”; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:755–56.



Chen Lin, “Da Dong’e wang jian” 答東阿王牋 (Memorandum replying to the Prince of Dong’e) In this short letter Chen Lin thanks Cao Zhi for sending him a copy of his “Gui fu” 龜賦 (Fu on the turtle). 4.3

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:462– 65; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2877–79; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1852–53; Wu Yun, Jian’an qizi ji jiaozhu, 171–73; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:756–57.

Wu Zhi, “Chong da Wei taizi jian” 重答魏太子牋 (Memorandum again replying to the Crown Prince of Wei) Wu Zhi wrote this letter on 11 March 219 to reply to a letter that Cao Pi had sent him the previous year. In that letter Cao Pi had lamented the passing of Xu Gan, Chen Lin, Ying Yang, and Liu Zhen, who all died in the epidemic of 217. He also wrote of the festive gatherings that Cao Pi had hosted in Ye. At the beginning of his letter, Wu Zhi regrets the death of these men. He also wonders why he was the only one of their group who has been spared. In the next portion of the letter Wu Zhi praises the literary skill of Chen Lin, Xu Gan, Liu Zhen, and Ying Yang. However, he considers writing was their only talent, and they were deficient in military affairs. Wu Zhi ends his letter by praising Cao Pi’s literary accomplishments, but also declaring that his own aspirations were to offer loyal service to his lord. 4.4

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:466– 73; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2880–84; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1854–57; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:757–58; Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 85 (excerpt).

Wu Zhi, “Yuancheng yu Wei taizi jian” 元城與魏太子牋 (Memorandum from Yuancheng to the Crown Prince of Wei) Ca. 215, Wu Zhi was appointed magistrate of Yuancheng 元城. On his way to his post, he passed through Ye and bid farewell to Cao Pi. Once he arrived in Yuancheng, Wu Zhi wrote this letter to Cao Pi. As in previous letters, Wu Zhi recounts the merry parties that he had participated in with Cao Pi. These gatherings were even superior to those hosted by the Lord of Pingyuan during the Warring States period. In the second section of the letter, Wu Zhi states how he plans to govern Yuancheng. However, at the end of the letter, he says that he does not enjoy the prospect of continued service in the local administration, and he hopes that he will soon be able to return to office in Ye. 4.5

Letters in the Wen xuan


Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:474– 80; Gao Buying, Wei Jin wen juyao, 61–65; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2885– 89; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1858–62; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:758–60.

Ruan Ji 阮籍 (210–263), “Wei Zheng Chong quan Jin wang jian” 為鄭 沖勸晉王牋 (Memorandum on behalf of Zheng Chong exhorting the Prince of Jin) Ruan Ji composed this memorandum in the tenth lunar month of 263. At this time, Sima Zhao was offered the title of Duke of Jin and granted the Nine Bestowals, but he refused them. The Minister of Works Zheng Chong 鄭沖 (d. 274) wished Ruan Ji to write a memorandum urging Sima Zhao to proclaim his acceptance of the titles and honors. At that time Ruan Ji was at the home of Yuan Zhun 袁準 (fl. 265–74). He had been drunk since the previous day, and they had to prop him up while he wrote the document on wooden slips. After completing his composition Ruan did not need to make any corrections. As I mention above, this piece is closer to the petition genre than the letter. 4.6

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Bojun, Ruan Jiji jiaozhu, 50–58; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:481–87; Gao Buying, Wei Jin wen juyao, 79–84; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2890–94; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1862–66; Han Geping, Zhulin qixian, 44–48; Lin Jiali, Xinyi Ruan Ji shiwen ji, 57–63; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:760–62; Mather. Shih-shuo Hsin-yü, 135.

Xie Tiao 謝朓 (464–499), “Bai Zhongjun jishi ci Sui wang jian” 拜中 軍記室辭隨王牋 (Memorandum bidding farewell to the Prince of Sui after being appointed record keeper of the capital army) In 491 Xie Tiao joined the entourage of Xiao Zilong 蕭子隆 (474–494), Prince of Sui 隨, who was the eighth son of Xiao Ze 蕭賾, Emperor Wu of the Southern Qi, r. 483–93. From 491 to autumn of 493, Xie Tiao resided in Jiangling 江陵, where Xiao Zilong was serving as regional inspector of Jingzhou 荊州 and General Defending the West. In Jingzhou, Xie Tiao soon became Xiao Zilong’s favorite. Xie Tiao’s position rose to that of wenxue 文學 or instructor. Xiao frequently held gatherings at which members of his staff wrote poems together. In autumn of 493, an officer on Xiao Zilong’s staff reported to the emperor that Xie Tiao was too intimate with Zilong and should be recalled to the capital. The emperor ordered his return. After he arrived in the capital, Xie wrote a long memorandum to Xiao Zilong, expressing his friendship and affection. 4.7



Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:488–93; Wei Fengjuan, Wei Jin Nanbeichao zhujia, 289–94; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2895–99; Xu Zhengying, Zhaoming wen xuan jiaodu, 75–85; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1866–69; Gao Buying, Nanbeichao wen juyao, 1:176–83; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:762–64; Chennault, “Odes on Objects,” 343–46.

Ren Fang 任昉 (460–508), “Dao sima jishi jian” 到司馬記室牋 (Memorandum upon arriving at the post of record keeper for the Minister of War) In January 502, Xiao Yan assumed the position of minister of war, and he appointed Ren Fang his record keeper. This was just before Xiao Yan was about to be installed as emperor of the newly founded Liang dynasty. In this short memorandum Ren Fang notes that he has known Xiao Yan for almost twenty years. He expresses his admiration and gratitude to him for his appointment to this post. 4.8

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:494– 97; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2900–2902; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1869–71; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:764–65.

Ren Fang, “Baibi quan jin jinshang jian” 百辟勸進金上牋 (A memorandum from officialdom urging [Xiao Yan] to advance to the position of current sovereign) Ren Fang composed this memorandum on 24 February 502 on behalf of a group of court officials urging Xiao Yan to accept the title of Duke of Liang in preparation for his eventual acceptance of the abdication to him of the imperial throne from the last emperor of the Southern Qi dynasty. 4.9

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:498– 505; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2903–7; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1872–75; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:765–67.

Letters in the Wen xuan



Letters in the Qi 啟 Section42

Ren Fang 任昉, “Feng da chi shi qixi shi qi” 奉答勑示七夕詩啟 (Communication replying to the edict to show my ‘Seventh Night” poem) In 502, Xiao Yan, Emperor Wu of Liang, sent a poem in five couplets on the subject of the “Seventh Night [of the Seventh Month].” He presented him an edict ordering him to compose a matching piece. In his reply, Ren Fang praises Xiao Yang’s poem and thanks him for the favor that the newly enthroned emperor has bestowed on him. This piece is typical of the “thank-you-note” form. 5.1

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:402– 5; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2830–33; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1814–16; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:737–38.

Ren Fang, “Wei Bian Bin xie xiu Bian Zhongzhen mu qi” 為卞彬謝脩 卞忠貞墓啟 (Thank-you letter on behalf of Bian Bin for refurbishing the grave of Bian Zhongzhen) Ren Fang wrote this letter on behalf of Bian Bin 卞彬 (fl. 480–500) who was the great-great-grandson of Bian Kun 卞壼 (281–328), a famous Eastern Jin statesman who was killed during the insurrection of Su Jun 蘇峻 (d. 328). Bian Kun and his two sons were buried at Yecheng 冶城 (at the site of the Chaotian Palace 朝天宮 in Nanjing). Some seventy years after Bian Bin was buried, grave robbers ransacked the tomb. During the reign of Emperor An (r. 396–418) the tomb was re-sealed. It became damaged during the early Liang.43 Emperor Wu ordered it refurbished. In this letter Bian Bin thanks Emperor Wu for this act of imperial grace. 5.2

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:406–9; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2834–36; You Zhicheng, Zhaoming wen xuan jiaodu, 100–106; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1816–18; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:738.

42 43

On the qi form, see Xiaofei Tian’s chapter in this volume. On the history of this tomb see Zhang Dunyi (12th c.), Liuchao shiji bianlei B.49b.



Ren Fang, “Qi Xiao taifu guci duoli” 啟蕭太傅固辭奪禮 (Communication to Grand Mentor Xiao firmly declining to curtail mourning rites) Ren Fang wrote this communication to Xiao Luan 蕭鸞 (452–498), nephew of the Southern Qi founder Emperor Gao (r. 479–82). In 494 Xiao Luan was named grand mentor, which made him the de facto prime minister. From 492 to 494, Ren Fang left office to observe mourning for his deceased father, and from the tenth lunar month of 494 to 496, he was in mourning for his deceased mother.44 In 494, Xiao Luan wished to appoint Ren Fang a record keeper on his staff. In this letter, Ren Fang respectfully declines the appointment on the grounds that he does not wish to curtail the mourning rites. 5.3

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:410–15; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2837–41; You Zhicheng, Zhaoming wen xuan jiaodu, 107–13; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1818–20; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:739–40.


Letters in the Shang shu 上書 Section

Li Si 李斯 (d. 208 BCE), “Shang shu Qin Shihuang” 上書秦始皇 (Letter submitted to the Qin First Emperor) Li Si was the famous Qin minister who served under the Qin First Emperor. Li Si went to Qin just at the time of the death of its king, Zhuangxiang 莊襄 (d. 247 BCE). He first served as a houseman on the staff of the prime minister Lü Buwei 呂不韋 (290–235 BCE). Impressed with Li Si’s ability, Lü Buwei appointed him gentleman. In this capacity Li Si presented advice to the newly enthroned Qin king (the future First Qin Emperor, r. 221–210 BCE) on how to conquer the rival six states and create an empire under Qin rule. The King of Qin appointed Li Si senior scribe and granted him the title “guest minister” (ke qing 客卿). After Lü Buwei was removed from office in 237 BCE, the King of Qin ordered foreign officials expelled from the state. Li Si presented to the court a petition in which he convinced the king to rescind his order. This petition is the famous prose work “Shang shu jian zhu ke” 上書諫逐客 (Letter presented admonishing against expelling foreigners), the same piece that is titled “Shang shu Qin Shihuang” in the Wen xuan. 6.1


For these dates see Xiong Qingyuan, “Nanbeichao wenxue biannian shi shiwu lizheng.”

Letters in the Wen xuan


Li Si begins the piece by enumerating the various officials and ministers from other states that provided wise advice and assistance to the four Qin rulers Duke Mu 穆 (r. 659–621 BCE), Duke Xiao 孝 (r. 361–338 BCE), King Hui 惠 (r. 337–311 BCE), and King Zhao 昭 (r. 306–251 BCE). Li Si argues that if Qin had expelled these men, it would not have achieved its present level of prosperity and strength. Li Si next lists a long catalogue of treasures that had come to Qin from other areas. This passage is a forerunner to the catalogues that are common in the Han dynasty fu compositions. Li Si argues that if Qin does not reject foreign treasures, why should it expel alien advisors? Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:334– 43; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2776–83; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1773–78; Chen Lifen, “Mingpian miao jian zhao qianqiu”; Hu Nengcheng, “Lun Li Si de ‘Jian zhu ke shu’”; trans. Giles, Gems of Chinese Literature (Prose), 51–53; Margouliès, Anthologie, 152–54; Bodde, China’s First Unifier, 15–21; Dawson, Sima Qian, 27–29; Watson, Records of the Grand Historian, Qin Dynasty, 181–84; Nienhauser, The Grand Scribe’s Records, Volume VII, 336–39.

Zou Yang 鄒陽 (ca. 206–129 BCE), “Shang shu Wu Wang” 上書吳王 (Letter submitted to the King of Wu) Zou Yang, whose natal home was in Qi 齊 (modern Shandong), joined the court of Liu Pi 劉濞, King of Wu 吳 (r. 195–54). Liu Pi had long harbored a grudge against the newly installed Emperor Jing (r. 157–141 BCE). Liu Pi reputedly began to plot revenge against Emperor Jing. Ca. 155 BCE Zou Yang sent him a letter admonishing him to desist from this venture, but Liu Pi did not take his advice.


Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:344–53; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2784–91; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1779–84; Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 266–87; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:719–22; Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 435–45.

Zou Yang, “Yuzhong shang shu ziming” 獄中上書自明 (Letter submitted from prison to clarify myself ) Ca. 154 BCE Zou Yang left Wu to join the staff of Liu Wu 劉武, King Xiao of Liang 梁孝王 (r. 168–144 BCE), who was the younger brother of Emperor Jing (r. 157–141 BCE). After Zou Yang arrived in Liang, he did not get along with King Xiao’s advisors Yang Sheng 羊勝 (fl. 150 BCE) and Gongsun Gui 公孫 詭 (d. ca. 149 BCE), who slandered him to King Xiao. The king had Zou Yang 6.3



put into prison where he was about to be put to death. While in prison, Zou Yang presented to Liu Wu a letter in which he argued that a ruler may lose his throne if he only listens to flatterers and ignores criticism of loyal officials. After reading the letter, the King of Liang immediately released Zou Yang and appointed him a high retainer. Annotations, Studies, Translations: Wang Li, Gudai Hanyu, 2:843–52; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:354–70; Kong and Han, Liang Han zhujia sanwen xuan, 54–70; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2792–2806; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1784–95; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:722–27; Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 446–64; Nienhauser, The Grand Scribe’s Records, Volume VII, 287–92.

Sima Xiangru 司馬相如 (179–117 BCE), “Shang shu jian lie” 上書諫獵 (Letter presented [to Emperor Wu] admonishing against hunting) Emperor Wu of the Former Han (r. 141–87 BCE) was an inveterate hunter who often engaged in excursions and hunting expeditions in the Shanglin Park south of Chang’an. Sima Xiangru presented this letter to him to dissuade him from this activity which he argues is fraught with danger. The emperor could be injured or killed by a wild beast, or even attacked by foreign tribesmen who were invited to participate in the hunt. The emperor also could be thrown from his horse or carriage. Emperor Wu reputedly was pleased with Sima Xiangru’s letter, but there is no evidence that he abandoned excursions and hunts after reading it. 6.4

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:371– 74; Gao Buying, Liang Han wen juyao, 76–77; Jin Guoyong, Sima Xiangru ji jiaozhu, 139– 43; Kong and Han, Liang Han zhujia sanwen xuan, 89–93; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2807–9; Zhu and Sun, Sima Xiangru ji jiaozhu, 96–99; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1795–98; Li Xianzhong 李孝中, Sima Xiangru ji jiaozhu, 66–68; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:728–29; Hervouet, Le Chapitre 117 du Che-ki, 175– 79; Watson, Records of the Grand Historian, Han Dynasty II, 2:293–94.

Mei Sheng 枚乘 (or Cheng), (d. ca. 140 BCE), “Shang shu jian Wu wang” 上書諫吳王 (Letter presented admonishing the King of Wu) In 195 BCE Liu Pi, who was the son of an elder brother of Liu Bang, was enfeoffed as King of Wu (r. 195–154 BCE). Mei Sheng served as gentleman of the palace at the court of Liu Pi. Liu Pi had long harbored a grudge against Emperor Jing (r. 157–141 BCE). While the emperor was heir-designate, he killed Liu Pi’s son 6.5

Letters in the Wen xuan


with a game board. Wu was the strongest and richest of the vassal kingdoms (it had abundant copper reserves). Liu Pi began secretly to plan a revolt against the central authority. Ca. 157 BCE Mei Sheng presented the first of two letters to Liu Pi urging him not to take this action. Annotations, Studies, Translations: Wang Li, Gudai Hanyu, 2:853–55; Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:375–81; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2810–15; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1798–1802; Shih Chih-mien, “Mei Sheng jian Wu wang shu”; Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 267–87, 675–95; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:729–31; Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 465–72; Owen; Anthology, 130–33.

Mei Sheng, “Shang shu chong jian Wu wang” 上書重諫吳王 (Letter presented against admonishing the King of Wu) In 154 BCE Liu Pi led a revolt of seven kingdoms against Emperor Jing. Mei Sheng, who had left Wu to join the court at Liang, presented this letter to urge him to abandon his revolt. 6.6

Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:382– 89; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2816–2822; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1802–6; Shih Chih-mien, “Mei Sheng jian Wu wang shu”; Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 267–87, 675–95; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:730–34; Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 473–81.

Jiang Yan 江淹 (444–505), “Yi Jianping wang shang shu” 詣建平王 上書 (Letter presented to the Prince of Jianping) In 465, Jiang Yan joined the staff of Liu Zizhen 劉子真 (457–466). He accompanied Liu Zizhen to his post as regional inspector of Nan Yanzhou 南兗州 (administrative seat Guangling 廣陵, modern Yangzhou). On 25 October 466, Emperor Ming (Liu Yu 劉彧 [439–472, r. 465–72], who wished to eliminate all of the sons of Emperor Xiaowu, had the nine-year-old Liu Zizhen put to death. Jiang Yan was not a prominent member of Liu Zizhen’s staff, and he thus escaped punishment. In 466, Jiang Yan obtained a position with Liu Jingsu 劉 景素 (452–476), Prince of Jianping 漸平. Liu Jingsu, who was fourteen at the time, was a grandson of Emperor Wen (r. 424–53). In 466, Liu Jingsu assumed Liu Zizhen’s post as regional inspector in Nan Yanzhou, and probably because Jiang Yan was on Zizhen’s staff, he was retained in Liu Jingsu’s service. Shortly after joining Liu Jingsu’s staff, the magistrate of Guangling 廣陵, Guo Yanwen 郭彥文, was charged with a crime, and in his confession accused Jiang Yan of accepting bribes. Jiang Yan was arrested and sent to prison. From prison, Jiang 6.7



wrote an eloquent appeal to Liu Jingsu proclaiming his innocence. This is a skillful imitation of Zou Yang’s “Yuzhong shang shu ziming” (see above). The prince reputedly was so moved by Jiang Yan’s letter he ordered him released and restored him to his former position. Annotations, Studies, Translations: Chen Hongtian, Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu, 5:390–401; Zhang Qicheng, Wen xuan quanyi, 4:2822–29; Xu Zhengying. Zhaoming wen xuan jiaodu, 55–74; Zhou Qicheng, Xinyi Zhaoming wen xuan, 3:1806–13; Gao Buying, Nanbeichao wen juyao, 1:375–83; Fukui, “Kō En no ‘Kei Kenpei ō nikeishite jōsho’ ni tsuite”; Gu Nong, “Jiang Yan yu Jianping wang Liu Jingsu”; trans. Zach, Chinesische Anthologie, 2:734–37; Marney, Chiang Yen, 17–19.

The Wen xuan selection of shu and related epistolary writings shows that by the sixth century the letter was a major form of writing. Although we do not know the explicit criteria the Wen xuan compilers followed in selecting epistolary pieces for this anthology, based on numbers of pieces selected, it is clear they deemed this genre one of the most important genres of prose. For example, the shu category alone has 22 pieces. Many of the other genres such as edict, command, instruction, admonition, and grave memoir have only one example of the form. Only two other genres include numbers of pieces that approach that of the shu category. The petition has 19 pieces, and the disquisition includes 13. What the Wen xuan selections of epistolary writing first of all tells us about this genre in the medieval period is that there is a certain amount of fluidity in what exactly constitutes a letter. The fact that examples of the form can be found in five genre categories is evidence that epistolary writing was not limited to a single genre category. In addition, the distinction between so-called “personal” letters and “official” letters is often blurred as in the case of the shang shu written by Zou Yang, Mei Sheng, and Jiang Yan, which although written in their official capacities, express highly personal sentiments. As I have shown elsewhere, the Wen xuan contains two types of writings, those that are mainly concerned with teaching values that maintained the social and political order and those that express personal sentiments.45 The selection of both official


Knechtges, “Culling the Weeds,” 231.

Letters in the Wen xuan


and personal epistolary writings may be a reflection of this dual emphasis in the Wen xuan. One also learns from the Wen xuan selection of letters that epistolary writing had attained relatively high status by the Liang period. I have mentioned that earlier anthologies had included the category of shu, and that there were even anthologies devoted exclusively to the shu form. Thus, the Wen xuan compilers were not the first to include the letter in an anthology. We do not know the contents of any of these earlier anthologies. However, we know from the Wen xuan preface that one of the important criteria for selecting works for the anthology was hanzao 翰藻 or “literary elegance.” Although this term has been much debated, there is general agreement that it designates high-register and high-status writing.46 There is nothing intrinsically elegant or high-status about epistolary writing. Most letters, including those written in early medieval China, are inelegant, perfunctory jottings. The letters selected for the Wen xuan were “la crème de la crème.” By virtue of their selection in what eventually became the Chinese anthology par excellence, a goodly number of these pieces became part of the Chinese epistolary canon. Bibliography Allen, Joseph Roe III. “Chih Yü’s Discussions of Different Types of Literature: A Translation and Brief Comment.” In Two Studies in Chinese Literary Criticism, 3–36. Parerga no. 3. Seattle: Institute for Comparative and Foreign Area Studies, 1976. Bao Xiuyan 包秀巖. “Xi Kang ‘Yu Shan Juyuan juejiao shu’ lunxi” 嵇康〈與山巨源絕 交書〉論析. Shenyang shifan daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 154 (2009): 90–93. Bauer, Wolfgang. Das Antlitz Chinas: Die autobiographische Selbstdarstellung in der chinesischen Literatur von ihren Anfängen bis heute. München: Hanser, 1990. Bielenstein, Hans. The Bureacracy of Han Times. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Birch, Cyril and Donald Keene. Anthology of Chinese Literature: From Early Times to the Fourteenth Century. New York: Grove Press, 1965. Bodde, Derk. China’s First Unifier: A Study of the Ch’in Dynasty as Seen in the Life of Li Ssu, 15–21. Leiden: Brill, 1938; rpt. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1967.


The classic discussion of hanzao is Zhu Ziqing, “Wen xuan xu ‘Shi chu yu chen si, yi gui yu hanzao’ shuo.”



Cao Daoheng 曹道衡 and Shen Yucheng 沈玉成. “Kong Zhigui ‘Beishan yiwen’ ” 孔稚 珪〈北山移文〉. In Zhonggu wenshi ziliao congkao 中古文學史料叢考, 428–29. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2003. Cao Haidong 曹海東, trans. and comm. Xinyi Cao Zijian ji 新譯曹子建集. Taipei: Sanmin shuju, 2003. Chang Jen-ch’ing 張仁青, ed. and comm. Lidai pianwen xuan 歷代便文選. Taipei: Taiwan Zhonghua shuju, 1965. Chavannes, Édouard. Les Mémoires historiques de Sseu-ma Ts’ien. 1895–1905; rpt. Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1969. Chen Bojun 陳伯君, ed. and comm. Ruan Jiji jiaozhu 阮籍集校注, 50–58. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1987. Chen Hongtian 陳宏天, Zhao Fuhai 趙福海 and Chen Fuxing 陳復興, comm. and trans. Zhaoming wenxuan yizhu 昭明文選譯注. Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe, 1987–93. Chen Jinzhong 陳盡忠. “Shi ‘Bao Ren An shu’ de jige wenti” 釋〈報任安書〉的幾問 題. Xiamen daxue xuebao (1980: 3): 111–17. Chen Lifen 陳麗芬. “Mingpian miao jian zhao qianqiu: Li Si ‘Jian zhu ge shu’ shangxi” 名篇妙諫照千秋:李斯〈諫逐客書〉賞析. Henan daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) (1987: 2): 42–44. Chen Qingyuan 陳慶元. “Xuan jian kong long you hen ru he: Du Liu Xiaobiao ‘Chong da Liu Moling zhao shu’ ” 懸劍空壠有恨如何:讀劉孝標〈重答劉秣陵沼書〉. Gudian wenxue zhishi (2004: 5): 23–26. Chen Zhisheng 陳芝生. “Sima Qian zhi xin: ‘Bao Ren Shaoqing shu’ xi lun” 司馬遷之 心:〈報任少卿書〉析論. In Jinian Qian Mu xiansheng shishi shizhounian guoji xueshu yantaohui lunwen ji 紀念錢穆先生逝世十週年國際學術研討會論文集, edited by Guoli Taiwan daxue Zhongguo wenxue xi 國立臺灣大學中國文學系. January 2001. Cheng Jinzao 程金造. “Lun Wang Guowei kaoding ‘Bao Ren An shu’ de shidai yu neirong” 論王國維考定〈報任安書〉的時代與內容. Shi ji guankui 史記管窺, 124–36. Xi’an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 1985. Chennault, Cynthia L. “Odes on Objects and Patronage in the Southern Qi.” In Studies in Early Medieval Chinese Literature and Cultural History in Honor of Richard B. Mather and Donald Holzman, edited by Paul W. Kroll and David R. Knechtges, 343– 46. Provo, Utah: T’ang Studies Society, 2003. Chu Hsiao-hai 朱曉海. “Du Wen xuan zhi ‘Yu Zhaoge ling Wu Zhi shu’ deng sanpian zhi hou” 讀文選之〈與朝歌令吳質書〉等三篇之後. Guangxi shifan daxue xuebao 40.1 (2004): 70–75. Chu Hsiao-hai 朱曉海. “Zhao Zhi ‘Yu Xi Maoqi shu’ yiyun bianxi” 趙至〈與嵇茂齊 書〉疑雲辨析. Donghua Zhongwen xuebao (2011: 4): 1–24.

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Chung, Eva Yuen-wah. “A Study of the Shu (Letters) of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220).” PhD diss., University of Washington, 1982. Cui Fuzhang 崔富章, comm. and trans. Xinyi Xi Zhongsan ji 新譯嵇中散集. Taipei: Sanmin shuju, 1998. Cui Jibao 崔積寶. “Cao Zhi ‘Yu Yang Dezu shu’ xinping” 曹植〈與楊德祖書〉新評. Beifang luncong 186.4 (2004): 27–30. Cutter, Robert Joe. “Cao Zhi (192–232) and His Poetry,” PhD diss., University of Washington, 1983. ———. “Cao Zhi’s (192–232) Symposium Poems.” CLEAR 6.1–2 (1984): 1–32. Dai Mingyang 戴明揚, ed. and comm. Xi Kang ji jiaozhu 嵇康集校注. Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1962. Dawson, Raymond. Sima Qian: Historical Records. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Debon, Günther. “Der Jadering des Chung Yu (Wen-hsüan 42,4).” In Studia SinoMongolica: Festschrift für Herbert Franke, edited by Wolfgang Bauer, 307–14. Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1979. Deng Guoguang 鄧國光. Zhi Yu yanjiu 摯虞研究. Hong Kong: Xueheng chubanshe, 1990. Ding Hongqi 丁紅旗. “Wen xuan ‘Yu Xi Maoqi shu’ kao” 文選〈與嵇茂齊書〉考. Fuling shifan xueyuan xuebao 23.3 (2007): 68–72. Ding Hongwu 丁宏武. “Wen xuan suoshou Wei Wendi ‘Yu Zhaoge ling Wu Zhi shu’ pianming bianzheng” 文選所收魏文帝〈與朝歌令吳質書〉篇名辨正. Wenxian (2011: 2): 191–94. Ding Liya 丁莉婭. “Cong Wen xuan ‘shu’ lei kan Xiao Tong yu Liu Xie zhi wenxue guan yitong” 從文選「書」類看蕭統與劉勰之文學觀異同. Dangdai jingliren (2006: 2): 167–68. Dzo, Ching-chuan. Sseu-ma Ts’ien et l’historiographie chinoise. Paris: Publications Orientalistes de France, 1957. Egan, Ronald C. “The Prose Style of Fan Ye.” HJAS 39 (1979): 339–42. Fan Rong 樊榮. “ ‘Yu Xi Maoqi shu’ yiwen ying wei Zhao Zhi suoxie” 〈與嵇茂齊書〉一 文為趙至所寫. Mingzuo xinshang (2008: 4): 10–13. Fan Ziye 范子燁. “Humai yu Hujia: Zhonggu shidai de houyin yishu: Dui Po Qin ‘Yu Wei Wendi’ de yinyuexue chanshi” 呼麥與胡笳:中古時代的喉音藝術:對繁 欽〈與魏文帝箋〉的音樂闡釋. Zhongguo wenhua 29 (2009:1): 179–90. Feng Siyi 封思毅. “Dunhuang xieben ‘Li Ling yu Su Wu shu’ bian wei” 敦煌寫本 〈李陵與蘇武書〉辨偽. Guoli Zhongyang tushuguan guankan 27.1 (1994): 97–100. Fu Gang 傅剛. “‘Wen gui qing sheng’ shuo de shidai yiyi: Lüetan Lu Yun ‘Yu xiong Pingyuan shu’” 「文貴清省」說的時代意義:略談陸雲〈與平原書〉. Wenyi



lilun yanjiu (1984: 2): 93–99; rpt. in Fu Gang. Han Wei Liuchao wenxue yu xianxian lungao 漢魏六朝文學與文獻論稿, 243–59. Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 2005. ———. Zhaoming Wen xuan yanjiu 昭明文選研究. Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 2000. Fuehrer, Bernhard. “The Court Scribe’s Eikon Psyches: A Note on Sima Qian and His Letter to Ren An.” Asian and African Studies 6 (1997): 170–83. Fukui Yoshio 福井佳夫. “Kō En no ‘Kei Kenpei ō nikeishite jōsho’ ni tsuite” 江淹 の〈詣建平王上書〉について. Chūgoku shibun ronsō 10 (1991): 39–58. ———. “Kyū Chi no Chin Hakushi ni atafuru sho” ni tsuite” 丘遲の〈與陳伯之書〉に ついて. Chūkyō daigaku bungakubu kiyō 26.1 (1991): 87–153. ———. “Sō Hi no ‘Yo Go Shitsu sho’ ni tsuite” 曹丕の〈與吳質書〉について. Chūgoku chūsei bungaku kenkyū 20 (1991): 1–25. Funazu Tomihiko 船津富彥. “Ri Chū no Kanrinron ni tsuite” 李充《翰林論》につ いて. In Uchino hakase kanreki kinen Tōyōgaku ronshū 內野博士還曆紀念東洋學 論集, 217–33. Tokyo: Kan Gi bunka kenkyūkai, 1964. Gao Buying 高步瀛, ed. and comm. Liang Han wen juyao 兩漢文舉要. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1990. ———, ed. and comm. Nanbeichao wen juyao 南北朝文舉要. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1998. ———, ed. and comm. Wei Jin wen juyao 魏晉文舉要. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1989. Gao Huaping 高華平. “Po Qin ‘Yu Wen Wendi jian’ de xiezuo shijian ji xiangguan wenti” 繁欽〈與魏文帝牋〉的寫作時間及相關問題. Gudian wenxian yanjiu (2009: 8): 572–76. Giles, Herbert A. Gems of Chinese Literature (Prose). Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, 1922. Gu Nong 顧農. “Jiang Yan yu Jianping wang Liu Jingsu” 江淹與建平王景素. Wen xuan luncong, 178–83. ———. “Qiu Chi he tade ‘Yu Chen Bozhi shu’” 丘遲與他的〈與陳伯之書〉. Mingzuo xinshang (2005: 19): 99–101. ———. “ ‘Yu Shan Juyuan juejiao shu’ zuonian kao” 〈與山巨源絕交書〉作年考. Jianghai xuekan (1998: 4): 169. Gu Zuyu 顧祖禹. Dushi fangyu jiyao 讀史方輿紀要. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2005. Guo Dianchen 郭殿忱 and Li Hongguang 李紅光. “Lun Wen xuan zhi shuti” 論文選 之書體. In Zhaoming Wen xuan yu Zhongguo chuantong wenhua 昭明文選與中國 傳統文化, edited by Zhao Fuhai 趙福海, Liu Qi 劉琦, and Wu Xiaofeng 吳曉峰, 377–89. Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe, 2001. Guo Shaoyu 郭紹虞. “Wenzhang liubie lun yu Han lin lun” 《文章流別論》與《翰 林論》. Yanda yuekan 5.3 (1929); rpt. in Guo Shaoyu. Zhaoyu shi gudian wenxue lunji 照隅室古典文學論集, 146–48. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1983.

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———. Zhongguo lidai wen lun xuan 中國歷代文論選. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1979. Han Geping 韓格平, ed. and comm. Zhulin qixian shiwen quanji yizhu 竹林七賢詩文 全集譯注. Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe, 1997. Han shu 漢書. Compiled by Ban Gu 班固 (32–92). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1962. He Cijun 賀次君, ed., Kuodi zhi jijiao 括地志輯校. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980. He Shihua 何世華. “ ‘Bao Ren An shu’ bing fei zuo yu Taishi sinian kao” 〈報任安 書〉並非作于太始四年考. Renwen zazhi (1982: 6): 89–91. Hervouet, Yves. Le Chapitre 117 du Che-ki (Biographie de Sseu-ma Siang-jou), 175–79. Paris: Presses Universitaries de France, 1972. ———. Un Poéte de cour sous les Han: Sseu-ma Siang-jou. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1964. Ho, Richard M. W., trans. “Cao Zhi: Letter to Yang Dezu.” Renditions 41–42 (1994): 12–14. Holzman, Donald. La Vie et la pensée de Hi K’ang. Leiden: Brill, 1957. ———. “Literary Criticism in China in the Early Third Century AD. AS 28 (1974): 113– 49; rpt. in Donald Holzman. Chinese Literature in Transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998. Hu Dalei 胡大雷. “Wenzhang zhi ‘yi ren wei gang’ de shuji mulu” 《文章志》「以人 為綱」的書籍目錄. Dalian daxue xuebao 29.4 (2008): 28–32. Hu Nengcheng 胡能承. “Lun Li Si de ‘Jian zhu ke shu’ ” 論李斯的〈諫逐客書〉. Gaoshi hanshou xuekan (1994: 4): 41–44. Huang Kan 黃侃 and Huang Zhuo 黃焯, eds. Wen xuan pingdian 文選平點. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1985. Huang Shuling 黃淑齡. “Cao Pi ‘Yu Wu Zhi shu’ jiao zheng” 曹丕〈與吳質書〉校證. Zhongguo wenxue yanjiu 8 (1994): 39–63. Jansen, Thomas. “The Art of Severing Relationships (juejiao) in Early Medieval China.” JAOS 126 (2006): 347–65. Jiang Juqian 江舉謙. “Qiu Chi ‘Yu Chen Bozhi shu’ ” 丘遲〈與陳伯之書〉. Mingdao wenyi 179 (1991): 17–23. Jin Guoyong 金國永, ed. and comm. Sima Xiangru ji jiaozhu 司馬相如集校注. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1993. Kamatani Takeshi 釜谷武志. “Riku Un ani e no shokan: Sono bungaku ron kōsatsu” 陸 雲兄への書簡:その文學論考察. Chūgoku bungaku hō 28 (1977): 1–31. Knechtges, David R. “Culling the Weeds and Selecting Fine Blossoms: The Anthology in Early Medieval China.” In Culture and Power in the Reconstitution of the Chinese Realm, 200–600, edited by Scott Pearce, Audrey Spiro, and Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 200–241, 322–34. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2001. ———. “ ‘Key Words,’ Authorial Intent, and Interpretation: Sima Qian’s Letter to Ren An.” CLEAR 30 (2008): 76–84.



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Between Letter and Testament: Letters of Familial Admonition in Han and Six Dynasties China* Antje Richter The Han dynasty (221 BCE–220 CE) with its centralized administration and complex bureaucracy witnessed an enormous development of written official communication. This process was characterized not only by an increase in quantity but also by typological diversification based on different functions of writing, which led to the establishment of numerous subgenres of official communication.1 Personal correspondence flourished, too, and letters began to be appreciated as a literary genre. Some of the most renowned letters in Chinese literary history are personal letters written during the Han dynasty, most famously the historian Sima Qian’s 司馬遷 (ca. 145–ca. 86 BCE) magnificent letter to Ren An 任安 (d. ca. 91 BCE).2 The establishment of letters as a literary genre was accompanied by the emergence of distinct epistolary subgenres, again based on different functions, such as letters of thanks, condolence, recommendation, and, notably, of admonition.3 A subgroup of admonitions, those addressed to younger members of one’s family, form a prominent part of transmitted epistolary literature from the Han dynasty onwards. In * I would like to thank Xiaofei Tian and Ed Lien, co-authors of this volume, as well as Brill’s anonymous reviewer for their invaluable comments on this chapter. Before giving this paper at the workshop in Boulder in 2012, I presented a part of it at the meeting of the American Oriental Society (Western Branch) in Irvine in 2007 and the conference of the European Association of Chinese Studies in Lund in 2008; and on each occasion received crucial advice that helped me improve my grasp of this material. An early version of the article was published in German as “Familiäre Mahnbriefe” in 2006. 1 On official communication during the Han dynasty see Giele, Imperial Decision-Making and Metelmann, “Schriftverkehr der Han-Zeit.” 2 Sima Qian, “Letter in reply to Ren An [zi Shaoqing 少卿]” (Bao Ren Shaoqing shu 報任少 卿書), Wen xuan 41.1854–69; Quan Han wen 26.5a–9a. The letter has been frequently translated and discussed, see the lists in Fuehrer, “The Court Scribe’s Eikon Psyches,” 175 n. 29; Knechtges, “ ‘Key Words,’ Authorial Intent, and Interpretation,” 75 n. 1; as well as Knechtges’s article in this volume. See also Durrant, “Self as the Intersection of Traditions.” 3 See Eva Yuen-wah Chung’s classification of Han dynasty personal letters in her “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 123–52.

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these letters the writers address one or more family members, mostly their own children or those of their siblings, expressing a whole range of admonitory gestures from reassurance to advice, warning, and outright censure. While letters of familial admonition are still rare in the Han dynasty, they are more common in the following Six Dynasties (220–589), at least if the numbers of transmitted letters are any indication. What is more, the genre remained alive and vibrant in the Tang dynasty and much later, as we can see from the numerous anthologies of family admonitions published in China during the several last decades.4 This is no surprise, because the main concern of a letter of familial admonition—the instruction of the younger generation—is at the heart of the Chinese, and indeed any society’s value system.5 Letters of familial admonition are first of all compelling documents of the interplay between social, familial, and individual concerns that provide insight into an array of social and psychological phenomena, from instructional practices to problem solving strategies to character assessment, etc. Apart from their rich content, letters of familial admonition are also interesting because of their literary features, in particular their rhetoric of criticism. Most of the transmitted epistolary literature is effusively polite: reverential and selfdeprecating with an emphasis on what in Latin rhetoric is called captatio benevolentiae or “fishing for goodwill,” a rhetorical figure that aims to put the addressees “in a good mood that will make them receptive of the message.”6 Letters of familial admonition, on the other hand, as communications to inferiors, are not bound by these conventions and thus allow us to observe a very different authorial self-presentation: confident and assertive writers who can be quite blunt in the assessment and criticism of their addressees, usually their children or nephews, occasionally also their grandchildren or younger siblings. From a third, typological perspective, these letters present us with a fascinating case of generic ambiguity, since they show characteristics of both regular personal letters and non-epistolary genres, such as the testament or the treatise, and may originally not have been actual letters at all. While we have no way of 4 See, e.g., Wang Xiaoxiang, Lidai jiaxun xuanzhu; Lu Lin, Zhonghua jiaxun daguan; Xu Shaojin, Zhongguo lidai jiaxun daquan; Lu Zhengyan, Zhongguo lidai jiaxun guanzhi. Another indication of the continuing appeal of family letters is the popularity of the letters that the famous translator Fu Lei 傅雷 (1908–1966) wrote to his son. See also Li Jie’s remarks on Fu Lei in her chapter on Shen Congwen’s family letters in this volume. 5 For a fine American example of the familial admonition see George Washington’s (1732–1799) letter to George Washington Parke Custis, November 28, 1796. The Custis Family Papers, Mss1 C9698a 228. 6 Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament, 33.

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knowing if this was the case or not, it is clear that the best letters of familial admonition masterfully employ the potential of the letter form towards their literary and pedagogic ends. The following exploration discusses typological, formal, and rhetorical features of transmitted letters of familial admonition as they appear in the about sixty transmitted pieces from the Han and Six Dynasties, with a focus on those pieces that actually show epistolary features. That this is not the case with all such texts is chiefly a result of their transmission history. Most letters or letter fragments from early and medieval China were preserved in standard histories, encyclopedias, or anthologies, where they were included because of their contents, their literary quality, or the fame of their authors. Accordingly, they were abridged or in other ways adapted to the needs of the editors of these compilations, which often involved the elimination of epistolary features such as the letter frame (which usually contains contextual and personal information), instances of personal address, indicators of hierarchy, and certain structuring elements.7 The titles that label them as pieces of correspondence are later additions, which were never part of an original letter. Some of the fragments resulting from this process of “de-epistolarization” are celebrated as outstanding letters of familial admonition, even if they are without any textual indication of ever having been a letter. Since these texts, as admirable as they may be in their admonishing power, paternal sentiment, or literary form,8 yield too little information about the epistolary culture from which they emerged, they will only be treated marginally here.9 1

Genre Questions: Letters, Family Instructions, Testaments

The focus on one subgenre provides ideal conditions for probing the generic field of the epistolary. What personal letters are may seem evident in everyday 7 Comparing manuscript finds of official communications and their counterparts in transmitted literature, Carsten Metelmann (“Schriftverkehr der Han-Zeit,” 264–65) observed that correspondence in standard histories appears to have been abridged (particularly regarding the epistolary frame) and edited (including literary refinement). Similar observations were made by other scholars concerning other historical periods, see, e.g. Ebrey, “T’ang Guides,” 608–9. 8 See, for instance, letters written by Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181–234) to his nephew and to his son (Jie waisheng shu 誡外生書, Jie zi 誡子), Quan Sanguo wen 59.4b. 9 Cai Yanbin’s article “Cong jie zi shu kan Wei Jin Liuchao xueshu wenhua zhi bianqian,” expressly dedicated to all kinds of writings that aim at educating the younger generation in one’s family, is not concerned with the fact that some of these writings are letters but exclusively with their educational values.



speech, but they are notoriously elusive with regard to generic definition.10 If we take only textual properties into account, the genre proves to be chameleonic, and not only because it can assimilate a broad spectrum of other genres from love poem to political pamphlet to travelogue.11 Letter definitions such as “a written message from one to another actual historical person”12 are consequently broad and mostly refer to non-textual properties, such as writing on a tangible medium and the letter’s particular writer-addressee relationship. Liu Xie 劉勰 (ca. 465–ca. 532), in chapter 25 of his great critical work The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons (Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍), also takes this approach of regarding letters first of all as written messages.13 Another decisive characteristic of the genre is that letters, in order to bridge the spatial separation between the correspondents, have to undergo some form of physical transmission involving a third party, and that they are usually part of an exchange. Several features are derived from this basic epistolary situation, some of them textual, others extralinguistic. The most consequential of the extralinguistic features is the time lag, due to transmission, between writing, reading, and responding to a letter. It creates a distinct, staggered type of communication that in turn determines a number of textual features. Another important extralinguistic feature is the fact that letters are transmitted in envelopes, which marks the directedness and exclusiveness of epistolary communication, both of which are also expressed on the textual level. The most significant textual features of a letter are its inherent dialogicity and self-referentiality. While dialogicity denotes a range of textual characteristics that prove a writer’s sustained efforts to engage a particular addressee, selfreferentiality describes a letter’s peculiar “capacity to refer to itself and to its own communicative function independently of any propositional content it may express.”14 The comparatist Claudio Guillén made a similar observation when he described the letter as “writing proclaiming itself as writing in the process of correspondence.”15 Both dialogicity and self-referentiality are expressed through recurring and manifold references to the time, place, and 10 11

12 13 14 15

See also the chapter “The genre of personal letters” in Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 37–43. Heather Dubrow suggested the term “host genre” as referring to “those forms one of whose roles is to provide a hospitable environment for the other form or forms that are regularly incorporated within them.“ Dubrow, Genre, 116. Müller, “Brief,” 61. Similar definitions are common in Western epistolary research, see, e.g. Trapp, Greek and Latin Letters, 1. See Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 49–62. Violi, “Letters,” 160. “Notes Towards the Study of the Renaissance Letter,” 80.

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other circumstances of its writing and expected reading, including references to the addressees and their world, to the spatial distance between writer and addressee, to the time lag between writing, reading, and responding, etc. It will be useful to keep these basic features in mind when assessing letters of familial admonition, especially because they overlap with two other genres: family instructions and testaments, which share common ground among themselves as well. The family instruction ( jiajie 家誡 or jiaxun 家訓) is commonly traced back to Zhou dynasty speeches in the Book of Documents (Shujing 書經 or Shang shu 尚書). Admonitory speeches of the Duke of Zhou 周公 (fl. 1042– 1036 BCE)16 or of King Cheng 周成王 (r. 1042/35–1006 BCE)17 are regarded as predecessors of the genre. After the emergence of family instructions proper in the Han dynasty the genre experienced its first apex in the late sixth century with the Family Instructions for the Yan Clan (Yanshi jiaxun 顏氏家訓) by Yan Zhitui 顏之推 (531–ca. 591), whose purpose Albert E. Dien aptly characterized as “to counsel his children how to maintain their favored status as potential candidates for official employment and to avoid sinking into the commoner class.”18 Liu Xie’s characterization of the genre jie 戒, “admonition,” in The Literary Mind is part of chapter 19, “Edicts and Patents of Enfeoffment” (Zhao ce 詔策), which is chiefly dedicated to genres of imperial communication, among them the imperial admonition ( jiechi 戒敕). It is probably on account of this context that Liu emphasizes rulers and fathers as particularly entitled to admonish. His literary examples, however, exclusively refer to admonitions within the family (even if the writer may have been an emperor) and also include one female writer, a mother. Liu singles out one treatise, Ban Zhao’s 班昭 (?48– ?116) “Admonitions for Women” (Nüjie 女誡), which were originally intended for her daughters,19 as well as three letters: Liu Bang 劉邦 (256–195 BCE, Han Gaozu 漢高祖, r. 206–195) writing to his son, Ma Yuan 馬援 (13 BCE–49 CE) to his nephews,20 and Dongfang Shuo 東方朔 (154–93 BCE) to his son. Incidentally, this last, fragmentary text is a perfect illustration for the fluidity

16  “Jun Shi” 君奭, Shangshu 44.40–41. 17 “Gu ming” 顧命, Shangshu 50.46–48. 18 Dien, “A Sixth-Century Father’s Advice,” 82. Yanshi jiaxun has received wide scholarly attention, see Teng Ssu-yü, Family Instructions for the Yen Clan; Dien, Pei ch’i shu 45; Lewis, “Writing the World.” 19 Hou Han shu 84.2786–91. See Swann, Pan Chao; Idema and Grant, The Red Brush, 17–42. 20 On these two letters see below.



and unreliability of genre labels, since different anthologies categorize it as a letter, a piece of prose, and a poem.21 The passage about admonitions in Liu Xie’s The Literary Mind reads: To admonish means to caution. [The legendary founder of the Xia dynasty] Yu said “admonish them with fine words.”22 The ruler and the father are the most respected among the “three from whom we receive boundless grace” [i.e. the ruler, the father, the teacher].23 The “Edict to the Crown Prince” by Emperor Gaozu of the Han dynasty and Dongfang Shuo’s “Admonishing his Son” are both works of “looking back on one’s life” [in the spirit of the Book of Documents’ chapter “Gu ming” 顧命, “The Testamentary Charge”]. After Ma Yuan’s [letter to his nephews], everyone left familial admonitions. Ban Zhao’s “Admonitions for Women” may well be called [the work of] a maternal teacher. 戒者,慎也,禹稱戒之用休。君父至尊,在三罔極。漢高祖之 敕太子,東方朔之戒子,亦顧命之作也。及馬援已下,各貽家 戒。班姬女戒,足稱母師也。24 For Liu Xie the admonition thus appears to be mainly distinguished by two aspects: the family sphere and an inclination towards the letter form. One letter, Ma Yuan’s admonition of his nephews, is even described as a prototype of “familial admonition.” Liu Xie’s approach remained valid for centuries to come. In the Ming dynasty, Wu Na 吳訥 (1372–1457) in his discussion of admonitions


22 23 24

Properly recognizing the genre of a fragmentarily transmitted text may be difficult, especially if genre-specific features are missing. Dongfang Shuo’s text shows no indications of epistolarity at all, apart from the title, which differs in different sources and was a later addition anyway. Most modern anthologies regard this admonition as a letter (e.g. Lu Zhengyan, Zhongguo lidai jiaxun guanzhi, 279–80). In the early Tang encyclopedia Yiwen leiju (23.418) and in Yan Kejun’s 嚴可均 (1762–1843) Quan Han wen (25.12a) the text is titled “Admonishing his Son” (Jie zi 誡子) and is classified as a piece of prose writing, in Yiwen leiju under “admonitions” ( jie 誡). Zhang Pu 張溥 (1602–41) in Han Wei Liuchao baisan mingjia ji (1.37a–b) labels the text “Poem Admonishing his Son” (Jie zi shi 誡子 詩), a choice adopted in a few modern anthologies as well (e.g. Xu Shaojin, Zhongguo lidai jiaxun daquan, 695). Shangshu 3.4. Guo yu 7.1.251. Wenxin diaolong 19.360.

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remarked that the genre was used particularly for the admonition of children and grandchildren.25 Through his choice of literary examples, some of which were allegedly composed “on the verge of death” (lin ming/zhong/si 臨命/終/死), Liu Xie also implies the overlap between admonitions and testaments, a genre that is not among those explicitly introduced in The Literary Mind. Testaments or deathbed words (yiling/yan 遺令/言) are evoked through Liu’s reference to gu ming 顧命, which is a reference to the eponymous chapter of the Book of Documents, but can also be understood literally as “looking back on one’s life”—thus creating one of the many artful ambiguities that pervade The Literary Mind. Testaments usually offer advice or admonition, sometimes along with a review of the writer’s life and accomplishments, and may also give detailed instructions about the imminent burial.26 Testaments, like letters, may specifically address family members, but, unlike letters, the circumstances of their composition suggest that many of them were originally composed orally, and that the texts were written down later. This sketch of the generic field suggests that letters of familial admonition, although they may be “written messages from one to another actual historical persons” may differ from common personal letters in one important point: some of them are not so much concerned with bridging a spatial separation, as with the expressly written nature of this message, which is intended to be available for future re-reading, reference, and documentation. (To some letters of familial admonition, particularly those of the testamentary type, bridging time may thus have been more important than bridging spatial separations.) Writing provides the fixation of the text in a form that is “authorized” by the admonisher; it allows virtually endless actualizations of its message as well as the widening of its audience beyond the primary addressee. Since written documents moreover carried greater weight and status than the spoken word, writing was also seen as being able to lend additional authority and emotional emphasis to the words.27 Many of Liu Xie’s arguments in chapter 25 of The Literary Mind are concerned with just these aspects. Letters of familial 25 26


Wenzhang bianti xushuo, 45. For an example see Wang Xiang’s 王祥 (185–169) “Testament teaching his sons and grandsons” (Xun zisun yiling 訓子孫遺令), Quan Jin wen 18.6a–b, Jin shu 33.989. On the chapter giving directions for the burial in Yan Zhitui’s Family Instructions see Dien, “Instructions for the Grave.” Dorothy Ko, writing about an admonitory letter that Gu Ruopu 顧若璞 (1592–ca. 1681) wrote to her sons who were living in the same household, similarly assumed that Gu



admonition may thus have been written to family members who were not separated by a physical distance but living close by, which also means that they did not have to undergo physical transmission involving a third party. It is nevertheless possible to see the idea of separation that is so essential in correspondence underlying these cases of letter writing as well, because the hope for the durability and resilience of the written word implicitly anticipates future separations, down to the unavoidable final parting by death.28 If familial letters of admonition can be written to someone who is not spatially removed, this raises another typological problem, that of the authenticity or fictitiousness of these texts. If some of them were not actually written as letters and sent as such, but arose from a conscious choice of genre based on the potential of the letter form for certain literary and educational ends, the epistolary situation would have to be created with literary means. In Western literature, epistolary fiction has played a remarkable role since antiquity, most notably in the genre of the novel. All forms of the “epistolary conceit” in literature are well-known and enjoy sustained scholarly attention in various branches of the humanities.29 In China, on the other hand, epistolary fiction is commonly believed to be an “imported novelty”30 that is absent from traditional literature and emerged in China only at the beginning of the twentieth century under the influence of Western literature, in particular translations of Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s (1749–1832) epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther.31 This astonishingly reductive view not only fails to recognize how artfully Chinese writers employed the epistolary conceit in a variety of genres, it also results in a simplistic understanding of “real” letters (as we find them incorporated in historical writings and elsewhere) as purely documentary in character, which disregards their dependence on literary creativity. As Claudio Guillén observed so perceptively, “there is hardly an act in our daily experience, rooted in life itself, that is as likely as the writing of a letter to propel us toward inventiveness and the interpretation and transformation of fact:



30 31

“might have wanted to add weight to her words, or she might have been compelled to convince other family members.” Ko, “ ‘Letter to My Sons’,” 149. The absence of physical separation in some of the letters of familial admonition and the authoritarian stance that many of them take may explain why they are not part of a correspondence; they are neither written in response to a letter nor do they elicit a reply—at least there are no examples among transmitted literature. See, e.g., Rosenmeyer, Ancient Epistolary Fictions; Rosenmeyer, Ancient Greek Literary Letters; Beebee, Epistolary Fiction in Europe; Day, Told in Letters; Kauffman, Special Delivery. Han Rui, Geren de siyu, 2. See Yip, “The Reception of Werther” and Ng, “Li Ang’s Experiments.”

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hence the ambivalence of the product, on the razor’s edge between the fact and the interpretation.”32 Although the full exploration of the early epistolary imagination in China will have to be treated elsewhere,33 it is necessary to keep its existence in mind, particularly as far as authorial self-presentation is concerned, which is often discussed in terms of authenticity. As Lu Xun 魯迅 (1881–1936) once remarked about a writer of letters: “Others may think that this time he entered the stage stark naked, but in fact he is still wearing a fleshcolored, tight-fitting dress and even a brassiere, something he normally should never put on” 別人以為他這回是赤條條的上場了罷,他其實還是穿著 肉色緊身小衫褲,甚至於用了平常决不應用的奶罩.34 With the dress that pretends not to be there while presenting its wearer as he or she wants to be seen, Lu Xun has created a powerful counter image to the naïve identification of the actual, living writer of a letter and the first person narrator emerging in an epistolary text.35 Even if it is improbable that transmitted familial letters of admonition are not based on authentic writer-addressee relationships but sprung from an author’s imagination, it will still be necessary to treat these letters as more or less skillfully crafted literary texts, not only in their use of allusions and parallel style, but also in their presentation of the writer, the addressee, and their relationship. 2

Letters of Familial Admonition of the Han Dynasty: Interventional and Testamentary Type

Taking the genre ambiguities into account, we can identify about twenty letters of familial admonition in the received literature of the Han dynasty, some of them fragments consisting of a handful of characters only. Four of these twenty letters became especially famous: Liu Bang’s letter to his son and Ma Yuan’s letter to his nephews (both mentioned in Liu Xie’s Literary Mind) as well as letters by the eminent scholars Liu Xiang 劉向 (79–8 BCE) and Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127–200 CE) to their sons.36 The fame of these four letters has

32 33 34

Guillén, “On the Edge of Literariness,” 5. See my forthcoming article “The Literary Uses of Correspondence.” Lu Xun, “Preface to Kong Lingjing’s Letters of Contemporary Poets” (Kong Lingjing bian Dangdai wenren chidu chao xu 孔另境編當代文人尺牘鈔序, 1935) in Lu Xun quanji 6:409. 35  See also “Normativity and Authenticity” in Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 139–49. 36 On these two letters see below.



been affirmed by a number of prestigious anthologies,37 although Selections of Refined Literature (Wen xuan 文選) remarkably does not include any of them, in fact it includes no letter of familial admonition at all.38 According to their “setting in life,” these four pieces may, as most other letters of familial admonition, be subdivided into two types—interventional and testamentary—that differ in motivation, intent, and in their rhetorical features, even if there is a certain overlap between these two. Letters of the interventional type are occasioned by an occurrence in the life of the addressee, often a kind of misconduct, which provokes the writer’s admonitory intervention. Letters of the testamentary type, in contrast, are precipitated by an existential experience of the writer, mostly the proximity of death. Interventional letters may be severe in their criticism and demands, which seek the prompt revision of certain faults or transgressions of the addressee. Testamentary letters, on the other hand, commonly operate with autobiographic retrospection and offer only mild advice, aiming at a long-term instructional effect on the intended readers, which quite possibly extended beyond the primary addressees. Owing to the anticipation of a wider audience—in the present or future, in one’s own family or outside—the testamentary letter would also appear especially suitable for the creation of an image of the self that conformed to the writer’s interests. These differences of intent go along with non-textual distinctions, especially concerning the epistolarity of the text. Interventional admonitions have a more pronounced letter character. They appear to have been composed in circumstances of spatial separation between writer and addressee, they operate with unmistakable and frequent references to the addressee, and they allude to the various aspects of the epistolary situation, which could be interpreted as indications that these texts were actual letters. Testamentary letters, in contrast, may lack decisive epistolary features such as dialogicity, self-referentiality, and occasionality. This could have been achieved deliberately, by composing a letter with a larger audience in mind, but it could also be an unintentional byproduct of the fact that testamentary letters are chiefly motivated by events in the life of the writer and thus focus less on the addressee. Another reason for the weaker epistolarity of testamentary letters could be that these texts were originally addressed by mouth to somebody who was present (not necessarily 37 38

The influential Qing dynasty anthology Guwen guanzhi 古文觀止 (1695), for instance, collects the letters by Ma Yuan and Zheng Xuan. While the genre jie does not occur in Wen xuan, the related zhen 箴 (admonition, exhortation) does. See David Knechtges in Chang and Owen, Cambridge History, 138–40. See also Knechtges’ essay, “Letters in the Wen xuan,” in this volume.

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the addressee of the message) and wrote the words down only later—as described, for instance, in the Book of Documents’ “Gu ming” chapter. Letters of familial admonition, interventional as well as testamentary, owe their literary appeal to their immediacy, directness, and urgency, but these same qualities may express very different literary atmospheres. While the interventional impulse usually leads to letters that are spirited and, despite the seriousness of the reproach, light in tone, testamentary letters tend to be pensive and deeper in feeling. The solemnity of testamentary letters along with their quotability—many appear marbled with pieces of pithy wisdom—seem to have made them more appealing for a general readership, which is probably why this type is prevalent among the received letters. Among the four famous Han letters of familial admonition those by Liu Bang and Zheng Xuan are testamentary. Both were written in the face of death and feature retrospective passages that support their writers’ admonitory intentions. However, they display two very different kinds of paternal affection: Liu Bang’s tone is authoritative and demanding, while Zheng Xuan’s epistolary self-portrayal is a rare example of personal closeness between a father and a son. The founder of the Han dynasty, writing during his final illness, contemplates his early years under the Qin dynasty’s ban on learning and explains why he chose his son Liu Ying 劉盈 (207–188 BCE), the later Han Huidi 漢惠帝 (r. 195–188 BCE), as his successor. Liu Bang’s main concern throughout the text is the future of the state, he treats the addressee in his function as the crown prince and future emperor without openly expressing affection or sentimental feelings for him, which appears to be appropriate for an edict.39 Paradoxically, the only indication of a closer relationship to his eldest son appears to be that he asks him at the end of the letter to take special care of one of his brothers, Liu Bang’s youngest son Ruyi 如意, and this son’s mother. Arguing with his own experience of a limited education, he urges his son to pursue learning— probably the most common element of letters of familial admonition40—and in particular to improve his poor writing through practice: 39


That this personal aloofness is not requisite in letters to a successor to the throne is demonstrated by the testament Liu Bei 劉備 (161–223, Shu Han Zhaoliedi 蜀漢昭烈帝, r. 221–23) left for his son Liu Chan 劉禪 (207–71, Houzhu 蜀漢後主, r. 223–63), see “Yizhao chi Houzhu” 遺詔敕後主, Quan Sanguo wen 57.1b. Apart from the concern it expresses for the addressee and his siblings, the text is famous for Liu Bei’s statement that “death at fifty is no longer called premature” 人五十不稱夭. Exhortation to learning and perseverance are ubiquitous topics in early Chinese literature, well beyond the genre in consideration here. See, e.g. hexagram 53 in the Book of Changes (Zhou yi 周易) and the Xunzi’s 荀子 “An Exhortation to Learning” (Quanxue pian 勸學篇).



. . . When I look at your writing now, it is not even as good as my own. You should study and practice diligently. Whenever you submit a memorial, you should write it yourself, do not let someone else do it. . . . . . . 今視汝書。猶不如吾。汝可勤學習。每上疏宜自書。勿使人 也。. . .41 As the fragment of a letter, Liu Bang’s testament is convincing enough. There is no epistolary frame, but the text shows a strong and explicit dialogicity, apparent, not the least, in the profusion of second person pronouns (ru 汝, er 爾). Since “all socio-communicative verbal interaction, at whatever level of formality or complexity, reflects the distribution of power among the participants,”42 letters, too, indicate the hierarchical relationship between writer and recipient, mostly through different forms of address and self-designation and terms of respect. Letters to inferiors present a especially clear case, because they use the personal name (ming 名) of the addressee and second person pronouns to address children or other junior family members, which is taboo in letters to equals or superiors.43 About three centuries later, towards the end of the Han dynasty in 196, when the influential scholar and commentator Zheng Xuan wrote a letter to his only son Yi’en 益恩, he was also writing under the influence of a serious illness, although the dream of Confucius that would be interpreted as a prediction of his impending death was to come only four years later, in 200.44 Zheng Xuan dedicates most of the letter to his son to autobiographic retrospection— almost exclusively concerning his intellectual life and official positions—and admonishes very gently, almost pityingly. He mentions that he is seventy years old and that this, according to the Book of Rites (Li ji 禮記), is the appropriate age to hand over family matters to his son.45 The following translation of the admonitory part of the letter comprises less than a third of the whole text: . . . The great and small affairs of the family, you must shoulder them all. Ah, you solitary man, who never had brothers to rely on! Make every 41

Liu Bang, “Edict to the Crown Prince by his own hand” (Shou chi taizi 手敕太子, ca. 195 BCE), Quan Han wen 1.4b–5a; trans. Frühauf, Frühformen der chinesischen Autobiographie, 132–38. See also Pablo Blitstein’s chapter in this volume. 42 Watts, Power in Family Discourse, 53. 43 Yan Zhitui also uses this form of address in his Family Instructions, usually in the plural as ru deng/bei/cao 汝等/輩/曹. 44 See Hou Han shu 25.1211. 45 七十曰老而傳, Li ji 1.8.1.

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effort to seek out the Way of the gentleman, to study and advance incessantly. “Be devoutly heedful of dignified behavior, in order to draw near to those who are virtuous.”46 An illustrious reputation is made by colleagues and friends, but virtuous conduct starts with one’s own personal resolve. If one achieves fame and acclaim, this will also bring honor to one’s parents. How could you not keep this in mind! How could you not keep this in mind! [. . .] The sun is setting in the west, how could I make plans? Our family is now much better off than in the past. Work hard, be timely, and do not mind hunger and cold. Make light of food and drink and wear simple clothes—moderation in these two matters will lessen my worry. But if you forget [what I said] and do not keep it in mind, then indeed all will be over.47 . . . 家事大小。汝一承之。咨爾煢煢一夫。曾無同生相依。其 勗求君子之道 。研讚勿替。敬慎威儀。以近 有德。顯譽成于 僚友。德行立于己志。若致聲稱。亦有榮于所生。可不深念 邪。可不深念邪。[. . .] 日西方暮。其可圖乎。家今差多于昔。 勤力務時。無恤飢寒。非飲食。薄衣服。節夫二者。尚令吾寡 恨。若忽忘不識。亦已焉哉。48 Compared with the commanding tone of Liu Bang’s letter, Zheng Xuan writes with much more restraint and politeness, which results in a text that shows fewer epistolary features. He addresses his son directly only in the second part of the letter, using second person pronouns only four times (Liu Bang used nine in a text half as long) and couching his admonitions in expressions of sadness, affection, and solicitude, thus attenuating his demands. As far as epistolary style is concerned, this could almost be a letter to a friend. The text, despite the preponderance of the autobiographic part, which may well have been meant for a wider audience, does not read like a self-narrative in the disguise of a family letter, but achieves a stylistic unity that is convincing as a written message to Zheng Xuan’s son, even if strong markers of epistolarity are missing, whether on account of authorial decisions or editorial changes. As many other 46 47

A reference to Mao shi 253. The last phrase alludes to Mao shi 58 and is used by Tao Qian in his poem “Charge to my son” (Ming zi shi 命子詩), whose last couplet reads: “If you will not make anything out of yourself, all would be over” 爾之不才亦已焉哉. Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 971. 48  Zheng Xuan, “Letter admonishing his son Yi’en” (Jie zi Yi’en shu 戒子益恩書), Quan Hou Han wen 84.2b–3a; Hou Han shu 35.1209–10; Yiwen leiju 23.418–19. See Chung, “Study of the ‘Shu’,” 306–10, 503–10; Paul W. Kroll, “Literary Criticism and Personal Character,” 525; Frühauf, Frühformen der chinesischen Autobiographie, 213–19.



letters, this one, too, certainly builds on the addressee’s external knowledge that later readers do not share, in this case the son’s familiarity with facts about his father’s life that are not made explicit in the text itself. A very different spirit animates Ma Yuan’s letter to his nephews. Its vigorous expressions of annoyance and impatience clearly emanate an air of intervention, which obviously was caused by a specific incident. It was written while Ma Yuan was on a military mission in what is now northern Vietnam, where he had got word of his nephews’ unsatisfactory conduct. Because Ma’s letter is such an influential text for the later development of the genre, I quote it in its entirety: I wish that for you hearing about someone’s mistakes may be like hearing the [tabooed] names of your father and mother: your ears can hear them, but your mouth must not articulate them. To enjoy the discussion of other people’s rights and wrongs and the presumptuous criticism of the proper law, these are things which I greatly detest, and I would rather die than hear that members of the younger generation in my family are behaving like that. You already know how much I detest these things, but I am repeating my words as parents [repeat] their admonitions [to their daughter] while arranging her [wedding] dress. I only wish that you may never forget my words. Long Bogao is honest, sincere and perfectly cautious. No reckless word ever comes out of his mouth. He is modest and frugal, morally pure and thrifty, incorrupt and impartial. He inspires awe. I like and esteem him, and I wish that you may take him as a model. Du Jiliang is bold, chivalrous and fond of justice. He shares other people’s sorrows and joys, no matter whether those people are superior or inferior. That’s why guests from several commanderies came to his father’s funeral. I like and esteem him, but I do not wish that you may take him as a model. If you try to model yourselves after Long Bogao and fail, you can still be circumspect and well-behaved, as the saying illustrates: “If you do not succeed in sculpting a swan, the result will still look like a duck.” But if you try to model yourselves after Du Jiliang and fail, you will sink down to the level of notorious wasters, as another saying illustrates: “If you try to paint a tiger and fail, the picture will look like a dog.” So far, one cannot properly assess Du Jiliang. When the magistrate took up office in the commandery [where Du resides], he ground his teeth [in frustration because he perceived Du as a local strongman and a problem]. Word about this spread in the regions and commanderies. I am constantly anxious on his

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behalf. That is why I do not wish that the younger generation in my family take him as a model. 吾欲汝曹聞人過 失。如聞父母之名。耳可得聞。而口不可得 言也。好論議人長短。妄是非正法。此吾所大惡也。寧死不 願聞子孫有此行也。汝曹知吾惡之甚矣。所以復言者。施衿結 褵。申父母之戒。欲使汝曹不忘之耳。龍伯高敦厚周慎。口無擇 言。謙約節儉。廉公有威。吾愛之重之。願汝曹效之。杜季良 豪俠好義。憂人之憂。樂人之樂。清濁無所失。父喪致客。數 郡畢至。吾愛之重之。不願汝曹效也。效伯高不得。猶為謹敕 之士。所謂刻鵠不成尚類鶩者也。效季良不得。陷為天下輕薄 子。所謂畫虎不成反類狗者也。訖今季良尚未可知。郡將下車 輒切齒。州郡以為言。吾常為寒心。是以不願子孫效也。49 Ma Yuan is absolutely outspoken about his interventional purpose and makes sure that it is not lost on his addressees. He speaks to his nephews directly throughout, using second person pronouns, and expresses his wishes straightforwardly, frequently using words such as yu 欲 and yuan 願 (I wish), which usually indicate the beginning of an actual admonition.50 The use of these signal words—another one would be wen 聞 (I have heard), often introducing a piece of information that triggered the letter—is common in letters of familial admonition but absent from most other personal letters. In this respect, letters of familial admonition with their unambiguous agenda resemble official communications, whose clearly structured main bodies consisting of opening, middle, and closing parts, are supported by signal words and phrases.51 The strong dialogicity of Ma Yuan’s note ensures that it evidently reads like a letter, despite the absence of an epistolary frame. Surprisingly, at least for a text that achieved so much literary distinction, the letter appears to do without any literary or historical references. Where Zheng Xuan’s text is interspersed with allusions to canonical literature, Ma Yuan—probably adjusting his rhetorical strategy to his nephews’ personalities, experience, and learning (or lack thereof)—resorts to popular proverbs and local celebrities with archetypal 49  Ma Yuan, “Letter admonishing his nephews Yan and Dun” (Jie xiong zi Yan Dun shu 誡 兄子嚴敦書), Hou Han shu 24.844–45; Quan Hou Han wen 17.9a–b; Yiwen leiju 23.422–23. See also Chung, “Study of the ‘Shu’,” 148–49 and the translation by Hans H. Frankel in Renditions 41–42. 50 Yan Zhitui uses similar phrases in his Family Instructions, e.g. “I do not wish you to do this” 不願汝輩為之, “you should” 汝曹宜以, etc. 51  See Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament, 33–36.



characters, which are less likely to remain undetected by addressees without a proper education. Cautioning the addressee about their relations with certain people is a recurring motif in letters of familial admonition. Zheng Xuan expressed this concern in his testamentary letter, encouraging his son to “draw near to those who are virtuous,” while Ma Yuan’s main argument revolved around the idea of whom to choose as a proper model to emulate, which is a common concern in Chinese writings about self-cultivation. The warning to consort with certain people is also key to Liu Yi’s 劉廙 (181–221) letter to his younger brother Liu Wei 劉偉 (d. 219): The best thing about making friends is acquiring worthies. Be not negligent about this! In our age, however, people are not careful in choosing friends [according to this principle], but strive to form factions. This violates the meaning of what Confucius said about making friends and can neither be called doing oneself a favor nor does it “support one’s benevolence.”52 As I see it, Wei Feng does not cultivate his moral conduct but has instead made it his business to band together [a faction]. Although he may appear glorious, he has no substance. He is nothing but a trouble maker in pursuit of fame. Be wary of him and no longer associate with him. 夫交友之美。在于得賢。不可不詳。而世之交者。不審擇人。 務合黨眾。違先聖人交友之義。此非厚己輔仁之謂也。吾觀魏 諷不修德行。而專以鳩合為務。華而不實。此直攪世沽名者 也。卿其慎之。勿復與通。53 Liu Yi’s letter of familial admonition is most famous because it displays shrewd foresight into the political fate of Wei Feng 魏諷 (d. 219), who would eventually plot rebellion and, after the conspiracy was leaked, be executed with several followers, among them Liu Wei himself. Liu Yi himself escaped his younger brother’s fate although he was initially under suspicion, too, and it is an intriguing question whether and how this letter—after all a piece of written evidence of loyalty—may have helped him clear his name.54 If so, how was the 52  This is a reference to Zengzi’s 曾子 dictum that the gentleman “relies on friends to support his benevolence” 以友輔仁, Lunyu 12.24. 53  Liu Yi, “Letter admonishing his younger brother Wei” (Jie di Wei 戒弟偉), Quan Sanguo wen 34.4b. 54 A case where a letter helped to clear a name is that of Du An 杜安 (zi Boyi 伯夷), who left letters unopened because he feared they might politically compromise him. When he was

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letter produced, because it was found among the possessions of the addressee or as a draft or copy kept by the writer? And how did the letter then circulate so that it could be included in Pei Songzhi’s 裴松之 (372–451) commentary to the History of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo zhi 三國志)?55 Unfortunately we have very little knowledge about how personal letters (and other texts) were preserved and spread. Liu Yi’s letter to a younger brother differs from those to the next generation in a formal feature: its form of address. Liu Yi addresses his brother not with a second person pronoun, but with a more polite substitute, the intimate qing 卿, a term of address that is derived from an official title (“minister”) and frequently used among equals. Although Liu Xiang’s letter to his youngest son, Xin 歆, is also motivated by interventional purposes, the occasion for writing—the son’s appointment to the position of Gentleman Attendant at the Palace Gates (huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎)—offers a stimulus of a very different kind. Accordingly, Liu Xiang’s letter is rather concerned with cautioning his son in the face of success at a young age, probably before he was twenty: [Liu Xiang] notifies [his son] Xin. Do not take this lightly: Without possessing any unusual virtues, you have still been the recipient of [Emperor Cheng’s] extreme favor. How could you respond to this? Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 [179–104 BCE] has this dictum: “When mourning is at the door, congratulations are at the gate,” meaning that sorrow leads to wariness and anxiety, so that one will handle one’s affairs with dedication. Handling one’s affairs with dedication will necessarily lead to good deeds which in turn bring about good fortune. But Dong Zhongshu also has another dictum: “When congratulations are at the door, mourning is at the gate,” meaning that good fortune can lead to pride and extravagance, which in turn will bring about misfortune. [. . .] Now, while you are still very young, you have secured the position of Gentleman Attendant at the Palace Gate, which is a powerful and influential office. As someone who is newly appointed, you should thank all the powers that be and prostrate yourself before them. If you are extremely cautious and tremble with fear, then you may avoid [misfortune].


able to produce the unopened letters they helped him prove his innocence. Hou Han shu 57.1839. Sanguo zhi 21.616.



告歆無忽。若未有異德。蒙恩甚厚。將何以報。董生有云。弔 者在門。賀者在閭。言有憂則恐懼敬事。敬事則必有善功而福 至也。又曰。賀者在門。弔者在閭。言受福則驕奢。驕奢則禍 至。[. . .] 今若年少。得黃門侍郎。要顯處也。新拜皆謝貴人叩 頭。謹戰戰慄慄。乃可必免。56 Knowing that he is writing to a man of excellent learning who is familiar with scholarly rhetoric, Liu Xiang composes his letter, which was probably not written while father and son were separated, as a perfect piece of persuasion, starting out from a cautionary dictum ascribed to the great Confucian scholar Dong Zhongshu57 and continuing with a historical example from the Warring States period to illustrate the point (not translated above). Of the letters introduced so far this is the first one to preserve the opening part of the epistolary frame. It shows two features that are characteristic of letters of familial admonition as communications with inferiors. The first is a special form of prescript, to be found in the small number of letters that were transmitted with this part of the text still present. In early medieval letters, the prescript commonly consists of the date of writing, a self-designation of the writer and a predicate expressing the communicative function of writing or the writer’s respect for the addressee, for instance: On the 15th day of the 7th month [Wang] Xizhi lets you know. . . . 七月十五日羲之白。. . .58 In letters of familial admonition, however, the prescript not only contains a superscriptio (the writer’s self-designation) but also an adscriptio, a designation of the recipient, which later, during the Tang dynasty, became the epistolary standard in regular letters. Prescripts of this type in familial admonitions regularly use the verb gao 告 (“to tell, announce, notify”), which is usually followed by the personal name of the addressee, as in Liu Xiang’s letter above and the following example:


Liu Xiang, “Letter admonishing his son Xin [ca. 46 BCE–23 CE]” (Jie zi Xin shu 誡子 歆書); Quan Han wen 36.11a–b; Yiwen leiju 23.422; Chuxueji 12.283; trans. Li, Essence of Chinese Civilization, 344–45. See also Chung, “Study of the ‘Shu’,” 146. 57 Gai Xun 蓋勳, who also uses this dictum in a letter to Dong Zhuo (d. 192), does not associate it with Dong Zhongshu (Yu Dong Zhuo shu 與董卓書, Quan Hou Han wen 84.1a). 58  Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303–361), “Qiuri ganhuai shen tie” 秋日感懷深帖, Quan Jin wen 24.2a.

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On the 10th day of the 7th month [Xie] Wan notifies [Xie] Lang [and his other sons]. . . . 七月十日萬告朗等。. . .59 Apart from using this particular prescript Liu Xiang’s letter also demonstrates that familial admonitions lack a standard element present in other letters, namely the proem, the introductory passage between the prescript and the main body of the letter. The proem is commonly dedicated to the recollection of the correspondents’ preceding relationship and tries to secure the goodwill of the addressee. In letters to younger members of one’s family the absence of the proem indicates the superior authority of the writer who can take the relationship with the addressee for granted and thus come straight to the point, without any detours on account of politeness. Accordingly, Liu Xiang also uses second person pronouns (the less common ruo 若) to address his son, but no signal words such as yuan or wen. The lack of apparent politeness that is common in letters to younger members of one’s family does not mean that these letters completely disregard persuasive techniques that would be appropriate in situations demanding more politeness. A letter by Kong Zang 孔臧 (fl. 171–126 BCE) to his son, for instance, operates with praise and proves that less well-known familial admonitions can be original and poignant as well. Kong’s letter, written in about 150 BCE, resembles that of Liu Xiang in being also motivated by pleasant information, in Kong’s case concerning his son’s scholarly endeavors. The interventional current running through this letter is directed against learning per se and advises not to lose sight of the application of knowledge and of the necessity to consequently transform it. Kong Zang supports his argument with similes and quotations from canonical literature—the Odes (Mao shi 毛詩 or Shijing 詩經) figure prominently—and finally advises his son to emulate famous family members from the contemporary scholar Kong Anguo 孔安國 to Confucius himself,60 in a similar way as Ma Yuan had done in his letter, whose chief advice was to model one’s behavior on certain exemplary people, even if they were not family.

59 60

Xie Wan 謝萬 (320–361) “Letter to Lang and his other sons” (Yu zi Lang deng shu 與子朗 等疏), Quan Jin wen 83.4a. Another father’s letter that expresses pride in his family’s accomplishments spanning many generations is Wang Yun’s 王筠 (481–549) “Letter to his sons discussing the family’s collection of literary works” (Yu zhu er shu lun jiashiji 與諸兒書論家世集, Quan Liang wen 65.2b, see Tian, Beacon Fire and Shooting Star, 48.



[Kong Zang] notifies [his son] Lin: Recently I heard that you and your friends have been studying and discussing the Book of Documents and its commentaries. You are eager day and night, cheerful and never idle. How felicitous! [. . .] The Instructions say: “Studying something just for the sake of knowing it is not very accomplished. Only carrying it out and practicing it can be called good enough.” That is why knowledge is the adornment of all practice. Palace Attendant Ziguo’s [i.e. Kong Anguo’s]61 brilliant intelligence is profound, his refined learning is unsurpassed. His words are not concerned with profit, his conduct does not angle for reputation. He follows the rites in everything he does, and has been superior in doing this since he was a child. That is why he, although he is serving together with the other ministers, is treated with the highest courtesy. Because he was never discourteous in serving [the emperor],62 he alone became keeper of the imperial spittoon. Among the gentlemen at the court there is none who does not honor him. You have seen this yourself. Do the Odes not say this? “Never forget your ancestors, cultivate their virtue,” and “wielding an axe to hew an axe-handle, the model is not far away.”63 The faraway model is Father Ni [i.e. Confucius],64 the model nearby is Ziguo. If you take these models to establish yourself, the result will not be far off the mark. 告琳。頃來聞汝與諸友講肄書傳。滋滋晝夜。衎衎不怠。善 矣。[. . .] 訓曰。徒學知之未可多。履而行之乃足佳。故學者所 以飾百行也。侍中子國。明達淵博。雅學絕倫。言不及利。行 不欺名。動遵 禮法,少小長操。故雖與群臣並參侍。見待崇 禮。不供褻事。獨得掌御唾壺。朝廷之士。莫不榮之。此汝親 所見。詩不云乎。毋念爾祖。聿修厥德。又曰。操斧伐柯。其 則不遠。遠則尼父。近則子國。於以立身。其庶矣乎。65 61

Kong Zang refers to his famous cousin Kong Anguo using his official title Palace Attendant (shizhong 侍中) and his courtesy name Ziguo 子國. 62  An allusion to Li ji 33.27.151 (不敢以其私褻事上帝). 63 Mao shi 235 and 158. The most obvious reading of wu nian 毋/無念 in Mao shi 235 is, of course, “do not think of.” Following this reading, Qu Wanli convincingly interprets the line as addressing the Shang people who should not think of their ancestors (Shijing quanshi, 453). Kong Zang’s letter follows the tradition of interpreting the phrase as wu wang 毋/無 忘 (do not forget) that already existed in the Han dynasty. 64 Referring to his revered ancestor, Kong Zang uses part of Confucius’ courtesy name Zhongni 仲尼. 65 Kong Zang, “Letter to his son Lin” (Yu zi Lin shu 與子琳書), Quan Han wen 13.5b–6a, Yiwen leiju 55.990, Kongcongzi, trans. Ariel, K’ung-ts’ung-tzu, 109–10. See also Chung, “Study of the ‘Shu’,” 147; Ariel, K’ung-ts’ung-tzu, 96–97.

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Reading Kong Zang’s text as an interventional letter of familial admonition we notice the characteristic prescript and lack of proem, but also that Kong uses personal pronouns sparingly. He moreover offers his already mild advice in the form of suggestions rather than wishes (never using signal words like yuan), an impression that is supported by the writer’s curious absence from the text. Kong Zang did not incorporate reflections on his own life, nor assert his authority in any other way. Even the one crucial exception to this restraint—that he is, after all, presenting himself as a member of a most illustrious lineage—is made only implicitly, apparently out of politeness. All this gives Kong’s letter something of the flavor of a letter of friendship, even more so than in the case of Zheng Xuan’s letter with its strong autobiographic elements. A letter of familial admonition that the late Han general Zhang Huan 張奐 (104–181) wrote to his nephew also sets out from hearsay, but as the information prompting the letter is unpleasant, Zhang Huan’s tone is quite severe. He mentions reports about his nephews’ behavior that reach him in Dunhuang, where he held office: while one of his nephews is unanimously praised, another one—the addressee of this letter—is persistently criticized for his misconduct. Zhang Huan quotes the Analects (Lunyu 論語), bringing up the addressee’s father, a teacher in canonical studies, and, through the allusion to a historical role model, highlights the perpetual possibility to correct one’s mistakes at any time in life: You two have not been blessed. You lost your worthy father at an early age, your fortune is small and your talents are limited. Now, while I have just had a respite, I heard that you, Zhongzhi, are irreverent and arrogant towards your elders and disrespectful and teasing towards your peers, that you are reckless in your words and deeds. To treat the elder and younger generation with respect means to restrain oneself according to the rites. Whoever comes to Dunhuang, they all tell me the same. They all call [your brother] Shushi generous and benevolent. When I hear these reports, I am both happy and sad. I am happy because Shushi has made such a good name for himself, and I am sad because you are discussed in such a bad light. The canon says “Confucius, at home in his native village, was deferential.”66 “Deferential” means a respectful and modest behavior. The canon is difficult to understand, but you had your worthy father as a teacher. Is it conceivable that your father would have taken people of his hometown lightly? When one’s years are few, one’s mistakes are many. But to mend one’s ways is what counts most. When Qu Boyu was fifty 66

Lunyu 10.1 (孔子於鄉黨,恂恂如也).



years old he looked back on forty-nine years of wrongdoing, but he was able to mend his ways.67 You just have to consider my words! If you do not employ self-criticism but claim that Zhang A has slandered you and Li B has a grudge against you, and this was not your fault, then you are done for. 汝曹薄祐。早失賢父。財單(蓺)〔藝〕盡。今適喘息。聞仲 祉輕傲耆老。侮狎同年。極口恣意。當崇長幼。以禮自持。聞 敦煌有人來。同聲相道。皆稱叔時寬仁。聞之喜而且悲。喜叔 時得美稱。悲汝得惡論。經言孔子鄉黨。恂恂如是也。恂恂 者。恭謙之貌也。經難知。且自以汝(資)〔賢〕父為師。汝 父寧輕鄉里邪。年少多失。改之為貴。蘧 伯玉年五十。見四 十九年非。但能改之。不可不思吾言。不自克責。反云張甲謗 我。李乙怨我。我無是過。爾亦已矣。68 Zhang Huan’s letter resembles that of Ma Yuan: both were written on account of a concrete occasion and obviously bridge a physical distance between writer and addressee, thus heightening the epistolarity of the piece. Both are open about their interventional purpose—that is, unvarnished criticism—and come straight to the point, which they support by outside references, either popular proverbs and common acquaintances, as in the case of Ma Yuan, or historical and literary allusions, as in the case of Zhang Huan. Although Zhang Huan concedes that his nephews were disadvantaged in many ways, from the early loss of their father to their bluntly acknowledged lack of fortune and talent, his main argument rests on the observation that these equally severe impediments resulted in very different outcomes for the two brothers. For Zhang Huan family is still important, even if it is not as illustrious as Kong Zang’s: he compares the brothers with each other and repeatedly evokes their late father, while keeping himself in the background. Zhang Huan’s optimistic outlook that accepts youthful failure and emphasizes the possibility to change for the better—regardless of early misfortunes, poverty, and even meager abilities—is certainly one of the main reasons that this letter was transmitted as an outstanding piece of familial admonition.


On Qu Yuan 蘧瑗 (courtesy name Boyu 伯玉), a contemporary of Confucius’ who is mentioned in the Analects (Lunyu 14.25 and 15.7) and other pre-imperial texts see, Declercq, Writing Against the State, 380–81. For Qu Yuan’s willingness to change see Zhuangzi 25.75. 68  Zhang Huan, “Letter admonishing his nephew” (Jie xiong zi shu 誡兄子書, written before 168 CE), Quan Hou Han wen 64.3b–4a; Yiwen leiju 23.422. See also Chung, “Study of the ‘Shu’,” 149.

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Another letter, written about half a century later, can be regarded as a combination of the testamentary and the interventional, which were, of course, not mutually exclusive. Wang Xiu’s 王脩 (ca. 170–ca. 230) letter to his son was triggered by the separation of father and son, obviously following the son’s official appointment, and the father’s concern for his son’s conduct far away from him. As Wang Xiu obviously has no specific reason for distress, the admonition is purely precautionary and mild in tone. The resemblance to a testament is effected by the father’s lament of his old age, by his elaborations on the transience of life and fleetingness of time, and by the unspecific nature of his advice to “cultivate his character” and become “a good man”: Since you have gone I have been full of regret and bereft of joy. Why would that be? I have really become old and dependent on you all. If I don’t have you all around me, my mind is uneasy. Man’s life in this world passes in a hurry and is then over.69 Because days and months are precious, the Great Yu did not care for jade discs, even if they were a foot in diameter, but he cared for time, for every inch of it.70 Time that has passed cannot be brought back. Once you are old, you cannot become young again! I wish you to make haste, not necessarily reading books, but by learning to cultivate your character. You have now crossed the border of our county and prefecture and travelled across mountains and rivers. You have taken leave from your brothers and parted from your wife and children. I wish to make you understand how to behave appropriately. Emulate the farranging integrity of superior men. “Hearing about one thing, deduce three others.”71 Be devoted to becoming a good man. You must not be careless [in the choice of] those around you; whether you become a good man or not rests on this criterion. In your interactions with others strive towards leniency. Your words should be based on consideration, your conduct on deliberation. Always adjust your principles to the actual situation. If you are violating these ideas you will fail. A father wishes his son to become a good man. Apart from sacrificing one’s own life, there is nothing one would spare [in order to attain this goal].


On this and other similes of the type “Man’s life is like . . .” see Kroll, “Literary Criticism and Personal Character,” 529–32. 70 See Huainanzi 1.5 (聖人不貴尺之璧,而重寸之陰). 71 A composite allusion to three passages in the Analects that address the ability to draw appropriate conclusions. See Lunyu 5.9 (聞一以知十), 7.8 (舉一隅不以三隅反), and 16.13 (問一得三).



自汝行之後。恨恨不樂。何者。我實老矣。所恃汝等也。皆不 在目前。意遑遑也。人之居世。忽去便過。日月可愛也。故禹 不愛尺璧。而愛寸陰。時過不可還。若年大不可少也。欲汝早 之未必讀書。并學作人。汝今踰郡縣。越山河。離兄弟。去妻 子者。欲令見舉動之宜。效高人遠節。聞一得三。志在善人。 左右不可不慎。善否之要。在此際也。行止與人。務在饒之。 言思乃出。行詳乃動。皆用情實道 理。違 斯敗矣。父欲令子 善。唯不能殺身。其餘無惜也。72 Even if the father’s age should be taken with a grain of salt, since professions of feeling like an old man are an established literary practice, Wang Xiu achieves a convincing self-portrait as a man who is aware of his mortality and growing emotional dependence on his family. The first part of his letter does not sound like a letter of familial admonition at all. Although we cannot be sure if the beginning of the transmitted text was the beginning of this letter as well, the beginning we have reads very much like a proem dedicated to what is probably the most common epistolary topos, the lament of separation.73 As the letter continues, however, the tone changes. Wang Xiu expresses explicit wishes (using yu) and advice, which in the last sentence of his letter cumulate in a surprisingly strict demand that counterpoints his introductory expressions of tenderness. 3

Letters of Familial Admonition of Early Medieval China

The four centuries following the Han dynasty left us about forty letters of familial admonition in a variety of transmitted sources. They resemble the Han dynasty examples in character, theme, and rhetorical approach, which is probably not only due to genre similarities or the lasting influence of Han dynasty literature, but also to the literary tastes of later collectors and editors, whose preferences were shaped by the canonical power of Han dynasty texts and who thus preserved pieces that resembled them. As with all of epistolary literature, we can be sure that the letters of familial admonition that were transmitted are only a tiny and perhaps not even representative fraction of all such letters that were written at the time.

72 73

Wang Xiu, “Letter admonishing his son” (Jie zi shu 誡子書), Quan Hou Han wen 94.7b; Yiwen leiju 23.423. See Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 119–27.

Between Letter and Testament


Although Liu Xie did not mention post-Han letters in the discussion of admonitions in his Literary Mind, there are several pieces that are usually considered excellent examples of the genre. One of them is Tao Qian’s 陶潛 (365– 427?) testamentary letter to his five sons, who are also known from Tao’s poem “Blaming My Sons” (Ze zi shi 責子詩).74 The letter is the moving legacy of a father, gentle in its explicit and implicit admonitions, that emphasizes companionship among the brothers. The following translation passes over the long autobiographic section—which Tao Qian’s letter is justly most famous for— focusing on the rhetorical structure and the admonitory passages: [Tao Qian] notifies [his sons] Yan, Si, Fen, Yi, and Tong: Heaven and earth bestow life. Where there is birth there must also be death. Of the ancient sages and worthies, was there a single one who could escape this fate? Zixia’s words are: “Death and birth are destined by fate, wealth and rank by heaven.”75 As one of the four friends [of Confucius] he personally heard the master’s voice and received his purport. Didn’t he say these words because failure and success cannot just be claimed? Because there is no agency from whom long life and early death can be requested? I am more than fifty years old. My youth was destitute and tormented. [. . .] Since I have been ill I have increasingly become decrepit. Relatives and friends have not forgotten me, they have all come with medicine and remedies to make me better. But I myself fear that my life is drawing to a close. It distresses me that you are still so young and that our family is too poor to keep a servant. Will you ever be able to escape the hard work of gathering firewood and fetching water? Thoughts about this fill my mind, but how could I fully express them? Although you were not born of the same mother, you should keep the meaning of [another saying by Zixia] in mind: “Within the Four Seas, everyone is my brother.”76 Bao Shuya and Guan Zhong shared their wealth without suspicion [although Guan Zhong took a greater share for himself],77 Gui Sheng and Wu Ju spread 74 75 76 77

Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 1002–3. Lunyu 12.5. Zixia 子夏 is the courtesy name of Bu Shang 卜商 (507–ca. 420 BCE). Another reference to Lunyu 12.5. This is an allusion to Guan Zhong’s words as reported in Shi ji 70.2131 (嘗與鮑叔賈,分 財利多自與,鮑叔不以我為貪,知我貧也). Both men are frequently mentioned because of their friendship. Guan Zhong 管仲, also known as Guan Yiwu 管夷吾 (?–645 BCE), minister of Duke Huan of Qi 齊桓公 (r. 685–643 BCE) and alleged author of



twigs [on the ground] by the side of the road [where they had met] and [talked like] old friends [although Wu Ju was on his way into exile].78 As a result, they could turn defeat into accomplishment [when Guan Zhong, on account of Bao Shuya’s recommendation, became minister of his former enemy Duke Huan of Qi] and build success on loss [when Wu Ju, on account of Gongsun Guisheng’s recommendation, was recalled]. If they can act like that [although they are not related], how much more so brothers born to the same father! There was Han Yuanchang from Yinchuan, a famous scholar who served in a high position at the end of the Han dynasty and lived to the age of eighty. He and his brothers lived together all their lives [lit., “until their teeth had fallen out”].79 There was Fan Zhichun from Jibei, a man of high integrity during the Jin dynasty. Although they had shared their possessions for seven generations, none in his family ever had a resentful look on their face.80 An Ode says: “Look up to [worthy men as to] high mountains, walk the great road [of propriety].”81 Even if you cannot fulfill this [ideal], embrace it with all your heart. Heed my words! What more can I say? 告儼、俟、份、佚、佟。夫天地賦命。有生必有終。自古聖 賢。誰能獨免。子夏言曰。死生有命。富貴在天。四友之人。親 受音旨。發斯談者。豈非窮 達不可妄求。壽夭永無外請故 邪。吾年過五十。少而窮苦荼毒。[. . .] 疾患以來。漸就衰損。親 舊不遺。每以藥石見救。自恐大分。將有限也。恨汝輩稚 小。家(岔)〔貧〕無役。柴水之勞。何時可免。念之在心。若 何可言。然汝等雖不同生。當思四海皆兄弟之義。鮑叔管仲。分 財無猜。歸生伍舉。班荊道舊。遂能以敗為成。因喪立功。他 人尚爾。況同父之人哉。潁川韓元長。漢末名士。身處卿佐。八 十而終。兄弟同居。至于沒齒。濟北氾稚春。晉時操行人



80 81

Guanzi 管子, famously said about Bao Shuya 鮑叔牙 “Those who have brought me into this world me are my father and mother, the one who knows me is Baozi” 生我者父母, 知我者鮑子也. Shi ji 70.2132. Another famous pair of friends, Gongsun Guisheng 公孫歸生 (also known as Shengzi 聲 子) and Wu Ju 伍舉 (6th c. BCE). See Zuozhuan Xiang 26 (伍舉奔鄭,將遂奔晉。聲 子將如晉,遇之於鄭郊,班荊相與食,而言復故). Han Rong 韓融 (zi Yuanchang 元長) served as Chamberlain of Dependencies (dahonglu 大鴻臚) under Han Xiandi 漢獻帝 (r. 189–220). According to a brief entry in his father Han Shao’s 韓韶 biography he lived to the age of seventy. Hou Han shu 80.2063. See the biography of Fan Yu 氾毓 (zi Zhichun 稚春) in Jin shu 91.2350–51. Mao shi 218.

Between Letter and Testament


也。七世同財。家人無怨色。詩云。高山仰止。景行行止。雖 不能爾。至心尚之。汝其慎哉。吾復何言。82 The first and largest part of the letter is dedicated to a very personal selfnarrative that spans Tao Qian’s life from his youth to the time of writing. Office is only mentioned as something that the writer soon abandoned, and the pursuit of learning he describes is not presented as a conscious self-fashioning to achieve conformity with certain social values, but as a self-cultivation leading to all-encompassing happiness. In this respect, Tao’s autobiographic account could also be read as the implicit presentation of himself as a model for his sons: neither wealthy nor high-ranking,83 but able to feel intense pleasure when reading a book or being fully aware of the natural world. As far as explicit admonitions are concerned, Tao Qian’s letter stands out for its single focus, particularly compared with Wang Xiu’s letter introduced above. Where Wang Xiu piles up recommendations for his son’s behavior, Tao Qian singles out one concern—the solidarity among his sons—as his one pervasive advice. Although he does not urge his sons to study, he obviously assumes them to have learning, since he supports his argument with examples from canonical and historical literature throughout the text. So far, this is the first letter that does not in one way or the other express the hope that that its addressees may thrive as officials. Wang Sengqian 王僧虔 (426–485) in a long letter to his eldest son is open about office as the most important goal and about the difficulties of obtaining and keeping a position, which he most of all sees as attainable in sufficient learning: . . . Why do a father and son differ in their social standing or brothers in their reputation? [This difference is brought about] by nothing else but the personal experience of having thoroughly read several hundreds of books. Since I regret now that I never achieved this, I wish to use my own


Tao Qian, “Letter to Yan and his other sons” (Yu zi Yan deng shu 與子儼等書, ca. 415), Quan Jin wen 111.7b–8a; Song shu 93.2289–90; Yiwen leiju 23.424; trans. Davis, T’ao Yüanming, 228–30; James Hightower in Renditions 41–42; Frühauf, Frühformen der chinesischen Autobiographie, 287–88. See also Tian, Tao Yuanming, 50–53. 83  Poverty is mentioned frequently in letters of familial admonition. Of the letters discussed here, see also those by Zheng Xuan and Zhang Huan. Other prominent examples include Sima Hui’s 司馬徽 “Letter admonishing his sons” (Jie zi shu 誡子書), Quan Hou Han wen 86.2b, and Xu Mian’s 徐勉 (466–535) “Letter admonishing his son Song” (Wei shu jie zi Song 為書誡子崧), Quan Liang wen 50.6b–8a.



example to admonish you. You are now entering your fourth decade,84 an appropriate age for being in office and taking care of a family. . . . . . . 或父子貴賤殊。兄弟聲名異。何也。體盡讀數百卷書耳。吾 今悔無所及。欲以前車誡爾後乘也。汝年入立境。方應從官。 兼有室累。. . .85 Another testamentary letter that achieved fame—not the least because of the painful circumstances of its composition—is Fan Ye’s 范曄 (398–445) letter to his nephews, written in prison, expecting his own execution and that of his sons and collaborators.86 Given their particular air of apologia and offense in the face of death, “letters from prison” may be regarded as a subgenre of their own.87 In China, they appear in the Han dynasty and remain present throughout Chinese history.88 Unlike Tao Qian’s very personal letter to his sons, Fan Ye’s letter is basically a literary testament without any references to its addressees and no autobiographical information beyond the writer’s intellectual and literary development. It is admonitory only insofar as Fan Ye urges his nephews to rectify the negative reputation that, he feared, would remain after his execution and to ensure that his History of the Later Han Dynasty (Hou Han shu 後 漢書) would be properly appreciated. The fame of this letter, however, mainly rests on its statements about literature and learning, just like a third, prominent admonitory letter written by Xiao Gang 蕭綱 (503–551, Liang Jianwendi 梁簡文帝, r. 549–51). Xiao Gang’s letter to his son seems to be interventional— although this is difficult to tell, since it is only fragmentarily received: You are still young and in need of learning. Everything lasting and great depends on learning. That is why Confucius said: “I once spent a whole day without eating and a whole night without sleeping in order [to have 84  Lunyu 2.4 (三十而立). 85  Wang Sengqian “Letter admonishing his son” (Jie zi shu 誡子書), Quan Qi wen 8.13b–14b; Nan Qi shu 33.598–99. Yu Yingshi’s study “Wang Sengqian ‘Jie zi shu’ is not concerned with the text as a letter, but dedicated to identifying the date of composition of this letter (476–77) and historical persons mentioned by Wang Sengqian. 86  Fan Ye, “Letter to his nephews written in prison” (Yuzhong yu zhu shengzhi shu 獄中與 諸甥姪書), Quan Song wen 15.11b–12a; Song shu 69.1829–31; trans. Egan, “The Prose Style of Fan Yeh,” 339–42. See also Song shu 69.1827–29. 87 Nickisch, Brief, 63–64. 88 The Han dynasty archetype could be Zou Yang’s 鄒陽 (2nd c. BCE) “Memorial of selfexplanation written in prison” (Yu zhong shangshu zi ming 獄中上書自明). Shi ji 83.2469–78; Han shu 51.2343–52; Quan Han wen 19.8b–11a; Wen xuan 39.1766–77; trans. Chung, “Study of the ‘Shu’,” 446–64. See also Chung, “Study of the ‘Shu’,” 271–74.

Between Letter and Testament


more time] to think. It did not do any good, I had better spend the time learning.”89 I would not want you to “stand facing a wall” [like someone who has not studied the Odes]90 or be “a macaque [who lacks cultivation even when] wearing a hat.”91 The way to establish oneself is different from the way to write. For establishing oneself one needs first of all to be cautious and serious, for writing one further needs to be unconventional and unrestrained. 汝年時尚幼,所闕者學,可久可大,其唯學歟!所以孔丘言: 吾嘗終日不食,終夜不寢,以思,無益,不如學也;若使牆面 而立,沐猴而冠,吾所不取。立身之道,與文章異,立身先須 謹重,文章且須放蕩。92 This fragment demonstrates the limits of literary transmission and thus our knowledge about epistolary culture (and so much more) in ancient China. Preserved in the chapter “Warning and admonition” (Ming jie 鑒誡) of the early Tang encyclopedia A Collection of Literature Arranged by Categories (Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚), the only indication of the text’s epistolarity is the first sentence with its direct address using a second person pronoun. Apart from this weak indication—which is, after all, also used in non-epistolary forms of admonition (e.g. Yan Zhitui’s Family Instructions)—nothing else suggests that this may have been a letter. The thematic break towards the end of the text (just before “the way to establish oneself”) could even indicate that what we are reading as one continuous text is the result of internal abridgement. The epistolary character of the next piece, written by the eminent general Yang Hu 羊祜 (221–278) in the second half of the third century, either addressing his sons or his nephews, is very pronounced.93 Although the circumstances of its composition are not known, its testamentary character suggests that it was written at the end of Yang Hu’s life:

89 90 91 92


Lunyu 15.31. Lunyu 17.10. Shi ji 12.315. Xiao Gang, “Letter admonishing [his son] Daxin, Duke of Dangyang [Xiao Daxin 蕭大心, 523–551]” (Jie Dangyang gong Daxin shu 誡當陽公大心書), Quan Liang wen 11.1a; Yiwen leiju 23.424; trans. Marney, Liang Chien-wen Ti, 95; Tian, Beacon Fire and Shooting Star, 173–74. Because Yang Hu appears to have had no sons ( Jin shu 34.1024), Zhou Yiliang (Wei Jin Nanbeichao shi, 42) suggested that the title of this letter, as it appears in Yiwen leiju 23.423 and Quan Jin wen 41.7b, is corrupt and should read “Letter admonishing his nephews” (Jie xiong zi shu 誡兄子書).



As a child I was instructed by my late father. At the age when I could speak, he introduced me to the standard texts, and when I was nine he taught me the Book of Odes and the Book of Documents. But I had no reputation among the men of my hometown yet; I had not made a distinct and outstanding name for myself. My current position was bestowed upon me through incongruous kindness. I could never have achieved it by my own strength. I am by far inferior to my late father and you are again inferior to me. Great schemes are something that you brothers, I am afraid, are not able to come up with, and astounding achievements will, as far as I can see, not be your lot. Respectfulness is the beginning of virtue, caution the basis of conduct. I wish that you may be “faithful and trustworthy in your words, sincere and respectful in your deeds.”94 Do not promise other people riches, do not spread unfounded rumors, do not listen to slander or flattery. When you hear of a mistake committed by somebody, “your ears can hear it, but your mouth must not articulate it.”95 Think before you act. If your words and deeds lack trustworthiness, you will personally suffer disgrace and incur punishment. How could I still have pity on you if you brought disgrace upon your ancestors! Ponder your father’s words, connect with your father’s instructions! May each of you recite this. 吾少受先君之教。能言之年。便召以典文。年九歲。便誨以詩 書。然尚猶無鄉人之稱。無清異之名。今之職位。謬恩之加 耳。非吾力所能致也。吾不如先君遠矣。汝等復不如吾。諮度 弘偉。恐汝兄弟未之能也。奇異獨達。察汝等將無分也。恭為 德首。慎為行基。願汝等言則忠信。行則篤敬。無口許人以 財。無傳不經之談。無聽毀譽之語。聞人之過。耳可得受。口 不得宣。思而後動。若言行無信。身受大謗。自入刑論。豈復 惜汝。恥及祖考。思乃父言。纂乃父教。各諷誦之。96 The admonition is moving in its solicitousness, which is heightened by Yang Hu’s disillusioned view of his obviously mediocre sons or nephews. There is not the slightest air of captatio benevolentiae in this letter: Yang Hu expresses his less than favorable opinion of the addressees in a straightforward, blunt manner that is hardly alleviated by the letter’s passages in parallel style. After 94 95 96

Lunyu 15.6 (言忠信,行篤敬). See the beginning of Ma Yuan’s letter to his nephews quoted above. Yang Hu, “Letter admonishing his sons” (Jie zi shu 誡子書), Quan Jin wen 41.7b; Yiwen leiju 23.423.


Between Letter and Testament

a brief autobiographic retrospection, an evaluation of the personalities of the addressees, and an instructive maxim, the signal word yuan (I wish) marks the beginning of the actual admonitory passage. The writer’s wishes for the young men’s behavior are well within the frame of Confucian ethics, not the least because they ultimately appeal to the central Confucian value of filial piety. An interesting literary feature of Yang Hu’s letter is that it contains a potential intra-epistolary allusion, that is, an allusion used in a letter that goes back to another letter. Yang Hu’s warning to engage in slander is couched in words that are very similar to those Ma Yuan used in the letter to his nephews written about 200 years earlier—the same letter that another 200 years later was to be canonized by Liu Xie in his Literary Mind as the prototype of the letter of familial admonition. Regrettably, our lack of knowledge about the preservation, circulation, and collection of personal letters in early medieval China also affects our understanding of the reasons for this parallel. Is the phrase in Yang Hu’s letter just owing to a stock saying? Perhaps even a stock saying recommended by an epistolary guide? Or is it an allusion to Ma Yuan’s letter? This would mean that Yang Hu knew Ma Yuan’s letter and expected his sons to know it as well, which would imply that the older letter had already become part of the literary canon.97 Another interesting feature of Yang Hu’s letter is its last sentence, which calls upon the addressees to recite or even memorize it, depending on the interpretation of the compound fengsong 諷誦. This intensification of reading is also occasionally mentioned in non-admonitory letters from friends or family members, where it is described as a joyful and voluntary response to receiving a letter. In a familial admonition, such as Yang Hu’s letter, the same feature emphasizes the documentary, testamentary character of the letter that is intended to be available not just upon a first reading but also for future reference, even after the writer’s death.98

Letters of familial admonition of early and early medieval China were transmitted because of their distinguished writers, because of their literary qualities, or because they express societal values in an especially effective way. Many of these values could be described as Confucian in character, such as 97 98

It is not unlikely that Ma Yuan’s letter was widely known even in his lifetime, since we know that it was brought to the attention of the emperor. Hou Han shu 24.845. See also Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 127–34.



the dedication to learning, the focus on self-cultivation and humility as well the choice of worthy friends, all of which were seen as contributing to the honor of one’s family as well as the state. Although some of the texts that came down to us in encyclopedias, anthologies, or historical writings were stripped of their epistolary features and are thus hardly recognizable as personal letters any more, others still retain vestiges of their past as personal letters. Despite their ample recourse to conventional patterns or even clichés—for instance the encouragement of learning or the warning of inopportune friendships— these letters bear testimony to diverse familial relationships and authorial personalities. The ways in which every writer, on behalf of their families, connects with their cultural and literary heritage, also on a local level, can be interpreted as an impressive reminder of the rise of individualism in China, which made families feel the need to “individualize” their heritage, that is, to adapt it to their own situation and times. As restricted as our knowledge of early medieval letter writing may be, relying so much on the vagaries of historical transmission, reading these letters provides a perspective that undeniably enriches our understanding of culture and literature well beyond the epistolary sphere. Focusing on one particular subgenre of letter has also provided an opportunity to pursue typological questions. Despite a certain degree of generic ambiguity, which is part and parcel of any discussion of genre, this approach has helped to throw the generic features of these text into sharper relief. Showing them to be infused with epistolary features—such as frame, dialogicity and address, occasionality, signal words—or exposing the absence of anything that is characteristic of letters, the genre perspective has helped to get a better understanding of the writer’s persona and authorial intention as they are presented in each text. Bibliography Ariel, Yoav. K’ung-ts’ung-tzu: A Study and Translation of Chapters 15–23 with a Reconstruction of the Hsiao Erh-ya Dictionary. Leiden: Brill, 1996. Beebee, Thomas O. Epistolary Fiction in Europe: 1500–1850. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Cai Yanbin 蔡雁彬. “Cong jie zi shu kan Wei Jin Liuchao xueshu wenhua zhi bianqian 從誡子書看魏晉六朝學術文化之變遷.” Xueren 1998. 13:405–36. Chang, Kang-i Sun and Stephen Owen, eds. The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Chung, Eva Yuen-wah. “A Study of the ‘Shu’ (Letters) of the Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 220).” PhD diss., University of Washington, 1982.

Between Letter and Testament


Chuxueji 初學記. Compiled by Xu Jian 徐堅 (659–729) et al. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1962. Davis, A. R. T’ao Yüan-ming (AD 385–427): His Works and Their Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Day, Robert Adams. Told in Letters: Epistolary Fiction Before Richardson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966. Declercq, Dominik. Writing Against the State: Political Rhetorics in Third- and FourthCentury China. Leiden: Brill, 1998. Dien, Albert E. Pei ch’i shu 45, Biography of Yen Chih-t’ui. Bern: Lang, 1976. ———. “Instructions for the Grave: The Case of Yan Zhitui.” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 8 (1995): 41–58. ———. “A Sixth-Century Father’s Advice on Literature: Comments on Chapter Nine of Yanshi jiaxun.” AM 13.1 (2000): 67–82. Durrant, Stephen W. “Self as the Intersection of Traditions: The Autobiographical Writings of Ssu-ma Ch’ien.” JAOS 106 (1986): 33–40. Dubrow, Heather. Genre. London: Methuen, 1982. Ebrey, Patricia. “T’ang Guides to Verbal Etiquette.” HJAS 45 (1985): 581–613. Egan, Ronald C. “The Prose Style of Fan Yeh.” HJAS 39 (1979): 339–401. Frankel, Hans, trans. “Ma Yuan: Letter to His Nephews Ma Yan and Ma Dun.” Renditions 41–42 (1994): 4–6. Frühauf, Manfred W. Frühformen der chinesischen Autobiographie. Frankfurt: Lang, 1987. Fuehrer, Bernhard. “The Court Scribe’s Eikon Psyches: A Note on Sima Qian and His Letter to Ren An.” Asian and African Studies 6.2 (1997): 170–83. Giele, Enno. Imperial Decision-Making and Communication in Early China: A Study of Cai Yong’s Duduan. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2006. Guillén, Claudio. “Notes Towards the Study of the Renaissance Letter.” In Renaissance Genres: Essays on Theory, History, and Interpretation, edited by Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, 70–101. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. ———. “On the Edge of Literariness: The Writing of Letters.” Comparative Literature Studies 31.1 (1994): 1–24. Guo yu 國語. Shanghai: Guji chubanshe, 1978. Han Rui 韓蕊. Geren de siyu: Zhongguo xiandai shuxinti xiaoshuo yanjiu 個人的私 語:中國現代書信體小說研究. Xi’an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 2009. Han shu 漢書. Compiled by Ban Gu 班固 (32–92). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1962. Han Wei Liuchao baisan mingjia ji 漢魏六朝百三名家集. Compiled by Zhang Pu 張 溥 (1602–1641). Nanjing: Jiangsu guji chubanshe, 2002. Hightower, James R., trans. “Tao Qian: Letter to His Sons.” Renditions 41–42 (1994): 15–17.



Hou Han shu 後漢書. Compiled by Fan Ye 范曄 (398–446). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1965. Huainanzi 淮南子: D.C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. A Concordance to the Huainanzi. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1992. Idema, Wilt and Beata Grant, eds. The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004. Jin shu 晉書. Compiled by Fang Xuanling 房玄齡 (578–648). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974. Kauffman, Linda S. Special Delivery: Epistolary Modes in Modern Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Klauck, Hans J. Ancient Letters and the New Testament: A Guide to Context and Exegesis. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2006. Knechtges, David R. “‘Key Words,’ Authorial Intent, and Interpretation: Sima Qian’s Letter to Ren An.” CLEAR 30 (2008): 75–84. Ko, Dorothy. “‘Letter to My Sons’ by Gu Ruopu (1592–ca. 1681).” In Under Confucian Eyes: Writings on Gender in Chinese History, edited by Susan Mann and Yu-yin Cheng, 148–53. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Kroll, Paul W. “Literary Criticism and Personal Character in Poetry ca. 100–300 CE.” In China’s Early Empires, edited by Michael Nylan and Michael Loewe, 517–33. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Kongcongzi 孔叢子: D.C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. A Concordance to the Kong­ congzi, Dengxizi, Yinwenzi, Gongsun Longzi. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1998. Lewis, Mark Edward. “Writing the World in the Family Instructions of the Yan Clan.” EMC 13–14.1 (2007): 33–80. Li, Dun J. The Essence of Chinese Civilization. Princeton: Van Nostrand, 1967. Li ji 禮記: D.C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. A Concordance to the Liji. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1992. Lu Lin 陸林, ed. Zhonghua jiaxun daguan 中華家訓大觀. Hefei: Anhui renmin chubanshe, 1994. Lu Qinli 逯欽立, ed. Xian Qin Han Wei Jin Nanbeichao shi 先秦漢魏晉南北朝詩. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1983. Lu Xun quanji 魯迅全集. Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1973. Lu Zhengyan 盧正言, ed. Zhongguo lidai jiaxun guanzhi 中國歷代家訓觀止. Shanghai: Xuelin chubanshe, 2004. Lunyu 論語: D.C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. A Concordance to the Lunyu. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1995. Mao shi 毛詩: D.C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. A Concordance to the Maoshi. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1995. Marney, John. Liang Chien-wen Ti. Boston: Twayne, 1976.

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Metelmann, Carsten. “Schriftverkehr der Han-Zeit.” PhD diss., Hamburg University, 2001. Müller, Wolfgang G. “Brief.” In Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik, vol. 2, edited by Gert Ueding, 60–76. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1994. Nan Qi shu 南齊書. Compiled by Xiao Zixian 蕭子顯 (489–537). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju. 1972. Ng, Daisy Sheung-yuen. “Li Ang’s Experiments with the Epistolary Form.” MCL 3.1–2 (1987): 91–106. Nickisch, Reinhard M.G. Brief. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1991. Quan Han wen 全漢文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan Hou Han wen 全後漢文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan Jin wen 全晉文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan Liang wen 全梁文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan Qi wen 全齊文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan Sanguo wen 全三國文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen 全上古三代三國六朝文. Compiled by Yan Kejun 嚴可均 (1762–1843). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1958. Quan Song wen 全宋文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Richter, Antje. “Familiäre Mahnbriefe: Die Herausbildung eines epistolaren Subgenres in der Han-Zeit [Letters of Familial Admonition: The Emergence of an Epistolary Subgenre in the Han Dynasty].” In Han-Zeit: Festschrift für Hans Stumpfeldt aus Anlaß seines 65. Geburtstages, edited by Michael Friedrich et al., 379–95. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2006. ———. Letters and Epistolary Culture in Early Medieval China. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013. ———. “The Literary Uses of Correspondence: Discovering Early Epistolary Fiction in China.” (unpublished manuscript) Rosenmeyer, Patricia A. Ancient Epistolary Fictions: The Letter in Greek Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ———. Ancient Greek Literary Letters: Selections in Translation. London: Routledge, 2006. Sanguo zhi 三國志. Compiled by Chen Shou 陳壽 (233–297); commentary by Pei Songzhi 裴松之 (372–451). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju. 1959. Shangshu 尚書: D.C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. A Concordance to the Shangshu. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1995. Shi ji 史記. Compiled by Sima Qian 司馬遷 (?145–?86 BCE). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959. Shijing quanshi 詩經詮釋. Edited by Qu Wanli 屈萬里. Taipei: Lianjing chuban shiye gongsi, 1989.



Song shu 宋書. Compiled by Shen Yue 沈約 (441–513). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974. Swann, Nancy Lee. Pan Chao: Foremost Woman Scholar of China. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, 2001. Teng, Ssu-yü, trans. Family Instructions for the Yen Clan: Yen-shih chia-hsün by Yen Chihtui. Leiden: Brill, 1968. Tian, Xiaofei. Tao Yuanming and Manuscript Culture: The Record of a Dusty Table. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005. ———. Beacon Fire and Shooting Star: The Literati Culture of the Liang (502–557). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. Trapp, Michael, ed. Greek and Latin Letters: An Anthology, With Translation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Violi, Patrizia. “Letters.” In Discourse and Literature, edited by Teun A. van Dijk, 149–68. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1985. Wang Xiaoxiang 王曉祥 et al., eds. Lidai jiaxun xuanzhu 歷代家訓選注. Shanghai: Huadong shifan daxue chubanshe, 1988. Watts, Richard J. Power in Family Discourse. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1991. Wen xuan 文選. Compiled by Xiao Tong 蕭統 (501–531). Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1986. Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍: Wenxin diaolong zhu 文心雕龍註. Compiled by Fan Wenlan 范文瀾 (1891–1969). Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1958. Wenzhang bianti xushuo 文章辨體序說 (1464). Compiled by Wu Na 吳訥 (1372–1457). Wenti mingbian xushuo 文體明辨序說 (1570). Compiled by Xu Shizeng 徐師曾 (1517–1580). Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1998. Xu Shaojin 徐少錦 et al., eds. Zhongguo lidai jiaxun daquan 中國歷代家訓大全. Beijing: Zhongguo guangbo dianshi chubanshe, 1993. Xunzi 荀子: D.C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. A Concordance to the Yanzi chunqiu. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1996. Yanshi jiaxun 顏氏家訓: Yanshi jiaxun jijie 顏氏家訓集解. Compiled by Yan Zhitui 顏 之推 (531–ca. 591); commentary by Wang Liqi 王利器. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1993. Yip, Terry Siu-han. “The Reception of Werther and the Rise of the Epistolary Novel in China.” Tamkang Review 22.1–4 (1991–92): 287–304. Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚. Compiled by Ouyang Xun 歐陽詢 (557–641) et al. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1965. Yu Yingshi 余英時. “Wang Sengqian ‘Jie zi shu’ yu Nanchao qingtan kaobian 王僧虔 〈誡子書〉與南朝清談考辨.” Zhongguo wenzhe yanjiu jikan 中國文哲研究集 刊 3 (1993): 173–96. Zhou yi 周易: D.C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. A Concordance to the Zhouyi. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1995.

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Zhou Yiliang 周一良. Wei Jin Nanbeichao shi zhaji 魏晉南北朝史札記. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1985. Zhuangzi 莊子: D.C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. A Concordance to the Zhuangzi. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 2000. Zuozhuan 左傳: D.C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, eds. A Concordance to the Zuozhuan. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1995.

chapter 7

The Space of Separation: The Early Medieval Tradition of Four-Syllable “Presentation and Response” Poetry* Zeb Raft Chinese poetry as a whole could be considered under the rubric of letters, insofar as so many poems are “addressed” to another person, and as this intersubjective quality is such a prominent feature of Chinese poetry even in the absence of a named addressee. Of course, it is rather easy to expand the concept of letters to accommodate any kind of literature, or even anything put in writing, and while Chinese poems were frequently objects of exchange over distance, letters can be distinguished for always being part of such an exchange.1 The pair of poems studied in this essay can indeed be considered letters, as can many specimens of the general type to which they belong, “poetry of presentation and response” (zengda shi 贈答詩). Presentation and response poetry covers a wide swath of early medieval (and later) Chinese poetry— at seventy two poems, it is the second largest shi-category in the Wen xuan 文選, early medieval China’s most representative anthology.2 The poems studied here belong to a sub-type, presentation and response poetry in the foursyllable meter, that possesses a more natural coherence than the category as a whole. Presentation poems of this sort are generally long, stanzaic compositions, beginning with a eulogistic treatment of the recipient, continuing with a narrative account of the shared friendship, and concluding with a message for the recipient, with the response poem requiting in close parallel. This welldefined structure evinces a kinship with medieval prose letters.3 * Research for this paper was conducted using Academia Sinica’s Scripta Sinica text database (http://hanchi.ihp .sinica.edu.tw). All references, however, are to the print editions cited. 1 For an extended definition of the letter and discussion of its manifestations in early medieval China, see Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 37–42. 2 For an overview, see Jiang, Wen xuan zengda shi. For this statistic, p. 25; on the overlap between this category and other poetic categories, preface p. 1 and pp. 166–78. 3 On the structure of early medieval prose letters, see Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, Chapter Three and 140–45.

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This essay focuses on what I call the “space of separation” opened up by this kind of poem, with specific discussion of three topics that enter into that space in one particular pair of poems—the intimate bond of the poets, the presence of the state, and the representation of a public space. I begin with a brief account of the history of four-syllable presentation and response poetry and the formation of its special “space.” I then present the poems in translation, followed by an inquiry into the lives of the poets that lays the ground for the thematic discussion. In conclusion, I reconsider the relationship of letter and poem in the Chinese “letter poem.” 1

Four-Syllable Presentation and Response Poetry and the “Space of Separation”

By all appearances, the four-syllable presentation and response poem is a phenomenon distinctly associated with early medieval China, existing only from the mid-second through mid-seventh centuries. It arose late in the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220), although the extant examples do not allow us to determine how prevalent a practice it was at that time. It achieved maturity and even grandiosity with the Western Jin (265–316), when strong classicist currents tended to favor the stately, archaic cadence of the four-syllable line.4 It continued to be used by literati in the Yangtze river region after the establishment of the “Eastern” Jin (317–420), but though we now—thanks to a Tang compendium partially preserved in Japanese monasteries5—have quite a few such poems it is still difficult to know how extensively or consistently it was practiced. The poems studied here date from this period, and come from this source. Judging from extant materials, in the mid-fifth century this kind of poetry seems to fade away before a brief revival in the court-dominated literary culture of the turn of the sixth century. By the Tang (618–907), four-syllable presentation and response poetry appears to have disappeared completely. The reasons for this disappearance, to the extent that we believe in reasons for historical facts, are probably two. First, literary culture from the mid-fifth century onwards showed a decided preference for the more modern five-syllable line, and the poetic formulated in that culture had five-syllable verse at its center. Second, with the rise to ubiquity of the epitaph (muzhiming 墓誌銘) in the late fifth century, the four-syllable line became almost exclusively associated 4 For a paradigmatic example of the grand imperial style under the Western Jin, see Knechtges, “Sweet-peel Orange.” 5 This is the Wenguan cilin 文館詞林, originally in 1,000 scrolls, compiled in 658.

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with the eulogistic mode, as it remains to this day. Thus it slipped forever from the domain of “poetry” to that of “functional verse”—though we should not forget to acknowledge the underappreciated pleasures of functional eulogistic verse. Three things should be said from the outset if we are to treat presentation and response poems from the perspective of letter writing: that in their roots they were not letters but rather poems from parting banquets; that this kind of poetry came to be used for letter writing, that is, the poems came to be exchanged over a distance; and that there was an important conceptual overlap between these two functions, the banquet poem and the letter poem. In this overlap we find the “space of separation” central both to our interpretation of this poem exchange and to consideration of the genre’s broader cultural significance.6 The parting banquet is the site of our earliest examples, the fragments from Cai Yong 蔡邕 (133–192) and the (presumably) complete poems by Wang Can 王粲 (177–217), and it continues to be a regular site for later works. The scene is well epitomized in the closing verse of a poem presented by Sun Chuo 孫綽 (314–371) to the potentate Yu Bing 庾冰 (296–344): For the ancients, parting was a weighty affair, Without fail would they make a present to the traveler. A gift of a thousand pieces of gold— How could that compare to a few pithy words? Watch yourself, Master Yu! Strive to keep up with the former worthies. With what, then, do I send you on your journey? Draw [your lessons] from this poem. 古人重離,必有贈遷。千金之遺,孰與片言。 勵矣庾生,勉蹤前賢。何以將行,取諸斯篇。7 The banquet is not itself a point of focus in such banquet poems. Rather, the parting scene is present as a fulcrum for the elevation of a few carefully chosen words (the irony being that these poems are anything but “pithy”) that may shape memories of the past and influence relationships of the future.

6 Separation is also a topic of special significance in prose letters of this period; see Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 119–27. 7 Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 899.

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The poem, presumably presented in its author’s calligraphy, becomes a talisman consecrated at the parting ceremony.8 This detachment from the direct circumstances of composition facilitated the development of an epistolary function, by the Western Jin at the latest. Several of Lu Yun’s 陸雲 (262–303) poems note explicitly that the participants in the exchange are separated, and one of them refers to itself as a letter (chidu 尺牘).9 Cao Shu 曹攄 (d. 308), another Western Jin poet, mentions having been apart for “two weeks” (er xun 二旬, twenty days).10 By the Eastern Jin separation seems almost to be the norm. Both of Wang Huzhi’s 王胡之 (fl. mid4th c.) extant poems are “mailed” ( ji 寄, here used in the literal sense).11 Sun Chuo has banquet poems to Wen Qiao 溫嶠 (288–329) and Yu Bing (quoted above), but writes over a distance to Xu Xun 許詢 (fl. mid-4th c.) and to Xie An 謝安 (320–385) after a separation of three years.12 The poems studied in this essay were sent over a distance, and of Xie Lingyun’s 謝靈運 (385–433) five extant poems in the genre four appear to have the poet separated from his correspondent.13 There are examples from the late fifth century, like Shen Yue 沈約 (441–513), who “sends it by flying goose” 寄之飛鴻, though one senses that by then it had again become more court- and banquet-centered.14 Rather than call these poems “letters,” it might be better to regard them as part of an epistolary process. Lu Chen’s 盧諶 (284–350) poem to Liu Kun 劉琨 (271–318), for instance, comes with a letter, as Liu Kun makes clear in his letter in reply.15 Zhi Yu’s 摯虞 (d. 311) poem to an official on his way to the Sichuan basin ends “There are messengers, / To transmit your voice [via letter], / [But] southern tortoise and elephant tusk, / Truly will be my heart’s delight” 既有 8 The final line alludes to the “Appended Phrases” commentary of the Classic of Changes, describing how the sage made the eight trigrams: “Close at hand, he drew from his own experience” 近取諸身; see Zhou yi zhengyi 周易正義 (Shisanjing zhushu ed.) 8.4b. Here, the poet has drawn the poem from his own experience, and the recipient should in turn draw from the poem as he physically carries it with him. 9 See Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 712 (stanza 5); also 706 (stanza 5), 714 (stanza 10), 716. In addition, see p. 723 (stanza 4), where Lu’s interlocutor specifies that they have been apart for three autumns. 10 Ibid., 755 (stanza 8). 11 Ibid., 886–87. 12 Ibid., 898–901. 13 Ibid., 1154–57. Tao Yuanming’s 陶淵明 (365?–427) three extant examples (ibid., 971–72), also from this period, were exchanged in person, possibly suggesting that the epistolary side of the genre was exploited by people connected to the court. 14 Ibid., 1629 (stanza 5). 15 Ibid., 850. For a detailed study of this distinctive pair of poems, see Knechtges, “Liu Kun.”

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行李,以通其音。南龜象齒,實將云心, which when we recall that letters, in medieval China and elsewhere, are often notes accompanying gifts, suggests that a poem might be accompanied by something even more substantive than a letter.16 Furthermore, even poems “presented” in person often contain the expectation of a reply from a distance, be it a prose letter or one in verse, blurring the line between banquet poem and letter poem. Thus one of our earliest samples, Wang Can’s poem to Shisun Meng 士孫萌 (fl. late 2nd c.), closes with the admonishment “Do not hide away the sound of your voice” 無密爾音, which is to say, keep in touch,17 and Xie Lingyun closes the banquet poem mentioned above with “We part and you follow the river’s isles, / As I cup my ears [awaiting] your gentle voice” 分手遵渚,傾耳淑音.18 Just as letters are defined by being part of a set, so the presentation poem anticipates reciprocity. To put it another way, a banquet poem should elicit a letter poem, making the former an equal constituent of the letter set. These connections in practice between presentation and response poetry and letter writing are supported by a conceptual commonality. The banquet is a pivotal moment because it is the moment of parting, but this moment itself possesses its own significance. Parting is not merely the “efficient cause” for the composition of the poems. Rather, it is a kind of “formal cause,” essentially “informing” the whole of the poem, because the space that separates (or is about to separate) the two poets gives shape to the poems they produce. The significance of this aspect of parting stands out in the letter that prefaces Lu Chen’s poem to Liu Kun. Leaving “against his will,” Lu Chen reflects on the moment: That the beginning could be the same but the end so different made Yang Zhu sad [when he reached a fork in the road], and that [silk is] white but can then become dark made Mo Di sob. [But] everyone can sigh sadly at the moment of parting [like Yang Zhu], and of those ways of bringing on sad feelings there would seem to be some more severe than this

16 Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 759 (stanza 4); Zhi Yu may intend this figuratively: a letter from you would be like a precious gift. On the relationship of gifts and letters, see Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 133–34, and Xiaofei Tian’s contribution to this volume. 17 Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 358. 18 Ibid., 1155; also 1154 (stanza 4). See also Tao Yuanming’s poem to the Duke of Changsha on p. 972. The examples of Lu Yun and Cao Shu, mentioned above, are with one exception all “response” poems, suggesting that, in this early period at least, the first poem of a pair was likely to be a “banquet poem” and the second a “letter.”

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[i.e., Mo Di’s darkened silk]. Indeed, why should one cry out only when standing before a road [about to start his journey], and why sob only upon seeing silk? 蓋本同末異,楊朱興哀;始素終玄,墨翟垂涕。分乖之際,咸 可歎慨;致感之途,或迫于茲。亦奚必臨路而後長號,覩絲而 後歔欷哉? 19 Parting is in fact the motivating moment for Lu’s letter and poem, the hook on which he hangs his reflections on his personal history, but he here makes a point of recognizing that as an efficient cause parting is trivial. Though moments of parting and change may make us sad, the deeper significance is to be found in the vicissitudes of human experience and relationships that take their shape from parting and change. Thus, the moment of parting is the point of inception of the “space of separation” that is the central domain of the letter, and this space possesses its own conceptual valence. In the passage above, parting is paired with change for the worse: silk begins white and Mo Di (the philosopher Mozi 墨子) sobs when it is colored, that is, changed forever. This ominous sensibility, of irreparable change in the unknown future, is the fear that accompanies separation: one of the parties might die, or do something that sullies his reputation, or dilute the relationship by allying with or harming some third party, etc. But when separation becomes a literary space in a letter poem, the forces of fate are weakened. Within the literary space of separation, where separation leaves “life” and enters “discourse,” all squalls can be calmed, or at least serve in a symbolic capacity. This space serves to produce what one recent author has called “a primary fantasy of epistolary discourse,” namely, that “communication by letter may be experienced as more authentic and intimate than communicating face-toface.”20 In short, letters simplify things. Simple rhetorical figures used by Lu Chen notwithstanding, parting and change are not simple. They are discomforting human events embedded in complex contexts. But when the events of parting and change are winnowed and hewed by a literary discourse, a space of fantasy emerges. This is the intersubjective realm exemplified by presentation and response poetry.

19 Wen xuan 25.1179; see also Knechtges, “Liu Kun,” 47. 20 Milne, Letters, Postcards, Email, 72, also citing in this context work by William Decker.

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282 2


The Poems Qiu Yuanzhi 丘淵之 (after 370–after 433), “Presented to Secretarial [Adjutant] Yang Hui 羊徽 [after 370–before 420], Who Is Ill and Abroad (One Poem)” (Zeng jishi Yang Hui, qi shu ji zai wai, yi shou 贈記室羊徽 其屬疾在外一首)21 In natural inclination we respond to each other ethereally, [And] our interlocked fate has taken its course in human experience. [We are] like gold and orchid: Strength and fragrance explicate one another.22 [But you are gone, so] the craftsman of Ying rests his axe, And there is no one to query on Hao ford.23 Who, then, shall be my sublime confidant? Without you, indeed [my heart] is bound up.24 趣以冥感,契以情運。譬彼金蘭,堅芳互訓。 郢夫寑斤,濠津闕問。孰是超賞,非爾殆薀。25  

(Stanza 1)

[We took] lithesome pleasure in leisurely office,26 And toiled together [on campaigns] in two regions. 21 The base text is the manuscript reproduced in Abe, Bunkan shirin, 61–62; also Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 1217. By “abroad” is meant “out of the capital,” or at least outside the imperial city. “One poem” ( yi shou) is likely the anthologist’s note, not an integral part of the title. 22 The associations of gold and orchid with deep friendship derive from the “Appended Phrases” commentary to the Classic of Changes; see Zhou yi zhengyi 7.18ab. 23 The craftsman of Ying was able to use his axe to scrape chalk from his friend’s nose without doing any bodily harm, but claimed to have lost the ability to do so after his friend’s death; Zhuangzi invokes this story on a visit to the grave of his confidant, Huizi. See Zhuangzi jishi, 843 (徐无鬼). Also the use in two poems by Wang Huzhi in Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 886 and 887, which both close with this allusion. “Hao ford” refers to Zhuangzi’s famed conversation with Huizi by the river Hao; see Zhuangzi jishi, 606 (秋水). 24 The line borrows from Mao shi 毛詩 147 素冠: “My heart is bound up, oh! / Let me for a moment be as one with you, oh!” 我心慍結兮,聊與子如一兮. 25 In line 4, the manuscript has the graphically and phonetically similar 乎 for 互. 26 “Lithesome” (wanwan; 元部) is part of a family of words (e.g. 婉婉, 婉孌, 燕婉, 嬿婉, 宴婉) describing gentle, generally feminine, beauty; for related words in the Classic of Poetry, see Mao shi 43, 94, 102, 106, 151. As wanluan 婉孌 (also 元 rhyme) it is paired with “toiled together” (qikuo; line 2 here) in a memorial by Cai Yong (Quan Hou Han wen 79.3b,

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The Space of Separation

[Our horses ran] bridle by bridle on the northern plains, Our oars lined up on the Yangtze and Xiang.27 In winters we exchanged our warmth, In summers we shared the cool. Was there not [hardship, travelling through] much dew? [Yet] our feelings grew deep as we tread the frost.28 婉晚閑暑,契闊二方。連鑣朔野,齊棹江湘。 冬均其溫,夏共其涼。豈伊多露,情深踐霜。29  

(Stanza 2)

[But now] divine martiality has cleansed the distant lands, The great way is now being spread.30 [Hoers] and plowmen take joy in their work,31 Not one little thing going amiss. [And you] in your leisurely garden, in your back lane,32 [Your] wine cup and zither string limpid and excellent.33 How I rejoice for [your friends] those Two Zhong, To have gone with you into retreat.34 with 孌 written as 戀); it appears as yanwan 嬿婉 in medieval poetry, describing fond friendship as it does here (e.g., Cao Zhi’s poem at Wen xuan 20.974). 27 The poets are on campaign with Liu Yu, preeminent power of the day. From the reference to Mt. Tai, the first line of this couplet should refer to the northern expedition of 409–10. The second line likely refers to the Yangtze river campaign of late 410, although 412 and 415 are also possibilities. See also stanzas 2 and 3 of Yang’s poem. 28 Travel through dew is a kenning for hardship from the Classic of Poetry (Mao shi 17 行露). Treading through frost may allude to Hexagram 2 in the Classic of Changes, where a similar term (lü shuang 履霜) symbolizes the beginnings of a great enterprise; the figure also appears in Mao shi 107, 129, 203. “Feelings” (qing) is the same word as “human experience” in stanza 1, line 2 above. 29 In line 1, the manuscript has 暑 for 署. 30 This couplet refers to the accomplishments of Liu Yu. See the discussion of the poems. 31 The text reads tu (“butcher”; dɑ, 魚部). I tentatively emend to chu 鋤 (“hoe”; dẓɑ, also 魚 rhyme), for the attested medieval compound chulei. 32 Taking 菀 as 苑. Alternatively, xianwan 閑菀 might be a relative form of the attested xianyan 閑宴, thus: “[And you] leisurely lithe, in your back lane”; see n. 26 above. 33 Wine cup and zither string (shang xian) are metonymy for wine and zither: the wine is limpid and the zither excellent. Compare the fourth of Tao Yuanming’s “Miscellaneous Poems” (Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 1006), where the same cup and string symbolize a man aloof from worldly cares. 34 The Han era recluse Jiang Xu 蔣詡 had only three paths to his cottage, reserved for himself and his confidants Yang Zhong 羊仲 and Qiu Zhong 求仲. Thus the “Two Zhong”

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神武遐滌,大衢方揮。屠耒晏業,介焉靡違。 閑菀敝徑,觴弦湛徽。欣彼二仲,與子俱歸。

(Stanza 3)

A friendship will not always be fulfilled, [We] rejoice [together] but despair [from separation] always follows.35 You have fallen ill, And I, through worry, grow old. It is not that scratching my head [awaiting you] is toilsome, But in sooth my bosom is entwined [with yearning].36 I long for my beautiful one, And verily does the churning in my heart increase. 願言無必,欣慨屢造。爾疾既纓,余憂用老。 搔首匪勤,寔纏中抱。言念佳人,祗增心攪。

(Stanza 4)

The Way of Heaven may be far, far in the distance, Yet one can expect goodness to be rewarded:37 Today, my dear sir, You should have been here from long ago. Riding with Truth, you shall be unimpeded [in your recovery], With limpid [thoughts in your] breast, you shall naturally be at ease. [And] once you have walked through this Thrice Broken [illness],38

became a poetic metaphor for partners in reclusion. For a contemporary example, see Xie Lingyun’s poem at Wen xuan 30.1397. 35 “A friendship” ( yuanyan) is literally “desiring” for one’s friend, from the Classic of Poetry: “Desiring, I long for you, / And my heart inside goes aflurry” 願言思子,中心養養 (Mao shi 44 二子乘舟); see also Mao shi 30, 62. The phrase appears again in stanza 1 of Yang’s poem. The second line here is literally “happiness and despair arrive many times.” 36 To scratch one’s head is a figure for fretting, from Mao shi 42 靜女, where a man awaits his lover: “Enamored of her and yet I see her not / I scratch my head and pace about” 愛而不見,搔首踟躕. 37 That heaven will reward good conduct with good fortune is a maxim voiced in the Classic of Documents (Shang shu 尚書; Shang shu zhengyi 8.10b 湯誥), but in medieval literature the ideal is regularly questioned (e.g., in stanza 2 of Liu Kun’s “Poem in Reply to Lu Chen,” Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 851). 38 “Thrice Broken” (sanzhe) invokes an ancient maxim, cited in the Zuozhuan (Ding 13) and elsewhere: break your arm three times and you will have enough experience to become a good doctor.

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You ought to brood [again] upon the Five Virtues.39 天道雖緬,福善可期。今唯吾子,久應在茲。 乘理載遂,沖衿自怡。三折既履,五德宜思。

(Stanza 5)

In self-cultivation [I can boast] nothing lofty, Frequently harnessed in the dusty [world of] service.40 You strive hard in your toil for simplicity, [While] I undeservedly [serve amongst these] tomes and documents.41 Knowing you as [a hermit worthy of] Rong Qiqi,42 My [shamed] face has accumulated a thick [skin to write to you].43 [Yet] I hope I might rely on your acceptance of this stained [gift], And I stand here awaiting the Three Beneficences [of your friendly tutelage].44 39 “Five Virtues” (wu de, or five “powers”) can refer both to a set of personal moral virtues and to the cycle of “five elements” (wu xing 五行) associated with the rise and fall of imperial dynasties; see the discussion of the poem below. Compare the “Five Difficulties” in Yang’s closing stanza. 40 Ye (“self-cultivation”; also “heritage”) is the Chinese word Buddhism adopted for karma and it may carry some of that sense here. Qiu may also be alluding to his less prestigious family background. For an analogous but positive use in a contemporary poem exchange, see Xie Lingyun’s praise for his cousin Hongyuan in Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 1154 stanza 1. “Dusty” (chen) in the following line is also a word with religious connotations. 41 The manuscript writes xian 險 but this should be emended to jian 儉, as it apparently has been in the text Lu Qinli worked from. “Toil for simplicity” ( jianqin, lit. “parsimony and toil”) is a term connected to the medieval culture of reclusion. See, e.g., Yan Yanzhi’s “Dirge for Tao [Yuanming] the Summoned Scholar”: “In his daily life he knew all toil and restraint (qinjian), / In his body he experienced both poverty and illness” 居備勤儉,躬兼貧病 (Wen xuan 57.2473); and the similar term jianku in one of the Song shu hermit biographies: “[his wife] willingly dwelt with him through parsimony and hardship” 共安儉苦 (Song shu 93.2284). The source of the expression is the appearance of “parsimony” as a “virtue” of the gentlemen who secludes himself in times of disorder in Classic of Changes Hexagram 12: “Through the virtue of parsimony ( jiande), the gentleman can escape difficult times” 君子以儉德辟難 (Zhou yi zhengyi 2.24a). 42 Rong Qiqi is a hermit with a witty response to Confucius in Liezi (Liezi jishi 1.22–23), regarded as a Daoist sage in early medieval times. 43 “Thick-skinned face” is a figure for the shameless from Mao shi 198 巧言; for a contemporary example in association with the indignities of government service, see stanza 6 of Xie Lingyun’s four-syllable response poem to Xie Zhan in Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 1155. 44 The poem itself is the gift in question. The “Three Beneficences” are the qualities Confucius, in Analects (Lunyu 論語) 16.4, attributes to a good friend: rectitude, trustworthiness and broad learning. To “stand awaiting” (here zhu) is a common motif in prose

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予業弗高,屢羇塵役。勉彼儉勤,忝此墳籍。 識以榮期,顏以厚積。庶憑納汙,佇規三益。

(Stanza 6)

Yang Hui, “In Response to Qiu [Yuan]zhi (One Poem)” (Da Qiu Quanzhi, yi shou 答丘泉之一首)45 In [the realm of] Truth, one may rely on things, But once a [mundane] matter goes by, there is nothing more to expect.46 From yesteryear we have enjoyed friendship— Asleep and awake I have longed [for you].47 When shall I meet my bosom friend? Oh that the one I esteem should be here. [Then] my judgments shall be grasped, my meaning followed: At that time shall my lacking be fulfilled.48 理矚有待,事過無期。自昔願言,寢興伊思。 爰遘懷人,載欽在茲。賞得意從,無闕惟時。

(Stanza 1)

The path of kings is long and winding, Our marches to war toilsome indeed. In yesteryear we followed along on campaign, Just as the troubles were at their height. Dark and deep, the shadows of Mt. Tai, letters (see Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 106) and in four-syllable exchange poetry as well. 45 Abe, Bunkan shirin, 56; Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 940–41. I have consulted, but not always followed, the annotations and Japanese translation in Hasegawa, Tōshin shi yakuchū, 448– 53. Qiu’s name is written Qiu Quanzhi 泉之 in our manuscript, but a variety of evidence shows that this is a Tang avoidance character. 46 The term youdai (“rely on things”) is a common conceit in fourth-century philosophical poetry, derived from the Zhuangzi and often developed in contrast with wudai, “not relying” (here corresponding to wuqi, “nothing to expect”). For a full series of examples, see Kroll, “A Poetry Debate.” Yang’s usage seems rather prosaic, reversing the “expectations” (qi) assumed in the first couplet of Qiu’s stanza 5. See also below, stanza 3 lines 5–6. 47 Here and in stanzas two and five, the hyperbole of “yesteryear” (xi) elevates their friendship by placing it in an idealized past. For qinxing (“asleep and awake”), see in particular Mao shi 128 小戎, where the speaker longs for the “virtuous voice” (deyin 德音) of the “good friend” (liangren 良人). 48 Que (“lacking,” here as wuque, a lack resolved) echoes line six of Qiu’s first stanza, treating Qiu as his Zhuangzi.

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Roiling and rushing, the banks of the Yangtze.49 Bound together, we became dear [friends]—50 Together with you, pacifying the difficulties. 王路威夷,戎役孔勤。昔從經略,方難之殷。 悠悠岱陰,滔滔江濆。綢繆成說,與子夷屯。

(Stanza 2)

The waters of the Yangtze were [long and] rolling indeed,51 Then there were waves, then it was still. And so we removed our armor in times of leisure,52 Smiles loosened our faces as we released [feelings of] sincerity. In [pursuit of] Truth, [we] devoted ourselves to the roots, In [mundane] matters, we paid solemn attention to [our] human experience of things.53 Oh how it was when we were toiling together, Truly we were close, [like] lifelong friends.54 江之泳矣,載瀾載清。俛冑時暇,解顏舒誠。 理既睦本,事亦敦情。永言契闊,實深平生。

(Stanza 3)

[But] from that point we separated from each other, The time came to part.55 49 “Roiling and rushing” appears three times in the Classic of Poetry, with a close parallel to this line in Mao shi 204 四月. 50 Choumou derives from the title of Mao shi 118 綢繆, an ode about the union of friends or lovers. Chengyue is from Mao shi 31 擊鼓, a battle poem. 51 This line is a near quote from Mao shi 9 漢廣 (where 泳, “rolling,” is written 永, “long,” but appears in the poem one line prior). Xie Lingyun uses a variation of the line twice in his four-syllable poetry and it is best regarded as a convenient classical allusion for poets living on the Yangtze, but there may also be a light allusion to the import of the original poem, which the Mao commentary associates with the spread of King Wen’s virtue. In that sense, the good auspices of Liu Yu have fostered their friendship. 52 Taking 俛 as 免, for the attested compound mianzhou. 53 This “human experience of things” (qing) is that mentioned in Qiu’s stanza 1 (line 2) and stanza 2 (line 8, rendered as “feeling”). 54 “Lifelong friends” (pingsheng) is a trope derived from Analects 14.12, commonly used in this sense in presentation and response poetry (e.g., in three poems by Xie Lingyun, see Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 1154–56). 55 The language echoes Wang Can’s four-syllable presentation poem to Cai Mu 蔡睦 (Wen xuan 23.1103), which may already have been canonical at this time.

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And I truly was unworthy, Deeply sick for a full year.56 But who should remember me in his bosom? It was only you, my dear sir. And did you not indeed have the king’s business to do? Racing about ceaselessly on your mount.57 自茲乖互,屬有逝止。余實無良,沈痾彌祀。 孰是懷之,則惟吾子。豈微王事,驟駕無已。 58

(Stanza 4)

I begged off on account of my laggard state, But then I received such a succoring bounty:59 We came together in the ranks of the prominent, Sharing in the same official duties.60 Our pleasures of yesteryear, Thus were taken up again: I entrusted myself to the glow of your spring foliage, That brought comfort to this tumbleweed of autumn. 疲殆既謝,惠澤是逢。顯列斯偕,厥司攸同。 疇昔之歡,於焉克從。託曜春藻,慰此秋蓬。

(Stanza 5)

Yet though old pleasures were taken up, In the course of things dispersal did come,

56 Yang may be expressing deference by implying Mao shi 49 鶉之奔奔: “An unworthy [wu liang] man, / Yet I (here understood as Qiu) take him as my elder brother” 人之無良,我以為兄. “A full year” (mi si) might be “many a year.” 57 “The king’s business” (wang shi) appears in a number of poems in the Classic of Poetry, in the context of the hardships a loyal servant must suffer; see Mao shi 40, 121, 162, 167, 168, 169, 205. Driving one’s chariot is also a campaign figure in the Poetry, and Mao shi 162 has the toiling servant “racing” (zhou) to do the king’s bidding. 58 In line 7, the manuscript writes 徽 for 微. 59 I render this stanza and the one that follows as a narrative, but they might be read as the imagination of what a reunion might be like: “Were I to join you in the ranks of the prominent . . . Yet dispersal would come.” 60 The word xie (“come together”; also below at stanza 6, line 4) is generally associated with friendship in the Classic of Poetry (e.g., Mao shi 133 無衣, a paean to friendship) and used in this sense in medieval poetry (e.g. Cao Zhi’s poem to Cao Biao, see Wen xuan 24.1123; Xie Lingyun, Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 1155 stanza 8).

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The Space of Separation


And the joys of [reclusion in] hut-and-brook,61 Are not such that we might come together on regular days of rest.62 The winter days are harsh and hard, The gusting wind cold and sharp:63 [And I imagine you] facing your shadow [alone] in your flowery office—64 How could I but harbor longing in my bosom?65 雖則克從,遞來有乖。衡泌之娛,休沐末偕。 冬日烈烈,飄風淒[淒]。對影華署,如何勿懷。 66

(Stanza 6)

In those bosom thoughts I indeed have toiled, And I have [duly] gathered up [your] orchid remnants.67 You succor me with your fine words, Deep sincerity in your brush[strokes].68 I dare forget about the Thrice Broken—

61 “Hut-and-brook” (hengbi) is drawn from Mao shi 134 橫門, which describes reclusion in a hut with a single-plank (heng) door, by a babbling (bi) spring. 62 “Regular days of rest” is literally days for “rest and washing” (xiumu). One day of five in the Han dynasty, it is uncertain how such vacation days were apportioned in this period. 63 These two lines are very close to a couplet in Mao shi 204 四月: “The winter days are harsh and hard, / The gusting wind whooshing” 冬日烈烈,飄風發發; qiqi (“cold and sharp”) appears in the parallel couplet of the poem’s preceding stanza. Thus Yang may be comparing himself to the forlorn speaker of that poem, and alluding to the contrasting figures with which Mao shi 204 closes, a bird flying high and a fish lingering in a pond—common medieval figures for official service (here, Qiu) and reclusion (Yang). These contrasting figures are made explicit in the use of this allusion in Wang Can’s poem to Cai Mu (Wen xuan 23.1103). 64 “Flowery office” (huashu) is apparently unattested, but there are a number of similar terms dating to the Tang, including “jade office” yushu 玉署, “cloud office” yunshu 雲 署, and “fragrant office” xiangshu 香署. See the related “leisurely office” (xianshu) in Qiu stanza 2. 65 Here and in line one of the following stanza, the subject may be Qiu: you long for me. 66 The final character of line 6 (qi) has dropped out of the manuscript. 67 “Orchid” is a figure for a poem received in a Pan Ni 潘尼 (247?–311?) poem to Lu Ji (Wen xuan 24.1158; Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 764 stanza 6), and ji is used in the sense of “collect your righteous advice” in a reply from Sun Chuo to Xu Xun (Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 900 stanza 9). That is, your poem, which of course is no replacement for the person, who is the full “orchid.” 68 Lu Qinli follows an emendation of “sincerity” (cheng 誠) to the graphically similar “admonition” ( jie 誡).

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I shall reverently brood upon the Five Difficulties [instead].69 I will take your gift, my gentleman, And read it over and again, into the year’s cold end.70 懷亦勤止,戢此餘蘭。惠以好言,深誠在翰。 敢忘三折,敬思五難。君子攸贈,復之歲寒。 3

(Stanza 7)

The Poets

Given the length of these poems a brief summary may be helpful. Qiu Yuanzhi’s presentation poem begins with an affirmation of the friends’ intimate bond (stanza 1), and stanza two relates their shared experience in the political realm. The third stanza finds the recipient in reclusion, and in the fourth he is described as ill. In stanza five he is encouraged to return—to good health and, as I will explain below, to government service. The sixth and final stanza relays the writer’s hope for a letter poem in response. The response poem follows a parallel progression, starting from their ethereal friendship (stanza 1) and continuing to recount their shared experience (stanzas 2 and 3). The fourth stanza has Yang taking leave on account of illness. The narrative of the ensuing two stanzas is not entirely clear, but by the interpretation I have adopted here Yang has returned to office (stanza 5) before again leaving for a life of determined 69 Gan can mean “dare” or “dare [not],” but the point of this couplet is the shift from Qiu’s “Five Virtues” (stanza 6) to the “Five Difficulties” here. The “Five Difficulties” of selfcultivation are described by the third-century philosopher-poet Xi Kang 嵇康 (223–262) as extinguishing one’s interest in worldly fame and profit, eradicating the emotions, doing away with pleasures of music and sensuality, eschewing rich foods, and finally dispersing all worry; see Quan Sanguo wen 48.8b. These “five difficulties” appear elsewhere in period literature (e.g. Fu Liang’s essay at Song shu 43.1339, and Jiang Yan’s poem at Wen xuan 31.1470), but Hasegawa (Tōshin, 453) connects this line to a political “five difficulties” (of lacking the advisors, leaders, plans, followers, and virtue that an aspiring ruler needs to successfully take the throne) from Zuozhuan Zhao 13, see Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 1350–53. This seems unlikely. 70 “The year’s cold end” alludes to Analects 9.27, where the “true colors” of the gentleman only show when the times are most difficult: “Only when the year reaches its cold end do you see how the pines and cypresses are the last to wither away” 歲寒,然後知松 柏之後彫也. The implication is that both poets are gentlemen. For reading it “over and again” (here fu) as a characteristic part of the “epistolary experience,” see Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 130–32. It is also a common motif in “presentation and response” poetry.

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reclusion (stanza 6). In the final stanza Yang thanks Qiu for his letter, while courteously resisting his entreaties. The basic historical background can be summed up in briefest fashion. In the late fourth century the Eastern Jin court reached its nadir. Factionalism opened a path to power for Huan Xuan 桓玄 (369–404), who established his own ephemeral new dynasty in 403–4. Huan was immediately deposed by one Liu Yu 劉裕 (363–422), a middle (or lower-middle) elite figure who restored the Jin in name and spent the following fifteen years gradually building his own dynastic credentials. Liu’s Song dynasty was established in 420 and would last sixty years. Both our poets were involved in his rise to power. Qiu Yuanzhi 丘淵之 (after 370–after 433) was a native of Wucheng 烏程 district in Wuxing 吳興 prefecture.71 On the south bank of Lake Tai, Wuxing was a key region in the increasingly rich lower Yangtze delta, the hub of a wheel that included Wu 吳, a wealthy old southern prefecture, to the east; Guiji 會稽, also wealthy and featuring a mix of prominent northern émigré families, to the southeast; Jinling 晉陵 prefecture, where northern émigré families constituted a majority, to the north; and the capital area to the west. Directly south offered access to the seclusion of the scenic mountains of the Zhe 浙 river valley. The Qiu family of Wuxing does not enter the historical record until the late fourth century, but the earliest record is informative: a member of the clan, one Qiu Wang 丘尫, joined the messianic rebellion of Sun En 孫恩 (d. 402) and was made “prefect of Wuxing” by Sun. Qiu Wang’s head was sent to the capital the following year, but the fact that he was given charge of his home area likely reflects the Qiu clan’s local clout.72 Around the turn of the century there is mention of “Director of the Palace Library Qiu Jizu” 秘書監丘繼祖, the context making clear that he was a notable in the Wuxing area.73 Of perhaps more significance is a record of one Qiu Huan 丘洹 helping Liu Yu’s faction attack the character of Liu Yi 劉毅 (d. 412), the rival general, in 411—not 71 Cao Daoheng and Shen Yucheng’s biographical dictionary (Cao and Shen, Zhongguo wenxuejia, 81) suggests a date of death past 433, based on a reference to the death of Xie Lingyun in a catalog attributed to Qiu. His birth date is unknown, but from Yang’s response poem (stanza 5) we learn that he was younger than Yang, who was born sometime after 370. 72 Jin shu 100.2632; Song shu 100.2445. That they continued as a local power is suggested by the court’s recruitment of a certain Qiu Xian 丘顯 to put down a rebellion in the area in 424; see Song shu 52.1504. 73 Song shu 91.2248. This is the grandfather of the late fifth-century literatus Qiu Lingju 丘靈鞠.

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long before our exchange of poems took place.74 These data, however slight, suggest that the Qiu clan, or at least some of its members, had one foot in the enclave of Wuxing and one in the middle rungs of officialdom, and the case of Qiu Huan suggests that by 411 some members of the family at least were aligning themselves with Liu Yu. Qiu Yuanzhi was among them. The History of Song’s (Song shu 宋書) very brief biographical note simply groups Qiu Yuanzhi with several other southerners who achieved prominence in the Liu-Song, his eminence attributed solely to the “patronage obligations” ( jiu’en 舊恩, lit. “former kindnesses”) he acquired in the service of Liu Yilong 劉義隆, the future Emperor Wen 文帝 (407–452; r. 424–52).75 It is certainly true that Qiu’s high offices after 424—including a small fief and posthumous honors as “Grand Master for Splendid Happiness” (guanglu dafu 光祿大夫)76—were due to the relationship he established with Yilong in 417, when the prince was stationed in Pengcheng and Qiu served as his Senior Aide (zhangshi 長史). But Liu Yilong was eleven years old (sui) in 417, and Senior Aide is not an entry level appointment. The biographical note’s omission of any official career for Qiu’s father and grandfather may mean that they never held significant office, but Qiu certainly had experience in officialdom before 417, and he had distinguished himself enough to be handpicked by Liu Yu for a responsible position in the northern campaign’s base camp, with a precious ward in his care. Our poem can serve as evidence from Qiu’s earlier service under Liu Yu, where his literary talents were evidently put to use drafting documents (see Qiu’s stanza 6).77 The addressee of Qiu’s poem, and author of the response, is one Yang Hui 羊徽 (after 370–before 420).78 Yang was a native of Taishan 泰山, originally a 74 Song shu 64.1695. 75 Song shu 81.2078–79. 76 The posthumous honors are mentioned his Song shu biography, the fief in an alternative Song shu quoted in the Jiatai Wuxing zhi (Gazetteer of Wuxing from the Jiatai reign [1201–4], 16.34b). 77 It is strange that the historian, Shen Yue, who had a distinct interest in literature, does not here note that Qiu was the author of a bibliography of Eastern Jin literary collections, the “Record of New Collections” Xinji lu 新集錄 (cited in Shishuo xinyu commentary; see Shishuo xinyu jianshu 2.108). It is possible, however, that Qiu’s literary endeavors are the reason for his being given any mention at all here. The alternate Song shu mentioned above claims a collection in 100 scrolls, perhaps indicating a version of the Xinji lu as an anthology; the Sui shu catalog (35.1072) lists his collection as 15 scrolls in the Liang, a respectably sized individual corpus. On Qiu’s works, see Cao and Shen, Zhonggu wenxue shiliao, 352–54 and 370–71. 78 Song shu 62.1662.

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prefecture near its namesake mountain on the Shandong peninsula but relocated to the south as a “lodged” unit in the Jingkou 京口 (modern Zhenjiang) area, a key garrison on the south bank of the Yangtze, downriver from the capital. In contrast to the Wuxing Qiu, the Taishan Yang was a prominent clan with old connections to the Jin court. Yang Hu 羊祜 (221–278) was a grandson of Cai Yong and brother-in-law to Sima Shi 司馬師 (the court power in the 250s, posthumously recognized as the Jin Emperor Jing), and the family established an empress for Emperor Hui (r. 291–306). A number of Yang family members appear at the side of Emperor Yuan (r. 317–23), the first Jin emperor in the south, and the family was related to Wang Dun 王敦 (266–324), a powerful figure early in the transition.79 But perhaps because of the relation to Wang Dun, a loser in those initial power struggles, or perhaps because they never sufficiently fortified themselves in the émigré world, by the middle of the fourth century the Yang are no longer a family of any particular prominence. Yang Hui’s grandfather was a palace official and his father rose to prefect (taishou 太守), “upper middle-class” jobs that were likely integrated into much richer lives that our sources are unable to relay to us. We know little of Yang Hui’s first thirty years. Passing over his entry into officialdom in silence, Yang’s biographical note says only that he was “recognized” (beiyu 被遇, another patronage term) by Liu Yu sometime after 405 and served as his “secretarial adjutant” ( jishi canjun 記室參軍, an upper staff position for men with literary skill) early in Liu Yu’s rise.80 In 415, or perhaps as early as 412, Yang was assigned an important posting in the secretariat, in charge of drafting documents for the imperial court.81 Sometime around 418 he was placed on the staff of Liu Yilong, Qiu Yuanzhi’s patron, then twelve years old and regional commander of Jingzhou 荊州 (modern Hubei area). He might well have been there together with Qiu. By 420 he was dead.82 What, then, was the relationship of these two poets? Two rather different views can be admitted. A contrastive view will see Qiu as a southerner from a family with no national reputation, while Yang hailed from a northern émigré 79 Wang’s mother was a Yang. 80 On the prestige of the position of Secretarial Adjutant, see Tongdian 20.524. 81 Yang’s biography says that this appointment occurred in 412, but the biography of Fu Liang 傅亮 (375–426) puts it at 415; see Song shu 43.1336, and Cao and Shen, Zhonggu wenxue shiliao, 253, for a discussion of relevant materials. As the more detailed account, Fu’s biography is more likely correct, and there is an easy explanation for the error: there were Yangtze river campaigns in both years. It is also likely that the historical record does not fully reflect the complexity of Yang’s political career. 82 We know Yang died before the foundation of the Liu-Song because he is listed as a Jin figure both in our manuscript and in the Sui shu bibliography (35.1070).

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family of high pedigree. No member of the Qiu family was praised for their talents by illustrious members of the Wang and Xie clans, but several Yang received this cultural imprimatur, including Yang Hui’s older brother Yang Xin 羊欣 (370–442), a celebrated eremite of whom more will be said below.83 Perhaps most tellingly, our sources state clearly that from the beginnings of his ascent Liu Yu sought to cultivate the two Yang brothers, while Qiu’s associations with Liu Yu go entirely unmentioned. On this view, Yang Hui’s family background gave him a certain “cultural capital,” and Qiu’s poem to Yang looks very much like an appeal, on Liu Yu’s behalf, to a figure of higher status. The poems’ profession of an intimate friendship may even appear contrived. From another point of view, however, many factors mitigate against taking Yang’s family prestige as a decisive indicator of his standing in society and vis-à-vis Qiu. Fame is never as weighty as it presents itself to be. All the famed clans were filled with quite ordinary families and family members; the famed members of those clans participated in many ordinary activities; and as a token passed around in period discourse the famous person was not necessarily better off than the ordinary one. More specifically, we have seen that Qiu’s family was probably well established, perhaps even eminent, in its home region, and that the eminence of Yang’s family was rooted in an ever more distant past. Whatever deference we find in Qiu’s poem may be better explained by the fact that Qiu was the younger of the two than by any salient difference in social station. Nor should we assume that “northerners” and “southerners” necessarily experienced decisively different social realities in this time, roughly a century after the former’s flight from their old homeland.84 One piece of evidence even suggests a direct social connection between the two men: Yang’s father, Yang Buyi 羊不疑, served as magistrate of Wucheng, Qiu Yuanzhi’s hometown, for a period beginning in 381. From an anecdote in Yang Xin’s biography we may infer that the family settled there, and Yang Xin’s long association with the prefecture of Xin’an 新安, a scenic spot in the Zhe river valley, south of Wuxing,

83 See Song shu 62.1661–62. Additionally, a sister of Xie An, the preeminent cultural figure of the mid-fourth century, married a Yang and Xie was said to have shown special attachment to his nephew Yang Tan 羊曇 ( Jin shu 79.2077). 84 The gulf between the “southerners” (themselves immigrants from the north a few centuries prior) and the “northerners” (those who fled south in the early 4th c.) is a commonplace in southern dynasties sources. While modern scholarship has generally emphasized the realities of this distinction, I view it as a discourse based on a much more complicated set of facts.

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suggests that they may well have remained in the area.85 This local connection may have provided a basis for the friendship narrated in our poems. To recapitulate, from a sociological perspective Yang Hui may have had a certain prestige that Qiu lacked, but from a cultural perspective the two men very possibly belonged to the same world. It may be best to combine these two views. In this way, our poem exchange reflects both the contrast, with Qiu Yuanzhi helping Liu Yu lure a valued gentry family to his cause, and the commonality, with Qiu and Yang affirming friendship and shared ideals. Indeed, it would be very difficult to separate these two strands: gentry prestige was a birthright only because it was assumed that a good member of a good family upheld good cultural ideals shared by all good men. The poem exchange is a testament to these shared ideals. 4

In the Space of Separation: Intimacy and the State

By identifying separation as a “formative cause,” we stress the fact that the “space of separation” is not just a space created by separation but a space in which separation itself has a presence. What develops in this space does so not in a vacuum, but in interaction with separation, the essential quality of the space. Here I identify two key themes in the poem, intimacy and the state, and show how they are developed in this way. Affirmation of the poets’ intimate bond is central to the purpose of this poem exchange. That intimacy can be and is stated outright, as when Yang Hui repeatedly (stanzas 1, 4, 6, and 7) speaks of their mutual “longing” (huai), but the power of the letter poem resides rather in the structuring of this longing within the epistolary space of separation. We can identify two key “separations” of intimacy in the exchange. The first occurs in the opening stanzas, where Qiu speaks of the “ethereal” nature of their bond, and Yang requites in kind. This is a permanent connection, but also one that is infinitely distant from the human world in which they live, and in both opening stanzas this spiritual unity is explicitly paired with physical separation in the human realm. In Qiu’s poem, ideal unity and physical separation are neatly balanced, two couplets given to each. In Yang’s response the transition comes immediately—cosmic truth acknowledged in the first line, the limitations of human experience announced in the second—but balance is preserved in the end of that stanza, 85 The family of Wang Shaozhi 王韶之 (380–435), a contemporary of similar background and career trajectory, settled in Wucheng when his father served there; see Song shu 60.1625.

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where he imagines their reunion. Qiu establishes the separation. Yang sees it through to the fantasy of reunion, “sublime” (Qiu) and “complete” (Yang). The great fault of an ethereal bond is a narrative one, that there is no room for development. For this, human experience is necessary, and this is the site of the second separation of intimacy: between the leisure in which friendship is enjoyed and the hardship in which it takes shape. This separated space is outlined clearly in Qiu’s second stanza, where “leisure” (xian 閑) is raised in line one and paired with “toil” (qikuo 契闊) in line two. In the remainder of the stanza they dwell in this space, the hardships of cold and heat providing circumstance for shared enjoyment, the frosts they tread forging the “depth” of their bond. This is the world not of leisure but of qikuo, a poetic word that can convey both time apart and time together. Yang likewise anchors his depiction of their time together (stanza 3) in the balance of leisure and hardship— the “leisure” (here xia 暇) found in the pauses of battle. Echoing Qiu, Yang observes the “depth” derived from their time “toiling together” (qikuo again), and throughout both poems the balance of leisure and hardship swings hard toward the latter—in addition to qikuo, both poets refer twice to a “toiling” of the heart (qin 勤, Qiu stanzas 4, 6, Yang stanzas 2, 7). This is because while leisure is an ideal space in human experience, the space where friendship is enjoyed, in the mundane world it is hardship that provides the “deep” common experience that catalyzes the development of friendship, and in the fantastic space of letters it, stripped of the realities of hardship, becomes its own leisurely space. Whence this hardship and toil? Surely, from their activities and their thoughts, but what is the more general cause? It is the state, the second major theme in these poems. Although it is certainly true that the prominence of dynastic politics in medieval Chinese historiography can blind us to the social diversities of the period,86 that prominence is not a distortion but an index of the immense ideological and practical importance of the state in elite life. In these poems, the state is the most important ground of intimacy, and like intimacy it is animated by the space of separation of the letter poem. Two specific mechanisms of separation, illness and eremitism, serve to inflate this notion of the state. Illness is the mundane mechanism. A common topic in early medieval letters and early medieval poetry generally,87 illness was a key facet of medieval 86 For a strong critique of modern scholarship’s tendency to over-emphasize the role of the state in this period, see Lewis, China Between Empires, 45. 87 On its pervasive presence in early medieval letters, see Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 90–92.

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elite culture because it practically facilitated the individual’s disengagement from the state. Illness is a personal kind of separation, the separation of the body from the state of good health, that produces social separation. Its consequences can be dire, but functionally it is a positive, positioning the individual between the complications of an engaged life and the null simplicity of death. This function is on plain display in our poems, where illness is given as a reason for Yang’s absence from state service. Looking more closely, we find across the pair of poems an elegant structural development of the topic. “You have fallen ill,” states Qiu in his fourth stanza, continuing, “And I, through worry, grow old.” As before, the two men share hardship, albeit in separation. Illness has taken Yang away from state service. Worry and rapid aging, Qiu’s sympathetic reaction, mimic illness, and such sympathy brings Qiu closer to Yang in spirit. Thus drawn toward Yang’s life in reclusion, Qiu is granted an abstract degree of removal from the state. Here we find a central tension of letter writing—that the special space of the letter exchange is predicated on the desire to close the state of separation that in fact informs that space. Proceeding from this ideal “bond of separation” of illness and worry, Qiu arrives at a logical but unsatisfactory resolution in his fifth stanza: Yang will recover from illness and, by implication direct or indirect, rejoin Qiu in public life. Rather than unsatisfactory, we might call this resolution provisional, a foil for Yang’s perfect response. When Yang broaches the topic of illness, in his stanza four, he pairs it not with Qiu’s worry but with the latter’s continued toil in the service of the state, “racing about on his mount.” This creates a bond of hardship, but differently valorized, with Qiu firmly identified with the state. This disparity is maintained through the end of the poem, as Yang replaces focus on illness with his dedication to the eremite’s life (stanza 7, lines 5–6). The space is maintained. The recluse is immune to cures. And this is the second mechanism at work here. Illness can be described as a distance from physical health, or the ordered state of the body, that facilitates distance from the state. Eremitism is distance from the state, or the realization of an ordered society.88 Like illness, reclusion can have serious consequences (death for the ill, the penury of one’s family for the recluse), but symbolically it is also a positive. Like illness, the life of reclusion puts one just on the margins of the world, apart from it but within it. This is the perfect balance between the tendency to close the space of separation and the need to sustain, on display in these poems. 88 For an introduction to the Chinese eremitic tradition, see Vervoorn, Men of the Cliffs and Caves. Briefly put, the lofty moral ideals to which the Chinese eremite dedicates himself are presumed to preclude normal participation in the dusty world of politics.

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The dynamics of reclusion here are best understood by going “outside” the poem, to an aspect of the poems’ biographical background omitted from the discussion above—the life of Yang Hui’s brother Yang Xin. The History of Song’s brief biographical note on Yang Hui is in fact a short appendix to the biography of Yang Xin. In that biographical note, Yang Hui receives the backhanded compliment that “his renown amongst his contemporaries (shi yu) was greater than Yang Xin’s” 世譽多欣, and Yang Xin’s biography has Liu Yu remark that while Yang Hui is “a fine ‘vessel’ suitable to current times” 一時美器, “contemporary opinion” 世論 reserves greater esteem for Yang Xin.89 According to the historiography, whatever fame Yang Hui enjoyed was an alloyed sort, in the shadow of his brother’s purity. In our poem exchange, by contrast, the image of Yang Hui is precisely that of Yang Xin in the history, the lofty eremite too ill to be burdened with the duties of governance. The actual story of Yang Xin is hardly so pure, and this side of the eremite also sheds light on our poem exchange. His biography pointedly emphasizes his ability to keep a distance from the factional disorders of the late 390s, but it is apparent that he was active in the political world. During Huan Xuan’s momentary rise, Yang Xin joined in his cause, serving as his chief of staff (zhubu 主簿), and in this capacity it is said that “he was involved in [Huan’s] major decisions” 參預機要. Elsewhere we learn that a number of other Yang were associated with Huan Xuan, including their cousins Yang Fu 羊孚 and Yang Xuanbao 羊玄保.90 Whether or not Yang Hui was himself drawn into Huan Xuan’s enterprise (the sources are silent), the memory of his family’s unfortunate experience may have fed the reticence he expresses in our poem exchange. The account of this episode in Yang Xin’s biography provides important context for our poems: [However,] wishing to distance himself from Huan, Yang would at times let secret information leak out. [But] Huan Xuan understood what Yang’s intentions were and valued him even more highly. [Thus] Huan appointed him Director of Palace Affairs on the Secretariat of his Chu [shadow] cabinet, saying to him: “The Secretariat is the root of all matters of governance, and Music and Rites[, the most fundamental basis of governance,] issue forth from the Director of Palace Affairs. You have been 89 Song shu 62.1662. The reference to a “fine vessel” is an allusion to Analects 2.12, by which Liu Yu, and/or our historiography, suggests that Yang Hui is not a true gentleman. 90 On Yang Fu’s relations with the powers of the day, see Shishuo xinyu jianshu 2.104, 2.105, 4.62, 17.18, 22.6. The heir of the Western Jin statesman Yang Hu also had his family fief revoked for his associations with Huan; see Jin shu 34.1024.

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acting as my right-hand man, but this indeed is a more weighty posting.” Yang took the office and resigned it after a few days, on grounds of illness. He then secluded himself in the wards and alleys [of private life], not emerging for more than ten years. 欣欲自疏,時漏密事,玄覺其此意,愈重之,以為楚臺殿中 郎。謂曰:「尚書政事之本,殿中禮樂所出。卿昔處股肱,方 此為輕也。」欣拜職少日,稱病自免,屏居里巷,十餘年不 出。 91 The courteous historiography makes no mention of Huan Xuan’s fall, and Huan Xuan, according to this telling, is not angered by Yang Xin’s betrayal. The historiography’s claim that Huan “valued him even more highly” (yu zhong zhi) may specifically refer to Huan’s estimation of Yang as an individual, but its greater referent is something quite different: Huan saw even more symbolic value in Yang than he had before and he undertook to better utilize that value within the political culture of the time. In the immaculate choreography of that culture, Huan moves Yang from a position of real consequence, chief of staff, to an ideal one that satisfies both parties. Huan gains a prominent name on his shadow cabinet and asserts his acknowledgment of the legitimizing powers of “ritual and music,” while Yang is able to move to a position in which he is in charge of nothing and from which he can easily extricate himself in an affirmation of his personal integrity. His means of extrication, illness, are exactly those deployed in our poem exchange. Furthermore, the relationship of Yang Xin and Huan Xuan functions as a model for that of Yang Hui and Liu Yu a decade later: the courtier distinguishes himself by distancing himself from the political power of the day, who in turn seeks creative means to reattach the courtier to his cause. Qiu Yuanzhi’s poem may and indeed should represent his own personal testament, but it is also a means of granting Yang Hui the ideal existence that historiography would bestow upon his elder brother, and bringing that idealized personage into Liu Yu’s fold. The passage quoted above quietly adumbrates Yang’s return to state service, and “ten years later” corresponds to the same period from which our poems date. Emerging from seclusion to accept a variety of positions given him by Liu Yu, but only with due reticence, the History of Song places Yang Xin’s biography in a chapter with two other high-minded—perhaps even haughty— men whose presence both challenged and lent luster to the young Liu-Song

91 Song shu 62.1662. The association of the Director of Palace Affairs with ritual knowledge is also evident in Jin shu 51.1435–36.

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dynasty. The culmination of his career was an irregular appointment to the scenic prefecture of Xin’an, which he held for thirteen years, and when he was finally transferred to a more mundane post he petitioned for release, claiming “severe illness.” Continuing his life apart from society, he was renowned—his biography tells us—for appreciation of landscape, studies in the Dao, calligraphy, and pharmaceutical knowledge.92 When he travelled, he never entered the town walls. Though they appointed him to numerous offices, he refused to appear at court and neither Liu Yu nor Liu Yilong ever met him in person. Returning now to our poems, in Qiu’s third stanza we find this eremitic ideal represented in perfect balance with the state. While the two couplets of the stanza’s first half extol the sovereignty of the state, newly reinvigorated under Liu Yu’s stewardship, the second half of the stanza turns to a different kind of sovereignty: the “limpidity and excellence” (zhan hui 湛徽, to allow Yang Hui’s wine and zither to stand for his character) of the eremite. What then is the quality of the space between these two halves of the stanza? Does it separate, or stitch together? In one sense, it is a chasm between two opposing forces, the state and the non-serving subject. The “king’s path” that Yang himself invokes in his second stanza bridges all distances except this one. Yet in another sense, the gap is the generic essence that unites the two sides of the stanza as a matching pair. The establishment of imperial order is not merely a matter of putting the peasants back to work, the figure Qiu deploys here. That is a mere “property” of good governance. Lasting order, or true sovereignty, comes only when governance is established on some ideal, and the “space of eremitism” in the middle of the stanza is a formal cause for both the hermit in the second half and the ideology of sovereignty in the first half. The legitimate state is defined as a government grounded in the moral order, the eremite as the man who best preserves (and symbolizes) that order, and in the letter poem these two ideals are brought into suspended separation. 5

A Public Space

This essay has attempted to advance the following view. With parting as a “formative” moment, the presentation-response poem (or its four-syllable variety) opens up a “space of separation.” Separation has its own ideal value, conditioning the themes that are developed in that space. Intimacy is the point of departure in our poems, and their ostensible end. Developed in that space, 92 For a translation and discussion of one of Yang Xin’s prose letters, transmitted as a calligraphic specimen, see Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 146–48.

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intimacy gains its power from distances ethereal and mundane. The locus of the mundane is the state, which has in turn its own presence in the space of separation. Practically through illness and ideally through eremitism, the individual distances himself from the state, and the latter distance affirms the moral standard in which the state grounds its legitimacy. This view will now be pursued two steps further. Intimacy and the state both take shape in spaces of separation, but they do so as a connected pair. As such, they are projected on a new space of separation, and this space has its own atmospheric quality. I account for it in this section as a public space. The conclusion will treat this public space as an essential quality of the poetic aspect of the Chinese letter poem. Early medieval letters were, in the words of one recent study, “commonly seen as public documents, and it was expected that these letters would circulate more widely.”93 In our exchange we can identify three specific points at which such a public space is opened up within the poems. The first is the title of the presentation poem, “Presented to Secretarial [Adjutant] Yang Hui, Who Is Ill and Abroad.” While we cannot say with absolute certainty that the title is original to the poem, there are strong indications from contemporary poets (Tao Yuanming, Xie Lingyun) that titles and prefaces (our “title” might be a short title with a prefatory note) providing contextual information were becoming a part of the poetic tradition. As the use of the third person pronoun (qi 其, here translated as “who”) suggests, the “addressee” of this heading is not the poem’s recipient, or not just him, but some broader community to whom this letter would constitute testimony. This frames the poem as a public document, a “superposition of private communication and public exhibition,” the poets positioning themselves not only toward each other but toward society at large.94 This public frame prompts us to read the poem’s subject matter from a different perspective. The basic posture adopted here, deference, has the poets deferring to one another’s good characters, and Yang deferring in the face of a call to service, but from the perspective of a readership at large this deference has more significance, placing the two men in a hoary cultural tradition of political deference—the practice of rang 讓—that stretched back to the legendary sage kings Yao and Shun. In Qiu and Yang’s own age, their demonstration of rang would have connected them to their community, where 93 Pattinson, “Privacy and Letter Writing in Han and Six Dynasties China,” 16; also on this point Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 42–43. See also the essay by Pablo Blitstein in this volume. 94 Quotation from Guillén, “On the Edge of Literariness,” 7.

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declining office was a regular practice even when the office (as here) was going to be accepted, and more particularly to the rise of Liu Yu, who was practicing rang at every step of the way in his ascent, and whose demonstration of rang would require exchanges of decorous edicts and memorials composed by “ghostwriter” documentarians—a cohort that included Yang and probably Qiu as well. Here they are composing a more personal, yet equally public, set of documents. Yang gets to play emperor, as the reticently ascending dynastic founder plays the eremite. A second emergence of public space occurs with the delivery of and response to the didactic message in the poems’ closing stanzas. The key term here is “five virtues” (wu de; Qiu stanza 5). On a personal level, the five virtues refer to some set of moral qualities an individual ought to cultivate.95 Such moral self cultivation, however, is not exactly a private affair, as these are moral qualities with which a good servant of state will better the world. The “five difficulties” (wu nan) Yang substitutes in his reply (stanza 7) are, by contrast, aspects of self-cultivation that take the individual deeper into the eremite’s domain, away from state service. Extinguishing one’s interest in worldly fame does not coincide with a political career. On a philosophical level, the contrast between the two is clearer still. The most common medieval usage of “five virtues” occurs in the context of dynastic legitimacy, where they are associated with the cosmic trends (the “five elements,” wu xing) that lead to the rise and fall of imperial lines.96 Working on behalf of Liu Yu, Qiu Yuanzhi is calling on Yang Hui to rejoin the “revival” of the Jin—or to participate, as both men indeed would, in the imperial mandate’s transfer to a new caretaker. Citing the recluse’s “five difficulties,” Yang insistently preserves his personal integrity in the face of the vicissitudes of an age of disorder. For the time being—for here we may recall the political circumstances of the age. From the very beginnings of his rise to power, with the overthrow of Huan Xuan in 404, Liu Yu sought to establish authority over the official ranks. In 407 he took full control of the capital region, exterminating the old order of court powers. In 411 he asserted suzerainty over unheeding gentry in the empire’s rich and powerful southeast, and in the same year awarded himself the right to examine the qualifications 95 The Hanyu da cidian, the most comprehensive modern dictionary, offers at least three possibilities, the most likely reference being Analects 1.10—though the qualities are not there labeled “five virtues.” 96 For a representative example, see Zuo Si’s 左思 (252?–306?) “Rhapsody on the Wei Capital,” Wen xuan 6.286–87, and Knechtges, tr. Wen xuan, 463. For examples in four-syllable verse, see Wen xuan 20.953, Lu Qinli, Xian Qin Han Wei, 838, and Quan Jin wen 94.7a and 146.5b.

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of all appointees to the imperial bureaucracy. In 412 he vanquished his only legitimate rival, Liu Yi, and the court faction that had supported him, and in 413 he ordered the re-registration of the empire’s population, a sign of total dominance. When, in 415, he successfully challenged the remnant powers of the Jin imperial family, the writing was on the wall for all forward-looking gentry to read.97 This is the fabric of public events on which our poem exchange was written. As suggested in the excerpt of Sun Chuo’s banquet poem given earlier in this essay, four-syllable exchange poetry was supposed to contain a didactic message, to delight and instruct. That, perhaps, was what was to distinguish it as poetry, as opposed to pure eulogy. This message is a fundamentally public one in two senses. First, ethical admonition marks the poem as public property by providing a respectable horizon toward which the two participants, and their audience, can share a dignified gaze. The good toward which the recipient is directed is a common good, and when Yang responds with an eremite’s recalcitrance he is affirming himself as public exemplar of a recognized moral tradition. Second, the handling of the didactic portion is an opportunity for the public display of the wit and craftsmanship that constitute the literary courtier’s stock in trade. Qiu admonishes with a velvet glove, and Yang shows himself capable of deftly shifting the grounds of debate to his own space.98 Working in concert, Yang and Qiu put on a refined literary performance of the eremitic space of separation described above. Finally, there is a moment in which the public enters into the poetic narrative itself. Allusion to historical or legendary figures in Chinese poetry can generally be said to be a way of binding poet and reader together in a transtemporal cultural community, but in Qiu’s poem the figure of the “Two Zhong” (stanza 3) has a more specific effect. The Han dynasty recluses who are depicted as following Yang into “retreat” (gui, “return,” a related ideal space of separation) may stand for actual people known to the two poets, or even for the men delivering Qiu’s letter. More generally, however, they also stand as figures for any reader of the poem who has the good fortune to associate with a lofty man like Yang. The narrative presence of a public again takes the poem out of the hands of Qiu and Yang and delivers it into the broader community, 97 See Song shu 1.9 (straightening the post-Huan Xuan court), 1.14 (execution of remaining Huan faction), 2.27–28 (suppression of Guiji gentry), 2.28 (defeat of Liu Yi and associates), 2.29–30 (re-registration order), 2.31–35 (defeat of Sima Xiuzhi). 98 The final stanza of Lu Ji’s response to Pan Yue 潘岳 (247–300) and Jia Mi 賈謐 (d. 300) features a similar if perhaps more antagonistic riposte; see Knechtges, “Sweet-Peel Orange,” 36–42.

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where it stands as a manifold testament: to Yang’s lofty character, to Qiu’s ability to appreciate and care for his friend, to the ideal relationship they profess, to their literary prowess, and finally as a eulogy for anyone in their readership who is able to share in their appreciation of the ideals expressed therein. In sum, these poems are not “private” letters but public pronouncements, just as calligraphy (the “brushwork” in Yang’s final stanza) of the time was a public representation of something taken to be the very essence of the personal. Suspended in the space of separation, the relation of the correspondents is not simply their relation, but a relation on display. The value of a pair of letters lies in the inherently public space between that makes them a pair.

The approach of this essay to the pair of letter poems in question has been epistolary, rather than poetic, because the “space of separation” held to have informed the poems is an essentially epistolary quality. In conclusion, I turn briefly to the other side of the question. In what sense has poetry informed these poems, or the medieval Chinese letter poem generally? The most salient point of overlap between letter and poem is the basically public nature of the early medieval letter, discussed above. This is an epistolary phenomenon insofar as a public relationship is established between two correspondents, but it is also a poetic one. In a narrow sense, the specific contribution of “poetry” to the four-syllable Chinese letter poem includes two technical aspects: the use of stanzas, which shape the narrative in a predictable fashion that enables readers to accommodate “poetic” elisions; and the use of isometric lines, which give the letter a declamatory rhythm with deep roots in classical learning, canonical poetry, and formal court speech. Poetry’s more significant contribution to this space of fantasy, however, derives from the most influential conception in Chinese poetics—that poetry is the use of figured language in the public presentation of the normative self.99 Thus, the poetic element in presentation and response poetry serves as a “warrant” on the truth of the letters’ testimony, and adds cultural value to the letters by formulating them in the most honored voice of emotional expression. Where the epistolary process lends the poetry rhetorical focus and offers an effective means for “publication” to contemporary society, the poem as a poem is a public act that guarantees and enhances the display of normative values, lending gravity to the “fantastic” possibilities of the space of separation. This is Poetry, Shi with a capital “S”—in the great 99 My gloss of shi yan zhi 詩言志, “poetry voices intention,” the canonical “definition” of poetry from the Classic of Documents (Shang shu zhengyi 3.26a 舜典).

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tradition of The Classic of Poetry (Shijing 詩經). As much ideal as it is art, in this sense Poetry is indeed a kind of letter, constituting its own separate space. Bibliography Abe Ryūichi 阿部隆一 et al., ed. Bunkan shirin: Ei Kōnin bon 文館詞林:影弘仁本. Compiled by Xu Jingzong 許敬宗 (592–672). Tokyo: Koten kenkyūkai, 1969. Cao Daoheng 曹道衡 and Shen Yucheng 沈玉成. Zhonggu wenxue shiliao congkao 中 古文學史料叢考. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2003. ―――. Zhongguo wenxuejia dacidian: Xian-Qin Han Wei Jin nanbeichao juan 中國文 學家大辭典:先秦漢魏晉南北朝卷. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1996. Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu 春秋左傳注. Edited by Yang Bojun 楊伯峻 (1909–1992). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1990. Guillén, Claudio. “On the Edge of Literariness: The Writing of Letters.” Comparative Literature Studies 31.1 (1994), 1–24. Hasegawa Shigenari 長谷川滋成. Tōshin shi yakuchū 東晉詩訳注. Tokyo: Kyūko shoin, 1994. Jiang Yaling 江雅玲. Wen xuan zengda shi liubian shi 文選贈答詩流變史. Taipei: Wenjin chubanshe, 1999. Jiatai Wuxing zhi 嘉泰吳興志. Compiled by Tan Yue 談鑰 (Song dynasty). Rpt. in Zhongguo fangzhi congshu 中國方志叢書. Taipei: Chengwen chubanshe, 1966. Jin shu 晉書. Compiled by Fang Xuanling 房玄齡 (578–648) et al. Edited by Wu Zeyu 吳則虞. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1973. Knechtges, David R. “Sweet-peel Orange or Southern Gold? Regional Identity in Western Jin Literature.” In Studies in Early Medieval Chinese Literature and Cultural History in Honor of Richard B. Mather and Donald Holzman, edited by Paul W. Kroll and David R. Knechtges, 27–79. Provo, Utah: T’ang Studies Society, 2003. ―――. “Liu Kun, Lu Chen, and Their Writings in the Transition to the Eastern Jin.” CLEAR 28 (2006): 1–66. ―――. Wen xuan or Selections of Refined Literature, Volume One. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982. Kroll, Paul W. “A Poetry Debate of the Perfected of Highest Clarity.” JAOS 132 (2012): 577–86. Liezi jishi 列子集釋. Edited by Yang Bojun 楊伯峻 (1909–1992). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979. Lu Qinli 逯欽立, ed. Xian Qin Han Wei Jin nanbeichao shi 先秦漢魏晉南北朝詩. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1984. Milne, Esther. Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of Presence. London: Routledge, 2011.

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Nan Qi shu 南齊書. Compiled by Xiao Zixian 蕭子顯 (d. 537). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1972. Pattinson, David. “Privacy and Letter Writing in Han and Six Dynasties China.” In Chinese Concepts of Privacy, edited by Bonnie S. McDougall and Anders Hansson, 97–118. Leiden: Brill, 2002. Quan Hou Han wen 全後漢文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan Jin wen 全晉文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan Sanguo wen 全三國文. In Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen. Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen 全上古三代三國六朝文. Compiled by Yan Kejun 嚴可均 (1762–1843). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1958. Richter, Antje. Letters and Epistolary Culture in Early Medieval China. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013. Shisanjing zhushu 十三經注疏. Compiled by Ruan Yuan 阮元 (1764–1849). Rpt. Taipei: Yiwen yinshuguan, 1965. Shishuo xinyu jianshu 世說新語箋疏. Compiled by Liu Yiqing 劉義慶 (403–444); edited by Yu Jiaxi 余嘉錫 (1884–1955). Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1993. Song shu 宋書. Compiled by Shen Yue 沈約 (441–513). Edited by Wang Zhongluo 王仲犖 (1913–1986). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974. Suishu 隋書. Compiled by Wei Zheng 魏徵 (581–618) et al. Edited by Wang Shaoying 汪紹楹. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1973. Tongdian 通典. Compiled by Du You 杜佑 (734–812). Edited by Wang Wenjin 王文錦 et al. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1988. Vervoorn, Aat. Men of the Cliffs and Caves: The Development of the Chinese Eremitic Tradition to the End of the Han Dynasty. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1990. Wen xuan 文選. Compiled by Xiao Tong 蕭統 (501–531). Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1986. Zhuangzi jishi 莊子集釋. Edited by Guo Qingfan 郭慶藩 (1845–1891). 2nd ed. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2004.

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Letters and Memorials in the Early Third Century: The Case of Cao Zhi Robert Joe Cutter The more we learn about early medieval Chinese literature, the more conscious we are of how much is missing and how bereft we are of a store of materials adequate to lend real clarity to our assertions. Fluctuations in taste and the ravages of time have depleted what was once a more varied and robust corpus, and what remains, of course, presents with all of the philological symptoms and infirmities of authenticity that come with great age. Xiaofei Tian has invoked the image of an iceberg to refer to “the vast textual world of early medieval China which is largely lost to us but whose traces nevertheless remain in the form of fragments, prefaces, postscripts, bibliographies in dynastic histories, random mentions in letters, discussions, or the like.”1 Robert Alter’s analogy of “walking through a great museum on a very gloomy day with all the lights turned out” is also apt.2 Yet while we may not have as rich a trove of sources as we might desire, especially in comparison to later periods, we do have a substantial amount in a variety of literary forms. The difficulty is always in determining the extent to which these represent the values and practices of the literary culture of the time. The compilation of anthologies and the gradual appearance of letters, essays, poetry (in the broad sense) and, finally, books dealing with writing clearly indicate that the need to get a handle on literary genres became acute during the Wei Jin Nanbeichao period (3rd to 6th c.). Classifications of genres were made earlier, but largely in an embryonic way. The institutional requirements of a bureaucratic government and the social, ritual, and aesthetic needs of a sophisticated élite, coupled with the convenience and availability of paper, led to a burgeoning of writings and literary forms during the Han and post-Han periods.3 This explosion in literary production and preservation meant that there was a vast amount of writing that had to be organized in some way. The 1 Xiaofei Tian, “The Twilight of the Masters,” 471–72. 2 Alter, Genesis, x. 3 See Zhao Ming, Liang Han da wenxue shi, 865–67; Cutter, “Personal Crisis and Communication,” 149; Knechtges, “Culling the Weeds,” 202.

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problem faced by readers finds expression in a statement by Emperor Yuan of Liang 梁元帝 (Xiao Yi 蕭繹, r. 552–55): Philosophers flourished during the Warring States, while collections of poems and belles lettres filled the two Hans. It reached the point where every family had written something, every individual had his own collected works. Among these the finest may express well their emotions and ambitions, honoring custom, but the lesser serve only to clutter up the books and wear out those of us born later. So much has accumulated from those now dead, and yet future generations continue without end. Though one may anxiously set one’s mind to study, one’s hair may turn white without having read them all. 諸子興于戰國,文集盛於二漢,至家家有制,人人有集。其美 者足以敘情志,敦風俗;其弊者祗以煩簡牘,疲後生。往者既 積,來者未已。翹足志學,白首不遍。4 Contributing to this proliferation of writings were various epistolary genres, both personal and official in nature, which already by Liu Xie’s 劉勰 (ca. 465– ca. 532) time were numerous and diverse.5 In anthologies, the collected works of individual writers, and treatises on literature, epistolary works fall into a number of genres. It is not always clear why a particular piece is assigned to one category or the other, but in the case of the works treated here, there is not much question about this issue. Despite distortions resulting from the loss of materials that make us wary of broad generalizations, and despite the existence of the much earlier “Letter in Response to Ren An” (Bao Ren An shu 報任安書) by Sima Qian 司馬遷 (145–86? BCE), it can be argued that the early third century, specifically the Jian’an 建安 period (196–220), was a time when personal letters—and here I am referring to shu 書—began to flourish to a degree not seen before.6 In 4 Owen, The Poetry of the Early T’ang, 6–7; Jinlouzi jiao jian 9A.852. The passage is also translated in Tian, “The Twilight of the Masters,” 484 and Wang Ping, The Age of Courtly Writing, 61. Later, with the advent of printing, there was an even greater proliferation of works, which to some minds exacerbated the problem; see, e.g., Chen, “On the Act and Representation of Reading,” 57–58. 5 See Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 49–62. See also Cutter, “Personal Crisis and Communication,” 149 and Pablo Ariel Blitstein’s article on Wenxin diaolong in this volume. 6 Chu Binjie, Zhongguo gudai wenti gailun, 377. Regarding the loss of letters, see also David Pattinson, “Privacy and Letter Writing,” 98–99. On epistolary genres see also Antje Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 37–43. As a literary period, Jian’an begins earlier and ends later than the reign period dates given here; see Cutter, “To Make Her Mine,” 39–40.

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The Case of Cao Zhi

addition, it is when memorials (biao 表) of personal expression begin to appear.7 To elucidate this stage in the development of personal expression in these two different epistolary genres, what follows contains a translation and discussion of an exchange of letters from the Jian’an period between Cao Zhi 曹植 (192–232) and Wu Zhi 吳質 (177–230), followed by an examination of four memorials written by Cao Zhi to the throne, all of them dealing—often with marked feeling—either directly with a personal crisis in his life or exploiting advice on policy as a way to try to attain personal goals and satisfy his desires and expectations. 1

Early Parallel Prose in Epistolary Writings

It is worth noting first that the letters to be discussed here are written in a kind of early parallel prose. We can think about genre in various ways in premodern China. With regard to prose compositions, a common formal distinction is between pianwen 駢文 (parallel prose) and sanwen 散文 (free prose), but it is important to note that this is a distinction that is not always as clear as might be thought.8 Furthermore, as implied above, there is sometimes significant similarity between works traditionally placed in different genres, and in such cases function is a major determining factor in the delineation and differentiation of genres. The three characteristics of mature pianwen are attention to parallelism; regularity in the number of characters per sentence or clause; and an emphasis on tonal patterning. These characteristics were evolutionary, with the stress on tonal prosody not arising until the time of Zhou Yong 周顒 (d. 488) and Shen Yue 沈約 (441–513).9 Sometimes this fact has eluded observers. Kūkai 空海 (774–835) criticized the following lines from one of Cao Pi’s 曹丕 (187–226) letters to Wu Zhi 吳質 (177–230): 同乗並載 以游後園 輿輪徐動 賓從無聲

Sharing a carriage we rode together To tour the rear garden. Carriage wheels moved slowly, Guests and attendants were silent.

7 Knechtges, “Han and Six Dynasties Parallel Prose,” 66. 8 Cao Daoheng, “Guanyu Wei Jin nanbeichao de pianwen he sanwen,” 30–31. 9 Ibid., 31. See also Branner, “Tonal Prosody in Chinese Parallel Prose,” 93. On the “invention” of tonal prosody, see Meow Hui Goh, Sound and Sight, 21–39.

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清風夜起 悲笳微吟

A fresh breeze arose by night, A sad flute softly moaned.10

Kūkai wrote, However, as for the various kinds of prose that are not bound by rhyme, they require that the last word of the second line not be in the same tone as the last word of the fourth. This is popularly called “raised tail every two lines.” One should not commit this fault. Consider for example Cao Pi’s (187–226) “Letter to Wu Zhi” [here he quotes the lines from Cao Pi’s letter]. Liu Tao [fl. 574] says: “The final syllable of the even-numbered line is the rhyme-word in poetry and the pivot-word in prose. In poetry, one cannot take away the rhyme, and in prose one cannot take away the use of tones. Now two lines of prose are equivalent to one of poetry. What verse does in three lines, prose does in six, and the final syllables of the second, fourth, and sixth lines should not violate each other (by being the same tone).” This is correct. 若諸雜筆不束以韻者,其第二句末即不得與第四句同聲,俗呼 為隔句上尾必不得犯之。 . . . 劉滔云:『下句之末,文章之韻, 手筆之樞要。在文不可奪韻,在筆不可奪聲。且筆之兩句,比 文之一句,文事三句之內,筆事六句之中,第二、第四、第 六,此六句之末,不宜相犯。』此即是也。11 Yuan 園, sheng 聲, and yin 吟 in the even lines of the passage from Cao Pi’s letter are all ping 平 tone words. But as Cao Daoheng pointed out, Kūkai’s critique is anachronistic when applied to the Wei Jin period, when tonal prosody was not yet a feature of parallel prose.12 To distinguish it from later prose that employs tonal prosody, David Branner has suggested calling this early style “ordered prose.”13 Whatever we call it, this is the form, too, of the works by Cao Zhi to be considered here.


Wen xuan 42.1895. See Cutter, “Cao Zhi’s Symposium Poems,” 4; Watson, “Cao Pi: Two Letters to Wu Zhi,” 8. 11  Bodman, “Poetics and Prosody in Early Medieval China,” 278–79 (translation modified). See Wenjing mifu lun, 183–84. 12 “Guanyu Wei Jin nanbeichao de pianwen he sanwen,” 32. 13 “Tonal Prosody in Chinese Parallel Prose,” 97.

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A Correspondence Between Cao Zhi and Wu Zhi

Cao Zhi’s letter to Wu Zhi goes by the title “Letter to Wu Jizhong” (Yu Wu Jizhong shu 與吳季重書), which was likely supplied by Wen xuan. Jizhong was Wu Zhi’s byname. To judge from his correspondence with Cao Zhi and Cao Pi, as well as other sources, he was well acquainted with the brothers and was a Cao Pi partisan. In Jian’an 16 (211), he left the court to serve as administrator of Zhaoge 朝歌.14 According to what he says below in his reply to Cao Zhi’s letter—which goes by the title “Letter Replying to the Prince of Dong’e” (Da Dong’e wang shu 答東阿王書)—he had been in Zhaoge for four years when this exchange of correspondence took place, making the date sometime in Jian’an 19 (214/215). Li Shan’s 李善 (d. 689) commentary to this piece in Wen xuan, quoting the Dian lüe 典略 of Yu Huan 魚豢 (3rd c.), says that when Wu was magistrate of Zhaoge, the marquis of Linzi 臨淄侯 wrote to him.15 Cao Zhi became marquis of Linzi in the first half of Jian’an 19 (214) but still resided in Ye 鄴.16 The two letters seem to be part of an ongoing conversation, a part of which—as is also true of other letters of the period—had to do with belletristic matters. But even without knowing the full context, the letters provide an interesting glimpse into the epistolary practices of the day.17 Cao Zhi’s “Letter to Wu Jizhong” [Cao] Zhi states: To the Honorable Jizhong, In former days, though due to frequent merry-making,18 we were able to sit close together, and though the feasting and drinking lasted all day, 14 15

16 17


Zhang Keli, San Cao nianpu, 137. Wu Zhi’s biography is in Sanguo zhi 21.607–10. Zhaoge was a Han prefecture in the vicinity of modern Qi xian 淇縣, Henan. Wen xuan 42.1905. The sentence quoted by Li Shan seems not to appear in any of the passages from Dian lüe contained in Pei Songzhi’s 裴松之 (372–451) commentary to Sanguo zhi. Sanguo zhi 19.557; Zhang Keli, San Cao nianpu, 133–34. See also David Knechtges’s introduction of these two letters (as well several others mentioned here) in his chapter about the letters in Wen xuan in this volume. They are also partially translated and discussed in Hsiang-Lin Shih, “Jian’an Poetry Revisited,” 217–26. Following the explanation of Lü Xiang 呂向, who says that chang diao 常調 means chang xi 常戲; Liu chen zhu Wen xuan 42.21b. Chang diao might also be understood as “routine reappointment,” as in Shih, “Jian’an Poetry Revisited,” 217–18.

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compared to the distance of our separation and the infrequency of our meetings, these still do not dispel my melancholy. When with bowls and cups riding wavelets in front,19 pipes and flutes playing music behind, you held your body like a hawk in flight, sang like a phoenix and glared like a tiger. I daresay even Xiao and Cao could not have equaled you, Wei and Huo could not have matched you.20 You looked left and glanced right, acting as though no one else was about. Was this not due to your heroic aspirations?21 Like chomping away while passing a butcher shop, though I got no meat, I prized it and was blissfully happy.22 At that moment we wanted to lift Mount Tai to use as meat, drain the Eastern Sea to use as ale, cut the bamboo of Yunmeng to use for flutes, chop the catalpas on the banks of the Si to use for zithers.23 We ate as though filling a great gorge, drank as though pouring into a leaky cup. Our joy was truly hard to estimate. Was this not the joy of real men? 植白:季重足下。前日雖因常調,得爲密坐,雖燕飲彌日,其 於別遠會稀,猶不盡其勞積也。若夫觴酌淩波於前,簫笳發 音於後,足下鷹揚其體,鳳歎虎視,謂蕭曹不足儔,衛霍不 足侔也。左顧右眄,謂若無人,豈非吾子壯志哉!過屠門 而大嚼,雖不得肉,貴且快意。當斯之時,願舉太山以爲 肉,傾東海以爲酒,伐雲夢之竹以爲笛,斬泗濱之梓以爲 19

On Cao Zhi’s association with the tradition of floating cups on water at drinking parties, see Wang Ping, “Culture and Literature in an Early Medieval Chinese Court,” 252–53, n. 681. 20 Xiao He 蕭何 (d. 193 BCE) and Cao Shen 曹參 (d. 190 BCE) were famous officials who served the Han founder Liu Bang 劉邦 (r. 206–195 BCE), who is also known by his temple name Gaozu 高祖; Wei Qing 衛青 (d. 106 BCE) and Huo Qubing 霍去病 (d. 117 BCE) were famous generals in the time of Emperor Wu of Han 漢武帝 (r. 140–87 BCE). For the former pair, see, e.g., Aihe Wang, “Creators of an Emperor,” 33–36; on the latter pair, see Chun-shu Chang, The Rise of the Chinese Empire, 181–82. 21 The wu chen 五臣 text of Wen xuan reads junzi 君子 (lordly man) instead of wuzi 吾子 (you); Liu chen zhu Wen xuan 42.22a. 22 Huan Tan’s 桓譚 Xin lun 新論 uses the butcher shop metaphor to express admiration and vicarious pleasure: “The smell of meat is pleasant, so they stand in front of a butcher’s shop, chewing vigorously;” trans. Pokora, Hsin-lun, 71. 23 The great marsh of Yunmeng, perhaps originally two marshes that straddled the Yangzi, with Yun to the north and Meng to the south, later became the name of the great Yunmeng preserve of the state of Chu 楚 that is described in Sima Xiangru’s 司馬相如 (179–117 BCE) “Rhapsody on Sir Vacuous” (Zi xu fu 子虛賦). See Knechtges, Wen xuan, vol. 2, 53–71. The Si River rises in Shandong. Both Yunmeng (or Yun and Meng) and the banks of the Si are mentioned in the “Tribute of Yu” (Yu gong 禹貢) chapter of the Shang shu 尚書 (Hallowed documents). Shang shu Kong zhuan 3.2b, 3b.

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箏,食若填巨壑,飲若灌漏卮,其樂固難量,豈非大丈夫之樂 哉! But the days were not with us, and the radiant spirit [i.e., the sun] quickened its pace. Our encounters have a velocity faster than light; our partings the boundless space betwixt Orion and Scorpio.24 I long to hold back the heads of the six dragon steeds, stay the reins of Xihe, break off blossoms from the Ruo tree, block the valley of the Edge of the Meng.25 But the route to the heavens is high and distant; for a very long time it has not been taken. I toss and turn with nostalgic longing. What to do? What to do? 然日不我與,曜靈急節,面有逸景之速,別有參商之闊。思欲 抑六龍之首,頓羲和之轡,折若木之華,閉濛汜之谷。天路高 邈,良久無緣,懷戀反側,如何如何! I received the message you sent; its literary brilliance is intricate, sparkling like spring blooms, fresh as a cool breeze. I recited it over and over and felt as cheerful as though we were meeting again. As for the pieces written by all those worthy gentlemen, presumably you will repeatedly recite them upon your return to the place you govern, and you can have some minion memorize and chant them. 得所來訊,文采委曲,曄若春榮,瀏若清風,申詠反覆,曠若 複面。其諸賢所著文章,想還所治,複申詠之也,可令憙事小 吏諷而誦之。 As for the difficulty of literary works, this is not something solely modern; gentlemen in antiquity also worried over it. Were every household to have a thousand-li horse, then a thoroughbred would not be prized by them; were everyone to possess over a foot [of jade], then He’s would not be valued by them.26 夫文章之難,非獨今也。古之君子,猶亦病諸。家有千里,驥 而不珍焉;人懷盈尺,和氏無貴矣。

24 On Shen (Orion) and Shang (Scorpio), see Schafer, Pacing the Void, 127. 25  This is a series of allusions to Chu ci 楚辭, all of which are used here to express the desire to hold back time. Chu ci bu zhu 16.28a, 1.21a–b, 3.7b, 3.3b. 26 For one important version of the story of He’s jade, see Han Feizi ji shi 4.238; trans. Watson, Basic Writings, 80.

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{As for being a gentleman but not understanding music,27 a widespread opinion of old deemed it being knowledgeable but deluded.28 Mo Di did not like music, so why did he turn his carriage around when he came to Zhaoge? You like music and are on duty precisely in the prefecture where Mo Di turned around his carriage, so I think you have helped open my eyes.29 夫君子而〔不〕知音樂,古之達論,謂之通而蔽。墨翟不好 伎,何爲過朝歌而迴車乎?足下好伎,值墨翟迴車之縣,想足 下助我張目也。}30 I have also heard that there where you are there is, as a matter of course, good governance. Now, there have been cases of seeking this but not attaining it, but there has never been a case of attaining it without seeking. Moreover, to proceed by altering one’s route is not the driving of a Liang or Le; to rule by changing people is not the governance of Chu or Zheng.31 I just desire that you do your best.

27 28


30 31

The negative is inserted following Liu chen zhu Wen xuan 42.23b. It also appears in the letter in editions of Cao Zhi’s works. See the text and note in Cao Zhi ji jiao zhu 1.144. Given what will be said about this section shortly, it is possible that Cao Zhi had in mind the Xunzi 荀子 chapter “Jie bi” 解蔽 (“Undoing Fixation” in Hutton’s translation; “Dispelling Obsession” in Watson’s). See Xunzi ji shi, 386–410; trans. Hutton, “Xunzi,” 272–78; Watson, Basic Writings, 121–38. Reference to Mo Di turning his carriage around at Zhaoge is seen in Zou Yang’s 鄒陽 (206–129 BCE) “Memorial of Self Explanation Written in Prison” (Yu zhong shangshu ziming 獄中上書自明) and Huainanzi 淮南子. The former says, “When the hamlet was called Morning Song (Chao-ko), Mo-tzu turned his carriage around” (Wen xuan 39.1772, trans. Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 453, 464), while the latter states, “Mo-tzu, who criticized music, did not enter the hamlet called ‘Morning Song.’” (Huainanzi 16.11b; trans. Major, The Huainanzi, 657). This section is in curly brackets because there is a possibility that it was not originally part of the letter as sent to Wu Zhi. More will be said about this. Wang Liang 王良 and Bole 伯樂 were two legendary charioteers. See, e.g., Knoblock, Xunzi, 314–15, n. 61. According to Li Shan, the reference to Chu and Zheng alludes to a passage in Shi ji 史記—one that is not in the text as we have it—that concerns the administrations of Sunshu Ao 孫叔敖 in Chu and Zichan 子產 in Zheng. See Wen xuan 42.1907. Li Shan is known often to quote historical texts like Shi ji inaccurately. Judging from Wu Zhi’s reply, Cao Zhi seems to be suggesting to Wu that he should remain in Zhaoge for the time being.

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又聞足下在彼,自有佳政。夫求而不得者有之矣,未有不求而 得者也。且改轍易行,非良樂之禦;易民而治,非楚鄭之政, 願足下勉之而已矣。 Just now I have guests, so what I am dictating is not all I have to say. Let us often correspond back and forth. Stated by Cao Zhi. 適對嘉賓,口授不悉。往來數相聞。曹植白。32 Wu Zhi’s “Letter Replying to the Prince of Dong’e” [Wu] Zhi states: Your courier arrived. I respectfully received what you so kindly sent, opened the envelope, and spread out the paper. What immense beauty of literary brilliance and warmth of regards! Only one who has climbed Mount Tai knows how twisty and winding are most mountains; only one who has served the most high knows the insignificance of one who administers a hundred li. 質白:信到,奉所惠貺。發函伸紙,是何文采之巨麗,而慰喻 之綢繆乎!夫登東嶽者,然後知衆山之邐迤也;奉至尊者,然 後知百里之卑微也。 When he first returned from there, your humble servant pondered for five or six days, and at the end of ten days, his spirit was sapped and his thoughts scattered. I felt dazed, as though something was missing. It is not that I dare covet the pleasures of favor and honor or envy the wealth of an Yi Dun33—I honestly consider my person as lowly as a dog or horse, my virtue as light as goose down—but I did get to pass beneath the Dark Gatetower, push open the Bronze Gate, ascend the Jade Hall, lean on a fretted balustrade at the Front Basilica, and set bowls of ale afloat beside

32  Wen xuan 42.1905–7. The letter, with variants, also appears in the various editions of Cao Zhi’s collected works. Two of the most useful texts are Cao Zhi ji jiao zhu 1.142–46, and Cao ji quan ping 8.147–49. The latter edition is reproduced in Diény, Concordance des oeuvres completes de Cao Zhi. 33 Yi Dun was a rich man of old whose name was used synecdochically, like the name “Rockefeller,” to refer to a tycoon. See Kongcongzi zhu 5.6b–7a. See also Shi ji 129.3259; trans. Watson, Records of the Grand Historian, 2:439.

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the Serpentine.34 My dignity fell short and my words were crude and vulgar. Although I have relied on the grace of a Pingyuan’s patronage, I am ashamed that I lack the talent of a Mao Sui’s gleaming point;35 although I have richly received a Duke of Xue’s vouchsafed courtesy, I lack the success of a Feng Xuan’s three burrows;36 although I have repeatedly benefitted from the kindness of a Xinling’s vacant left seat, I also lack Master Hou’s exemplary behavior.37 These several examples are the reason frustration grows in my breast and that when recalling your affection, I am melancholy. 自旋之初,伏念五六日,至於旬時,精散思越,惘若有失。非 敢羨寵光之休,慕猗頓之富。誠以身賤犬馬,德輕鴻毛,至乃 曆玄闕,排金門,升玉堂,伏虛檻於前殿,臨曲池而行觴,既 威儀虧替,言辭漏渫,雖恃平原養士之懿,愧無毛遂燿穎之 才。 深蒙薛公折節之禮,而無馮諼三窟之效。 屢獲信陵虛左之


Here Wu Zhi draws on the names of structures in the western Han capital of Chang’an 長安. Dark Gatetower refers to Xuan wu que 玄武闕 (Dark Warrior Gatetower); Bronze Gate to Jin ma men 金馬門 (Bronze Horse Gate); Jade Hall to Yu tang dian 玉堂殿 (Jade Hall Basilica). The Front Basilica (Qian dian 潛殿) was the principal official court structure of the Weiyang Palace 未央宮. The Serpentine (Quchi 曲池 or Qu jiang chi 曲江池) was the scenic body of water near the southeast edge of the city. See Zhang Yonglu, Han dai Chang’an cidian, 147, 148, 153, 193–94; Liu and Li, Han Chang’an cheng, 58–67. Yang Xiong writes in his “Jie chao” 解嘲: “Much time has passed since you crossed the Bronze Gate and entered the Jade Hall, but you have never drafted a single ingenious plan or offered a single scheme;” trans. Knechtges, The Han shu Biography of Yang Xiong, 46. 35 This is an allusion to the famous story of the Lord of Pingyuan 平原君, who was going on a mission to Chu but needed one additional man to accompany him. Mao Sui, who had not previously distinguished himself, asked to go. The Lord of Pingyuan likened a worthy man to an awl in a sack—he would, like the tip of the awl, soon be seen. Mao Sui replied by asking to be put in that sack, and said that if it had been done sooner, more than just a tip would have emerged. See Shi ji 76.2366. 36  Duke of Xue refers to the Lord of Mengchang 孟嘗君. In the account in Zhan guo ce 戰國 策, referring to his strategems to ensure the safety of the Lord of Mengchang, Feng Xuan is reported to have said, “A wily rabbit must have three burrows, and only then can it avoid its death. Now you have one burrow. . . . Let me dig you two more” 狡兔有三窟僅得免其 死耳。今君有一窟 . . . 請為君復鑿一窟. Zhan guo ce, 399. 37 Xinling refers to Noble Scion of Wei Wuji 魏公子無忌, who was enfeoffed as Lord of Xinling 信陵君. He showed his respect for the recluse Hou Ying 侯嬴 by reserving for him the honored left side position in his vehicle. Hou Ying went on to offer a plan that helped the Noble Scion at a critical juncture. See Shi ji 77.2378–81; trans. Nienhauser, The Grand Scribe’s Records, 215–18.

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德,又無侯生可述之美。凡此數者,乃質之所以憤積於胸臆,懷 眷而悁邑者也。 If I think back to our former feast, I would say you have missed something. As for draining the sea to use for ale, seizing a mountain to use for viands, cutting bamboo at Yunmeng, chopping catalpas on the banks of the Si, and then pursuing refined interests to the ultimate, carrying the joyful mood to the utmost, in truth this was the grand appearance of milord and was not something to which I could aspire. With regard to my own ambition, it is in fact set on [serving] the one who is as heaven to me.38 I long to cast off my seals and remove my ribbons, morning and night to sit in attendance, to delve into the teachings left by Confucius, to peruse the essential words of Laozi, to face clear ale yet not drink it, to curtail fine viands and not enjoy them, to cause Xishi to leave my bed, and Momu to serve by my side.39 This is where the man of ample virtue treads, what a man of enlightened wisdom upholds. As for that recent scene, it truly stirred my humble heart. Qin zithers issued beautiful [sounds], two octets [of dancers] performed in turn. Ocarinas and pipes swelled in the ornate room, divine drums resounded to the right of the seating: my ears were dinned and deafened till I lost my hearing, my feelings leapt and jumped more than riding a horse.40 I would say it could have cowed the Sushen in the north and made them offer in tribute their thornwood arrows; awed the Baiyue in the south and made them offer in tribute their white pheasants.41 To say nothing of Quan and Bei, who do not deserve regard.42 若追前宴,謂之未究,傾海爲酒,並山爲肴,伐竹雲夢,斬梓 泗濱,然後極雅意,盡歡情,信公子之壯觀,非鄙人之所庶幾 也。若質之志,實在所天。思投印釋黻,朝夕侍坐,鑽仲父之 遺訓,覽老氏之要言,對清酤而不酌,抑嘉肴而不享,使西施 出帷,嫫母侍側,斯盛德之所蹈,明哲之所保也。若乃近者之 觀,實蕩鄙心。秦箏發徽,二八叠奏。塤簫激於華屋,靈鼓動

38 39 40 41


It is not clear who is meant here (his own father, Cao Zhi, the emperor?), but it seems likely that it is Cao Zhi. Xishi and Momu are archetypes of feminine beauty and homeliness, respectively. On “divine drums” (ling gu 靈鼓), see Knechtges, Wen xuan, vol. 1, 264, n. 274. On the Sushen, see Keightley, “A Measure of Man in Early China,” 34; Schaberg, A Patterned Past, 132. On the term Bai Yue, see von Falkenhausen, “The Use and Significance of Ritual Bronzes,” 194–95, 198. A reference to Sun Quan 孫權 (182–252) and Liu Bei 劉備 (161–223), the leaders of Wei’s rival states of Wu (222–80) and Shu Han 蜀漢 (221–63).

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於座右。耳嘈嘈於無聞,情踴躍於鞍馬。謂可北懾肅慎,使貢 其楛矢;南震百越,使獻其白雉;又況權備,夫何足視乎! Upon returning to my prefecture, I memorized and absorbed what you had written, saw and scrutinized the blossoms and gems. These are truly masterworks of the rhapsody and eulogy, models for writers.43 As for what the numerous worthy gentlemen wrote, each indeed has its intent. Of old, when Zhao Wu visited Zheng, seven peers recited poems; the Spring and Autumn records and cites them, and it makes a fine story.44 I am just a petty man and lack the wherewithal to undertake [such an] assignment. Moreover, regarding my letters back to you, the language is inferior and the sense unsophisticated. Reading them over again, I blush and sweat pours down.45 The people of this area are well versed in the rhapsody. Of the three high ministers, there are none who cannot recite them from memory.46 How would I only have a minion [do this]? You have generously favored me with bitter words,47 instructed me on governmental matters. Your compassionate kindness is embodied in your writing. Mozi turned back his carriage, but I have been here four years. Although I have no virtue to share with the people, they sing and they dance. That Confucians and Moists differ has ever been thus. But a crowd of five hundred people is not enough to make a name [for oneself]; a speck of land is not enough to show one’s talent.48 If one does not alter his route and 43

On the flexibility in the use of the terms fu and song (“rhapsodies and eulogies”) in the early imperial period, see Kern, “Western Han Aesthetics,” 399–400. 44 On the court recitation of poems in Zheng at the request of Zhao Wu, see Chen, The Poetics of Sovereignty, 209–10. As Chen notes, it is in this narrative in Zuo zhuan 左傳, Xiang 27, that “poetry (shi) is first defined in terms of ‘aims’ (zhi),” or, as translated here, “intent.” See also Wai-yee Li, The Readability of the Past, 399. 45 See Han shi wai zhuan 韓詩外傳 10.845, which says, the Lord of Mengchang “blushed and the sweat poured off him to his heels. He said, ‘I was wrong, I was wrong;” trans. Hightower, Han shih wai chuan, 332. 46 See Mao shi 194: “The three high ministers/All refuse to meet in the morning or at night” 三事大夫莫肯夙夜; trans. Waley, The Book of Songs, 173. It is not clear to whom Wu Zhi is referring by his use of this term, but he is perhaps using it allusively to refer to the heads of the bureaus under him in Zhaoge. 47 The Shi ji biography of the Lord of Shang quotes him as saying, “bitter words are medicine, sweet words sickness” 苦言藥也甘言疾也; See Shi ji 68.2234; Nienhauser, The Grand Scribe’s Records, 93. 48 Li Shan’s commentary quotes Du Yu’s 杜預 (222–285) commentary to Zuo zhuan, which says that one lü 旅 was five hundred people; Wen xuan 42.1911. See also Chunqiu Zuo

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change his driving, then how does he ply his strengths? Now I am stuck here yet seek major accomplishments—this is like hobbling the feet of a fine thoroughbred, then requiring it to run a thousand li; caging the power of a gibbon or monkey, then expecting to see its talent for nimbleness and agility.49 I have been treated with unusual solicitude, and sincerely taking the opportunity to send this response, I dare not be too prolix. Stated by Zhi. 還治諷采所著,觀省英瑋,實賦頌之宗,作者之師也。衆賢 所述,亦各有志。昔趙武過鄭,七子賦詩,春秋載列,以爲 美談。質小人也,無以承命。又所答貺,辭醜義陋,申之再 三,赧然汗下。此邦之人,閑習辭賦,三事大夫,莫不諷 誦,何但小吏之有乎!重惠苦言,訓以政事,惻隱之恩,形乎 文墨。墨子回車,而質四年,雖無德與民,式歌且舞。儒墨不 同,固以久矣。然一旅之衆,不足以揚名,步武之間,不足以 騁迹,若不改轍易禦,將何以效其力哉!今處此而求大功,猶 絆良驥之足,而責以千里之任;檻猿猴之勢,而望其巧捷之能 者也。不勝見恤,謹附遣白答,不敢繁辭。吳質白。 The background of these letters is the salon-like milieu of the Cao court, with its feasts and outings, conducted against a backdrop of competition and warfare with rival polities, for which the Jian’an period is famous. In fact, in addition to poems, rhapsodies, and other prose writings, these two letters are elements in the construction of that image. As noted above, the section of Cao Zhi’s letter to Wu Zhi that is here in curly brackets may not be original to the letter. That is not to say that it is not by Cao Zhi—it surely is—but it may not have been in the original letter that Wu Zhi received. Li Shan says that in Cao Zhi’s collected works, as they existed in his day, these lines were a separate entry with almost exactly the same wording. He quotes the lines from the collected works and speculates that Xiao Tong incorporated them into the letter when he included it in Wen xuan in order to

zhuan zhu, 2:1606 (Zuo zhuan, Ai 1). “Speck” here translates buwu 步武, which refers to a very short distance. 49 See Huainanzi 2.14b: “To blame yourself for the Way’s not being practiced while trapped in a corrupt age is like double-hobbling (the famous horse) Qiji and asking him to travel a thousand li. If you put an ape in a cage, it will be just like a pig. It is not that it is no longer clever or agile but that it has nowhere to give free rein to its ability.” 身蹈于濁世之中而 責道之不行也是猶兩絆騏驥而求其致千里也置猿檻中則與豚同非不巧捷也無 所肆其能也; trans. Major, The Huainanzi, 106–7.

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create an antithesis for Wu Zhi’s reply.50 This adds another layer of complexity to the problem outlined at the beginning of this essay: in addition to the loss of material, readers of the earlier early medieval texts are indebted to, and at the mercy of, later editors, especially those of the fifth and sixth centuries.51 Whether or not the letter was modified when it was included in Wen xuan, it is noteworthy that Li Shan assumed this practice. Like so many textual tics, this one caught the attention of Qian Zhongshu 錢鍾書 (1910–1998), who suggests an interesting and plausible explanation.52 Wu Zhi’s reply seems uncomfortable with Cao Zhi’s depiction of his ebullience at the feast and says that what he really wants is to live a life of study and abstinence. He does, though, admit that he had a good time—that the music, including deafening drums, stirred him to the point that he felt he could defeat the rival separatist states of Wu and Shu that were in conflict with the Caos. This is a pledge of fealty and fits with the appeal for an opportunity to “ply his strengths” that comes near the end of the letter. This is actually similar to the kind of appeal that Cao Zhi himself was to make a few years later in the memorials discussed below. Qian Zhongshu suspects that after Cao Zhi received Wu’s reply, with its sanctimony and its reference to Mozi’s avoidance of Zhaoge he wrote a postscript to his original letter. The purpose was to counter Wu Zhi’s braggadocio in talking about “ample virtue” and “enlightened wisdom.” In his postscript, Cao Zhi is playing on Wu Zhi’s professed resolve versus the associations of the name of the place he administered. Qian’s argument is that Cao’s lines about Mozi make no real sense as part of the original letter; that would be “to shoot an arrow without a target” 無的放矢 and “to scratch before you itch” 預搔 待癢. Qian thinks that Cao Zhi detected hidden feelings in Wu and thought that Wu Zhi—and Mozi, for that matter—were drawn to the pleasures they wanted to deny themselves and only avoided them out of fear. This explains Cao Zhi’s statement in the bracketed text that “you have helped open my eyes,” and it offers a rational explanation for Li Shan’s note regarding the presence of the doubtful passage appearing separately in the edition of Cao Zhi’s works that he knew. Even if this scenario is accurate, it does not mean that Cao Zhi did not look favorably on Wu Zhi.53 Clearly there is some tension in the letters—the 50 51 52 53

Wen xuan 42.1907. See also Cao Zhi ji jiao zhu 1.146. See, for example, Owen, The Making of Early Chinese Classical Poetry, 4ff. Qian Zhongshu, Guanzhui bian, 3:1074–75. One recent article attacks the centuries-old notion that these are letters between friends and holds that Cao Zhi and Wu Zhi were hostile to one another. See Xing Peishun, “Cao Zhi yu Wu Zhi jiao’e kaobian.”

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rhetorical gymnastics and self-deprecation of a supplicant writing to a superior, the critique of an inferior writer by a vastly superior one—but these appear to be letters between men who, if not very close, were on friendly terms and moved in the same court circle. Both letters are allusive and have a performative quality. As is often the case with letters, the full context of these pieces is not accessible to us. There had been earlier correspondence involving a discussion of literature and an exchange of compositions, certainly fu 賦 and perhaps other works. So the letters both discuss literature and are literary. The communicative functions of correspondence are inseparably couched in the culture of medieval literary rhetoric. At one point in his letter, commenting on an earlier letter from Wu Zhi, Cao writes, “I felt as cheerful as though we were meeting again” 曠若 複面. Antje Richter writes of “the power of a letter to simulate the presence of its writer in the mind of the reader (parousia).”54 The power of writing—the calligraphy of an absent person, the material object on which it is preserved, the content conveyed—to move a friend or loved is widely attested in other early medieval and medieval genres. Pan Yue’s “Dirge for Yang Zhongwu” (Yang Zhongwu lei 楊仲武誄) has these lines: 披帙散書 屢睹遺文 有造有寫 或草或真 執玩周復 想見其人 紙勞于手 涕沾于巾

I open a wrapper and unroll your writings, Hastily scan texts you have left, Some written, some copied, Some in cursive, some in regular script. Taking up and enjoying piece after piece, I envisage the one who wrote them. The paper is worn from my touch, My tears soak into the kerchief box.55

The same topos appears in the first of his “Poems on the Departed” (Dao wang shi 悼亡詩): 翰墨有餘跡 流芳未及歇

There are remaining traces of her brush and ink. Her lingering fragrance has yet to fade;

54 Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 127. 55 Wen xuan 56.2447. For jin 巾 as “kerchief box,” see Xie Zhuang’s 謝莊 (421–466) “Dirge for Honored Consort Xuan of Wu the Filial of Song” (Song Xiaowu Xuan guifei lei 宋孝武宣 貴妃誄): “In her kerchief box are found remaining scrolls” 巾見餘軸; Wen xuan 57.2480. Li Shan glosses jin as jin xiang 巾箱. Cf. Cutter, “Threnodic Writings,” 298.

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The hangings she left behind still remain on the walls.56

And something similar, involving the power of reading (and calligraphy) is at work in a pair of poems from the year 815 by Bai Juyi 白居易 (772–846) and Yuan Zhen 元稹 (779–831) entitled, respectively, “Reading Yuan Ninth’s Poems aboard a Boat” (Zhou zhong du Yuan Jiu shi 舟中讀元九詩) and “Responding to Letian’s Poem on Reading My Poems at Night on a Moored Boat” (Chou Letian zhou bo ye du Weizhi shi 酬樂天舟泊夜讀微之詩).57 In Bai Juyi’s poem, he reads a scroll of Yuan Zhen’s poems through the night, and in Yuan’s response, he pictures Bai Juyi at a moorage reading his poems all night. 3

Cao Zhi’s Memorials

Given the indeterminate boundaries of epistolary writing, memorials—which bear a variety of names, such as biao (“memorial”) and shangshu 上書 (“letter of submission”)—must count as a form thereof.58 Memorials frequently involve but are not limited to official communications regarding governmental matters. Such works are often eloquent in expressing personal feelings.59 As mentioned earlier, Cao Zhi was an early exploiter of this potential in the genre. A list of Cao Zhi’s extant memorials would contain over two dozen items, including requests to perform sacrifices or go hunting; works accompanying the presentation of gifts; expressions of gratitude for appointments to various noble ranks and titles; thank you notes for gifts received; pieces presenting other written documents; and advice regarding policy. Among the memorials by Cao Zhi that are the most personal and expressive are “Memorial Presenting the Poems ‘Blaming Myself’ and ‘Responding to an Edict’” (Shang “Ze gong” “Ying zhao” shi biao 上責躬應詔詩表), “Memorial Seeking to Prove Myself” (Qiu zi shi biao 求自試表), “Memorial Seeking to Convey Familial Affection” (Qiu tong qin qin biao 求通親親表), and “Memorial Explaining Judicious Appointments” (Chen shen ju biao 陳審

56 57 58 59

Lai, “The Art of Lamentation,” 423. See Wen xuan 23.1091. See also Cutter, “Saying Goodbye,” 126–28. Bai Juyi ji jian jiao, 2:947; Yang Jun, Yuan Zhen ji biannian jian zhu, 656. Thanks to Anna Shields for bringing these poems to my attention. On types of memorials, see, e.g., Chung, “A Study of the ‘Shu’,” 14, 42, 753–54. See Knechtges, Wen xuan, vol. 1, 43; Cutter, “Personal Crisis and Communication,” 149–50.

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舉表). The last of the four is in the biography and editions of Cao’s works.60 The first three are preserved in his Sanguo zhi biography, in Wen xuan, and in editions of Cao’s works.61 These four memorials all date from after Cao Zhi’s brother Cao Pi had engineered the abdication of the last Han ruler and had himself declared emperor of Wei (Emperor Wen 文帝, r. 220–26). Three of them, in fact, date from the reign of Cao Rui 曹叡 (Emperor Ming 明帝, r. 226–39), Cao Pi’s son and successor. As is well known and amply documented, the policies of Cao Pi’s bureaucracy toward his brothers was harsh. Right after Cao Pi became emperor, he made all of his brothers go to their fiefs, instead of allowing them to reside in Ye, as they had done till then, in order to prevent them from being in contact with one another. Cao Zhi was targeted for particularly close scrutiny and severe treatment, and close associates of his were killed. There were essentially two reasons for this: the first was that Cao Zhi was not always circumspect in his behavior; the second was that he was seen as a threat to Cao Pi’s position due to his status. He had once been the favorite of their father Cao Cao 曹操 (155–220), who was then the most powerful man in the empire; he was also talented and popular, and there were those who had wanted him rather than Cao Pi to succeed Cao Cao.62 “Memorial Presenting the Poems ‘Blaming Myself’ and ‘Responding to an Edict’” and the poems themselves were written to Cao Pi to atone for a transgression that almost resulted in Cao Zhi’s execution. Since this has been written about elsewhere, the context of this set will not be rehearsed here. But it is worth noting that in addition to their intrinsic value as literature and as historical documents that shed light on both the Cao court and the life of one of the most famous figures in the Chinese past, these poems and the accompanying memorial have literary historical value: 1) the poems—in the tetrasyllabic-line form and full of historical exempla and allusions to canonical texts—are perhaps the earliest examples outside of fu of an autobiographical poetry of self-justification; 2) although for obvious reasons not classified as presentation and response (zeng da 贈答) poems, the poems are, in fact, examples of verse as epistolary

60  See Wen xuan 20.927–35, 37.1675–90; Sanguo zhi 19.562–64, 565–68, 569–74; Cao Zhi ji jiao zhu 2.268–78, 3.368–79, 3.436–43, 3.444–52. Cutter, “Personal Crisis and Communication,” 155–60, contains a translation of “Memorial Presenting the Poems ‘Blaming Myself’ and ‘Responding to an Edict’,” as well as the two poems. 61 See Wen xuan 20.927–35, 37.1675–90; Sanguo zhi 19.562–4, 565–8, 569–71; Cao Zhi ji jiao zhu 2.268–78, 3.368–79, 3.436–43. 62 See Knechtges, “The Rhetoric of Imperial Abdication and Accession,” 4; Cutter, “The Incident at the Gate,” 228–40, and “Personal Crisis and Communication,” 151, 164 n. 21.

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writing;63 3) the memorial, in effect, serves as a prose preface for the poems, thus sharing a feature with the fu genre, while at the same time acting as a precursor to later poems with prefaces and also to such important pairings of prose and poetry as Tao Yuanming’s 陶淵明 (365–427) “Record of Peach Blossom Spring” (Tao hua yuan ji 桃花源記) and its partner poem.64 Yet at the same time, its epistolary function sets it off as distinct from the latter. “Memorial Seeking to Prove Myself” was written to Emperor Ming. We know this because of its position in Cao Zhi’s Sanguo zhi biography, as well as from internal evidence. One sentence says, “I am moved by the demise of the former emperor and the passing away of Prince Wei” 臣竊感先帝早崩,威王棄世, a clear reference to Cao Pi and to their brother Cao Zhang 曹彰, who had died in 223.65 The memorial may date from 228. In it—as did Wu Zhi in his letter above—Cao Zhi seeks to be employed usefully on behalf of the state. Despite his ability and fame as a writer, literature was never quite enough for him, as evidenced in another of his letters, perhaps the most famous of all, “Letter to Yang Dezu [Yang Xiu 楊修]” (Yu Yang Dezu shu 與楊德祖書).66 “Memorial Seeking to Prove Myself” is partly autobiographical, emphasizing the influence of his father Cao Cao. It also is heavily laden with historical exempla, including Mao Sui, almost obligatory in such a situation and, as we have seen, also used by Wu Zhi in his appeal asking Cao Zhi to help him get out of Zhaoge and into a position more appropriate to his ostensible talents. Cao Zhi closes his piece with an allusion to Lun yu 論語. He writes, “I certainly know I will be laughed at by the officials at court, but the sage ruler does not reject the words because of the man” 必知為朝士所笑,聖主不以人廢言.67 “Memorial Seeking to Convey Familial Affection” dates from 231. It begins by talking about the legendary Yao having laid the foundations for the importance of family and then moves on to the Zhou as an example. Cao Zhi praises the addressee, his nephew Emperor Ming, extravagantly, but then immediately complains about his isolation from both his brothers and his relatives by mar63 64 65

66 67

See Zeb Raft’s chapter on zeng da poetry in this volume. Cutter, “Personal Crisis and Communication,” 160–61. Cao Zhi ji jiao zhu 3.370. Wei 威 was the posthumous name given to Cao Zhang; Sanguo zhi 19.556. On the death of Cao Zhang, see Cutter, “Shishuo xinyu and the Death of Cao Zhang,” 403–11. Cao Zhi ji jiao zhu 1.153–59. There are several published translations; see, e.g., Holzman, “Literary Criticism,” 116–19. Cao Zhi ji jiao zhu. Lun yu 15.23: “The Master said, ‘The lordly man does not raise up the man because his words, nor does he reject the words because of the man’.” 子曰君子不 以言舉人不以人廢言.

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riage. He clearly wants to go to court, and again is seeking in this memorial a chance to display his worth. Quoting Mengzi 孟子 near the end he writes, “Not to serve one’s prince in the way Shun served Yao is not to respect one’s prince” 不以舜之所以事堯事其君者,不敬其君者也.68 We have Emperor Ming’s response in an edict (zhao 詔), which reads in part:69 At present it has gotten so that all of the brother princes have been heedless of feelings, and towards the families of their consorts and concubines, they have been remiss [in the gifting of] oils and shampoos. Even if We have not been able to make their feelings deep and harmonious, the significance of the ancient exempla you have cited is exhaustive, so how can one say that absolute sincerity is not sufficient to affect Us? To distinguish the high from the low, to exalt loving one’s relatives, to respect the worthy and good, to set precedence between young and old, these are the governing principles of the state. There is no edict prohibiting the various princedoms from corresponding with one another. In correcting what was wrong, things went too far the other way, and minor officials feared reprimand, so we have reached this state. I have already ordered those who have jurisdiction to do as you petitioned. 今令諸國兄弟,情理簡怠,妃妾之家,膏沐疏略,朕縱不能敦 而睦之,王援古喻義備悉矣,何言精誠不足以感通哉?夫明貴 賤,崇親親,禮賢良,順少長,國之綱紀,本無禁固諸國通問 之詔也,矯枉過正,下吏懼譴,以至於此耳。已敕有司,如王 所訴。 Another exchange of written communications between Cao Zhi and his imperial nephew began with the memorial later known by the title “Memorial Explaining Judicious Appointments.”70 In this memorial Cao Zhi deploys a variety of allusions and exempla to criticize the emperor for making inferior appointments to civil and military office while ignoring members of his own family, especially Cao Zhi himself, who claims he has both the talent and desire to serve Wei effectively. Cao Rui did write back, for Sanguo zhi reports, “The emperor thereupon replied with a laudatory text” 帝輒優文答報.71 But 68 Cao Zhi ji jiao zhu 3.438. See Mengzi 4A2. 69 Sanguo zhi 19.571. 70 Sanguo zhi 19.571–74; Cao Zhi ji jiao zhu 3.444–52. 71  Sanguo zhi 19.574. It is possible that Cao Rui’s response has been preserved; see Sanguo zhi ji jie 19.1600.

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nothing of substance came of this latest epistolary exchange, and Cao Zhi died the following year.

What is it that distinguishes the letters discussed above from the memorials? It can be argued that Cao Zhi’s memorials and Emperor Ming’s responses do not, as communications in nominally instrumentalist official genres, qualify as personal letters. However, context is important, and the relationship of the writers, along with the unmistakable intentions of the pieces, point to their essentially personal nature.72 Genre requires the memorials to be in a higher register, with much greater density of allusions and exempla. Absent are the sense of familiarity and references to occasions of conviviality shared by the correspondents seen in famous Jian’an personal letters, including the exchange between Cao Zhi and Wu Zhi. Antje Richter notes that one of the most celebrated Jian’an epistolary works, a letter by Cao Pi to Wu Zhi, “is a gentle and very personal celebration of friendship, unencumbered by any ancillary communicative agenda.”73 Although the Cao Zhi/Wu Zhi letters do incorporate—in Wu Zhi’s quest for patronage—an ancillary agenda, the letters are more intimate, the agenda less conspicuous than Cao Zhi’s aims in the more official missives discussed here. Even given the relationship between Cao Zhi and his audiences and the personal nature of the memorials, they stand as discrete pleas from a supplicant to his superior. The exchange between Cao Zhi and Wu Zhi, though also between a superior and an inferior, are not freestanding. They are the self-referential, lapidary remains of a chain of ongoing communication that involved text in the form of the letters themselves, literary works, and face-to-face encounters. More contingent and open-ended than the memorials, the letters are but two fragments of a complex relationship carried out through writing, oral conversation, gesture, and demeanor. Yet both, the letters and the memorials are important sources for understanding early medieval epistolary practice.

72  See Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 41–42. 73 Ibid., 122. The letter in question is “Letter to Wu Zhi, Prefect of Zhaoge” (Yu Zhaoge ling Wu Zhi shu 與朝歌令吳質書), found in Wen xuan 42.1895–96.

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chapter 9

Liu Xie’s Institutional Mind: Letters, Administrative Documents, and Political Imagination in Fifth- and Sixth-Century China* Pablo Ariel Blitstein Letters are private; administration is public. Letters are for family and friends; administration is for bureaucrats and public servants. These are widespread assumptions. However, when we look at letters and administrative documents from early medieval China, we find that the boundaries between private and public are blurred. As David Pattinson has argued, early medieval letters seem—as administrative documents—to be devoid of “private matters.”1 He gives some major reasons for this absence: self-protection (quite necessary in a period of social and political turmoil), etiquette (letters were highly codified ways of keeping social relations) and literary concerns (letters could be read as stylistic models by a wider audience than the intended addressee). Here I propose to look at this absence from a different point of view. If early medieval letters look as “public” as administrative documents, is it because “privacy” existed somewhere other than in letters, or it is simply that our public-private dichotomy does not apply to social institutions in early medieval China? Furthermore, if that dichotomy is not an appropriate framework of analysis, what were then the specific boundaries between letters and administrative documents? Although the public-private dichotomy has been interpreted in different ways,2 in modern political language it has come to convey a very specific meaning opposing the “impersonal” sphere of the state to the “personal” sphere of

* I am very grateful to Leigh Jenco, Antje Richter, and Hans Steinmuller, as well as to the colleagues and PhD students of the Chair of Intellectual History at the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” at the University of Heidelberg, for reading this chapter and making insightful comments and highly valuable suggestions. 1  Pattinson, “Privacy and Letter Writing,” 97–118. 2  Following Julie Inness’ “intimacy-based account of privacy,” Pattinson defines it as “the ability of people to control access to things they regard as intimate.” Inness, Privacy, Intimacy, and Isolation, 138; Pattinson, “Privacy and Letter Writing,” 97.

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family and friends.3 The modern distinction between “private” letters and “public” administration is based on this differentiation of two “spheres” of social relations. Here, I will argue that the public-private dichotomy, in this specific meaning of an opposition between “personal” and “impersonal,”4 did not have a place in early medieval China, and so could not define the way written genres—especially letters and administrative texts—were codified and organized. After showing in the first section the evidence that letters and administrative documents were conceived of as contiguous genres, I will contend that, rather than being differentiated on the basis of the public-private dichotomy, these genres bear different names because of the ritual distinctions necessary to mark the personal and hierarchical relations between the senders and addressees. These ritual distinctions of genres are related to the general demand of verbal ritualization and, more generally, to the personal nature of authority, which makes impossible any distinction between “private” and “public” social spheres and, as a consequence, between “private” and “public” types of writing. I do not intend to deny the existence of personal experience in early medieval China. On the contrary, since I suggest the public-private dichotomy is heuristically limited as a framework of historical analysis, my intention is to give the self-representations of personal experience a more fundamental role in the study of early medieval institutions.5 One of our main sources in the study of the epistolary and administrative genres, Liu Xie’s 劉勰 (465–522 ?) The Literate Mind and the Carving of Dragons (Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍),6 provides valuable information that 3   For the historical development of the public-private dichotomy, see Habermas, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit, esp. 107–16; Elias, Die höfische Gesellschaft, 91–94; Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, 16–24; Bourdieu, Sur l’État, 24–25. About the establishment of this dichotomy in Chinese discourses, see Zarrow, “The Origin of Modern Chinese Concepts of Privacy,” 121–46. 4  Inspired by Gary Hamilton’s distinction between “role” and “person,” I will understand “person” and “personal” in two different senses: in the sense of person as such (with his or her particular psychical, physical and social characteristics) and in the sense of personal role (“father,” “mother,” or “lord”). Hamilton, “Patriarchy, Patrimonialism, and Filial Piety,” 92–97. I use “personal” in these two senses as opposed to “impersonal,” that is, as opposed to institutions which, as the so-called “modern state,” are not supposed to be identified with any person or personal role. Persons can indeed hold a position in the state, but they cannot be the state (as they can be fathers or lords). 5  For some reflections on the relation between secrecy and privacy, see McDougall, LoveLetters and Privacy, 187–90 (with many references to sociological studies about secrecy). 6  This famous treatise on different aspects of writing, written by Liu Xie in the late 5th c. for the literate circles at Jiankang 建康 (Nanjing), became later one of the main references for any

Liu Xie ’ s Institutional Mind


many scholars have nevertheless found confusing. Vincent Shih says that the chapters on memorials make “unscientific” classifications of genres,7 while Zhang Siqi says that Liu Xie’s definitions of letters are so general that, if we follow them, any written text should be considered a letter.8 However, we should perhaps rethink this response to Liu Xie’s definitions and classifications. I will attempt to show that what has been taken for a confused account is in fact a coherent representation, and that this representation becomes easily comprehensible when we analyze it in the context of early medieval institutions. The paradox is that, by the end of my analysis, I will perhaps unintentionally agree with Zhang Siqi: in fifth- and sixth-century China, every text was indeed, in a way, a letter.9 1

Letters, Memorials, and Status

In early medieval China, letters and administrative documents seem to have been closely related. This is at least what Liu Xie suggests in the “Written

discussion about writing in imperial times. Since Wenxin diaolong had the most complete expositions on genre, style, textual history and functions of writing, it is no wonder that it became one of the major sources of inspiration in later ages, both in imperial and modern times. Wenxin diaolong dedicates its first chapters to the origin and models of writing, the following chapters to the history and function of different genres and textual types, and the last chapters to different questions regarding technique, writing process, etc. For the position in the treatise of the chapter about epistolary writing, see Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 49–50. 7  Shih, The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, 151–52. To avoid the modern connotations of the word “literature,” I propose to translate the first part of the title as “literate mind.” For an analysis of the title, see Valérie Lavoix, “Un dragon pour emblème,” 197–247. 8  Zhang, Liuchao sanwen bijiao yanjiu, 102. Antje Richter has criticized Zhang Siqi for his misunderstanding of the word taken to mean “letter” in Wenxin diaolong. Instead of taking Liu Xie, the author of the treatise, as a lazy thinker who would not have been able to establish a clear distinction between letters and other genres, she argues that Liu Xie used the word shu both in its general meaning of writing on a material support and its specific meaning of using this writing for personal correspondence. Richter, “Notions of Epistolarity,” 146–57. 9  Zhang Siqi thinks that Liu Xie has failed to develop a clear definition of letters. But, as I suggest, this lack of definition is not a “failure”; it is a meaningful fact we should understand in its own logic. Even though Liu Xie does not seem to go as far as suggesting that everything written is a letter, he seems to be closer to this conception than to the clear-cut definition of “letter” assumed by Zhang Siqi. For the modern idea of writing as “letter,” see Altman, Epistolarity, 212.



Records”10 chapter of his treatise, in which he deals extensively with letterwriting.11 The following passage formulates a minimal characterization of the epistolary genre: If we attempt to synthesize in an exhaustive way the genre of letters [shu],12 we should say that its roots are in the exhaustive rendition of words. [Through letters], words disperse melancholy feelings and convey stylistic ornamentation. That is why they must be orderly so as to release one’s intentions, gentle so as to cheer up the hearts. Ornamented and unrestrained, [letters are] thus a response from the voice of the mind. 詳總書體,本在盡言,言以散鬱陶,託風采,故宜條暢以任 氣,優柔以懌懷。文明從容,亦心聲之獻酬也。13 This general characterization of the genre could take us far beyond the limits of the epistolary genre: to be exhaustive, to add stylistic ornament or to express one’s own feelings are common topics in imperial China’s discourses on writing.14 However, Liu Xie does not intend to make a scholastic definition 10  The title of the chapter, “Shuji,” can be translated either as “letters and registers” or, following Antje Richter’s suggestion, as “written records.” Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 50–52. I follow Richter’s translation. 11  It would of course be bold to assert that his ideas were widely shared by the literate society of the Southern Qi (479–502). Liu Xie came from the lowest strata of the literate elites and had to go through the patronage of Shen Yue 沈約 (441–513) before he could start a career in the imperial administration. Besides, precisely because of his marginal position within the elites, in the beginning his treatise did not receive enough attention. Nevertheless, since Shen Yue, by then an important minister and a “master of letters for a whole generation” (Liang shu 14.253), had a great esteem for Liu Xie’s treatise, we can be certain that Wenxin diaolong conveyed ideas that were at least acceptable for contemporary elites once it had won the enthusiastic approval of a central figure at the imperial court. See Liang shu 50.712 and Nan shi 72.1781. 12  For the interpretation of this shu 書 as “letters,” I follow Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 58. 13  Wenxin diaolong yizheng 25.933. See also Richter’s translation of this passage in Letters and Epistolary Culture, 58–59. 14  Both “to exhaust words [with writing]” and to express one’s own feelings through writing are reformulations of two ancient topics on writing. The first one can be traced back to the “Attached Commentary” (Xici 繫辭) of the Changes (Zhou yi 周易), which says that “writing cannot exhaust words, and words cannot exhaust meaning” 書不盡言, 言不盡意. Zhou yi zhengyi 7.82c. Liu Xie seems to implicitly complete this phrase: letters are there to exhaust words, or to say more than what is allowed in other genres. The second topic has a double filiation. On the one hand, the “expression of one’s own ambi-

Liu Xie ’ s Institutional Mind


of the genre. Letters seem self-evident to him. What matters is something else: on the one hand, the utility of epistolary writing (disperse melancholy feelings, exhaust words), and, on the other, the style of the text (ornamentation). Letters are characterized on the basis of what they do, not what they are. They act as an appropriate vehicle for the feelings of the sender. This seemingly “expressive” function of letters is not in contradiction with the administrative genre of memorial.15 On the contrary, right after this general characterization of letters, Liu Xie emphasizes the genetic filiation between the two genres: The hierarchical order among the venerable and the noble lies in the solemn attitude with which one displays ceremonial patterns [of behavior].16 Before the Warring States, both lords and ministers wrote “letters” [shu].17 Only when the Qin and the Han set the ceremonies [was there the generic distinction] between memorials18 [as specific names for textual types]. In the principalities and duchies, they also had the name of “memorial letters” [zoushu]. 若夫尊貴差序,則肅以節文,戰國以前,君臣同書,秦漢立 儀,始有表奏,王公國內,亦稱奏書。19 From here on, and for many lines, the “Written Records” chapter follows the historical relationship between letters and memorials. Their genetic filiation explains the social uses letters and memorials share in early medieval elite society: communication between persons who, most of the time, do not have tions” through poetry goes as far back as the Documents (Shu 書); on the other hand, the “expression of one’s own emotions” has been, since Lu Ji 陸機 (261–303), the core of reflections about poetry and writing in general. See, e.g., Cai Zongqi, “Wen and the Construction of a Critical System,” 26. 15  This is something Thomas Jansen has already pointed out in the conclusion to his article about what he calls “texts on severing relationships.” Jansen, “The Art of Severing Relationships,” 361–62. 16  For the interpretation of jiewen 節文 as “ceremonial patterns,” see Wenxin diaolong yizheng 25.935–36, n. 8. 17  Since the previous paragraph of the chapter is dedicated to epistolary writing, I consider that the word shu has here the meaning of “letter.” 18  The zou 奏 here corresponds to “memorials,” and not to hezou 劾奏 (“denunciations”). On the zou in Han times, see Giele, Imperial Decision-Making, 115–28. Giele reserves “memorials” only for this term, and uses “presentations” for biao 表. For the sake of the exposition, I use “memorial” for both zou and biao. 19  Wenxin diaolong yizheng 25.933.



the same status in the hierarchies defined by office and familial origin. So when they are the vehicle for communication between unequal persons (who take part in the “hierarchical order among the venerable and the noble” 尊貴差 序), these texts need be distinguished in their names: letters to princes cannot bear the same name as letters to an emperor. The “ceremonial patterns” ( jiewen 節文) demand indeed a distinctive treatment of “venerable and noble” men. This fundamental unity of letters and memorials is then, as a consequence, not just a trace of remote origins, but something Liu Xie still finds in his present. A letter to a superior ( jianji 牋記), for example, is for Liu Xie both a letter and a memorial at the same time. Further on in the “Written Records” chapter, he says of this textual type: If we search [the principles] of the type of the letter to superiors, [we will find them in the fact that their writers20] peep upwards at memorials [as a model from the top of imperial hierarchies] and look downwards at letters [as a model of hierarchically lower forms of writing], so that they show respect without fear, simplicity without arrogance; they are clear and beautiful in order to show wisdom21 in [the writer’s] talent and full of ornament in order to embellish his sound. This is the particular characteristic of letters to superiors. 原牋記之為式,既上窺乎表,亦下睨乎書,使敬而不懾,簡而 無傲,清美以惠其才,彪蔚以文其響,蓋牋記之分也。22 Letters to superiors stand as a bridge between letters and memorials. Intermediary between the two genres, they show that letters and memorials share a common space (the imperial court with its hierarchical relations), common features (ritual marks of status) and a common origin (they were all letters in the beginning). The hierarchical differentiation between letters and memorials seems clear: “upwards” (shang 上) and “downwards” (xia 下) imply the upper-lower differentiation of writing forms.23 Without confusing 20  Here I use “writer” both in the sense of the sender and of the actual writer (who are not always the same person). I will not deal in this article with the authorial connotations of this word. 21  This hui 惠 is an equivalent of hui 慧, which seems to be used as a factitive verb. Wenxin diaolong yizheng 25.942, n. 3. 22  Wenxin diaolong yizheng 25.941. 23  Shang and xia seem to adopt the point of view of the sender, who looks “upwards” at a textual type addressed to the emperor and “downwards” at a type addressed to equals and inferior people, and then writes a text which—expressed in these vertical, hierarchical

Liu Xie ’ s Institutional Mind


both types of texts in a single genre, Liu Xie places letters and memorials in a generic spectrum in which different subgenres, such as letters to superiors and the other genres we will discuss below, can belong to both types. Intermediary textual types act as a link in a continuous generic chain. Do intermediary textual types such as letters to superiors act as a ceiling that sharply separates the “private” genre of letters, addressed to persons who have a status closer to the one of the sender, from the “public” genre of memorials, addressed to the emperor? Or are they, on the contrary, a necessary link to keep letters within the “public” sphere of administrative documents? Both questions suppose that “public” or “private” spheres would have had enough social strength as symbolic mechanisms to organize the way persons communicate with each other through writing. However, when we take a closer look at the social meaning given to letters and administrative documents, the distinctions between genres seem to be related to a different mechanism of social organization: the ritual codification of status and rank. 2

Ritualized Language

Letters and memorials are attached to each other; Liu Xie sees them connected formally, semantically and genetically. What creates this connection is, as he says, ceremonial patterns that serve to identify the relative social status of the senders and addressees of these texts. And since letters and memorials are involved in the same continuous generic spectrum, they cannot be considered separate, but are knitted together by the same ritual codes that organize social relations among the elites. These shared ritual codes are apparent when we compare the generic features and style of letters and memorials. Both genres demand a specified addressee; both demand an indication of the day and month when the text is written. Both use similar terms of salutation, such as dunshou 頓首 (I bow my head) when the addressee is an equal or a superior or sizui 死罪 (I deserve the death penalty) when the addressee is an equal, an important minister or the emperor.24 Both use specific terms of address according to the addressee, terms—would be in the middle (since it is not as constraining as a text written to the emperor, but also not as unconstrained as a text written to an inferior). 24  The memorials we find in the Selection of Refined Literature (Wen xuan 文選) most usually suppress the long phrase “I really feel fear, I really feel terror, I bow my head, I deserve the death penalty” 誠惶誠恐,頓首死罪, and replace it with the phrase “here he thanks” 中謝 (similar to zhonghe 中賀, “here he congratulates,” which serves



and both have very strict rules for formulating questions, for giving a piece of information or for any other speech act that needs written communication.25 Ritual codes are also manifest, as we saw, in the meta-language used for letters and administrative genres: the differences between the names of genres correspond to the hierarchical relation of senders and addressees, as well as to their respective status. For example, a memorial addressed to the emperor is called biao 表, but when such a text is addressed to a prince, it is called jian 牋.26 These names distinguish, according to Liu Xie’s interpretation, memorials from regular letters (shu), which can be addressed to equals (in a non-administrative context) or to members of one’s own family.27 Different names are not only related to status, but also indicate different functions. For example, Liu Xie suggests that imperial thank-you letters (zhang 章), since they are used to thank the emperor for a favor,28 deserve a different name to distinguish them from a memorial to the emperor (biao) (even though the as an abbreviated congratulation phrase). Wen xuan 37.1691. In the memorials (sometimes just called shu, “letters”) addressed to ministers, these phrases are simplified. E.g., a letter (shu 書) written by two “former officials” (guli 故吏), Yu Yi 庾翼 (305–345) and Liu Xia 劉遐 (?–326), to their patron (probably Tao Kan 陶侃, 259–334) just uses “I deserve the death penalty” once, and a “princely memorial” ( jian 牋) from Xie Tiao 謝 脁 to Xiao Zilong 蕭子隆, prince of Sui 隨, uses it twice, both without the other verbal components of the formula in memorials to the emperor. Xie Tiao’s letter can be found in Wen xuan 40.1835; and Yu Yi and Liu Xia’s in Quan Jin wen 34.1675.7b–8a. For a discussion on the translation of sizui, see Giele, Imperial Decision-Making, 92–94. 25  See Richter, “Letters and Letter Writing,” 15–22; Letters and Epistolary Culture, 75–116; and Ebrey, “T’ang Guides,” 581–613. I just mention here some of the similarities between them. This does not mean that there are no differences between the genres that compose the continuous spectrum between epistolary and administrative genres. But, as I will argue further below, the different writing styles—from dating, formulae, and codes to rhetorical strategies—have to be analyzed with that spectrum in mind, and not from the point of view of a dichotomy between “private” and “public” writing. 26  This ritual differentiation of genres is clearly stated in standard histories. E.g., when the first emperor of the Southern Qi, Xiao Daocheng 蕭道成 (427–482; Gaodi 齊高帝, r. 479–82), demotes the last emperor of the Liu-Song 劉宋 (420–79) to the rank of prince of Ruyin 汝陰, his annals in the Book of Southern Qi say “memorials addressed to [the demoted emperor] are not called biao any more, nor are his answers called zhao” 上書不 為表,答表不稱詔. Nan Qi shu 2.32. For jian, see infra. 27  When there is an exchange between equals in an administrative context, the “letters” naturally bear administrative names. A report to the Chancellery (menxia 門下), e.g., is called guan 關. For the letters to younger members of one’s own family, and particularly admonition letters, see Antje Richter’s chapter in this volume. 28  Enno Giele has shown that zhang 章 were actually petitions (that is the translation he adopts); the idea was to thank for a favor and create a good atmosphere for a request.

Liu Xie ’ s Institutional Mind


word biao is sometimes used for such thank-you letters).29 This difference in function nonetheless does not cancel hierarchy: zhang is specifically used for the emperor; other thank-you letters are simply called shu.30 This ritual differentiation between generic names seems to go hand in hand with the differentiation in the forms of salutation used in the whole spectrum of letters and memorials. If we go from the top to the bottom in the social rank of the senders and addressees, and so in the hierarchy of textual types from administrative genres to letters, we find that some formulations disappear or become less frequent. “I deserve the death penalty,” for example, is more common in memorials than in letters to members of one’s own family,31 and “I bow my head” is sometimes completely omitted in letters to younger members of the family. The terms of address also change according to the relations of the persons involved: one would use one’s own name for self-address before a superior, and the more familiar wu 吾 for a closer relationship.32 These Imperial Decision-Making, 102–6. Translating zhang as “imperial thank-you letter,” I intend to stress that such texts were a formal way of showing gratitude to the emperor. 29  It is sometimes difficult to understand the differences between zhang 章 and biao 表 in the chapter. According to Liu Xie, the distinction was very clear in the Han: zhang was an imperial thank-you letter and biao a petition. But, as Zhan Ying suggests, biao became a general form that included imperial thank-you letters. Wenxin diaolong yizheng 22.820. 30  See, e.g., Jin shu 34.1030, where a thank-you letter addressed to Du Yu 杜預 (222–285) is called just shu. The qi 啟, another administrative genre, could be used as a thank-you letter as well. See Xiaofei Tian’s chapter in this volume. 31  This does not mean that sizui was exclusively used for memorials or for other texts addressed to superiors in office. As other formulaic prescripts, sizui seems to have been also used in letters between equals (either in family origin or in office), e.g., in letters of condolence and mourning. See Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 78. 32  In the two letters quoted above, “I bow my head” is absent, while it is present in letters addressed to people who are designated as zuxia 足下. In her recent book about epistolary writing in early medieval China, Antje Richter has a full section on the most common terms of address and self-designation of the period. See Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 110–16. We know, thanks to Ebrey’s analysis, that later letters omit systematically some of these terms of address according to status. An elder brother, e.g., is not expected to use this phrase in a letter to his younger brother, while his younger brother cannot be exempted when writing to the elder one. (“T’ang Guides,” 605–06) I have not been able to analyze systematically the terms of address in extant letters of the early medieval period. But I assume, from Yan Zhitui’s account in the “Exemplary Customs” (Fengcao) chapter of his Family Instructions, that the degrees of familial hierarchy were as well codified in “writing etiquettes” as they were in Tang times. This hypothesis is confirmed by the terms of address one can find in letters with unidentified addressees: e.g., terms for “you” such as ru 汝 and zuxia 足下, as well as the more respectful prefix zun 尊, “Your Venerable,” must have had the same function of marking the hierarchy between family members and



codes were in constant change, both in space and time, as Yan Zhitui 顏之推 (531–591) repeatedly says by the end of the sixth century in his Family Instructions (Yanshi jiaxun 顏氏家訓): Every time one speaks to someone and mentions the addressee’s grandparents, paternal elder uncles and aunts, parents and eldest aunts, he must add the word “Your Venerable” [zun], whereas for the younger uncles and aunts and lower members of the family, he must add the word “Your Virtuous” [xian]. This is to mark the differences in status. When Wang Xizhi 王羲之 [303–361] wrote his letters, he always mentioned the addressee’s mother in the same terms as he mentioned his own; he would not use the word “Your Venerable.” This is something one does not do nowadays. 凡與人言,稱彼祖父母、世父母、父母及長姑,皆加尊字,自 叔父母已下,則加賢字,尊卑之差也。王羲之書,稱彼之母與 自稱己母同,不云尊字,今所非也。33 Yan Zhitui’s examples illustrate both the precision and the constant change of terms of address. Although we cannot be sure if the “nowadays” ( jin 今) would apply to Liu Xie’s time—Wenxin diaolong was written roughly one century before Yan Zhitui’s Family Instructions and almost two after Wang Xizhi’s letters—this concern with linguistic distinctions of status seems to have been pervasive during the whole period. Whatever the differences in language codes, we can be certain of two things. First, letters and administrative documents used these codes for status distinction: the variations in terms of address were related to the social distance between sender and addressee. Second, as we saw in Liu Xie’s treatise, the meta-language used to categorize genres (biao, zhang, jian, shu, etc.) was also marked by hierarchical distinctions: generic labels marked status. In short, hierarchical distance and social role determined both the way texts were written and the way textual types were labeled. These linguistic and meta-linguistic codes were indeed conceived as “rites,” as li 禮 and yi 儀. They were not considered mere “legal” codes (lü 律), because one was expected, as in any ritual performance, to give emotional con-

friends. See Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 113. It seems that in Wang Jian’s writing etiquette textbooks, e.g., a father would be called daren 大人. See Ebrey, “T’ang Guides,” 594 and infra. 33  Yanshi jiaxun jijie 2.76.

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sent to them.34 In the case of letters, the ritual codes of speech were established in special textbooks called shuyi 書儀 or “writing etiquette.” Yan Zhitui mentions the importance of these textbooks in the “Exemplary Customs” (Fengcao 風操) chapter of his Family Instructions: In the South, each status in hierarchy deserves a different term of address; these [terms] are included in the writing etiquettes. 江南輕重,各有謂號,具諸書儀。35 In this single phrase, Yan Zhitui summarizes the use of these textbooks: to distinguish different terms of address (weihao 謂號) according to status (qingzhong 輕重). Writing etiquette textbooks seem indeed to have circulated widely among the literate elites of the Southern Dynasties. We know, for example, that Wang Jian 王儉 (452–489), contemporary of Liu Xie and one the most important ministers in the beginning of the Southern Qi dynasty (479–502), wrote a highly influential Writing Etiquette for Auspicious Occasions (Ji shuyi 吉書儀) and an Etiquette for Condoling and Thanking (Diao da yi 弔答儀).36 These books are not extant. But we can imagine, thanks to later textbooks found at Dunhuang or preserved in the tradition, that the codes and models of those textbooks were used for different sorts of letters: to members of one’s own family, to friends and officials, or within the imperial household.37 Since these codes varied according to family and imperial customs, textbooks on writing etiquette must have provided useful models for written communication within literate circles. Or, perhaps, they were much more than just useful.

34  How to give emotional consent to ritual (the relation between qing 情 and li 禮) was indeed a constant subject of discussion in the Southern Dynasties. See Yu Yingshi, Shi yu Zhongguo wenhua, 377–83. 35  Yanshi jiaxun jijie 2.78. 36  Sui shu 33.971. I assume that the shu in shuyi goes beyond “letters” and extends to writing in general. Yan Zhitui’s assertions seem moreover to suggest that some of these textbooks were not only for written etiquette, but for verbal etiquette in general, oral or written. This might have been especially the case of the second of Wang Jian’s books (which does not have shu in its title), but probably also of those which only addressed writing codes (since many of those codes must have been used for oral communication). 37  See Zhou Yiliang and Zhao Heping’s classification of the different “writing etiquettes” found at Dunhuang in their Tang Wudai shuyi yanjiu, 38–39; Ebrey, “T’ang Guides,” 581– 613. For the Six Dynasties period, see Zhou and Zhao, Tang Wudai shuyi yanjiu, 94–96.



As later examples analyzed by Patricia Ebrey,38 some of them must have had, de facto, the same authority as a code sanctioned by the emperor. As for administrative writing etiquette, Shen Yue’s 沈約 (441–513) Book of Song (Song shu 宋書) provides a detailed account of codes. Similar to the textbooks on epistolary etiquette, these codes for administrative writing were in the domain of ritual: they are documented in the “Monograph about Rites” (Lizhi 禮志) and classed as yizhu 儀注 or “Annotations to Etiquette.”39 Shen Yue’s source seems to have been a text delivered in 449 to the crown prince, who had briefly taken charge of the imperial palace when his father, emperor Wen 宋文帝 (407–453; r. 424–53), was on a journey to the East of the empire. 40 The following is a model of the so-called “etiquette for memorials [addressed to a prince]” ( jianyi 牋儀):41 The Vice director(s) of the Department of State Affairs and the Assistants of the Right and of the Left of the Department, So-and-So (moujia), deserve the death penalty, deserve the death penalty. Something, etc., etc. We have discussed, and consider that the document should be approved and executed in this way. Year, month, day. Agency So-and-So reports. 尚書僕射、尚書左右丞某甲,死罪死罪。某事云云。參議以為 宜如是事諾奉行。某年月日。某曹上。42 38  Later textbooks, analyzed by Patricia Ebrey, were written on imperial command. The purpose was to create a standard norm between the different and, if we are to believe Yan Zhitui, ever changing terms of address. “T’ang Guides,” 594. 39  In “T’ang Guides”, Ebrey translates yizhu as “annotations and etiquette.” But since this genre is, in fact, an explanation of different rules of etiquette, I understand it as “annotations to etiquette.” 40  Song shu 17.381–84. These pages of the Book of Song are a useful source to identify the codes associated to different administrative textual types. Even if they were conceived as an aid for the crown prince, these codes are very far from the ones used in regular memorials and other administrative documents. For a short analysis of these codes, see Zhu, Liang Han Wei Jin, 301–04. 41  The jian 牋 to a prince seems to be closely related to the above mentioned jianji 牋記 or “letters to superiors”, which are addressed to superiors in general. In his Wenzhang yuanqi 文章緣起, Ren Fang 任昉 (460–508) illustrates the jian with the example of a memorial addressed to a prince. But Chen Maoren 陳懋仁 (active in the Ming dynasty, 1368–1644), in his note to this example, quotes Liu Xie’s passage about jianji as an explanation. This would suggest that jian and jianji are the same genre. See Wenzhang yuanqi zhu, 6. In spite of this possibility, we keep a different translation for jian and jianji to show the singularity of each of the contexts. 42  Song shu 17.381. For the interpretation of shinuo 事諾, see Zhu, Liang Han Wei Jin, 302. I assume that fengxing 奉行, “execute (an order)”, refers to the execution of the order after

Liu Xie ’ s Institutional Mind


This is just one model of administrative etiquette; there are many others in the Book of Song. Since these rules apply only to the documents produced under the exceptional rule of the crown prince, we cannot expect other equivalent imperial documents to adopt exactly the same format. But Shen Yue’s source also mentions a “yellow record” (huang’an 黃案) which, as Zhu Zongbin suggests, must have contained models for the administrative documents produced in normal times.43 Whatever the degree of resemblance between princely and other documents, it seems to be clear that at least part of the etiquette codes for memorial writing was composed not just of customary codes, but of sanctioned norms recorded in an institutional register. It would be difficult to determine whether the textbooks on writing etiquette had the same authority as the records of administrative codes. Most probably they did not. But, in some cases, they certainly had de facto authority. This might have been the case of Wang Jian’s textbooks on writing etiquette. Wang Jian, who belonged to one of the most prestigious and powerful families in the South, was considered an authority in ritual matters since his youth.44 He even organized the imperial rituals once the Southern Qi dynasty was founded in 479.45 So even if we do not know the date of Wang Jian’s writing etiquette textbooks, we can assume that, since he belonged to an illustrious family famous for its ritual traditions, his purpose was to establish codes that were destined to become authoritative rules among the members of the literate elite.46 If he wrote them when he was a minister, they must have become authoritative texts right away; if he wrote them before, his authority in ritual matters must have made his early achievements an authoritative standard.47 Even though Wang Jian’s codification of writing etiquette does not seem to approval. As a consequence, I changed the punctuation of the Zhonghua shuju edition. 43  The document is mentioned in Song shu 17.382. After exposing some of the rules of reports (called guan), the text says: “the rest is as in the rules in the yellow record” 餘皆 如黃案式. A “yellow record” is also mentioned in Nan Qi shu 16.321. See also Zhu, Liang Han Wei Jin, 303. 44  According to Ren Fang’s biography of Wang Jian for the latter’s complete works. Wen xuan 46.2074. 45   Nan Qi shu 23.434. Wang Jian is described as zuoming 佐命, the one “who assists the emperor in receiving the Mandate [of Heaven].” 46  On the authority of the Langye Wang clan for any ritual question, in particular for the writing etiquette, see Zhou and Zhao, Tang Wudai shuyi yanjiu, 95. 47  As Ren Fang asserts in the biography he wrote for Wang Jian’s posthumous compilation of works. Wen xuan 46.2074. An anecdote of the History of the South shows Wang Jian evaluating both learning and linguistic abilities in a client who asks him for a post. Nan shi 22.592.



have been as compulsory as the administrative codes at court, other members of the elites must have felt the weight of Wang Jian’s rules when writing to each other. This weight was not just a matter of prestige. Since the Wang of Langye 琅琊, Wang Jian’s family, had had for generations a stronghold on the criteria of recruiting or promoting officials, faults in writing etiquette could mean the stagnation of a career for someone whose destiny depended on this family, even for a member of the elites.48 The bibliographic monograph of the Book of Sui (Sui shu 隋書), written a century and a half later than Liu Xie’s treatise, seems to confirm the common ritual ground of letters and administrative texts, because the category “Annotations to Etiquette” encompasses both textbooks on writing etiquette and records of administrative codes. This bibliographic category, as all the others in the monograph, includes an attached explanation, which emphasizes the hierarchical dimensions of ritual performance in general, and, by extension, of verbal ritual: The origin of “Annotations to Etiquette” goes far back in time. The relations between lord and minister and between father and son, the six degrees of familial proximity, the nine degrees of one’s own linage, and so on,49 convey the distinction between closer and further relatives and between upper and lower [in status]. To support one’s own parents and to organize their funeral, as well to comfort others and give one’s condolences, [all this] demanded numerous rules of etiquette. 儀注之興,其所由來久矣。自君臣父子,六親九族,各有上下 親疏之別。養生送死,弔恤賀慶,則有進止威儀之數。50 48  Qiu Lingju’s 丘靈鞠 (?–484 ?) biography, e.g., associates lack of success with his lack of etiquette: he is described as “lacking body etiquette” 無形儀. Nan Qi shu 52.890. 49  With Kōzen, I assume that the zi 自 means that the enumeration could go on. See the Japanese translation in Kōzen and Kawai, Zui sho, 356. 50  Sui shu 33.971. This category probably comes from Ruan Xiaoxu’s 阮孝緒 (479–536) Seven Registers (Qilu 七錄, of which only the preface is extant), written during the Liang dynasty (502–57) and from Wang Jian’s earlier Seven Records (Qizhi 七志, now lost), written towards the end of the Liu-Song dynasty. In Ruan’s Seven Registers, the subcategory “Annals and Biographies” ( jizhuan 紀傳) has a subcategory “Canon of Etiquette” ( yidian 儀典), which could have been the precedent for the Sui shu’s “Annotations to Etiquette” in the category “History,” which again may have been inspired by a subcategory in Wang Jian’s Seven Records. For a reconstruction of these catalogues and their relation with the bibliographical treatise of the Book of Sui, see Yao Mingda, Zhongguo muluxue shi, 60–66; Kōzen and Kawai, Zui sho, 24–29.

Liu Xie ’ s Institutional Mind


To distinguish upper and lower: this is a very widespread description of the traditional function attributed to ritual, but as a general introduction to this bibliographic category, it reminds us that texts on epistolary and administrative writing etiquette are not different from other kinds of texts on imperial ritual. Their specificity resides on their object: language. As such, these textbooks inevitably overlap, since the multifaceted verbal codes that distinguish different hierarchical positions from a father to a prince and from a prince to an emperor resemble one another. Patricia Ebrey uses Erving Goffman’s felicitous expression of “interaction rituals” to characterize verbal etiquette.51 However, while Goffman deals with the decentralized social patterns of face-to-face performance, writing etiquette books were intended to be a standard that held centralizing control on verbal interactions. If we wish to understand the reason behind this control, we must bear in mind the place that constituted the implicit common reference for the literate elites: the court, both as a physical place and as a social force. It was in the shared space of the court where epistolary and administrative writing were, so to speak, forced to develop their common ritual codes. For the elites, the social life of the court, where imperial administration and illustrious families converge, set the standards of writing etiquette either for “public” administrative writing or “private” epistolary writing. The central space of the imperial court, which linked the ministerial house to the imperial palace, was the place where “interaction rituals,” and so verbal etiquette codes, were negotiated. These common codes and standards of writing etiquette should not be taken as a sign of a lack of boundaries between genres or styles. A simple shu, for example, would certainly have more problems than a biao if it had to go through the complicated procedures of imperial administration; administrative procedures indeed have their own demands on generic labels and on the language that is used. Such constraints cannot be avoided. The different generic names, even if necessarily imprecise in regard to actual writing practices, represent limits to what a writer can do and to what a reader can find under a particular genre label, and ritual rules imposed by social distance, institutional restrictions and the particularities of a situation determine to a certain extent the choice of genre and style. However, since letters and administrative texts belong to the same spectrum, there is a fluid circulation of similar codes of writing etiquette from one genre to the other. A shu full of administrative codes might be too cold for a close friend, but not necessarily for a written exchange between two officials, even if they were to make the exchange outside regular procedures; 51  Ebrey, “T’ang Guides,” 581.



an emperor might be angry at the neglect of administrative codes in a memorial sent by some official, but he might be angry as well if a close minister and old friend of his did not use a more friendly language in his administrative reports.52 Beyond evident restrictions as to what someone can do with genres and social distance, many ritual codes circulate across the whole spectrum from letters to administrative texts. This gives a common belonging to the textbooks and records that deal with both epistolary and administrative writing etiquette. In sum, the common grounds of both forms of etiquette can only be explained by the fact that, at court, the intended addressee is always a person— not an abstract, anonymous embodiment of the “public” institution we call “State,” but a person with a particular status and with a particular relationship to the sender. 3

Ritual, “Ornament” and Style

The stylistic perfection of many extant letters and administrative documents is also related to the ritual institutionalization of written language. Similar to other forms of ritualized language, the beauty of these texts is not only—as David Pattinson has argued—a sign that they were meant to be read by a large audience, but also served as a way of marking the social superiority of the persons involved in writing and reading them. Stylistic perfection is neither the consequence of the “public” character of these texts, nor of a “private” game between sender and addressee. Rather, it is the sign of a hierarchical personal relation that cannot be reduced to either a “public” or a “private” sphere of social life. Some scholars have attempted to explain the beauty of these texts as a product of the emerging “literary consciousness” of the period.53 However, this stylistic beauty might perhaps have another meaning. It is not that letters and administrative documents could not have become exemplary models of good writing—quite the contrary—but despite their exemplary value, they could 52  On these shared features between memorials and letters, see also Robert Joe Cutter’s article in this volume. 53  Pattinson, “Privacy and Letter Writing,” 114; Luo Zongqiang, “Shi ‘Zhangbiao’ pian,” 85–86. Luo Zongqiang intends to show that the beautiful style of this text is related to an impure “conception of literature.” The idea that this period has witnessed the emergence of “literary” or “aesthetic consciousness” has a long tradition that goes back to Lu Xun 魯迅 (1881–1936).

Liu Xie ’ s Institutional Mind


never become “literature”; indeed, no separate discipline such as modern “literature” existed to claim jurisdiction on these texts. The reasons for this beautiful writing are rather to be found in the specific nature of ritual institutions. According to the canonical books and texts of the masters, ritual institutions had an aesthetic dimension, mostly described in terms of “ornamentation” or “decoration.” These “ornaments” had two different uses in ritual contexts. The first was emotional: the beauty of performance would help engage the feelings of the participants and thus contribute to the efficacy of the ceremony or rite. The second use was representative: decoration, ornaments, and elegant patterns of behavior served to distinguish the status of each participant of the performance.54 Verbal etiquette seems to have been rationalized in these terms. When Liu Xie demands “ornamentation” (wen 文, cai 采, etc.) for letters and memorials, he highlights not just aesthetic appreciation, but also the hierarchical meaning that is embedded in the idea of “ornament.”55 The following passages are explicit on this subject. Memorials (biao) and imperial thank-you letters (zhang), according to Liu Xie,

54  About the representative and emotional functions of aesthetic experience in ritual performance, see, e.g., Joachim Gentz, “Ritus als Physiognomie,” 330–32 (about Xunzi); Shen Wenzhuo, Zong Zhou Liyue, 5–6. For a profound reflection on the representative function of ornament in pre-imperial China, see Powers, Pattern and Person, 23–46. About the aesthetic relation between ritual and writing, see Michael Nylan’s “Toward an Archeology of Writing,” 10–11. The hierarchic function of “ornaments” appears everywhere in the canonical books and the masters, so references to it usually take the form of an allusion. E.g., in the “Qingcai” chapter of his Wenxin diaolong, Liu Xie quotes two verses from the Odes (“Shuoren” 碩人, Mao 57; Mao shi zhengyi 3.2.322b) that, in the Analects, are used in a dialogue between Zixia 子夏 (507–? BCE) and Confucius to make a comparison between a woman’s make-up, painting, and ritual. The conclusion of Zixia and Confucius, as well as that of Liu Xie, is that ritual performance demands as much moderation as make-up and painting. See Lunyu zhushu 3.2466b–c. Other examples of the role of aesthetics in ritual performance are Li ji zhengyi 37.1528b–c (chapter “Yueji” 樂記) and Xunzi jijie 13.362–66 (chapter “Lilun” 禮論). 55  “Ornament” translates here different words, such as cai 采, wen 文, or shi 飾. Each of those words has its own semantic nuance, but they are clearly associated to ornamentation. In Liu Xie’s treatise, e.g., we find different metaphors taken from handicraft that associate wen and cai to decoration and ornamented patterns, which are compared, among others, to “red lacquer” (see infra) or to the decoration on a recipient (Wenxin diaolong yizheng 49.1867.). The hierarchical connotations of ornament are extensively treated in Powers, Pattern and Person.



. . . are the ornament of the person and the flowers of the kingdom.56 Since imperial thank-you letters are used to reach the imperial palace, their wind and norms should be glittering; since memorials are [also] used to reach the imperial palace, their bones and ornaments57 have to shine. 既其身文,且亦國華。章以造闕,風矩應明;表以致禁,骨采 宜耀。58 Stylistic ornamentation is needed to mark the social superiority of the addressee—the emperor, whose presence is suggested here by the place where he dwells, that is, the palace. Nothing seems to manifest a concern for “literature” as a discipline or as a substantial form of “aesthetic consciousness.” Rather, good style seems to have the same role as “ornaments” in ritual performance: to show the superiority of the official, of the emperor or of the empire as a whole.59 “Ornaments” have to do with respect, with status, with distinction. Liu Xie uses a similar syntactic construction and analogous lexical units to explain the reason why letters, just as memorials, also demand stylistic perfection:

56  The expression “flowers of the kingdom” is generally used to refer to virtue. See, e.g., Yan Yannian’s 顏延年 (384–456) “Poem Presented to Great Chancellor Wang” (Zeng Wang taichang shi 贈王太常詩). Wen xuan 26.1201; Wenxin diaolong yizheng 26.1201. The parallelism between wen and hua 華 suggests their common reference to “ornament.” The idea that words are the “ornament of a person” comes from the Zuo zhuan 左傳. Chunqiu Zuo zhuan zhengyi 15.1817a–b, Duke Xi, 24th year. 57  The parallel between fengju 風矩 and gucai 骨采 has to be understood within the frame of Liu Xie’s ideas about the “wind” and the “bones” of a text. Wenxin diaolong yizheng 22.843, n. 4. 58  Ibid., 22.843. 59  It is not only the superiority of the addressee that justifies the beauty of the memorials. Since most of the administrative texts, either memorials to the emperor or edicts, are read by other ministers or even circulate further among literate men, good writing is taken as a sign of the superiority of the minister. This does not only concern the administrations of the Southern Dynasties. Wang Rong’s 王融 (467–493) “Preface to the Collection of Poems from the Ceremony of the Sinuous Brook Celebrated on the Third Day of the Third Month” (Sanyue sanri qushui shi xu 三月三日曲水詩序), e.g., was considered by ministers of the Northern Wei a sign of the splendor of the Southern Qi dynasty. Nan Qi shu 47.821–22.

Liu Xie ’ s Institutional Mind


Words are the ornament of the person and letters are an auspicious omen of the kingdom. Men of letters should be thoughtful of the organization and the subject [of the text]. 言既身文,信亦邦瑞,翰林之士,思理實焉。60 Once again, writing cannot be separated from what it conveys: the social superiority of its writer and/or sender and the splendor of the empire. Aesthetic demands are embedded in social representation and personal status; it is the splendor of the kingdom and the magnificence of its ministers that are at stake, not the seemingly detached concern for “literature” and “art” that is traditionally attributed to Six Dynasties literate elites. This representative use of “ornaments” is further attested in the chapter dedicated to “Feelings and Ornaments” (Qingcai 情采) in Liu Xie’s treatise. The first lines of the chapter say: The writings of the Sages and of virtuous men are called wenzhang. How could this be possible if [those writings] were not full of ornament? Water is by nature formless, and ripples take their form in it; the constitution of wood is solid, and flowers bloom from it. The ornament is attached to the matter. If the tiger and leopard had no patterns, their pelts would be the same as those of dogs and sheep; the rhino has a hide, and ornament is supplied by red lacquer [for armours]. The matter expects the ornament.61 聖賢書辭,總稱文章,非采而何?夫水性虛而淪漪結,木體實 而花萼振,文附質也.虎豹無文.則鞹同犬羊;犀兕有皮,而 色資丹漆:質待文也. The metaphor of sheep and dogs explains the meaning of stylistic embellishment: if one wants to show superiority, as the sages and virtuous men, one’s writings must be full of ornament (wen 文 or cai 采). It is an allusion to a passage of the Analects in which Zigong stresses the importance of wen, “ornament,” to distinguish the superior from the lowly man.62 Huang Kan 皇侃 (488–545) has a similar interpretation of this passage of the Analects, and he is even more explicit about the use of “ornament” to distinguish status. “Ornament” (the expression is wenhua 文華) has for him a wider sense than

60  Wenxin diaolong yizheng 25.969. 61  Wenxin diaolong yizheng 7.1147–48. 62  Lunyu zhushu 12.2503b.



for Liu Xie; it is not the ornament of a written text, but “ornament” in the more general sense of elegance, presentation, and behavior: Pelt is the name for skin without its fur. What makes tigers and leopards more valuable than dogs and sheep is that the abundance of ornament [wen] in their furs makes a difference. Now if we take tigers and leopards as well as dogs and sheep, and we take off their furs, and only their skin is left, then who will be able to recognize the noble and the mean and distinguish tigers and leopards from dogs and sheep? It is a metaphor to say that the value of the superior man is that he uses ornament [wenhua] to make distinctions. Now if we just take matter [zhi] without ornament [wen], how can we distinguish the superior man from the masses? 鞹者,皮去毛之稱也.虎豹所以貴於犬羊者,政以毛文炳蔚為 異耳.今若取虎豹及犬羊皮,俱滅其毛,唯餘皮在,則誰復識 其貴賤,别於虎豹與犬羊乎.譬于君子所以貴者,政以文華為 别.今若遂使質而不文,則何别於君子與衆人乎.63 Liu Xie and Huang Kan give the same connotations to “ornament” (wen and cai for the former, wen and wenhua for the latter): it serves to distinguish vertical differences, to display status, and to show superiority. The “ornaments” of letters and administrative documents have the same representative use: they contribute to show the superiority of the writer and, more generally, of the whole kingdom. Good style is not just related to the aesthetic pleasure of the reader, but also to a “dramaturgy of power”64 that creates appropriate patterns for social distinctions. In this dramaturgy, “ornament” marks the superiority of a person, in a letter or in an administrative document, and goes beyond the public-private dichotomy. Language rites and status markers are certainly common in many societies; they are not unique features of the written language of early medieval literate elites in China. Modern societies have these language rites as well. However, the respective social meanings of language rites in early medieval China and modern societies are not the same. While many modern administrative languages seem to reduce the personal connotations of their terms of address, administrative language in early Medieval China is quite the opposite: terms of

63  Lunyu yishu, “Yan Yuan,” 28a. 64  Cohen, The Politics of Elite Culture.

Liu Xie ’ s Institutional Mind


address not only are more varied, but also strongly personal.65 This is because authority is not bestowed on an impersonal fiction such as the “state,” but on personal roles such as “emperor,” “father,” and “master.”66 This personal character of authority is precisely—as we will see in the following section—what made impossible the existence of a dualistic opposition between a “public” and a “private” sphere of life and, as a consequence, between administrative documents and letters. 4

Personal Relations and Textual Types

The emperor’s authority was indeed a personal one. Some scholars describe it as a patriarchal authority: the emperor ruled his empire as a father rules his family.67 What exactly did that patriarchy mean? And how was it related to the organization of written genres? The emperor was not confused with a father. The emperor assumed paternal prerogatives because the role of the father was a model both for family and for imperial organization. At the Southern Qi court, just as in most of the medieval dynasties, the father of an illustrious family68 had the privilege of promoting

65  If we take a quick look at a report of the present French Republic, we will certainly find personal terms of address such as “nous avons l’honneur de soummettre à votre approbation” and “veuillez agréer, Monsieur le Président, l’assurance de notre profond respect.” See, e.g., the report in the Journal Officiel de la République Française, 2012 (21 December), text no. 10. However, “respect” and “honneur” lack the patriarchal connotations of the formulaic expressions of fear and terror in the administrative language of early medieval China. 66  The modern public-private dichotomy is indeed closely related to the idea of “state,” which, as a juridical and institutional construct, is a modern invention. See Philip Abrams, “Notes on the Difficulty of Studying the State,” 58–89; Osiander, Before the State, 1–25; Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics, 368–413; Reinhart Koselleck, “Staat und Souveränität,” 1–4. For contemporary China, see Zarrow’s book, After Empire. 67  See, e.g., Hamilton, “Patriarchy, Patrimonialism, and Filial Piety”; Kawakatsu, Liuchao guizuzhi, 187–220, esp. 217–20; Ochi, “The Southern Dynasties Aristocratic System,” 55–77; Yan Buke, Zhongguo gudai guan jie, 64–74. 68  These illustrious families were called shizu, a homophone for different compounds: “families of imperial servants” (shizu 士族), “the [illustrious] families of the time” (shizu 世 族), “powerful families” (shizu 勢族). These families were not just prestigious; their status gave them rights to occupy a position in the administration.



his sons to key administrative posts.69 This privilege implied, on the one hand, an extension of the jurisdiction of the father into the imperial administration, and, on the other, a factual involution of the power of the emperor. At the same time, the emperor’s power was also a familial one, as his son, the crown prince, would inherit the empire upon the death of his father. The imperial position, with all the man-power and the resources under its jurisdiction, was in a way the property of the dynastic linage. Thus fathers had an authority that went far beyond their own domestic space. Their position defined the mechanisms both of institutional organization and of power transmission. The Southern Qi did everything they could to foster the institutional role of the father. Xiao Daocheng, the founder of the dynasty, and Wang Jian, his powerful minister, agreed that the Book of Filial Piety (Xiaojing 孝經) deserved a privileged position among the canonical books.70 More than other texts, the Xiaojing insists on the central role of the father both for the household and for the kingdom. It says, for example, that They [the officers] take what is good to serve their fathers in order to serve their mothers; but their love is equal for both. They take what is good to serve their fathers in order to serve their lord; but their respect is equal for both. Thus a mother enjoys the love that is due to the father and a lord enjoys the respect that is due to the father; but the father enjoys both.

69  This privilege was related to the system of selection and promotion of imperial officers. A specialized official, the impartial (zhongzheng 中正), would customarily attribute the children of important ministers the right to a post that was five ranks below the one occupied by their father. The most important posts in the imperial administration were thus appropriated by powerful families, whose rights to a position de facto limited the emperor’s power. About this system, called jiupin guanren fa 九品官人法 or “system for selecting officials according to the nine administrative ranks,” the classical reference is Miyazaki Ichisada, Jiupin guanren fa yanjiu. See also Tang Changru, Wei Jin Nanbei chao shi luncong, 81–94; Yan Buke, Pinwei yu zhiwei, 313–76. 70  There are, in the Book of Qi, some episodes which are very telling about the importance of this canonical book at the Qi court: from recitations in banquets and ceremonies to discussions at the imperial academy, the book is always a major subject. See, e.g., Nan Qi Shu 23.435–36; 39.683–85. Liu Xie also mentions it many times and considers it, with the Analects, as a “clearly structured” (zhaoxi 昭皙) book. See Wenxin diaolong yizheng 4.99–100, with n. 2 for the meaning of zhaoxi.

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資於事父以事母,而愛同;資於事父以事君,而敬同。故母取 其愛,而君取其敬,兼之者父也。71 It is because the power of both is conceived as a personal, “domestic” one, that a father can lend some of his prerogatives to a lord. The “Liyun” 禮運 chapter of the Book of Rites (Li ji 禮記), often quoted in early medieval court discussions, says it clearly: the realm is to be governed as a household (天下為家).72 Father and lord represent two specific forms of authority. They cannot be subsumed under the modern concepts of family and state, which convey a specific juridical meaning in modern times (in Europe since the end of the eighteenth century and in China since the nineteenth and twentieth century).73 In early medieval China, both roles were attached to what one could call different regimes of domesticity: the domesticity of the father on the one hand and the domesticity of the lord on the other—that is, two forms of patriarchal

71  Xiaojing zhushu 2.2548b. 72  Li ji zhengyi 21.1414b, chapter “Liyun” 禮運. According to this chapter, the empire had to be ruled as a “house” since the end of the period of “great equality” (datong 大同) and the beginning of the period of the “small tranquility” (xiaokang 小康). This domestic representation of power is related to other political metaphors which can be found in canonical books and other authoritative texts. It is the case of the metaphors of subordinates or ministers as “wives,” as “servants” or as “guests.” The metaphor of the minister as “guest,” widely used in the texts of the period, comes from an old tradition that goes as far back as the poem “Luming” 鹿鳴, of the Odes (Mao 161, Mao shi zhengyi 9.2.405b–406b). For a parallel between ministers and servants (pu 僕), see Li ji zhengyi 21.1418a (chapter “Liyun”). The metaphor of the minister-wife has a long tradition as well. One can trace it back to “Encountering Sorrow” (Lisao 離騷), where Qu Yuan 屈原 (340?–278?BCE) sees himself as a woman who provokes jealousy in her rivals (the other ministers). See Wen xuan 32.1492, with Wang Yi’s 王逸 (90?–160?) commentary and Schimmelpfennig, “Die verborgene Kommentierung,” 58–59. This metaphor is also related to the yin 陰 force within the minister (facing the yang 陽 force of the king or emperor), whose “way” (chen dao 臣道) is explicitly associated in the Changes to the “way of the wife” (qi dao 妻道) and the “way of the Earth” (di dao 地道). See Zhou yi zhengyi 1.19a, hexagram kun 坤. See also Yuri Pines’ analysis of the metaphor of the minister-friend in the pre-imperial period in his “Friends or Foes,” 35–74. 73  This dichotomy between family and state has a complex history in Europe. See, e.g., Koselleck, Begriffsgeschichten, 465–85. For the transformations of the relation between family and State in late 19th and early twentieth-century China, see Zarrow, After Empire (chapters 3 and 4).



jurisdiction on resources and people.74 As chief of the extended family (clan) and head of the ancestor’s cult, a medieval father ruled over his wife, his children and his servants, and could dispose of the material resources and wealth that are under the jurisdiction of his household. If he became a minister, he also ruled on part of the imperial administration through the privilege of designating his own son for a ministerial position. A medieval lord certainly had a larger jurisdiction. Besides ruling over his own household, he ruled over his officials, his clients and his protégés, and, when this lord happened to be the emperor, he ruled, theoretically, over the whole realm. But even the sovereignty of the emperor sometimes vanished when, in the selection of officials, it affected the privileges of the father. That is why, in this period, we often find ministers involved in a clash of loyalties: loyalty to the emperor and loyalty to the father.75 Since lord and father overlap, paternal and lordly jurisdictions coincided in some areas of imperial power and were a potential source of conflicts. As in a household, relations in medieval Chinese society were determined by the personal role of each of its members.76 Everything was “private,” attached either to the “privacy” of the emperor or to the “privacy” of the father, to the domestic jurisdiction of the former or to the domestic jurisdiction of the latter. In this context, we cannot expect Liu Xie to deal with administrative documents as if they were deprived of any personal mark. On the contrary, it is precisely the personal mark of these documents—the mark of a minister or of 74  I borrow the word “jurisdiction” from Andrew Abbott, who refers with this term to the rights of a particular profession on a range of expert knowledge–thus going beyond its legal meaning. Here the “jurisdictions” of a “father” and of a “lord” imply rights that are customary, institutional and ritual. See Abbott, The System of Professions, 59–85. 75  See Ochi Shigeaki, “The Southern Dynasties Aristocratic System,” 62–63 and 67–72; about the contradiction between loyalty to the father and loyalty to the emperor, see also Zhen Jing, “Lun Wei Jin Nanchao shiren,” 63–67. In Hanshi waizhuan 韓詩外傳 (7.237), an anecdote illustrates very accurately this conflict of loyalties. King Xuan of Qi 齊宣王 (r. 319–301 BCE) asks Tian Guo 田過 who is more important, a father or a lord. Tian Guo answers that the father is more important. “Then”, asks the king, “why leaving one’s own father to serve one’s lord?” Tian Guo answers: because everything he gets from the lord— land, emoluments, and titles—is precisely what he needs to serve his own parents. So anyone who serves his lord serves at the same time his parents. However, things do not go that smoothly when one’s own father acts against one’s own lord, as it often happens in medieval courts. 76  Liu Xie gives the Book of Filial Piety equal importance, mentioning it together with the Analects and the other canonical books. Wenxin diaolong yizheng 4.99. For someone like Lu Cheng, on the contrary, the Book of Filial Piety was a text for elementary learning (xiaoxue 小學). Nan Qi shu 39.684.

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the emperor—that guarantees their authority. That is the reason why Liu Xie depicts imperial edicts (zhao 詔) and diplomas (ce 策) as the “words” ( yan 言) of the most respected person in the realm: The emperor holds sway over his dwelling [i.e. the empire] and his words [ yan] are divine. Even if he remains deeply silent before an embroidered screen,77 his voice resonates everywhere, thanks to the edicts and diplomas! 皇帝御寓,其言也神。淵嘿黼扆,而響盈四表,唯詔策乎!78 Edicts and diplomas are the personal words of the emperor. The word yu 寓 (a variant of 宇), which I have translated as “dwelling,” has in fact many different connotations. The word could be translated as “world” or “realm,” and this seems to be its intended meaning.79 But it is also very telling that a word that can mean “dwelling” would be associated with the representation of the empire as the domestic space of the emperor, as it is in the Book of Rites and the Book of Filial Piety. This could suggest that the emperor expected to be served as a father is served in his own house. This domestic representation of the imperial domain is even more clearly embedded in a subgenre of edicts and diplomas, the “admonitions” ( jie 戒),80 which is related both to the emperor and to the father: Lord and father are two of the most venerated [roles]; they are [along with the role of master] among the “three from whom we receive boundless grace.”81 The “Admonition to the Crown Prince” of the emperor Gaozu of Han 漢高祖 [Liu Bang 劉邦, 256–195; r. 202–195 BCE] and the “Admonition to My Son” of Dongfang Shuo 東方朔 [160–93 BCE] are similar to the “Testamentary Charge” [of the Documents].

77  It is an ornament in the shape of an axe, fu 黼. 78  Wenxin diaolong yizheng 19.724. 79  The word yu (in both forms, 寓 and 宇) means the “realm” or the “universe,” just as the compound yuzhou 宇宙. More specifically, yu means the spatial realm (the four corners, top and bottom), and zhou 宙 means the temporal one (past, present and future). But it is also related to the meaning of “residence” or “dwelling.” 80  About letters of familial admonition, see Antje Richter’s chapter in this volume. See also Giele, Imperial Decision-Making, 285–98. 81  Wang ji 罔極 refers to the three mostly respected social roles: lord ( jun 君), father ( fu 父) and master (shi 師). Wenxin diaolong yizheng 19.751, n. 2.



君父至尊,在三罔極,漢高祖之《敕太子》,東方朔之《戒 子》,亦顧命之作也。82 Both the “Admonition to the Crown Prince” and “Admonition to My Son” are texts written from a father to a son; they follow, according to Liu Xie, the model of the “Testamentary Charge” in the Documents (Shu 書), which contains the admonitions from King Cheng of Zhou 周成王 (r. c. 1042–1021 BCE) to his successor. But each of the two admonition texts bears a different name. The “Admonition to the Crown Prince” is the text of a lord ( jun 君), the emperor Gaozu of Han, who writes as a father to the future emperor. His text, as a consequence, is called a chi 敕. The “Admonition to My Son” is a text produced by a “father” ( fu 父), who admonishes his son about how to protect himself in ministerial life. Liu Xie refers to it only as a jie 戒. The content of each admonition letter betrays the domestic and personal nature of the authority of both the lord and the father. The “Admonition to the Crown Prince” is Liu Bang’s advice to his son about the importance of writing, and in particular of being able to write one’s own memorials. The “Admonition to My Son” is Dongfang Shuo’s advice to his son on how to protect one’s self at court: he advocates the life of a “court hermit” (chaoyin 朝隱), one of the characteristics that made him famous. In the first case, the father, Liu Bang, is the highest lord of the realm, while the son is at the same time the lord-to-be of the empire.83 In the second case, Dongfang Shuo is a both a father and a minister (and, as such, a lower level lord), and his admonitions make no distinction between family and ministerial instructions, between the house and the court.84 If both texts are classified differently (chi and jie), and if the first sender is more a lord than a father and the second more a father than a lord, it is not because the admonitions have different functions (they are always an admonition from a father to a son), but because of the relative status of the senders: one is the emperor, the other his minister. In both cases, political authority coincides with a personal, domestic, patriarchal one. 82  Ibid., 19.751. 83  For this text, see Quan Han wen 1. 130.4b–5a. Although for Liu Xie it belongs to the genre of admonitions ( jie 戒), the text is called a chi 敕. While the first example corresponds to the admonitions of a “lord,” the word chi indicates here that the text is classed as an imperial document, and so a text the emperor produces as “emperor,” not as “father.” See Zhou Zhenfu’s explanation in Wenxin diaolong zhushi 223. For the fluctuating semantics of admonitions, see Giele, Imperial Decision-Making, 285–98. 84  For Dongfang Shuo’s text, see Quan Han wen 25.267.12a. We can just reconstruct the letter on the basis of the commentaries in his biography in Han shu 65.2874. He advocates the life of the “court hermit” more explicitly in an anecdote in the Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji 史記). See Shi ji 126.3205.

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Family and state overlap. As a consequence, Liu Xie makes no distinction between “public” and “private” genres. The reason why Liu Xie gives both types of admonition a different name is the same as in the case of memorials and letters: written admonitions must convey the ritual marks of a hierarchical distinction between father and lord. Their genre, however, is the same. Admonition letters reveal the personal foundations not only of early medieval political imagination and institutions, but also of the general organization of written genres. Letters to a member of one’s own family, letters to superiors, thank-you letters, memorials to princes, memorials to the emperor, edicts— all of those genres follow, as admonition letters do, personal distinctions that resist any dichotomous separation between “private” and “public.” All of those texts are letters; they are all the products of personal affairs, and, in that sense, should be considered “private.” At the same time, that “private” shares many features with what we would call “public.” As David Pattinson has shown, ritualized ways of communicating with superiors and codified restrictions on individual decision about style and content make letters as well as administrative documents look more “public” than “private.” Yet, if “private” genres look “public,” what is the meaning of the term “private”? Maybe we should distinguish “privacy”—a modern idea—from the other three different concepts that are encompassed by this word: the concept of “personal,” the concept of “secret,” and the concept of “intimate.” A study of these different concepts would deserve a separate article; since I have already shown that letters and administrative documents are all “personal” genres, in this last paragraph I will limit myself to some short comments on secrecy and intimacy. Precisely because imperial authority was personal, secrecy and intimacy were not the exclusive privilege of “private” contexts—or those that are nowadays taken to be so, such as the house. We may, in fact, find traces of secrecy and intimacy in a “public” context similar to the relation between an emperor and his favorite ministers, and, at the same time, we will not always find intimacy and secrecy in the “private” familial relation between the emperor and his wives, as one would expect in modern times. This institutional distribution of secrecy and intimacy could also be valid for epistolary and administrative writing. Despite their place in the “public” context of the minister-emperor relationship, these texts could easily become secret and, in some cases, even intimate. In the “private” relationship between the emperor and his wives, writing could become the object of a “public” discussion at court.85 Whatever the results of research on this topic, we can be certain that 85  See Patricia Ebrey’s reflections on the imperial harem and the representative uses of wives as an “ornament” of the palace in Women and Family, 189–90. For the topic of the intimate relation between the emperor and some officers, a classical text is Shen Yue’s



the public-private dichotomy will not provide an appropriate framework of analysis for understanding the social meaning of personal, intimate, and secret relations in the elite society of early medieval China.

If, as David Pattinson argues, there seems to be no trace of privacy in early medieval letters, it is probably because both writing and institutions were, in a way, “private” matters, as everything was under the personal domestic jurisdiction of a lord or of a father. If everything can be called “private” in the world of early medieval elites, then should we not abandon the public-private dichotomy as a framework of historical analysis? “Privacy,” in fact, becomes an empty word when we discover that no “public” sphere exists to be opposed to it. Instead, we should focus on the important role of the “personal” in medieval institutions. Since there was no institution from which personal relations were excluded, we must expect marks of personal experience—either feigned or felt behind formulae and rhetorical strategies—to appear in contexts which only through anachronistic analogy could be equated with the “impersonal” realm of the modern state. We must also expect expressions of what we would consider “private” (even seemingly intimate emotions) to take a “public” role when they emerge in the texts of important ministers.86 Epistolary and administrative texts were shaped by the personal nature of social and political institutions. As a consequence, the forms of writing we classify as “epistolary” and “administrative” had a continuous relation within a spectrum of personally marked genres: personal marks which stemmed, in the social experience of medieval elites, from an intimate unity between the house and the court.

very negative introduction to the section of his Book of Song dedicated to the biographies of favorite ministers. Song shu 94.2301–02. As for letters, we could say, with Antje Richter, that variations in the use of epistolary topoi reveal different experiences, and that even highly formalized writing can be the means of intimate or secret communication. Richter, “Letters and Letter Writing,” 22–29 and Letters and Epistolary Culture, 145–49. 86  I am of course not suggesting that early medieval elites are representative of some anonymous “Chinese way” of dealing with social relations. Practices and representations did not forcibly reach every member of the elites and did not forcibly extend to other social groups. Bonnie McDougall has already argued against the idea of a “Chinese concept of privacy” in “Particulars and Universals,” 4.

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———. Pinwei yu zhiwei: Qin Han Wei Jin Nanbeichao guanjie zhidu yanjiu 品位與職 位:秦漢魏晉南北朝官階制度研究. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2009. Yanshi jiaxun jijie 顏氏家訓集解. Compiled by Yan Zhitui 顏之推 (531–ca. 591); commentary by Wang Liqi 王利器. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1993. Yao Mingda 姚名達. Zhongguo muluxue shi 中國目錄學史. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2002. Yu Yingshi 余英時. Shi yu Zhongguo wenhua 士與中國文化. Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 2003. Zarrow, Peter. After Empire: The Conceptual Transformation of the Chinese State, 1885– 1924. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012. Zhang Siqi 張思齊. Liuchao sanwen bijiao yanjiu 六朝散文比較研究. Taipei: Wenjin chubanshe, 1997. Zhou Yiliang 周一良 and Zhao Heping 趙和平. Tang Wudai shuyi yanjiu 唐五代書儀 研究. Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1995. Zhou yi zhengyi 周易正義. In Shisanjing zhushu. Zhen Jing 甄靜. “Lun Wei Jin Nanchao shiren zhongxiao guan de daocuo” 論魏晉南 朝士人忠孝觀的倒錯. Qinghai shifan daxue xuebao 6 (2007): 63–67. Zhu Zongbin 祝總斌. Liang Han Wei Jin Nan Bei chao zaixiang zhidu yanjiu 兩漢魏晉 南北朝宰相制度研究. Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1990.

Chapter 10

Bureaucratic Influences on Letters in Middle Period China: Observations from Manuscript Letters and Literati Discourse* Lik Hang Tsui In this study, I will argue for a dynamic view of the epistolary genre in middle period China, with the hope that it replaces the static view of a fixed typology of subgenres. I do this by examining the influences of bureaucratic documents on the writing conventions of letters in Song China (960–1279), especially those observed in extant manuscripts in an epistolary subgenre called zhazi 劄子, and also by studying how notebooks and encyclopedias of this period described these influences. By doing so, I aim to shed light on one of the universal aspects of Chinese epistolary culture, namely, the impact of bureaucratic writing practices on the conventions of writing personal correspondence. In a period when most of the highly literate members of the empire served the government or were aspiring to forge a career in officialdom, it is nearly impossible to draw a clear distinction between the writing practices of bureaucratic correspondence and personal letters. Although letters are seldom studied as a subject in Chinese literary studies, existing secondary studies on classical Chinese literature do provide convenient explanations for understanding the wide range of epistolary subgenres by outlining and explaining their key features.1 The explanations in these studies are helpful in making sense of the main differences between subgenres, but their basic assumptions more or less represent a static and fixed view of epistolary subgenres. To be sure, taking epistolary subgenres as * Earlier drafts of this article were presented at the “Letters and Epistolary Culture in China” workshop at the University of Colorado at Boulder, August 17–18, 2012 and the “Conference on Middle Period China, 800–1400” at Harvard University, June 5–7, 2014. I am grateful to Antje Richter and the participants of these events for their invaluable comments and suggestions. I would also like to express my gratitude to Chen Ling, Chen Yunju, Deng Xiaonan, Hilde De Weerdt, Barend ter Haar, Philip Watson, Samuelson Yin, and two anonymous reviewers who have commented on various drafts of this article. Any remaining errors and inadequacies are of course my own. 1  E.g., Zhao Shugong, Zhongguo chidu wenxue shi. See esp. 1–14.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���5 | doi ��.��63/9789004292123_012



well-demarcated literary units is problematic because this view often assumes little or no overlap in the formal, rhetorical, and thematic features of subgenres. It does not reflect the reality of Chinese epistolary texts because a fluid genre such as letters can often be placed in multiple categories of subgenres which span across the personal-public spectrum in their usages.2 Consequently, a clear-cut arrangement of subgenres cannot be possibly achieved. Theorists on genre have in fact warned against the risk of taking genre as a “rigid transhistorical class exercising control over the texts which it generates.”3 For studying a genre that is as adaptable, malleable, and engaged with social relationships as letters, an alternative approach is much needed.4 In order to place more emphasis on the dynamic literary context of Chinese letters, one of the more refined approaches to the epistolary genre, in my opinion, would bear strong resonance with what Hans Robert Jauss proposed in his seminal essay, “Theory of Genres and Medieval Literature.” According to Jauss, it is advisable to “ascribe no other generality to literary ‘genres’ . . . than that which manifests itself in the course of its historical appearance.” Genres “cannot be deduced or defined, but only historically determined, delimited, and described.”5 When scholars deal with the problem of genre, they should not only “relinquish the substantialist notion of a constant number of unchangeable essential characteristics for the individual genres,” but also “dismantle the correlative notion of a sequence of literary genres closed within themselves, encapsulated form one another.” Jauss therefore suggests to “inquire into the reciprocal relations that make up the literary system of a given historical moment.”6 Even though the considerations of Jauss mainly lie in approaches to the vernacular literatures of medieval Europe, they are also instructive when applied to traditional Chinese letters, including to those from middle period China which are studied in this article. In it I place the zhazi subgenre within a system of subgenres that included letters as well as bureaucratic documents in Song China. Not only did these epistolary and bureaucratic subgenres influence each other, but the writing conventions of these two changed throughout the course of Song history; I try to investigate both of these aspects in this study.

2  For example, epistolary works fall into multiple genres in Liu Xie’s 劉勰 (ca. 465–ca. 532) Wenxin diaolong. Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 49–62. See also the articles by Pablo Ariel Blitstein and Robert Joe Cutter in this volume. 3  Frow, Genre, 23. 4  See the reflection on letters as a genre in Jolly and Stanley, “Letters As / Not a Genre.” 5  Jauss, “Theory of Genres and Medieval Literature,” 79–80. 6  Ibid., 105.

Bureaucratic Influences on Letters in Middle Period China


It is with this awareness about the dynamic nature of genre that I set out to study letter writing in middle period China. I place most of my focus on the example of the zhazi subgenre of letters, which was a subgenre that emerged primarily as a result of the influence of bureaucratic documents. The bureaucratic influence was a reflection of the close relationship between genre and politics in the literary world of traditional China. Most genre systems emerged in relation to—and were shaped to a considerable extent by—the imperial administration and its elite members.7 In examining the epistolary genre in particular, I believe a close analysis of the genre dynamics behind the introduction of bureaucratic conventions into non-official epistolary exchanges will facilitate our understanding of the shaping forces that sculpted the Chinese epistolary genre. It will also be beneficial for placing relevant genre theories within their social-political context in Song China.8 In the first section of this study, I will introduce the zhazi subgenre and explain its bureaucratic origins. Then I examine how actual texts in that subgenre fulfilled the needs of epistolary communication by providing a close reading of two manuscript letters from the Southern Song dynasty. In the third section, in order to discover how contemporaries described and reflected on changes in the writing conventions of letters, I pay attention to literati discourse on the transformations of epistolary subgenres. The goal of combining these three parts of analysis is to provide multiple perspectives for studying the problem of genre in historical letters from middle period China. 1

Zhazi Documents: An Overview of Bureaucratic Uses

Throughout most of Song history, officials relied on the courier-transport system operated by the imperial government to carry messages to their acquaintances afar, who were often serving in officialdom as well.9 Many of the letters that they exchanged through this system, however, were not bureaucratic documents, and served little or no administrative purposes. Those correspondences resembled what we today would call “personal letters” rather than bureaucratic documents. What makes zhazi interesting and worthy of 7  Rydholm, “Genre Theory in China,” 95–104, esp. 96–99. 8  For a useful overview of genre theory in Song China, see Ren, Songdai wenti xue. Although slightly dated, studies on other genres from traditional China still deserve attention, e.g., Birch, Studies in Chinese Literary Genres; Chang, The Evolution of Chinese Tz’u Poetry. 9  Zhao Xiaoxuan, Songdai yizhan zhidu, 25–30; Liu and Zhao, Zhongguo gudai youyi shi, 254– 56, 327–29; Golas, “The Courier-Transport System,” 2–3; Cao, Songdai jiaotong, 149–51.



study is that it referred to texts from both sides of this spectrum: it originally referred to a range of official documents including memorials and orders10— but it also became the name of a type of personal correspondence between literati officials by the twelfth century. In this study, I will refer to the former as “zhazi documents” and the latter as “zhazi letters.” What do we rely on to decide whether a text was a zhazi or not? I must stress that ideas about the identity of genres often arose from categories in anthologies in traditional China. As a result of this, the shaping of genre theory went hand in hand with anthology making. The close relationship between the two goes back at the very least to the Wen xuan 文選 compiled in the sixth century, if we focus specifically on the genre of letters.11 Genre labels and titles were often assigned when the texts were edited and anthologized, and not when they were initially composed by writers. Therefore if one takes the genre labels and titles of Chinese letters as they can be seen in anthologies uncritically, and uses them as the sole criteria for genre classification, there would be the risk of jumping to conclusions.12 For this reason, the zhazi letters referred to in this study are always texts designated as such by Song authors, rather than by posthumous editors or anthologists. I will only be discussing texts as zhazi letters if I have proof that the writers intended to write them in that form.13 Building on existing research in Chinese on institutional history and Song official documents, I will explore the nature of zhazi by asking the following questions: how was a zhazi historically defined? How did its functions change and what do we know about the genre-consciousness of zhazi in the Song period?14 Not surprisingly, the compound “zhazi” was derived from the word “zha” 劄. Glossed as “a thin wooden tablet,”15 zha refers to the writing material for written correspondence. During early medieval China, compounds containing zha 劄 (including the alternative character 札) were used to denote

10  Edwards, “A Classified Guide,” 774, 776. 11  Hightower, “The Wen Hsüan and Genre Theory,” 512–33. On letters in Wen xuan, see David R. Knechtges’ chapter in this volume. 12  This point is also stressed in Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 40. 13  Usually this is most certain when the writers themselves referred to their texts as zha or zhazi in the closing section of the text, which is true for the two zhazi letter manuscripts that I examine and all the other examples that I cite in my paper. Out of literary considerations, letter writers used various names in the main text to refer to their letters, but the mention of zha or zhazi in the closing section was unique to the format of zhazi letters. 14  On genre-consciousness, see Duff, Modern Genre Theory, xiii. 15  Mathews’ Chinese-English Dictionary, 9.

Bureaucratic Influences on Letters in Middle Period China


written communication directed to others, such as the category bizha 筆札 in Liu Xie’s magnum opus of literary theory, Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍.16 To explore the bureaucratic uses of zhazi, it will be useful to explore the range of documents that were associated with zha and zhazi in middle period China. During the Tang, there already appeared bureaucratic documents that were regarded as a form of zhazi, but they were mostly called by different names. Ministers wrote these documents for reporting to the core policymaking offices in the central court.17 Chaoye leiyao 朝野類要 (Important affairs at court and in the country), a glossary to administrative terms first printed in 1236, provides information about names and functions of the main document types in the Song dynasty.18 In its “Documents” (Wenshu 文書) section, terms that were associated with zha and zhazi include the following: A. yuzha 御劄 (supreme imperial mandate)19 B. shengzha 省劄 (Secretariat order)20 C. zouzha 奏劄 (memorial)21 D. tangzha 堂劄 (Administration Chamber order) E. bai zhazi 白劄子 (expository dispatch) F. shuaizha 帥劄 (Military Commission order)22 From the glossary’s explanations of these various types of documents, a general picture of their functions can be deduced. Types A and B were characterized as administrative orders that were sent downwards in government, such as those drafted in the name of the emperor and councilors from top government agencies. They became imperial edicts upon being signed by the Grand Councilors, and would then be announced. From the 990s onwards, the administrative orders Song Grand Councilors issued relied heavily on zhazi documents.23 Types C to F were statements and recommendations submitted by high 16  Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 57. 17  For a Song perspective on this, see Ouyang Xiu, Guitian lu 2.29. 18  See the index of this title by Stephen Hsing-tao Yü. 19  Zhao Sheng, Chaoye leiyao 4.83; Hartwell, “A Guide to Documentary Sources,” 182. 20  Zhao Sheng, Chaoye leiyao 4.85. See Li Quande, “Cong tangtie dao shengzha,” 110–14; Zhang Yi, “Zhongshu, Shangshu,” 50–66. 21  Zhao Sheng, Chaoye leiyao 4.86. These were also called “memorials for palace meetings” (shangdian zhazi 上殿劄子). See Zhou Jia, “Bei-Song shangdian zhazi tanyan,” 34–39. 22  Zhao Sheng, Chaoye leiyao 4.88. The “Bureau of Military Affairs order” (shumiyuan zhazi 樞密院劄子) is mentioned under “Tangchu” 堂除 (Departmental appointment) in 3.68, but does not have an entry of its own. 23  Zhang Yi, “Zhongshu, Shangshu,” 50–53.



officials to their superiors at court, such as those to Military Commissioners (anfu zhizhishi 安撫制置使) in Type F. Many of these were policy recommendations that high level officials (usually above the rank of Prefects [zhizhou 知 州]) submitted to the throne.24 From this we see that zha/zhazi documents had extensive uses within the imperial government, including in both upward and downward communication between the decision-making agencies and government officials. The elasticity of the subgenre label zhazi for referring to various kinds of documents is a key phenomenon for understanding how the writing conventions of these documents influenced personal letters. 2

Zhazi Letters: Historical Examples in Manuscript Form

Having explained the uses of zhazi documents, I will devote this section to the discussion of the content and writing conventions of two zhazi letters from the thirteenth century. The original manuscripts of these two texts are still available to us, making it possible not only to examine its content, but also the formal features of a zhazi in their original state. Peter Lorge summed up the merit of utilizing calligraphic pieces in his study of letters by Song Gaozong (1107–1187, r. 1127–63): These fine pieces of calligraphy are not only of tremendous aesthetic value, they are also, setting aside the important issue of forgery, some of the most primary of primary sources. Historians frequently overlook these sources, perhaps because they are more associated with art history.25 Moreover, a recent study by Deng Xiaonan and Zhang Yi also made use of extant manuscripts to examine Song bureaucratic documents.26 Inspired by these scholars, I would like to stress the usefulness of examining manuscripts in the study of Chinese letters.27 Epistolary manuscripts are valuable sources 24  On their specific uses, see Hu Yuande, Gudai gongwen, 121–24. On the role of zhazi documents in local administration, see Pingtian Maoshu, “Songdai difang zhengzhi guanjian.” 25  Lorge, “Song Gaozong’s Letters to Yue Fei,” 169. 26  Deng and Zhang , “Shufa zuopin yu zhengling wenshu”. 27  My approach to epistolary manuscripts here is thus similar to that of Christopher M. B. Nugent in his recent study on the material and cultural history of poetry in Tang China, Manifest in Words, Written on Paper, which examines poetry in the light of the materiality of manuscripts. For an insightful discussion of Nugent’s approach, see McMullen, “Boats Moored and Unmoored”.

Bureaucratic Influences on Letters in Middle Period China


not only because they are primary documents that provide useful historical information, but also due to their preserved form. We are able to consider their physical and visual attributes, and can be more certain about the formats of Song zhazi letters than by only consulting transmitted texts, which were often heavily edited.28 Given the body of extant epistolary manuscripts from Song China, especially the increasing number of zhazi letters since the early Southern Song, a closer look at the various kinds of information they offer will hopefully provide a useful addition to our understanding of historical letters.29 The two manuscript examples that I examine here reveal how elements of bureaucratic documents were introduced in the zhazi letter subgenre.30 The first of my two examples was written by the minister Zhao Ding 趙鼎 (1085– 1147). According to modern scholar Xu Bangda, it is the earliest zhazi letter still extant in manuscript form (see fig. 10.1): 1  鼎以罪名至重, Because of my extremely serious transgressions, 不敢復當郡寄。 I did not dare to serve again as Prefect. Soon after I 尋具 2 奏陳,未賜 reported this to the court, I was not granted 3 俞允。區區之私, permission. It is therefore unavoidable that I set 不免再陳悃愊。 forth my sincerity in this trifling personal matter 伏望 again. I humbly 4 鈞慈,曲垂 ask you to gracefully grant 5 贊助。俾遂所請, your endorsement. If my request is fulfilled, it will 實荷 really be because of 6 終始之賜。 your constant favor. I am still put out of favor, so I do 鼎方在罪籍, not dare to send letters regularly to 不敢時以書至 7 行闕。倂幸 your residence. I hope you will grant 8 憐察。 your sympathetic understanding when you read this. 28  The epistolary texts in transmitted collections are often abridged versions of original letters. Other aspects of letter writing, such as the way of inscribing envelopes, are only rarely preserved. Zhu Huiliang, “Songdai ceye zhong de chidu shufa,” 14. 29  A complete list of extant epistolary manuscripts is yet to be compiled, but the number of epistolary manuscripts from the Southern Song is estimated to be under a hundred. See Xia, “Shi xi Nan-Song de ji zhong shuxin,” 25. For an incomplete but extensive collection of reproduced images of such manuscripts from the Song and Yuan periods, see Song-Yuan chidu. On zhazi letters specifically, see Xu Bangda, “Chidu xiaokao,” 32–34; Lü, “Songdai zhazi,” 23. 30  For other Southern Song zhazi letter manuscripts that follow similar writing conventions, see He, Nan-Song yishu, 352–55.



Figure 10.1

9 10 11 12

Zhazi by Zhao Ding. 33 × 50.8 cm. National Palace Museum, Taipei.

右謹具 呈,伏候 鈞旨 八月□日特進 知泉州軍事趙 鼎劄子

Carefully preparing the above for submission, I humbly wait for your important orders. [lacuna] day of the eighth month, Zhao Ding (signed), Specially Advanced Military Prefect of Quanzhou.

Xu Bangda suggested that the manuscript could have been written to the minister Zhang Jun 張浚 (1097–1164) in 1139, when Zhang was administering Fujian.31 In this period of Zhao Ding’s life, he had already been removed from important posts at court. He asked to retire in late 1138 and was granted a sinecure, and then served as Prefect of Quanzhou in 1139 for about a year. He confronted the minister Qin Gui 秦檜 (1090–1155) and his men who had growing influence in the court, but Zhao Ding later found himself in a very frustrating position; he was charged with using too many guards on his journey to the Quanzhou post, and was therefore forced into retirement in 1140. This partly explains why he told the addressee that he desired to resign from his post, and why he regarded himself as having fallen “out of favor.”32 The significance of this zhazi letter to our discussion here is that it shows how a zhazi letter could be different from a zhazi document. Unlike what we 31  Xu Bangda, Gu shuhua guoyan yaolu, 422–23. 32  Kaplan, “Chao Ting,” 78–80; Liu, China Turning Inward, 122–28, esp. 122–23.

Bureaucratic Influences on Letters in Middle Period China


would expect to see in a zhazi document, it was not a piece about any specific policies but was written to a colleague in a personal capacity. Composed in a very polite manner, Zhao Ding in this zhazi asked the recipient, possibly Zhang Jun, to accept and endorse his resignation from his post as Prefect. By writing in such a subgenre, he made his message more reverential and polite. This is an understandable choice as he was making a request to the addressee in the letter. Apart from what was explicitly said in this zhazi, its formal features provide its recipient (and other potential readers) cues for putting the message in perspective. Although scholars David E. Pollard and Eva Hung remarked that “the greatest merit of letters is the liberty they enjoy, for the writer suffers no constraint of form and little of convention,”33 I would argue that this is a rather romantic and unrealistic view of much of traditional Chinese letter writing. Conventions do exist in many of the highly formalized epistolary subgenres, and writers observed them in most cases. Some of the features in bureaucratic documents have become an essential practice for writing a zhazi letter to an acquaintance. An important convention includes spacing (pingque 平闕) in letters, where line breaks (ping) and blank spaces (que) were introduced in a document to express respect and emphasis. Spacing was observed by writers as early as the third century BCE in letters on wooden tablets.34 The formal practice continued during imperial times; for example, early medieval writers such as Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303–361) also followed this practice occasionally, as can be seen in copies of his letters.35 The practice of spacing was institutionalized in state regulations on bureaucratic documents in Tang ritual codes,36 and later in history, Song literati officials also observed this in the documents they wrote to fulfill their official duties. In instances where letters were written to colleagues in government, especially those of a superior rank, spacing was very common. Apart from zhazi letters, spacing is also seen in letters of other subgenres, as it is in some of the epistolary manuscripts from the 1160s discovered on the reverse side of the pages of an edition of Wang Anshi’s collected writings.37 The fact that those letters were used as recycled paper along with other bureaucratic documents in producing an edition of Wang’s collected writings is particularly 33  Pollard and Hung, “Editor’s Page,” vi. 34  Peng, “Chidu shufa,” 95–99. See also Enno Giele’s article in this volume. 35  Richter, Letters and Epistolary Culture, 114–16. 36  Peng, “Chidu shufa,” 98–99. 37  Shanghai shi, Songren yijian. In this collection, texts that can be identified as zhazi letters include three letters by Li Jian 李簡 (j. 1), two letters by Zhang Jie 張傑 (j. 2), four letters by Guan Zhen 管鎮 (j. 4), and one letter by Cai Changmin 蔡長民 (j. 4).



suggestive; they were personal letters exchanged by literati officials, but they shared the bureaucratic features of some government documents. In Zhao Ding’s piece specifically, the verbs that are referring to the letter recipient’s side were followed by line breaks—such as “grant permission” (yuyun 俞允), “endorse” (zanzhu 贊助), and “understand sympathetically” (liancha 憐察).38 In the closing section of the letter, there are also additional blank spaces before the formulaic expression in the closing of a zhazi letter (“carefully preparing the above for submission”) and the writer’s self-designation (see fig. 10.1). These measures originally adopted in bureaucratic documents (such as memorials) represented a way to express reverence through the letter’s format, and often resulted in large blank spaces on the letter paper. The second text I am examining in order to explain the writing conventions of zhazi letters is by the major Southern Song writer Lu You 陸游 (1125– 1210) (see figs. 10.2 and 10.3). This text demonstrates how a conventionalized “personal touch” was instilled into a zhazi letter even though it was not addressed to someone very close to the writer: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

游近者奏 My recent letter39 記,方以草率 was shamefully unpolished. It was by special 為愧。專使奉 envoy that 馳翰,所以 you sent me the letter, showing how 動問甚寵, you ask after me with affection. The way I am 感激未易名也。 touched is not easy to express. 蹔還 From your return 展省,此固 for grave visitation I indeed see 龍圖丈襟懷 your Excellency the Dragon Diagram Hall 本趣。 Academician’s sentiment and intentions. 道中春寒,不至 I hope the spring coldness during your journey did not make you catch a chill. 衝冒否?詔追度 I assume it will not be long before your official 不遠,旬挾或已被 promotion; in ten days there may already be 新渥矣。 new imperial favors. 下諭舊貢院已為 I know that the old examination office has already 中丞蔣丈所先。 been taken by Elder Jiang the Vice Censor-in-chief,40

38  Ibid., 100–104; Zhu Huiliang, “Songdai ceye zhong de chidu shufa,” 13–14. 39  Zouji 奏記 refers especially to official letters written to a superior and therefore constitutes a polite expression here. 40  Lu You’s acquaintance Jiang Jizhou 蔣繼周 (1134–1196), who lived in Yanzhou in the final decade of his life. See Lu You’s epitaph for him, “Zhongcheng Jiang gong muzhiming” 中 丞蔣公墓志銘, in Lu You ji, 35.2335.

Bureaucratic Influences on Letters in Middle Period China

Figure 10.2

12 13 14 15 16


Zhazi by Lu You (1). 33.1 × 29 cm. National Palace Museum, Taipei.

新定驛舍見空閑, but there are vacancies in Xinding lodging station 或可備 where 憩泊。已令掃 you may stay.41 I have already ordered that it be 灑矣。它 tidied. As 委悉俟 for all your other instructions, let me wait for them 面請。游蒙 when I see you in person. The fragrant ink 賜香墨,皆珍絕, that you gave me is extremely precious and will 足為蓬戶之光。 lighten up my ramshackle household. 下情

41  Xinding was the old name of the administrative region of Yanzhou. Official travelers of the time usually stayed in government lodging stations. See Zhang, Transformative Journeys, 101–10.



Figure 10.3

17 18 19 20

Zhazi by Lu You (2). 33.1 × 29.3 cm. National Palace Museum, Taipei.

感荷之至。 I am deeply touched. As for other matters, let me 它俟續上狀次。 continue in my next dispatch. 右謹具 Carefully preparing the above for 呈 submission: 朝請大夫、 Zhazi by Lu You, Grand Master for Court Audiences, 權知嚴州軍州 Provisional Military Commander of Yanzhou.42 事陸游劄子。

42  My transcription is mostly based on Xu Bangda, Gu shuhua guoyan yaolu, 491 (with modifications).

Bureaucratic Influences on Letters in Middle Period China


This zhazi letter was written to greet a colleague who traveled to Yanzhou, the place where Lu You was serving as Prefect from 1186 to 1188 while he was in his 60s. One scholar suggests that Lu You wrote it in early 1187.43 The identity of the recipient of this letter was referred to by Lu You as one of the Academicians in the Dragon Diagram Hall at court.44 Lu You’s strategy of personalization in the zhazi letter requires a closer look. Even though it was written to an official of a higher rank, there is a strong personal tone and an eagerness to instill Lu You’s own emotions. This was not the first of his correspondence with the Academician. Apart from expressing thanks for receiving a letter from the Academician, Lu You also expressed gratitude for receiving fragrant ink from him, indicating the existence of an exchange of both correspondence and gifts between the two. Lu You showed his concern for the Academician by inquiring about his journey, and he also explained to the Academician that he could stay in a lodging station during his time in Yanzhou and that it had already been arranged. Apart from this, he was also expecting the Academician’s promotion in the imperial government. This way of writing personalized letters was not at all uncommon. Even emperors, such as Huizong (1082–1135, r. 1100–1126) and Gaozong of the Song dynasty wrote letters instilled with personal opinions and emotions. Examples would be the dozens of letters Huizong wrote to the Mount Mao Daoist patriarch Liu Hunkang 劉混康 (1035–1108). The emperor expressly ordered Liu not to engrave the letters on stone. Patricia Ebrey suggested that “Huizong would not have been so open in his letters to Liu if he had expected them to be carved on stone for all to read.”45 She also writes that “we see Huizong writing letters that are much like the letters educated men of his era wrote to each other—Huizong is not denying his rank as emperor, but he tries not to let it interfere with his relationship with a man he holds in high esteem.”46 It is clear that there was a certain degree of personalization

43  On Lu You’s posting, see Jonker, “Lu Yu,” 697. On the dating of this letter, see Yu, Lu You nianpu, 310, 312 n. 1. 44  A modern scholar, Liu Kan, speculates that the recipient of this zhazi was Han Yuanji 韓 元吉 (1118–1187). See Liu Kan, “Lu You ‘shang yi’ de shufa,” 35. This is unlikely because Lu You had not met Han in person during the five or six years before Han’s death, as mentioned in Lu’s eulogy for Han, “Ji Han Wujiu shangshu wen” 祭韓無咎尚書文, in Lu You ji 41.2393. Another possible recipient of this letter is Qiu Chong 丘崈 ( jinshi 1163), who was an Auxiliary Academician of the Hall at the time. On his correspondence with Lu You, see Yu, Lu You nianpu, 311, 316 n. 10. 45  Ebrey, “Taoism and Art,” 99. 46  Ebrey, Emperor Huizong, 148.



in Huizong’s letters to Liu Hunkang, even though they were of disparate status. Needless to say, this personalization also existed in letters exchanged between literati officials who often had formal working relationships in officialdom, but also had many opportunities to interact personally via written communication. Let us go back to discuss Lu You’s zhazi letter. Although Lu You personalized the content of his letter, he chose specifically to write to the Academician in the zhazi subgenre and not in any other subgenre. This gives us clues about their relationship, because a zhazi letter would have required him to include his official titles in the closing of the text. This writing convention would of course be unnecessary and will even be too ceremonial if the letter was written to a close friend, especially when we consider that there were other epistolary subgenres from which to choose. His alternative options also included the short informal notes that other Song writers have written, which are sometimes rather difficult to place in any kind of epistolary subgenre. Since letter writing was heavily influenced by bureaucratic documents, the choice of subgenre and the writing conventions that followed were closely related to how literati relationships were maintained, as my discussion in the next section will show. 3

Spillover Effects of Bureaucratic Writing Conventions and Genre Transformation in Literati Discourse

3.1 The Admonitions of Ouyang Xiu and Lü Zuqian To place the features of zhazi letters in the larger context of genre developments throughout the Song period, it will be necessary to go beyond actual zhazi letters and investigate what writers have written about the transformation of epistolary subgenres. In this section, I will discuss the admonitions on letter writing in a letter by Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007–1072), a towering figure in Northern Song literati culture. The letter reflects his reaction to the adoption of bureaucratic writing conventions in personal letters. I also analyze admonitions by the Daoxue teacher Lü Zuqian 呂祖謙 (1137–1181) on how his students ought to correspond. Then, in the next section, I will examine the discourse about this tendency and other transformations in epistolary subgenres in two types of texts that contain material from the literati tradition in middle period China: notebooks (biji 筆記) and encyclopedias (leishu 類書). As early as in the mid-Northern Song, Ouyang Xiu already wrote about how bureaucratic gestures and writing conventions were “spilling over” into the

Bureaucratic Influences on Letters in Middle Period China


personal written correspondence between literati officials.47 As a response to how his acquaintance Magnate Chen had written to him, Ouyang Xiu wrote a letter to criticize Chen for writing him in an improper way and to express that he was disappointed by how Chen had adopted etiquette from bureaucratic documents for a non-official letter. To Ouyang Xiu, this was totally unacceptable among brotherly friends. He stressed the value of writing sincere letters: Fundamentally, I am incomparably foolish and could not hope for friendly interaction with you. But in my regular life, I have had the luck of receiving a letter of comfort from you, to whom I bow and live with like brothers. I expected it to bear your heartfelt feelings aiming for congeniality; unfortunately, you began with the name [of the addressee] and followed it with the letter, as if you were writing a zhuang or a die to submit to a state agency. Taking a step back, I reflect on it and it must either be due to modesty or estrangement. These are for vulgar relationships and those who flatter each other. It was not something you ought to have sent to me. 修本愚無似,固不足以希執友之遊。然而羣居平日,幸得肩從齒 序,跪拜起居,竊兄弟行,寓書存勞,謂宜有所款曲以親之之意, 奈何一幅之紙,前名後書,且狀且牒,如上公府。退以尋度,非謙 即疏。此乃世之浮道之交,外陽相尊之為,非宜足下之賜修也。48 He assigned this spillover effect of bureaucratic writing conventions to earlier times, particularly the Tang period. To substantiate his argument, he recounted the history of the various forms of written correspondence: The only writing tools in antiquity were lead knives, bamboo, and wood. Carving wooden tablets into visiting cards was for communicating names;49 putting writing on bamboo and wood was for expressing intentions and for polite greetings. When clerks in government offices dealt with official matters, the correspondence sent from higher to lower ranks were called fu and jiao. Those for delivering messages and providing opinion from lower to higher ranks were called zhuang, and those for interactions between the equal ranked were called yi and die. If matters 47  On Ouyang Xiu’s letter writing practices, see Chen, Ouyang Xiu de wenxue, 16–89; Li, “Goutong yu rentong,” 59–68. 48  Ouyang Xiu, “Yu Chen yuanwai shu” 與陳員外書, Ouyang Xiu quanji 69.1007–8. 49  For excavated examples of these, see Korolkov, “ ‘Greeting Tablets’ in Early China.”



were not official, when a senior notified his intention personally to his inferiors so as to warn or laud them this was called a jiao. When lower clerks communicated personal affairs to their superiors to greet and congratulate, it was called jianji and shuqi. Therefore, the etiquette for zhuang and die should not be applied to non-official matters. What is practiced nowadays originated with ministers from the Tang who were of high rank and powerful at that time. Those who flocked to their gates considered the old etiquette to be inadequate and took it upon themselves to add to it. They began to include greetings on visiting cards—this made a zhuang. By the Five Dynasties, they then used the etiquette of zhuang and die to greet as if it was about official business, but only applying this to superior officials and older clerks. These falsities and errors go very far back, but the world does not trace the ancient ways and consequently thinks they are natural. 古之書具,惟有鉛刀、竹木。而削札為刺,止於達名姓,寓書 於簡,止於舒心意、為問好。惟官府吏曹,凡公之事,上而下者 則曰符,曰檄;問訊列對,下而上者則曰狀;位等相以往來,曰 移、曰牒。非公之事,長吏或自以意曉其下以戒以飭者,則曰教; 下吏以私自達於其屬長而有所問候請謝者,則曰牋記,書啟。故 非有狀牒之儀,施於非公之事。相參加今所行者,其原蓋出唐世 大臣,或貴且尊,或有權於時,搢紳湊其門以傅,嚮者謂舊禮不 足為重,務稍增之,然始於刺謁,有參候起居,因為之狀。及五 代,始復以候問請謝加狀牒之儀,如公之事,然止施於官之尊貴 及吏之長者。其偽繆所從來既遠,世不根古,以為當然。 Ouyang Xiu then evaluated his interactions with Magnate Chen again, propounding how inappropriate it was for Chen to send him a letter that resembled an official dispatch, rather than a personal note: There is no one who does not know this nowadays. The reason why it has not changed is because it has already become a custom deeply rooted in people’s habits, so there is no way of changing it. When gentlemen establish interactions and share common pursuits with their teachers and friends, they are still expected to exchange sincere handwritten notes. This is still close to the practices of antiquity. Alas! Greeting and bidding farewell do not belong to official business; adopting the etiquette of zhuang and die for superior officials was already inappropriate according to ancient practice, not to mention using it for close friends and social equals who bow to and live with each other like brothers! Is

Bureaucratic Influences on Letters in Middle Period China


Your Excellency going to treat me with the moral behavior of a friend and yet begrudge the trouble of a handwritten note? Do you intend to treat me with constraining customs and deep-rooted habits, and try to repay my sincerity by adopting conventional etiquette? If not, then you are going with vulgar ways of superficial flattery. So here I lay out my sincere thoughts to you. 居今之世,無不知此,而莫以易者,蓋常俗所為積習已牢,而不 得以更之也。士或同師友、締交遊、以道誼相期者,尚有手書勤 勤之意,猶為近古。噫!候問請謝,非公之事,有狀牒之儀以施 於尊貴長吏,猶曰非古之宜用,况又用之於肩從齒序、跪拜起居 如兄弟者乎!豈足下不以道義交遊期我,而惜手書之勤邪?將待 以牽俗積習者,而姑用世禮以遇我之勤邪?不然,是為浮道以陽 相尊也。是以不勝拳拳之心,謹布左右。50 From the perspective of scholar-officials who were familiar with the literary features of epistolary subgenres, which subgenre to use for different occasions and to what formal features to adhere reflected precisely how one preferred to interact and one’s views on relationships. Without doubt, those who were adopting the “vulgar ways” in their correspondence were equipped with the classical literary training to write in different subgenres according to their purposes. This explains why choices pertaining to subgenres and writing conventions mattered in interactions. Chen’s choice of epistolary subgenre certainly resulted in embarrassment in his interaction with Ouyang Xiu. Although Ouyang Xiu’s expressed his criticisms elegantly, he contended that Chen was overly polite and formal in his writing, and hence Chen’s letter was a disappointment. He argued that the conventions for writing about “official” and “non-official” matters should be clearly distinguished. The writing conventions for official correspondence were too formal and bureaucratic, and should not be used when writing to peers who share honest friendship. Basically, the etiquette involved in this kind of correspondence was only meant for the vulgar purpose of shallow flattery. In practice, however, the bureaucratic logic was obviously seeping into the writing conventions of literati officials, as Ouyang Xiu observed. This kind of bureaucratic influence on letter writing continued throughout the subsequent periods in the Song dynasty, and the zhazi as a subgenre of letter writing emerged within this context. The writing conventions and etiquette that elevated the addressee seemed to have an impact even outside 50  Ouyang Xiu, “Yu Chen yuanwai shu,” Ouyang Xiu quanji 69.1008.



officialdom. In the tenth month of 1169, Lü Zuqian, as the Instructor of the prefectural school of Yanzhou, announced seven rules as part of his school regulations (xuegui 學規) for students and requested them to spread the news among their peers. Most of the rules concerned letter writing, including the following: When registered students are to correspond, they should only use one sheet [of paper]. Empty formalities (such as “your learning ranks between heaven and man,” “you are soon to receive imperial favors,” “your respectful, heavenly appearance,” “I prostrate a hundred times,”51 and exaggerating one’s official titles) should not be adopted. When corresponding, the format of zha is not allowed. Names [of the addressee] should not be altered. Only correspond to discuss issues in doubt. When writing about oneself, write only about concrete matters (when writing about one’s movements and whereabouts). When corresponding, do not exchange money, silk, playthings, and objects as tokens (“playthings” refer to illustrations, paintings and recreational objects for the desk; “objects” refer to inkstones, fans, and similar miscellaneous objects). 在籍人將來通書止用一幅,不許用虚禮(謂如“學際天人”及 “即膺召用”、“台𠉀神相”、“百拜”、過呼官職之類)。 通書不許用劄目,不許改名。 通書止許商搉所疑,自叙實事(謂自叙出入行止之類)。 通書不許以幣帛玩物為信(玩謂圖畫及几案玩具,物謂研扇凡 什物之類)。52 By this time, the conventions of writing letters in the zhazi format even influenced students in prefectural schools who were preparing for examinations and government service. Since the students that Lü Zuqian was teaching were not all staying in the same locality but scattered in various prefectures, the students had to communicate by writing letters.53 Lü Zuqian forbade them to adopt excessive etiquette in their letters; this included the number of the sheets of paper used for a letter, the polite expressions adopted in the letters, how the letter recipients were addressed, the format of the letter, and the content of 51  On the use of this phrase, also see Zhu Yi, Yijueliao zaji, 71. 52  Lü Zuqian, Donglai bieji 5.3a–b. I am grateful to Liu Ching-cheng for drawing my attention to this source. 53  Chen Wenyi, You guanxue dao xueyuan, 81–82.

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the correspondence. As we shall see in the following section, writers from middle period China were quite aware of the changes in all of these aspects. 2

Discussions in Notebooks and Encyclopedias

I now turn to other discussions of epistolary subgenres, which not only explain the different kinds of influences from official documents, but also attribute those influences to high level officials who had control over state power and hence exerted influence on bureaucratic writing conventions of literati officials. These discussions, drawn from literati discourse in notebooks and encyclopedias, reveal contemporary views on the transformations of epistolary subgenres. Letter writing was not a topic that warranted systematic analysis in the literary culture of the time. The epistolary genre was often traditionally regarded as a marginal literary genre, and discussions about letter writing seldom made their way into specialized works of literary theory in middle period China.54 For example, a work on rhetoric by Chen Kui’s 陳騤 (1128–1203), Wenze 文 則 (Rules of writing) only contains passing mention of the origins of correspondence in the Zuozhuan, but does not go into the specific ways of writing letters.55 The Song literati did discuss epistolary subgenres in jottings on miscellaneous matters, however. Notebook jottings were appropriate for these kinds of discussions because letter writing conventions involved topics such as recent political history, literati interactions, as well as the collection of manuscripts by famous figures. These were all of interest to literati scholars who were recording hearsay and their observations in the notebooks they kept.56 An important example of these is from Zhao Yanwei’s 趙彥衛 ( jinshi 1163) notebook Yunlu manchao 雲麓漫鈔 (Casual notes from the Cloudy Foothill). He opened his account by tracing the old standard of letter writing and explaining how it changed to the zhuang subgenre: The ancient standard of correspondence was to use either “I kowtow” or “I prostrate again” or “I present” [at the end]. People of the Tang began the switch to zhuang and wrote at the end: “Earnestly submitting this zhuang of greetings, I cannot go into detail. I end this zhuang earnestly.” 54  See Ronald C. Egan’s chapter in this volume. 55  On Wenze and its discussion on genre, see Kirkpatrick, “China’s First Systematic Account,” 103–52, esp. 145–46; Cai, Chen Kui, 543–59. 56  Zhang, “To Be ‘Erudite in Miscellaneous Knowledge’,” 43–77.



Or: “Earnestly submitting this zhuang, I cannot go into detail. I end this zhuang earnestly. Month and date. Official so-and-so, zhuang submitted to official so-and-so.” 古尺牘之制,「某頓首」、或「再拜」、或「啟」。唐人始更為 狀,末云:「謹奉狀謝,不宣,謹狀。」或云:「謹上狀,不宣, 謹狀,月日,某官姓名,狀上某官。」57 To explain how later developments differed from this, Zhao Yanwei then paraphrased Sun Guangxian’s 孫光憲 (ca. 900–968) notebook Beimeng suoyan 北 夢瑣言 (Miscellaneous conversations from dreams of the north) to explain changes in the Tang period. They originated in an official’s correspondence with his superior:58 Lu Guangqi of the Tang was put in a post by Zhang Jun, the Commissioner for State Revenue. While [Zhang] Jun was on an expedition to Bingzhou and Fenzhou, whenever Lu [Guangqi] wrote him a letter he would use a new sheet [of paper] for every matter he discussed. 唐盧光啟受知於租庸使張濬,濬出征并汾,盧為致書疏,凡一 事別為一幅。 This type of correspondence was composed of multiple sheets of paper, and each sheet was intended for a separate issue. This was during a time when the delivery of letters was probably not too reliable due to the wartime situation. Writing in such a way made it possible for Lu Guangqi to discuss a particular issue on a sheet of letter paper, write whenever there was something to report to Zhang Jun, and send the sheets of letter paper off in a stack whenever convenient. Even if not all the sheets were successfully delivered, Zhang Jun could still comprehend parts of the message with the sheets that he received. When put together, the sheets of paper formed an interlinking flow of written messages.59 This prompted the later practice of using multiple sheets of letter paper instead of only one. Sun Guangxian then added that the candidates of the civil service examinations in the late Tang period followed this way of letter writing. Since they aspired to enter officialdom, they often put much effort in sending greetings to government officials. While doing so in order to

57  Zhao Yanwei, Yunlu manchao 4.63 (with modifications in punctuation). 58  On this work, see Halperin, “Heroes, Rouges, and Religion,” 413–16. 59  Sun Guangxian, Beimeng suoyan 4.26. See the explanation in Wu Liyu, “Zai lun fushu yu biezhi,” 116–21.

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make themselves known, they applied the writing conventions of bureaucratic correspondence.60 After quoting Lu Guangqi’s impact on letter writing practices, Zhao Yanwei goes on to explain changes in letters of greeting: I have not heard any other person doing the same since then. Since the late Tang, ceremonial letters and celebratory writings have been called qi. The official title of the recipient was omitted at the beginning of the first sheet, and then another sheet was used for communicating greetings. And then a sheet for expressing good wishes from afar and asking the recipient to take care of themselves [lit.: to have a good appetite]. Each of the [latter] two sheets contained six lines; there were three sheets in total. During the Xuanhe [1111–18] and Zhenghe [1119–25] reigns, the titles of the recipient were stated before the qi and that was for one envelope. The aforementioned two sheets with six lines each formed an official qi. Another stack of seven sheets was for another envelope. 後不聞他人為之。唐末以來,禮書慶賀為啟,一幅前不具銜, 又一幅通時暄,一幅不審邇辰,頌祝加飡,此二幅每幅六行, 共三幅。宣政間,則啟前具銜,為一封,又以上二幅六行者同 為公啟,別疊七副為一封。 The qi, “ceremonial letters and celebratory writings,” were greetings exchanged between officials whose content mainly dealt with non-official matters.61 Zhao Yanwei then explained subsequent developments, including the emergence of zhazi and its conventions: While Qin Zhongxian [Gui] held state power and a zhazi was submitted to him, the format was to omit “I kowtow” and “I prostrate again” at the beginning, and to add: “Carefully preparing the above. Submitted on date. Name of official.” A zhazi can use as many as ten sheets and more. The word “submitted” was omitted when writing to someone on equal terms. In the third year of the Qingyuan reign [1198], the ban on using multiple sheets of paper was reinforced; only three sheets were used. After that, only one sheet was used. It was especially simple and convenient. 60  Sun Guangxian, Beimeng suoyan 4.26. This is comparable to the letters studied in Mair, “Li Po’s Letters in Pursuit of Political Patronage,” 123–153. Also see Alexei Ditter’s chapter on cover letters in this volume. 61  Zeng, Song wen tonglun, 444–78. On qi in earlier periods see Xiaofei Tian’s article in this volume.