Chinese Literature 114: Han Dynasty

Wu Zixu
subject of Sima Qian biography
first record in Zuo tradition
father is executed unfairly by Chu, Wu Zixu escapes and vows revenge, goes to Song then Zheng then Wu (a fisherman takes him across a river from Chu to Wu). he advises Wu to attack Chu– recommends Zhuang Zhu to Prince Guang who has Zhuan Zhu assassinate the king and becomes king– then Wu finally attacks Chu, succeeds, Wu Zixu lashes the corpse of King Ping of Chu– gets executed ny king of Wu for advising him to attack Yue before Qi

Sima Qian’s Letter to Ren An
145-85 BC
Written to old acquaintance facing execution
explains his choice to endure castration and live on in order to carry on his father’s historical project (due to defending a disgraced general)
compares himself to Qu Yuan, King Wen of Zhou, other disgraced figures who then did great things
establishes basis for reading his own life trajectory/motivations into stories like that of Wu Zixu, Yu Rang– heroes whose choice to live is bound up in one all-consuming duty/goal

Sima Qian
Imperial historian of Emperor Wu of Han
codified Chinese tradition of history
wrote “Historical Record” which includes Biographies of the Assassins
used biography (which supplants anecdote at historical medium)
accepted castration instead of committing suicide, in order to finish his work
145-85 BC

Nie Zheng
butcher whom Yan Zhongzi seeks in order to kill Xia Lei, minister of Han
refuses to carry out the deed till after his mother’s death
turns down horses/carriages/men and barges in and kills the king then mutilates his own body till it’s unrecognizable and dies
but his sister comes & recognizes him

Lyrics of Chu
Collated during Han: ritual poetic tradition of the non-Zhou state Chu
earlier poems attributed to Qu Yuan (340-278BC) who drowned himself after being sent into exile
poetic phases correspond to stages of relationship between shaman-lover to goddess or god)
Nine Songs actually eleven songs– nine to deities, one to dead soldiers, one a short coda
Verse forms may break line into hemistiches
Components of tristia and itineraria: speaker complains of being wronged; makes a circuit of the universe
Later Han poems in the collection/tradition incorporate Daoist beliefs
Heavenly journey becomes a close part of Chinese landscape literature

Nine Songs
Shamanistic ritual poems belonging to Lyrics of Chu
The Sovereign of the East
Lord in the Clouds
The Lady of the Xiang River
The Senior Master of Lifespans (& the junior one)
The Lord of the East (sun chariot!)
The Yellow River’s Earl
The Hill Wraith
Rite for Souls

Li Sao
long monologue in Qu Yuan’s voice from Chu Ci
uses flowers and aromatics for imagery/device
search for a bride conflated with search for ruler’s favor
Lord Iris = the king
love for beauty a pervading theme
92 stanzas + ending coda

The Biography of Lady Li
from Ban Gu’s “The Han History”
Li Yan-Nian sings about a lady “for whom cities and kingdoms fall”; emperor desires a woman like that & princess suggests Li’s sister; emperor favors her but she falls ill & cites duty/propriety as a reason not to show herself without makeup, but reveals to her sister it is to avoid weakening the emperor’s love so he will protect her family
emperor has her buried with rites befitting an empress & writes poems about her

Eastern Han
After Red Eyebrow Rebellion devastates the capital Chang-an, emperor guang-yu moves capital to Luoyang in 25 AD
Sought to distinguish themselves by observing Confucian values

New Text/Old Text
New represents orally transmitted traditions written down after establishment of Han; repeats interpretations of masters
Old represents old written texts recovered after Qin book-burning; calls for personal interpretation

originated with Han Music Bureau 120BC
genre of song lyric poetry
often titled with the name of a tune
gives rise to Classical Chinese poetry

Nineteen Old Poems
anonymous earliest examples of Classical Chinese poetry
concerned with collapse of Han dynasty

Wang Can
wrote early classical poems “Seven Sorrows”

Seven Sorrows I
Poem by Wang Can 177-217
ending lines:
“To the south I climbed the slope of Ba Mound
and turned my head to gaze on Chang-an.
And I understood why someone wrote “Falling Stream”–
I gasped and felt that pain within.”
(allusion to Shijing poem “Falling Stream” about Zhou’s capital)

Ryan Ji
Daoist poet 210-263
wrote “Songs of My Cares”
one of the Seven Sages of the bamboo grove

Cao Cao
155-220 (three kingdoms)
Warlord of Wei state (kept Han emperor Xian as hostage to preserve legitimacy)
Poet of “Short Song”
“The wine before me as I sing:
how long can a man’s life last?”

Cao Zhi
Cao Cao’s son and most famous writer of the age
Younger brother of King Cao Pi