Chinese Literature 114: Han Dynasty

Wu Zixu
subject of Sima Qian biographyfirst record in Zuo traditionfather 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 BCWritten to old acquaintance facing executionexplains 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 thingsestablishes 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 Hancodified Chinese tradition of historywrote “Historical Record” which includes Biographies of the Assassinsused biography (which supplants anecdote at historical medium)accepted castration instead of committing suicide, in order to finish his work145-85 BC

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

Lyrics of Chu
Collated during Han: ritual poetic tradition of the non-Zhou state Chuearlier 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 codaVerse forms may break line into hemistichesComponents of tristia and itineraria: speaker complains of being wronged; makes a circuit of the universe Later Han poems in the collection/tradition incorporate Daoist beliefsHeavenly journey becomes a close part of Chinese landscape literature

Nine Songs
Shamanistic ritual poems belonging to Lyrics of ChuInclude:The Sovereign of the EastLord in the CloudsThe Lady of the Xiang RiverThe Senior Master of Lifespans (& the junior one)The Lord of the East (sun chariot!)The Yellow River’s EarlThe Hill WraithRite for Souls

Li Sao
long monologue in Qu Yuan’s voice from Chu Ciuses flowers and aromatics for imagery/devicesearch for a bride conflated with search for ruler’s favorLord Iris = the kinglove for beauty a pervading theme92 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 ADSought 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 mastersOld represents old written texts recovered after Qin book-burning; calls for personal interpretation

Yue-fu
originated with Han Music Bureau 120BCgenre of song lyric poetryoften titled with the name of a tunegives rise to Classical Chinese poetry

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

Wang Can
177-217wrote early classical poems “Seven Sorrows”

Seven Sorrows I
Poem by Wang Can 177-217ending lines:”To the south I climbed the slope of Ba Moundand 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 210-263wrote “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
192-232Cao Cao’s son and most famous writer of the ageYounger brother of King Cao Pi