West Coast Workshop on Premodern Chinese Literature and Culture

DATE: Saturday, November 17, 2012

PLACE: IEAS Conference Room, 2223 Fulton Street, 6th Floor, UC Berkeley

SPONSOR: Center for Chinese Studies



This is the second annual West Coast Workshop on Premodern Chinese Literature and Culture, established to provide scholars in the field, especially those working in the midwest and west coast of the country, an opportunity to present and discuss their current work in progress, in an informal setting.


Saturday, November 17

Image for the West Coast Workshop on Premodern Chinese Literature and Culture Each session will consist of the paper presentation (30 minutes), the designated discussant's remarks (10 minutes), and general discussion (35 minutes).

8:30–9:00: Breakfast and Introduction (Paula Varsano)

9:00–10:15: Li Xiaorong (UCSB)
"'Recluse in Women's Arms': Late Ming Literati's Romances and Their Valorizing Discourse"

It seems that no Chinese writer had ever discussed their indulgence in romance and sensual beauty as openly and positively as did certain literati active in the late Ming. Writers and poets such as Zhang Dai, Wei Yong, and Wang Cihui not only wrote about their romantic experiences, but also elevated them to philosophical and political levels. In particular, they attempted to valorize a concept called "se yin" (色隱 — "recluse in women's arms", or literally, "taking reclusion in sensual beauty") as a way of projecting an alternative — or even an oppostional — political position and identity vis-à-vis those upheld by the scholar-official class. In my paper, I will apply discourse analysis to bring to light how these writers construct this concept through their deployment of the time-honored recluse culture in the context of the particular historical and cultural ambience of the late Ming.

Discussant: Ronald Egan (Stanford University)

10:15–10:30: Break

10:30–11:45: Kevin Tsai (Indiana University)
"Self-Knowledge and Reading on and off Stage"

What makes a reading classy, and what sort of aesthetic operation does social distinction aid? Consider one of the stupidest readers ever, Sun Hua from the major Ming Dynasty chuanqi play Killing a Dog (Sha gou ji). He idealizes Confucian merchants whose combination of book learning and practical know-how he believes makes them superior to proper, traditional Confucians, yet whenever he attempts to apply his readings to life, he suffers from a curious blindness that prevents him from drawing the correct analogies, making him a stunning example of dramatic irony. Critics typically dismiss Sun Hua's unbelievably obtuse interpretation of literature as the play's inept attempt at elevation by invoking the canon. This paper challenges such uncomplimentary views of the play, and argues that the seemingly awkward intertextuality is a deliberate strategy for addressing the social anxiety over the changing status of the literati and the merchants in mid to late Ming. Killing a Dog intimates that plausible interpretations come not from technique, which anyone can acquire, but from personality with its concomitant class membership. Indeed, the play's epistemology, following Analects 6.26 and Mencius 9.2, is produced not by method, but by ethics, and as such gives rise to a sort of dramatic irony that depends not on plot, but on self-knowledge. If this process is also applicable to the reception of the play, how might the aesthetic operation of irony construct social distinctions amongst the audience of Chinese drama in general?

Discussant: Sophie Volpp (UC Berkeley)

11:45–12:00: Break

12:00–01:00: Lunch (participants are invited to remain on-site for a catered lunch)

01:00–02:15: Wang Yugen (University of Oregon)
"Emotion and Nature in Classical Chinese Poetry: Rereading the Wu se' 物色 [The Colors of Things] Chapter of Liu Xie's Wenxin diaolong"

Through rereading this important text in traditional Chinese literary theory, the paper explores the essential role nature and natural images play in the representation and expression of emotion in classical Chinese poetry. Topics to be examined include: (1) the establishment of emotion or qing 情 as the primary content and motivating force of poetry in this seminal period of Chinese literary history and how qing and the earlier, morally conceived idea of zhi 志, although pressed into a deeper level in the new model, are mutually inclusive and mutually invigorating; (2) the significance of the foregrounding of nature as the primary vehicle of emotion in this new poetics; (3) how the perceived dramatic encounter between the internal qing and the external jing 景 produces poetry and how the essentially fictional and constructed nature of the process negotiates and reconciles with the traditional claims of spontaneity and emotional authenticity; and (4) how the technical process of poetic crafting, which is central to both the "Wu se" chapter and the Wenxin diaolong as a whole, embodies the constructedness of the process and at the same time keeps the ideal of emotional and representational authenticity alive.

Discussant: Paula Varsano (UC Berkeley)

02:15–02:30: Break

02:30–03:45: Jack Chen (UCLA)
"The Shishuo xinyu as Data Visualization: Distant Reading with Tables, Maps, and Graphs"

Data visualization, in recent years, has taken on increasing prominence within the humanities and social sciences. What is it, however, that visualization provides for disciplines traditionally focused upon discursive and rhetorical analysis? The following paper explores the visualization of the early medieval anecdote collection, Shishuo xinyu, as a test case for a more computational approach — one that invokes Franco Moretti's concept of "distant reading. I will show how visualization may aid in textual analysis, reveal latent structures of organization, and examine more generally the principles underlying the process of visualization.

Discussant: Robert Ashmore (UC Berkeley)



Image for the West Coast Workshop on Premodern Chinese Literature and Culture Robert Ashmore is Associate Professor of Chinese at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focus is on Chinese literature of the third through eleventh centuries, with special interest in lyric poetry and poetic theory, song and musical performance, and traditional concepts of identity and personality. His recent book, The Transport of Reading: Text and Understanding in the World of Tao Qian (Harvard University Press, 2010) situates Tao Qian's approach to his readers within the particular poetics of address that characterized the Six Dynasties classicist tradition. This line of inquiry not only provides a new way of interpreting Tao's traditional role as the emblematic unworldly scholar, but also compels us to examine more closely the cultures of reading and understanding of his period. Ashmore is currently completing work on a book manuscript on the literary culture of the early ninth century.

Jack W. Chen (presenter) is Associate Professor of Chinese Poetry and Thought at UCLA, and is currently serving as Director of Graduate Studies. He received his PhD from the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard, his MA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his BA from Yale. His research interests span the Han through Northern Song periods, and are divided between classical poetry and certain prose genres (zhiguai, biji, chuanqi). His book, The Poetics of Sovereignty: On Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, was published by the Harvard University Asia Center in 2010. He has also published articles on imperial poetry, gossip and historiography, silent reading, donkey braying, and coinage. His current work — a study of the Shishuo xinyu — is informed by data visualization and network theory. He is also co-editor, with David Schaberg, of a forthcoming edited volume of essays on gossip and anecdote in traditional China.

Ronald Egan (discussant) is Professor of Chinese Literature at Stanford University. He works on traditional Chinese poetry, aesthetics, and literati culture of the Tang and Song periods. His publications include studies of major writers of the period as well as topical studies on literature, literary criticism and the relation between poetry and the other arts (painting, calligraphy and music). He is also the translator of selected essays of Qian Zhongshu, one of twentieth-century China's foremost literary scholars. His current project is a critical study of the life and works of Li Qingzhao, China's most celebrated woman poet. His most recent book, The Problem of Beauty: Aesthetic Thought and Pursuits in Northern Song Dynasty China (Harvard University Press, 2006), concerns the problem of justifying interest in beauty and aesthetic pursuits in Song dynasty China in such diverse fields as poetics, horticulture, the collection of art objects and antiquities, and entertainment songs. Before coming to Stanford, he taught at UC Santa Barbara, Harvard University and Wellesley College. He has received grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Li Xiaorong (presenter) is Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her areas of research are concerned with gender and literary production, women's writings, literati culture, and literary trends in the late imperial period (ca. 15001900). She also conducts research on women poets in classical Chinese poetry in Japan and Korea from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Although her primary focus is on gender issues, she takes care to situate the study of women within the broader historical and cultural context of the particular era. Her book, Women's Poetry of Late Imperial China: Transforming the Inner Chambers, uses the physical, social and symbolic location of women in the gendered division of space — the inner chambers [gui 閨 or guige 閨閣] — as a theoretical focus of an examination of Ming-Qing women's approach to the writing of poetry.

Kevin Tsai (presenter) is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Cultures, and the Program in Ancient Studies at Indiana University. His primary research interests lie in the comparative studies of pre-modern China, Greece, and Rome. Drawn to the study of the "bad," the marginal, and the undervalued, his current book project centers on the play Killing a Dog (Shāgŏu j), generally regarded as the very worst in the Chinese dramatic corpus. His approach to rehabilitating such texts revolves most of all around gender, but also around genre and anthropology, with a particular attention to the interplay between literary form and the social. Other projects include: a subversive reading of the film Hero in relation to law and the knight-errant genre, ekphrasis and reception in the Second Sophistic, and lastly, a translation of the complete works of the Song Dynasty woman poet, Li Qingzhao.

Paula Varsano (discussant) is Associate Professor of Chinese at the University of California, Berkeley. She specializes in classical poetry and poetics from the third through the eleventh centuries, with particular interest in literature and subjectivity, the evolution of spatial representation in poetry, the history and poetics of traditional literary criticism, and the theory and practice of translation. She is the author of Tracking the Banished Immortal: The Poetry of Li Bo and its Critical Reception (University of Hawaii Press, 2003), and the editor of the forthcoming "The Rhetoric of Hiddenness in Traditional Chinese Culture" (SUNY Press). She is currently at work on a book tentatively titled "Coming to Our Senses: Locating the Subject in Traditional Chinese Literary Writing."

Sophie Volpp (discussant) is Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She specializes in Chinese literature of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Research interests include the history of performance, gender theory, the history of sexuality, and the representation of material culture. Her book Worldly Stage: Theaticality in Seventeenth-Century China (Harvard University Press, 2011) concerns the ideological niche occupied by the theater in seventeenth-century China. Her current research examines the depiction of material objects in late-imperial literature, focusing on the relation between the representation of objects and the representation of the self.

Yugen Wang (presenter) is associate professor of Chinese literature at the University of Oregon. He is author of several articles on classical Chinese poetry and poetics and, most recently, of Ten Thousand Scrolls: Reading and Writing in the Poetics of Huang Tingjian and the Late Northern Song, a study of how the nascent print culture of the eleventh century affected the poetic theory and practice of Huang Tingjian and the Jiangxi School of Poetry. His current project studies the historical changes in the representations of emotion and nature in classical Chinese poetry from the early medieval to the Song-Yuan period. At the workshop, he will lead a reading of the "Wu se" chapter of Liu Xie's Wenxin diaolong, the most elaborate articulation of the relationship between emotion and nature before Wang Fuzhi of the early Qing.



The West Coast Workshop on Premodern Chinese Literature and Culture will be held in the IEAS conference room on the Berkeley campus – 2223 Fulton Street, 6th floor conference room.

See section D1 on this large campus map.


Directions to the Berkeley campus

If traveling by BART, exit the Richmond-Fremont line at the Berkeley station (not North Berkeley). When you leave the BART station, walk south down Shattuck Avenue to Kittredge Street (one or two blocks depending on which station exit you leave from) and turn left. Walk one block to Fulton Street and you will be facing the 2223 Fulton Street Building.

From Interstate 80

To reach the site by car from Interstate 80, exit at the University Avenue off-ramp in Berkeley. Take University Avenue east to Oxford Street and turn right. Oxford becomes Fulton Street in a couple of blocks. We are located in the six-story beige building on the east (left) side of the street.

From Highways 24/13

To reach us from Highways 24/13, exit 13 at Tunnel Road in Berkeley. Continue on Tunnel Road as it becomes Ashby. Turn right at Telegraph and drive approximately one mile north to Bancroft Way and turn left. The 2223 Fulton Street Building is at the northeast corner of the Bancroft and Fulton intersection (right side).

Directions to campus are also available at http://www.berkeley.edu/visitors/traveling.html


There are various public parking lots and facilities near campus and in downtown Berkeley. This list includes municipal and privately owned parking lots and garages open to the public. Please consult signs for hours and fees prior to entering the facilities.

Other lots:

  • Berkeley Way near Shattuck
  • Center Street near Shattuck
  • Allston Way near Shattuck
  • Kittredge Street near Milvia

More information is available on the UC Berkeley Parking and Transportation page.