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The Body, Solar Terms,and Lyrics: The Relationship Between Han and Wei Dynasty Literature, The Songs of Chu and Yue-ling

A talk by CHENG YU-YU (Professor of Chinese Literature, National Taiwan University)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
11377 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

This talk emcompasses four subjects. The first is the four seasons and scenery formed by the Yue-ling 月令 (“climate and phenology in a lunar month”) system and the formation of the “vital breath” and the perception of man as an integral part of nature. The second, is how the works of Chu Yuan and Sung Yu developed the notion of the “body perception ” associated with solar terms.  The third level  addresses the interaction of interpretations of Han and Wei dynasty poems and literature, Yue-ling 月令 and the Songs of Chu 楚辭, and the desire to crystallize the formation of “a natural environment” in the early period of the Chinese lyrical tradition, directed at laying the foundation for theoretical discussion of the “state of the atmospheric.”

If we say that seasonal knowledge of the system of Yue-ling 月令system caused Wei and Jin dynasty literati to be reminded, through the transmission of the synthesis of the seasons and scenery, of the transitions of space and time and at the same time that it was a matter of course that people and nature circulate within the universal order, and that yin and yang worked in concert in the field of “vital breath” (chi), then the Songs of Chu, especially the series dealing with “Autumn causing sorrow in humans,” details the corresponding activity of the human body and the seasons, emphasizing the solar terms’ and nature’s manipulation of, and meddling with. the body, to the extent that, following the circulation of breath in all places were perceptions of melancholy and of fright. It can be said that these two developed together and deepened the perception of the seasons, time and nature in Han and Wei dynasty literature. The transmission of literary expressions of the (1) “the disturbance and instability of the body,” (2) “the circulation of breath in the myriad of things and the corresponding formation of its relations to an integrated atmosphere” by literati in Han and Wei times, as well as (3) the formation since pre-Chin (221-210 BCE) times of the system of seasonal phenology and a view of the universe centered on breath, all had close and interdependent relations in their processes of development.  At the same time these impressions of the union between the fall season and the breath of the body also certainly molded a kind of notion of the atmosphere as an integrated environment that transcended divisions between nature and man as well as divisions between visible and invisible matter, and this can be seen as one type of a unique natural view that emerged out of Chinese phenology. 

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Cheng Yu-yu is Professor of Chinese Literature at National Taiwan University. Her research interests include Chinese literary criticism, the aesthetics of the Six Dynasties, and fu style poety. Her recent publications (in Chinese) include: The Poet in Text and Landscape: Mutual Definition of Self and Landscape (Chinese Taipei, 2005); “From the Sck to the Self: The Self-Consciousness of the Body and the Lyrical Self in Chinese Literature,” Studies on Chi and Skill in Confucianism, ed. Ru-bin Yang and Ping-tzu Chu (Taipei, 2005); and “Body, Seasons, and Lyrics: The Relationship between Han and Wei Dynasty Literature, the Songs of Chu, and Yue-ling,” Chinese Studies  22 (2004).

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