The Organization of Distance:
Poetry, Translation, Chineseness

By Lucas Klein

Reviewed by Benjamin Ridgway

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright November, 2020)

Lucas Klein, The Organization of Distance Leiden: Brill Press, 2018. xi + 298 pgs. ISBN-978-90-04-36868-2 (cloth).

To discuss the contributions of Lucas Klein’s The Organization of Distance, Poetry, Translation, Chineseness, as well as its flaws, one needs to start at the ending. Klein draws on the insight made by Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1813 that translators tend to either leave the writer of a work alone and endeavor to move the reader toward the unfamiliar culture of that work, in an act that Klein terms “foreignization,” or move the work closer to the reader’s horizon of expectations, making it more familiar and palatable, in an act he calls “nativization.” These two terms, informed by his understanding of debates on translation and translingual practice in the study of both modern and premodern Chinese literature, form the critical fulcrum for his interrogation of the “Chinesenss” of poetry written in both modern and classical Chinese. To grasp what Klein means by “Chineseness,” one needs to link points raised in the conclusion of his book back to the introduction. On the one hand, Klein intends to upset the binary between modern and premodern Chinese poetry through a reinterpretation of poetry of the Tang (618-907). His resistance to a static notion of Chineseness is deeply informed by the 1990s debates spurred by Stephen Owen’s article “What Is World Poetry.” In his introduction, Klein discusses the range of reactions to one of Owen’s most controversial claims—that modern Chinese poets wrote under the assumption/anticipation their poetry would be translated into Western languages. Klein notes that in this debate both those critics who, like Owen, disparage modern poets for cutting themselves off from a rich “native” classical poetic tradition and those who praise the radical clashing of the modern with the staid “Chineseness” of this tradition share a common blindness. He keenly observes that “For both of them, upholding premodernity as the seat of Chineseness lost, mournfully or gleefully, to a changing world is afforded by the fact that neither side looks very closely at the cross-cultural and translational elements of premodern Chinese poetry” (pp. 12-13).

On the other hand, by the time one reaches the conclusion, it becomes clear that Klein is also arguing his case from the perspective of present cultural conditions. In the conclusion, he critiques the idea of Chineseness as an ideological cultural construct, an essentialized version of the past, or the “Chinese Dream” that the PRC state utilizes “to contain, control, and bind all political rhetoric within its own narrow confines” (pp. 228-29). Two quotations, one from the introduction and the other from the conclusion, show how the cultural and political inflections in Klein’s use of “Chineseness” intersect and intertwine with one another:

…the Chineseness as I discuss it here represents our displaced concerns about the stability of the culture’s identity as what Heather Inwood has called a ‘nation of poetry.’ Since globalization has in fact changed Chinese poetry, such displacement is not necessarily misplacement, but the globalization that has contributed to the changes of Chinese poetry is not necessarily the globalization of neoliberal financial or even earlier industrial capitalism. (p. 14)

That the Marxism supposed to underpin the ideology of the governing party is itself—or least once was—a foreign idea and Western value seems not to have troubled the people making the rules. Likewise, that the ‘Chinese Dream’ is itself an imitation of the American Dream is made all the more evident by the stridency of efforts to deny it. Meanwhile, I’m reminded of the famous line from another Dream 紅樓夢: ‘When the false is made true then truth is false’ 假作真是真亦假. Through such assertions of an essence that stops at the border, Chineseness becomes a political fact based on falsehood. (p. 228)

In these quotations, Klein makes several twists, turns, and leaps of thought, often interspersing his sentences mid-flow with quotations of others’ words, some with a clear application to the context at hand and others having been radically recontextualized, a characteristic of his prose that I will return to later. Putting prose style aside for the moment, he is right in understanding the unique place that poetry holds in notions of Chinese cultural identity or “Chineseness” and, more broadly conceived, the profound role that poetry has played in what can be called the “classical Chinese cosmopolis,” or those cultures of the premodern world in which classical Chinese was used as a common medium of written communication across political boundaries. As Earl Miner argued in the 1990s, an “affective-expressive” lyrical poetics is at the heart of the different strands of East Asian literary traditions.[1] Within the development of the Chinese poetic tradition, Tang poetry has long stood at the apex of literary achievement in the view of many premodern literary critics and been held up as a goal to be pursued if rarely ever matched. Already by the Song (960-1276), as scholars compiled the manuscript culture of Tang poetry into print editions that canonized many Tang poets for the first time, indelibly reshaping the corpus of poetry in the process—despite the fact that Song poetic production quantitatively far exceeds the Tang—Song poets clearly labored beneath an “anxiety of influence” in relation to their Tang predecessors.[2] It is precisely the constructedness of canonical stability that is at the crux of the problem Klein seeks to critique from the perspective of the present. Not only did the canonical stability of “Tang poetry” create a locus for the cultural identification of many [post-Tang] elites in imperial China, but, as Klein suggests, even today “Tang poetry” is harnessed as an ideological construct by state actors to project a closed-off sense of cultural identity or “Chineseness.” “Tang poetry” has quite unfairly been used as the benchmark by which the globalized idioms of modern Chinese poetry have been judged deficient by some critics in both China and in the West and thereby banished from the “nation of poetry.”

Klein’s solution to this conundrum is to read Chinese poetry across the premodern/modern divide, focusing on poets whose works enact the translation of other literary cultures into “Chineseness” and in the process employ different strategies of foreignization and nativization. Klein argues that “we can analyze as translation writing that is influenced by, responds to, and otherwise plays the role of translation—and in that analysis learn something about arguments and claims of Chineseness for Chinese poetry” (p. 8). In this way, Klein’s book is a welcome return to the type of scholarship best exemplified in Lydia Liu’s rereadings of canonical May Fourth authors of Chinese narrative fiction in her Translingual Practice, here in Klein’s effort to “restore the mark of translation to poems born out of cross-cultural contact, as foreignization fades into ambiguity” (p. 9).

The two part structure of the Organization of Distance directly challenges the influential claim of poet Ji Xian 紀弦 that modern Chinese poetry is defined by a “horizontal transplantation” of foreign models, whereas classical Chinese poets always looked backward and inward through successive acts of “vertical inheritance” from a native tradition.

Part 1 is comprised of two chapters in which Klein explores the translingual practice of poets Bian Zhilin 卞之琳 (1910-2000) and Yang Lian 楊煉 (b. 1955). Contrary to the conventional understanding of modern Chinese poetry as inspired by foreign literature, Klein emphasizes the way that these two modern poets negotiate between classical Chinese tropes, figures, and borrowings—as exemplified by Yang Lian’s poem-cycle “The Ritualized Soul” (禮魂)—and the Western canon of poetry—as seen in Klein’s interpretation of Bian Zhilin’s “The Composition of Distances” (距離的組織).

Part 2 explores analogous poetic practices, this time focusing on Tang poets. Here, Klein aims to “show how Chineseness was constructed in medieval Chinese poetry in relation to foreign and ancient source material” (p. 22). In chapter 3, Klein seeks to reconstruct a polemical and cultural tension between tonally regulated verse (律詩) or “recent-style poetry” (近體詩) and the non-tonally regulated “ancient-style poetry” (古體詩), both in terms of the ideological positions of Tang poets who used these genres and in terms of contemporary scholarship on Tang regulated verse. Chapter 3 provides the theoretical grounding for two case studies in chapters 4 and 5, on the high Tang poet Du Fu 杜甫 (712-770) and the late Tang poet Li Shangyin 李商隱 (813-858), respectively.

The remainder of this review will focus on Part 2 of Organization of Distance. In short, Klein takes a presentist approach to reading Tang poetry through translation, in so far as his interpretations bring social, economic, and cultural concerns of the present to bear on works of the Tang medieval past. In many ways, this is refreshing and sometimes has the effect of shaking these poems loose from their present-day static and canonical positions as latter-day constructions of “Tang poetry.” However, the slipperiness of the positionality of Klein’s critique and some misreadings of literary history create artificially rigid notions of how poets of the Tang regarded and used genre, detracting from a few of the book’s key arguments, and an extremely poor job of copy-editing seriously affects the work’s readability.

“Poetry during the Tang” and “Tang poetry”: The Problem of “Chineseness”

Both the flaws and successes in Klein’s book can be clearly seen in the light of a useful distinction between “poetry during the Tang” and “Tang poetry” that Christopher Nugent raised in his study of the cultural and material conditions for the production and circulation of poetry in Tang China. By the former, Nugent refers to the “specifically material aspects of poetry in the Tang,” most notably its circulation in manuscript form, whereas by the latter he points to the later canonization of a certain subset of poetry from this period into “Tang poetry.” When Nugent states, “We must be careful not to overlook the vast divide that separates us from this literature as it was produced and circulated in the Tang; what we think of as ‘Tang poetry’ is a very different beast from ‘Poetry during the Tang,’” he highlights how important it is for contemporary critical readers to be conscious of the positionality of their critiques in relation to the past.[3]

Chapter 3, “Indic Echoes: Form, Content, and Contested Chineseness in Regulated Verse,” is the most detailed and ambitious in Part 2 and, as stated, undergirds the interpretations and arguments of the final two chapters (4 and 5). In it, Klein takes as his starting point arguments made by Victor Mair and Tsu-lin Mei in their seminal 1991 article regarding “The Sanskrit Origins of Recent Style Poetry.” I should state at the outset, I find the arguments of Mair and Mei both convincing and uncontroversial. In my view, Mair and Mei support well their arguments that medieval elite writers’ consciousness of the tonal nature of Chinese language resulted from the cultural contact initiated in the process of translating Buddhist writings in Sanskrit or central Asian languages into Chinese and that Sanskrit prosody profoundly shaped what eventually became the prosody of regulated verse.  I applaud Klein for redirecting our focus to this important but neglected ground-breaking article. Further, building on the scholarship of Mair and Mei, Klein’s argument that regulated verse can be understood as fundamentally translational in nature or as a “translation genre” is innovative and compelling. His translation of the term fansheng 梵聲in Wang Wei’s poem, “Climbing to Distinguished Awareness Temple” (登辨覺寺) as “Sanskrit sounds” effectively forefronts the “foreignizing” dynamic within the centuries of cultural contact, translation, and literary experimentation that led to and was surely still visible to Tang contemporaries in Wang Wei’s Buddhist verse.

The remainder of the chapter, however, is devoted to a polemicizing of Tang genres that is not persuasive, particularly the claim that the Tang saw the rise of a “Confucian resistance to the poetics [of regulated verse] and implications of tonal prosody” (p. 119). Chapter 3 sometimes reads like a dissertation literature review, stringing together very lengthy quotations from the considerable body of scholarship on the development of tonal prosody throughout the Six Dynasties (220-589 CE) and into the Tang. Klein selectively picks out certain kinds of moments in this scholarship: first, moments when a premodern literary critic disparaged the movement toward tonal regulation during the medieval period and, second, passages in which a contemporary scholar expresses even the slightest reservations about attributing the full development of regulated verse entirely to Sanskrit models. Here the reader detects the slipperiness in the positionality of Klein’s critique. It is often unclear whether Klein intends to argue for an anti-tonal-regulation bias from within the medieval [Confucian] elite based on a reconstruction of the premodern cultural context or whether he wants to argue that contemporary scholars have constructed an ideological “Tang poetry” that departs from the historical “poetry of the Tang” or, in a grand transhistorical gesture, both. The reader is compelled to ask, who exactly is the “Confucian resistance”?

Klein answers this question by marching out the mid-Tang poets Meng Jiao 孟郊 (751-814) and Han Yu 韓愈 (768-824) to play their assigned roles as representatives of the “Confucian resistance to the poetics and implications of tonal prosody” in a highly polarized drama. Klein quotes The Poetry of Meng Chiao and Han Yu to draw on Stephen Owen’s observations of the prominence of the “theme of return to antiquity” in their poetry and to highlight the fact that, for these two individual poets, regulated verse was a form to be “scorned” and a genre to be “disdained” (p. 133). From these well-grounded observations, Klein rapidly escalates to the statement that “I see a link between Han Yu’s ‘disdain’ for regulated verse and his valorization of the native Confucian tradition over Buddhist foreignness” (p. 136).

The stridently anti-foreign and anti-Buddhist message of some of Han Yu’s writings is well established and undisputed. It is, however, not strictly relevant to other Tang poets’ reception and use of regulated verse. It is debatable how influential the generic choices of Han Yu and Meng Jiao were in mid-Tang literati culture. Han Yu may have been one of the loudest voices of the mid-Tang in his anti-foreign polemics but, as Anna Shields has demonstrated, his voice was just one among a large group of highly individualistic writers that interacted and responded to one another.[4] Through mutual exchanges in which they experimented across a range of genres, these mid-Tang poets both sought solidarity in a group of like-minded friends and aimed to advertise their singularity. Han Yu in particular, Shields argues, pursued the strategy of “differentiating oneself by adopting an outsider position” in order to “provide the ground for an intellectually aggressive critique of society and its mores.”[5] In other words, the single poet Han Yu—let alone Han Yu paired with Meng Jiao—simply cannot be construed as an organized, monolithic “Confucian resistance” to regulated verse in the mid-Tang. If anything, Han Yu’s cultural views and the importance of his poetry as a model for emulation did not occur until the tenth and eleventh centuries, following the cultural and institutional achievements of the “ancient-prose” movement, highlighting again the problem with the slippery positionality of Klein’s critique of Tang poetry. Significantly, the Song dynasty is also the period during which “Tang poetry” arguably first took on a long-lasting and influential canonical form through the medium of individual collections and anthologies.

Over the course of chapter 3 and extending into chapter 4, this claim leads Klein to rigidly interpret some Tang poets’ “ancient-style verse” as embodying an impulse toward a jingoistic “native Confucian tradition” and to associate “new-style verse” with foreignness, either openly manifest or guiltily suppressed. For example, consider Klein’s surprise that Du Fu should choose to write on the theme of “meditations on the past” (懷古) in the form of heptasyllabic regulated verse (七律) in his sequence entitled “Reciting My Thoughts on Ancient Traces” (詠懷古跡; rendered “Poetic Thoughts on Ancient Sites” by Frankel).[6] Here too, Klein seeks confirmation of a rather rigid and polemicized understanding of genre, drawing from Stephen Owen’s The Poetry of Meng Chiao and Han Yu. Klein quotes a portion of a sentence in which Owen states, “when poets sought to write poetry in the ancient manner, they naturally turned to the ‘old style verse’” in order to support the notion that it was unusual for Du Fu to write about ancient sites in regulated verse (p. 168). I suspect that by “in the ancient manner,” Owen is referring to writing that drew on the freer rhythms, lack of tonal-regulation, and hypotactic syntax of pre-Qin or Han dynasty classical prose and poetry in contrast to the paratactic and highly regulated nature of recent-style poetry. The rhetoric of writing “in the ancient manner” is thus distinct from the mode or theme of “meditations on the past” in which, typically, a poet reflects on an historical event that transpired in a specific place based on the traces or physical remnants of that event visible in the landscape. In The Flowering Plum and the Palace Lady, Hans H. Frankel taught us that the mode of “meditations on the past,” or what he terms “contemplation of the past,” knew no generic boundaries. Frankel shows that, over the centuries, this theme traveled from rhapsodies (賦), to the pailü 排律of Chen Ziang 陳子昂 (661-702), to the regulated verse of Meng Haoran 孟浩然 (691-740), to the very same heptasyllabic regulated verses of Du Fu discussed by Klein, and onward into song lyrics (詞) by Song writers like Wang Anshi 王安石(1021-1086) and most famously, Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101).[7] Klein quotes Owen’s exact words, albeit in fragmented form, but radically recontextualizes them to mean something perhaps not originally intended. As it turns out, in The Late Tang: Chinese Poetry of the Mid-Ninth Century (827-860), Owen persuasively argues and demonstrates that, following the practice of Du Fu, late Tang poets commonly used the heptasyllabic regulated verse to write on the theme of “meditations on the past (huaigu).”[8] In short, there is nothing surprising about Du Fu, or any other poet before or after him to whom the genre was available, reflecting on traces of the ancient past in regulated verse. There is no inherent contradiction here. It is only surprising if one begins with the assumption that writing in “ancient-style verse” meant an ideological commitment to nativism and the past, while writing “regulated verse” always indicated a form of the foreign, overtly or covertly. Contrary to his stated intention, Klein’s misreadings of literary history and radical recontextualizing of authoritative scholarship actually narrows the interpretive horizon for Tang poetry.

A larger problem with the arguments that run through Part 2 is the thorny question of just how applicable the term “Chineseness” is to a period prior to the advent of the nation-state, either conceptually or institutionally. There is a certain defensiveness of tone in chapter 3, including Klein’s use of expressions like “the purported anachronism of medieval Chineseness,” that suggests a difference of opinion with assessments made by unnamed others (p. 133). Other analytical terms, such as “cultural difference” or “ethnic difference,” certainly have the potential to do some of the same critical work that Klein aims to accomplish with “Chineseness.” The problem with the use of this term in Part 2 is twofold. First, as can be seen from the conclusion of the book, Klein’s use of “Chineseness” is fundamentally a presentist concept. If Klein’s project was primarily to critique modern reconstructions of “Tang poetry,” the issue of anachronism would be moot. But, if my understanding is correct that Klein’s aim is to question modern scholars’ understanding of “Tang poetry” by formulating a new historical argument about the tension between genres in “poetry during the Tang” and their use of translingual “nativizing” and “foreignizing” strategies, then negotiating changing notions of cultural identity between the Tang and the present is critical. The second problem is that there is no sustained discussion of how Tang conceptions of political territory or ethnic identity relate to the presentist notion of “Chineseness” or how the author intends to theoretically navigate the difference between “poetry during the Tang” and later-day “Tang poetry.” Klein sporadically refers to the work of Marc Abramson, quoting passages from his book Ethnic Identity in Tang China in which the concept of “Chineseness” appears, though the narrow selectivity and fragmented nature of those quotations makes it impossible for readers to assess how exactly Abramson deploys the term (p. 116). Further, it is unclear how Klein positions his arguments in relation to the significant theoretical work on the emergence of territorial and ethnic concepts of Han Chinese cultural identity published by historians such as Hilde De Weerdt, Nicolas Tackett, and Shao-yun Yang, because he does not engage the quite lively debates among these scholars on the question of the nation in pre-modern China within this larger field of cultural history.[9] Recalling Nugent’s cautionary comment, a denial of or refusal to engage with historical alterity runs the risk of essentializing notions of Chineseness as an immutable transhistorical concept, an end that is clearly antithetical to the stated aims of Klein’s critical intervention into Tang poetry.

Lastly, the poor quality of copy editing glaringly evident throughout the book needlessly undercuts the persuasiveness and readability of Klein’s important arguments. There are numerous examples of overly long quotations, up to nine lines long or approximately one quarter of a page (e.g., p. 123). Surely, copy-editors could have advised the author to format these as block quotes or simply paraphrase. On top of this, there are frequent parenthetical insertions mid-sentence that disrupt the flow and logic of the argument. For example, in Klein’s discussion of the An Lushan Rebellion, he bizarrely shunts a quotation by Rong Xinjiang into a parenthetical insertion, while paraphrasing the views of Marc Abramson at length, making the ten-line sentence almost entirely unreadable (p. 136). Similarly, in his discussion of Du Fu’s regulated verses on “meditations on the past,” Klein provides biographical background on the poets Ruan Ji 阮籍 (210-263) and Ji Kang 嵇康 (223-262) in a six-line parenthetical insertion at the beginning of a paragraph (p. 169). It is baffling why the copy editors did not advise the author to place this information into a footnote or at least better integrate it into the prose of the paragraph. Perhaps most egregious are the misspellings of the names of some contemporary scholars. In chapter 4, we read a partial quotation of an interpretation of Du Fu’s poetry found awkwardly crammed into yet another parenthetical insertion by “Forence Yeh,”—a misspelling of the name “Florence Chia-ying Yeh,” better known by her Chinese name, Yeh Chia-ying (葉嘉瑩) (p. 165). It is already quite odd—if not inappropriate—to relegate Yeh’s views to a parenthetical insertion, seemingly a mere afterthought; she stands as one of the foremost senior scholars of classical Chinese poetry and of Song lyrics in particular. The misspelling of her name adds insult to injury. While it is certainly true that we all make typos in e-mails and other documents written hastily or casually, we are dealing here with a published scholarly monograph and any copy-editor worth their salt would catch this kind of spelling error. Infelicities in the scholarly prose that the editing process inexplicably did not clean up obscure the clear expression of the author’s ideas and the presence of sloppy errors like these risks making the publisher look amateurish.

Situating Li Shangying in Translation: “Tang Poetry” in Print and in Globalized Material History

Felicitously, chapter 5, “An Awakening Dream: Borders and Communication in the Translation of Li Shangyin,” offers welcome relief from the methodological and mechanical problems that mar earlier chapters. First of all, the effect of a cacophony of voices speaking at once, a result of Klein’s tendency to use overly long quotations and frequently interrupt himself with stray thoughts and extraneous information (often inserted into parenthesis), largely ceases or at least subsides in this chapter. This suggests that, prior to its inclusion in the book, chapter 5 may have gone through a more careful process of copy-editing that somehow eluded earlier chapters. More important, this chapter contains some of Klein’s best and most productive readings/translations of Tang poetry. The reason for this is that here Klein’s positionality as a translator who situates Li Shangyin’s poetry as a form of “Tang poetry” stands out most clearly. He describes how we as contemporary readers receive Li Shangyin’s poems transmitted and framed in the form of print collections and how the fact that Li’s images and allusions are embedded in a material history are crucial to their interpretation.

In contrast to the vast scholarship that attempts to ground Li Shangyin’s notoriously ambiguous “Untitled Poems” (無題詩) in the minutiae of the poet’s biography, his hypothetical romantic relationships, or within a narrowly-conceived historical context, Klein interprets Li Shangyin’s poems as important not for their elusive historical referents, but for the way their generic form and exotic content meld together and reshape their readers (pp. 194-95). Taking into consideration the unique placement of his poem “The Opulent Zither” (錦瑟) in print editions of Li’s collected poems beginning in the Song and continuing into the Ming, Klein innovatively regards this and other poems in the “untitled” set as Li Shangyin’s “ars poetica,” or poems on the crafting of poetry (pp. 190-91).

This is the single most successful chapter in the book, I believe, because Klein both grounds his productive close readings in the materiality of Tang history and simultaneously recognizes the successive layers of later-day reframing involved in reading “Tang poetry” in the present. In his close reading of Li’s “A Poem on History” (詠史), Klein nicely draws out how the inclusion of exotic foreign objects in both of the middle couplets, “amber” (琥珀) and the Central Asian “horses of Koko Nor” (Qinghai ma 青海馬), “foreignizes” the narrative of the history of “native” sage rulers of the ancient past, thereby ironically undercutting the poem’s opening couplet that nominally espouses a form of frugality associated with those sage rulers.[10] The poem compels the reader to question the Tang’s sense of cultural self-sufficiency and to recognize Tang elite culture’s obsession with objects obtained through war or trade with places from afar, for good or for ill. In a sense, Li Shangyin forces his readers, Tang dynasty or contemporary, to reconsider norms of the ancient “native” past through the translational membrane of the poet’s contemporary globalized culture. Klein has spent a long time working on Li Shangyin and Li’s ambiguous and complex poetics clearly rhyme well with his writing style and critical approach. I certainly hope to see more work from Klein that considers how Tang-Song poetry is always already globalized.

The Song dynasty response to the challenge of the unshakeable canonicity of Tang poetry in part was to create a synthetic poetics in which Song poets recast the pregnant phrases of their Tang predecessors and placed them into new contexts in order to give birth to something new. This was epitomized by the poetic method of Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅 (1045-1105).[11] Huang’s strikingly idiosyncratic, difficult, dense, and sometimes confusing poetry is not beloved by all, but it did herald a new direction in Chinese poetics that challenged both his admirers and detractors to respond.[12] I think that the same could be said of The Organization of Distance. There is a distinct synthetic quality to portions of the book, especially chapter 3, that is going to rub some readers the wrong way. However, the challenge of Klein’s insights will be of interest and important to a range of audiences. His book, quite amazingly, speaks to scholars and readers of both modern and classical Chinese poetry, engaging the scholarship from both of these fields while challenging its members to think outside their disciplinary boxes. The book is suitable for in-depth graduate seminars, especially on the topics of translation and translingual practice. Although it may be a rather steep climb for undergraduate readers, given that Klein assumes his readers possess a considerable familiarity with the scholarly literature on both classical and modern Chinese poetry, I think that chapters 4 and 5 both stand well on their own and could be assigned as additional reading on Du Fu and Li Shangyin for ambitious students. Last but not least, Klein’s book is important because his arguments are in dialogue with a larger movement to reconsider the global dimensions of the medieval world, both the way in which poetry during the Tang-Song period borrowed objects and translated ideas from broader global exchanges of the past and the way that this poetry continues to be recast and reinvented by poets of China’s present. 

Benjamin Ridgway
Swarthmore College


[1] Earl Miner, Comparative Poetics, An Intercultural Essay on Theories of Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990): 8-9.

[2] Stuart Sargent, “Can Latecomers Get There First? Sung Poets and T’ang Poetry,” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, and Reviews 4, no. 2 (1982): 165-198.

[3] Christopher M. B. Nugent, Manifest in Words, Written on Paper: Producing and Circulating Poetry in Tang Dynasty China (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2010): 4.

[4] Anna M. Shields, One Who Knows Me: Friendship and Literary Culture in Mid-Tang China (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2015).

[5] Shields, 19.

[6] Hans H. Frankel. The Flowering Plum and the Palace Lady, Interpretations of Chinese Poetry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), 116-124.

[7] Frankel, 104-127.

[8] Stephen Owen, The Late Tang, Chinese Poetry of the Mid-Ninth Century (827-860) (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006): 183-210.

[9] See Hilde De Weerdt, Information, Territory, and Networks: The Crisis and Maintenance of Empire in Song China (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2015); Nicolas Tackett, The Origins of the Chinese Nation: Song China and the Forging of an East Asian World Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); and Shao-yun Yang, The Way of the Barbarians: Redrawing Ethnic Boundaries in Tang and Song China (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2019). Publication of Yang’s book postdates the publication of Lucas Klein’s The Organization of Distance, though Yang’s other articles and chapters on the topic of territorial and ethnic concepts of cultural identity in Tang-Song China that inform Yang’s book were published earlier.

[10] Klein translates the first couplet of “A Poem on History” as “I’ve read all about those former greats, about their states and homes/ Success follows diligence and thrift, ruin follows the profligate” (歷覽前賢國與家/ 成由勤儉敗由著) (p. 205).

[11] For the development of Huang Tingjian’s poetic “method” (fa 法) see Yugen Wang, Ten Thousand Scrolls: Reading and Writing in the Poetics of Huang Tingjian and the Late Northern Song (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2011).

[12] For the Southern Song response to the challenge of Huang Tingjian’s synthetic poetics, see chapters 3 and 4 of Michael Fuller, Drifting among Rivers and Lakes: Southern Song Dynasty Poetry and the Problem of Literary History (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013).