Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Pan Yue's "Study of a Widow" and Its Predecessors

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Pan Yue's "Study of a Widow" and Its Predecessors

Article excerpt

This article is a case study in the intertextuality of early medieval Chinese poetry, where the imitation of and allusion to earlier works is the focus of the author's craft and the catalyst of literature's emotional power. The study proceeds by analyzing the intertextual relation between a late third-century fu [??] about a widow and its early third-century predecessors, showing how they are linked both by generic constraints and direct allusion and imitation, all of which together tend to create in these works a limiting formality and artificiality. Yet their very formality assists in the expression of emotion and the constitution of authorial subjectivity. Finally, two modern counterparts with their own allusive relationship shed further light on the literary representation of widowhood.

As with much medieval Chinese literature, the textual relationships of interest in Pan Yue's fu are for the most part not allusions, in the sense of specific references to earlier texts, although there are many such classical allusions. What is even more striking is the pervasive use of shared language: phrases, lines, and even larger structures. The term "intertextuality" seems most appropriate to designate these shared usages. (1) Though the texts under discussion in this article include an explicit attempt at imitation, this imitation blends together with classical allusions and repetitions of other texts. Intertextuality here is used to include all these textual linkages, regardless of whether any particular example of shared language was intended to be recognized as such. It is the overall pattern, regulating both the macroscopic structure and local details, that deserves to be termed intertextuality. A close reading of a few poems from the third century C.E. can suggest some of the larger cultural implications of this intertextuality. (2)

The principal text under examination here is the "Study of a Widow" [??] (3) by Pan Yue [??] (247-300), one of several fu by Pan that are preserved in the great sixth-century anthology Wen xuan [??]. (4) Based on a biographical sketch, one would not expect to find tender depictions of grief in Pan Yue's oeuvre. (5) His behavior as a lackey to Shi Chong [??] (249-300) and Jia Mi [??] (?-300) has long been denounced, in particular the treasonous letter he drafted, which was falsely attributed to Sima Yu [??] (d. 300), Crown Prince Minhuai [??]. (6) But his numerous funerary compositions, including both public court pieces and more intimate ones mourning his own wife and children, are also noteworthy. This aspect of his achievement was already recognized in his Jin shu biography, which comments that he "excelled particularly in composing laments and dirges." (7) Not only does he have fu and poems lamenting his wife and others, but also numerous compositions in the genres of epitaphs, lamentations, offerings, and dirges. To give just one example of their popularity, the Wen xuan includes four separate dirges by him. His poems mourning his wife and children are especially moving, and have been the subject of two valuable essays. (8) Here I want to consider Pan's "Study of a Widow," which is not an account of his own loss, but a proso-popoeia, or literary impersonation, in the voice of the widow of a friend. Perhaps this distancing device was one reason that this fu was one of those deemed appropriate for inclusion in the Wen xuan (unlike "Mourning the Departed" [??] for his own wife, for instance). It has more of the formality and general scope of other fu selected for the anthology.

Pan Yue wrote the fu after the death of his friend Ren Hu [??]. The two friends were doubly linked, since they had been close friends since childhood, and Ren Hu's wife was the younger sister of Pan Yue's wife. Thus Ren Hu's death broke up not only his own family, but also Pan Yue's, and the fu is, among other things, a moving response to Ren's death. Lu Kanru [??] has convincingly dated the fu to 276 based on two pieces of evidence. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.