Evolving practices of Guan and Liu Xie's theory of literary interpretation

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The term guan , literally meaning "to observe" or "observation," has been used to denote a broad range of interpretive traditions developed since antiquity. Of early interpretive traditions, two are most noteworthy. The first is that of guanshi or "observing the Poetry"-that is, the Book of Poetry (Shijing , hereafter Poetry)-prevalent in pre- Han and Han times. This tradition is composed of diverse interpretive practices and views. The other is that of guanren (observing human characters) that flourished during the Wei-Jin period. This tradition is less diverse and features mainly two opposing interpretive approaches, one thoroughly objective and analytical and the other, highly subjective and aesthetic. An in-depth exploration of early interpretive practices and views is particularly important to a study of the development of the guanwen (observing belles lettres) tradition during the Six Dynasties. In theorizing about the newly established guanwen tradition, Liu Xie (ca. 465-ca. 532) draws extensively from those interpretive practices and views and formulates a comprehensive theory of literary interpretation in "The One Who Knows the Tones" ("Zhiyin" ), the forty-eighth chapter of his magnum opus Wenxin diaolong (Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons). Liu Xie's debt to those early interpretive practices and views is much greater than commonly acknowledged. By investigating this debt, I seek to demonstrate not only the genesis of Liu's theory but also the interconnectedness of all the interpretive practices and views examined. This, I hope, will shed light on the evolution of interpretive traditions in ancient and early medieval China.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInterpretation And Literature In Early Medieval China
PublisherState University of New York Press
Number of pages30
ISBN (Print)9781438432175
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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