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Boats Moored and Unmoored: Reflections on the Dunhuang Manuscripts of Gao Shi's Verse

From: Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies
Volume 73, Number 1, June 2013
pp. 83-145 | 10.1353/jas.2013.0008



David McMullen reviews Christopher M. B. Nugent's important study, Manifest in Words, Written on Paper: Producing and Circulating Poetry in Tang Dynasty China. He accepts most of Nugent's findings on verse production, memory, recitation, and anthologizing but queries Nugent's thesis that the author's role was reduced as copyists reproduced and adapted poems. McMullen offers evidence that individual literary reputations and authorial links were stronger in the eighth century than Nugent supposes, and that an elite ideal of precision in textual production and copying was probably widespread. McMullen's analysis of textual variation in recovered and transmitted epitaphs supports the idea that the texts of all wenji genres, not verse alone, might have been unstable from the moment of composition. Gao Shi's poems are a partial exception to this rule; copied relatively carefully early on, they later were incorporated in loosely constructed miscellanies, sometimes without authorial attribution.