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Reviews 221 Stephen Owen. The End ofthe Chinese 'MiddleAges': Essays in Mid-Tang Literary Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. 209 pp. Hardcover $39.50, isbn 0-8047-2666-3. Paperback $14.95, isbn 0-8047-2667-1. Despite its recognized importance in the history of Chinese literature, scholarly works in English on Tang dynasty poetry appear only infrequently. Particularly welcome, therefore, is a new book by Stephen Owen, who, since the 1970s, has established himselfas a leading authority on the development ofTang poetry and on Tang poets and the appreciation of their work. In The End ofthe Chinese MiddleAges,' Professor Owen has returned to his first love, the literature ofthe end ofthe eighth and the beginning of the ninth centuries, the subject ofhis first book, based on his Ph.D. thesis, published by Yale University Press in 1975. The Poetry ofMeng Chiao and Han Yu, as its title suggests, was an analysis of the lives and works ofindividual poets, as was The Poetry ofthe Early T'ang, which Owen published two years later, also with Yale University Press. This second work covered the period traditionally known as the Early Tang era, from the beginning ofthe dynasty up to the beginning of the eighth century, and included the transitions from pre-Tang poetry and into the better-known High Tang period of the eighdi century, when China's most famous poets, Li Bo and Du Fu, were active. His new book, The End ofthe Chinese 'Middle Ages, ' Owen claims, in part, to be an answer to the challenge to continue his analysis ofTang poetry into the period after the High Tang. To the Mid-Tang he assigns the dates 791 to 825, when Han Yu, Meng Jiao, and their circle were active, rather than the arbitrary traditional dates ofthe 770s through the 830s. In his introduction, Owen explains what he calls the near impossibility ofwriting a literary study ofthis period devoted exclusively to poetry and concentrating in turn on individual poets and their oeuvres, since die poetry ofthis time was so closely related to other literary genres and to intellectual, cultural, and social developments in general. Instead, he adopts the essay format ofhis 1985 work, published by the University ofWisconsin , Traditional Chinese Poetry and Poetics: Omen ofthe World, to examine certain themes shared by Mid-Tang literature in general and that set it apart from the literature ofearlier and later periods. It is the major break with earlier Tang poetry that gives Owen's book its challenging tide and justifies his movement away from the format ofmore conventional treatments ofTang literature, including his own© 1998 by University early work on what may be termed the last medieval Chinese poems. ofHawai'i PressStephen Owen is not the first scholar to characterize the late eighth century as the transition from China's medieval age to its early modern period. The prewar Japanese scholar Naitö Torajirö argued that medieval Chinese history gave 222 China Review International: Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1998 way to the early modern era around the middle to late eighth century, at approximately the time of the An Lushan Rebellion. His theory has since been accepted by many historians of China in the West, as well as by his followers in Japan. The Chinese acceptance of Han Yu as the major figure of the fugu ("return to antiquity ") movement to restore the primacy of classical-style prose over medieval parallel prose and as a precursor of the Song dynasty Neo-Confucian philosophers is universally acknowledged. Nevertheless, many scholars, including Stephen Owen in his work on the Early Tang, trace the beginnings of the new poetry back to at least a century earlier. The specifically new qualities of the literature of Han Yu and his intellectual circle have been touched upon in a number ofworks written in English over the past three or so decades. Edwin G. Pulleyblank (i960) noted that the aftermath of the An Lushan Rebellion saw scholars, uprooted from comfortable careers in nordiern China, developing a new critical approach to the classics and an idealism in literature and in life that they could afford to pursue outside office. Their questioning led to the new-style literature of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 221-225
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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