- Recent Contributions to Tang Literary Studies: Networks, Gossip, and Literary History
The study of Tang literature in North America has enjoyed a notable resurgence in the last decade, with new publications by both established scholars in the field and emerging younger scholars. It is perhaps not surprising that Tang poetry has continued to exert a strong gravitational pull, given its prominence within traditional literary history. The most recent volume by Stephen Owen on the late Tang brings his multi volume literary history of Tang poetry to a possible close, while [End Page 131] Paul W. Kroll’s edited volume on medieval poetry contains important new essays on early and high Tang poetry by Ding Xiang Warner, Timothy Wai Keung Chan, and Kroll himself.1 Christopher M. B. Nugent’s monograph on Tang poetic manuscript culture provides a groundbreaking account of how poetry was produced and circulated during this period.2 Mary Anne Cartelli examines Buddhist poems from Dunhuang and situates these texts within the religious discourses on the sacred site of Mount Wutai.3 And my own work locates the poetry of Emperor Taizong within political and ritual discourses of sovereignty.4
In addition, a number of other recent studies have addressed other genres or subjects that have not yet received significant critical attention. Ding Xiang Warner provides a textual and social historical analysis of Wang Tong’s 王通 (584?–617) Zhongshuo 中說, a controversial text whose authenticity and significance has been debated over the course of the last thousand years.5 Jan de Meyer builds upon the traditional model of a single author study by discussing the Daoist master Wu Yun’s 吳筠 (d. 778) prose and poetry in terms of Wu’s relationship to Tang dynasty Shangqing 上清 (Upper clarity) and Tianshi 天師 (Celestial masters) Daoism.6 Lastly, the two edited volumes of annotated translations of Tang tales (xiaoshuo 小說; more on this below) by William H. Nienhauser Jr. and his team present a useful critical introduction to the genre and can serve as teaching materials for undergraduate and beginning graduate student courses.7 [End Page 132]
One can add to this list the four volumes under review here, which provide further evidence of how Tang literary studies has continued to grow and deepen. These new studies call attention to the complex histories of Tang textuality, the thematic categories through which we read these texts, and the ways networks of relationships have shaped literary production. Sarah M. Allen’s Shifting Stories, Manling Luo’s Literati Storytelling, and Linda Feng’s City of Marvel and Transformation all cover similar ground insofar as they focus on the extant corpus of Tang narrative tales, though they approach the material from different perspectives. This narrative form was once commonly referred to as chuanqi 傳奇 (transmitted marvels), following Lu Xun’s 魯迅 designation, but the texts now are known more generally as xiaoshuo (tales, stories). Allen draws upon scholarship associated with the New Medievalism, seeking to frame philological questions of textual variance within larger historical contexts.8 Luo’s work is more directly influenced by folklore studies, which inform her use of the concept of storytelling and her categorization of story motifs. Feng takes the capital of Chang’an as her focus, examining narratives that lead into and around the city, with much attention to the famous “Li Wa zhuan” 李 娃傳 (Tale of Li Wa).
Shields’s study, by contrast, does not focus on a single genre but rather takes up the theme of friendship during the mid-Tang, tracing...