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T'ang Studies 22 (2004) The Limits of Knowledge: Three Han Yu Letters to Friends, 799-802 ANNA M. SHIELDS UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND, BALTIMORE COUNTY During the mid-Tang era, friendship became increasingly visible in literary texts as a topic, as a social context for particular literary practices, and as a site for certain kinds of expression. As a number of scholars have argued in recent years, the literary diversity of the mid-Tang stemmed from the fact that literati were increasingly writing in contexts outside the court, often in social groups formed by choice.1 Within these groups, men cultivated different intellectual interests and literary tastes; in the space of one decade, for example, we have the political and social satires of the "new yuefu" *Jf~J& poems of Bai Juyi and his friends and the championing of guwen ~)(, ancient-style prose, in the circle around Han Yu. From one perspective, then, the many references 1 See, for example, David McMullen, State and Scholarsin T'ang China (Cambridge : Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988); Ma Minghao )f!~~1~, Ttmgdai shehui yu Yuan, Bai wenxuejituanguanxi zhiyanjiu ~1i;t±-t"Wj(;B)z:~~~~~1* LliJf~ (Taipei: Xuesheng shuju, 1991), 1-35; Kawai K6z6 IIlirJ*":::, "The transformation of Chinese Literature: From the High T' ang to the Mid- T' ang," Acta Asiatica 70 (1996),76-94, and "T6dai bungaku" ~1i;)z:~, Shimanzan no heny{FPi¥iL1J(7)~~ : t:p~)z:~~A1J~ (Tokyo: Kenbun shuppan, 1999), 5-28; Stephen Owen, "Introduction," TheEnd of the Chinese Middle Ages:·Essaysin Mid-Ttmg Literary Culture (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1996), 1-11; Meng Erdong :d£=~,Zhong Ttmg shige zhi kaituo yu xinbian t:p ~~~LF7¥J t1i:W*JT~(Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 1998). 41 Shields: Han Yu to friendship in mid-Tang texts are quite natural; as they pursued their respective literary interests, the members of these circles also began to examine their own social practice in texts, which is to say that they became more and more interested in writing about their circles and the friends in them. But mid-Tang friendship is, curiously, both over-publicized and under-examined. Bai Juyi and Yuan Zhen may be the most famous literary friends in all of Chinese history, and the friendship of Han Yu and Meng Jiao has also been praised by readers for centuries, but this fame has not to date prompted an examination of the representation of friendship within social circles or across the period. Given the increasing presence of friendship in a variety of mid-Tang texts, the representations of this social relation deserve closer scrutiny. In my current research, I argue that friendship in the midTang was not merely a vital social context for literary composition, which it had long been, but that it also emerged as an absorbing and productive problem for mid-Tang writers, something to be celebrated, negotiated, and contested in texts. Friendship became a fertile source of publicity in the texts produced over a literati career. In the first four decades of the ninth century, for example, we find writers compiling numerous ehanghe n~~o ("sung to match") poetry collections, linked verse compositions, and specialized prose collections with their peers.2 The prefaces to such collections 2 The yiwen zhi of the jiu Tang shu notes nineteen collections of ehanghe verse that can be dated to the mid-Tang; the lianju of Han Yu, Meng ]iao, and Li Ao are collected in their bieji. There is also ample evidence of mid-Tang prose (memorials, essays, and other genres used in official service) and rhapsody collections compiled by literati peers. For an overview of Tang poetic collecting practices, including a discussion of trends by period, see Chen Shangjun ~* It'D ~, "Tang ren bian xuan shige zongji shulu" ngAi\\jB~W:~#.\~'*if~, Ttmg dai 42 T'ang Studies 22 (2004) often praised the community of peers as uniquely inspiring circumstances for composition.3 As these collections circulated, they advertised the talents of their contributors, publicized their social contacts, and promoted their shared literary tastes. Finally, and perhaps most subtly, we find friendship invoked in mid-Tang texts as a relationship grounded in a special kind of knowledge, or understanding. The friend was...


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