Wendy Swartz - Associate Professor of Chinese Literature, Rutgers University
Any study of reading and writing practices in early medieval China must consider the issue of intertextuality. During the third and fourth centuries, the Chinese literati drew extensively from a set of philosophical classics, in particular Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Yijing (later referred to collectively as the Three Mysterious Texts 三玄), and their respective commentaries, to express their positions in conversation or in writing on major issues ranging from politics to nature to human behavior. Understanding the early history of reading in China involves not only tracking what was read and the manner in which it was read (aloud or silent, leisurely or intensely), but also probing into how the texts were interpreted and appropriated. A text’s readability is perhaps best demonstrated by its iterability (capacity for repetition): re-using a text makes an unequivocal statement about having understood its meaning. Writing well, like reading well, meant demonstrating a command of the textual tradition and cultural codes, and the ability to appropriate them. In this way, intertextuality constituted equally a condition of writing as well as a mode of reading in early medieval China. My paper focuses on the writings of Sun Chuo, a leading poet of the time, to explore the ways in which classical texts were read, quoted, and appropriated.