"A significant season": literature in a time of endings : Cài Yōng and a few contemporaries
Asselin, Mark Laurent
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The years 159 to 192 C.E., from the palace coup overthrowing Liang Ji to the assassination of Dong Zhuo, form a distinct epoch marked by sociopolitical calamities that presage the end of the Han era. Literary works by Cai Yong (132/133-192) and some of his contemporaries, Zhao Yi (ca. 130-ca. 185 C.E.), Zhu Mu (100-163 C.E.), and Zhang Chao, invest the tragic course of the times with a significance derived from a perception that these events signal a great change; some kind of "ending" is inevitable and imminent.In The Sense of an Ending, Frank Kermode describes kairos as "a significant season ..., charged with a meaning derived from its relation to the end." This is a useful way to describe the epoch of late second-century China. In this context we can call a literature that reveals its writers' beliefs about the future--their own fate or that of their society--by reflecting on and extrapolating from their memories of past events and perceptions of present circumstances, "kairotic literature." The epoch of 159-192 witnessed the emergence of a kairotic literature.Each of the chapters in this study focusses on a different issue associated with the late Han fin de siecle--the sociopolitical and literary background of this period, the political crisis at court, the end of the "Confucian" orthodoxy, emerging individual sensibilities and cultural "decadence," and filial piety and death. The literary works treated herein are all united by the act of creating a concord between past (shared cultural and historical memory), present (social and political crises), and future (the increasingly apparent end of the era). This study also concludes that in this period there was a shift in the center of clerisy-written literature from the court to "public" exchange, i.e., circulation of works among members of the clerisy class.Thirteen appendices accompany this study, consisting of detailed annotated translations of the works discussed in the text.
- East Asian studies