Jian'an Literature Revisited: Poetic Dialogues in the Last Three Decades of the Han Dynasty
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The Jian'an period (196-220), which is best known through the fictionalized account in the <italic>Romance of the Three States</italic>, is also an important literary period. It is celebrated for its major writers such as Cao Cao, Cao Pi, Cao Zhi and Wang Can. Previous scholars have mainly been concerned with the life and poetry of an individual writer. In this dissertation, I attempt to take an approach that crosses the boundary between individual writers. I read Jian'an poems--including <italic>shi</italic>, <italic>fu</italic>, and <italic>yuefu</italic>--as the authors' poetic dialogues with their contemporaries. This approach is based on the fact that the writers gathered at the court of Cao Cao and shared the language of poetry. Whether drinking together or living apart, they often engaged in a dialogue on a common topic through the medium of writing. Their topics range from travel, careers, expeditions, to merriment. Like the Athenian speechmakers in Plato's "Symposium," Jian'an writers also tried to impress, persuade, entertain and challenge one another in their poems. Having this context in mind and drawing inspiration from Western literature, I explore how Jian'an poems can be better understood and how the individual writers together established a literary tradition of their own.