Rainbows, Sunbeams, Snowflakes and Butterflies: the Wushan Goddess and Divine Concubines in the Court Poetry of the Early Tang

Mid Term Review PhD Seminar


Eugenie Edquist


Basham Room, Baldessin Precinct Building (110), Ellery Crescent, ANU


Monday, 26 November, 2018 - 12:30 to 14:00

Shangguan Yi 上官儀 (608-665) has been dismissed as a peddler of dissipated erotic doggerel, the worst example of the overheated praise and sensual excess that, in the traditional view of Chinese literature, characterises the court poetry of the Early Tang. The Wushan goddess was originally a local ancestress associated with the remote and dangerous Wu Gorge in Hubei’s Three Gorges region; however, the goddess appears in Six Dynasties and Early Tang court poems as a vehicle by which these licentious poetics were achieved, a divine avatar for a courtly concubine. This seminar is a close reading of one of Shangguan Yi’s few surviving works, ‘Eight Songs on Imperial Request (in Two Parts)’, Ba yong ying zhi er shou 八詠應制二首. By expanding the poem’s allusive content, investigating Shangguan Yi’s innovations on the ‘Eight Songs’ generic model, and correlating this information with the historical record, I will attempt to reconstruct a plausible context for the poem’s production. I will make the case that Ba yong ying zhi is both frankly erotic and a serious response to a specific political event, a crisis of legitimacy that both required, and transformed, the poetic depiction of the Wushan goddess.

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