Su Fu

Assistant Professor, School of Chinese Language and Literature at Nanjing Normal University
Faculty Adviser: Anna Shields

When the South Matters: Imagination of Chu and Canonization of Chuci (Verses of Chu)


This dissertation investigates the construction of Chuci (a collection of poems purportedly written by the legendary figure Qu Yuan and his followers) as a southern anthology and literary tradition from Han (202 BCE- 220 CE) to Song (960-1279). It demonstrates that, rather than inherent in the text per se, the traits conventionally recognized as marks of the anthology’s southernness were cultural and political constructs with an agenda to articulate a southern identity for both state and literati. To that end, the dissertations examines the anthologizing practices, together with a close reading of commentaries, prefaces, letters, and imitations. The dissertation is divided into five chapters. Chapter One examines the Han compilation and valorization of Chuci in relation with Qu Yuan’s Chu identity. The trajectory of conception of Chuci through Six Dynasties (222-589) and Tang (618-907) are arranged thematically in three chapters. Each chapter probes one of the literary images of Chu—a symbol for displacement, a culture of lewd rites, and a fallen state—and its impact on the Chuci exegesis and assessment. The entire narrative ends in Chapter Five at the Song when previous proliferation of meaning and debates on the anthology’s value were transformed into a new country-wide recognition of its canonical status, with Southern Song literati identification of Chu as a tragic predecessor. In particular, by defining Chuci as a style exclusively bound to the southland, Southern Song literati claimed their exclusive ownership of the cultural heritage of the anthology and further implicitly claimed for the Song court’s cultural authority in the face of military threat from the northern nomads.