Yixin Gu

Assistant Professor in Classical Chinese Literature, Lingnan University, Hong Kong
Faculty Adviser: Martin Kern

The Enchantment of Erudition: Models and Manifestations of Literary Culture in Han-Wei China


This dissertation is an inquiry into the transition of Chinese literary culture from the late first century BCE through the third century CE. The three centuries under review witnessed a spectacular cultural phenomenon—namely, the emergence and proliferation of an individual form of “erudition.” Such a model was presented as an integration of manifold values related to learning, writing, and authority, as well a collective imaginaire distributed among a variety of personal embodiments and verbal manifestations. With a wealth of data drawn from philosophic, historiographic, biographic, epitaphic, and poetic texts, the research unpacks a dynamic repository of ideas and utterances—from commonplace vocabulary to sophisticated discourses—associated with this model, which was cast into the composite image of individual as the ideal inheritor, container, producer, and transformer with wide-ranging and self-oriented interests in knowledge and texts. These phenomena altogether demonstrate a re-orientation of Chinese literary culture, from a comparatively narrow sphere regulated by the institutional matrix, toward a multi-centered proliferation of materials, repositories, practitioners, and literary products. The study in general aims at a reconstruction of the complex intellectual labor and communicative practices involved in the process of making individual erudition a shared, emblematic construction of ideology, which exists beyond the boundaries of conventional archives of knowledge formation but dwells in an extended coded system of communication and meaning-production. Therefore, my inquiry challenges a set of conceptual frameworks related to the studies of early and medieval China, such as the disciplinary division of “canonical studies” and “literature” (in its narrow, modern sense), the orality-versus-writing dichotomy, the essentialized notion of “Self-consciousness,” as well as the discourse of material determinism. Meanwhile, the study re-examines the powers of knowledge involved in the imaginary combination of “erudition” and “individuality” not merely as a specific notion of ideological criticism against institutionalization but, simultaneously, as a truth-making and power-generating enchantment supplying the conceptual foundation for an alternative socio-cultural matrix.