Yiyi Luo

Assistant Professor, School of Literature, Capital Normal University, Beijing
Faculty Adviser: Anna Shields

Yu Xin and the Sixth-century Literary World


This dissertation offers new perspectives to explore the writings of Yu Xin 庾信 (513-581 CE), one of the most prominent and representative writers in sixth-century China. Through a combination of close reading with a knowledge of current theory of persona criticism and particular attention to the historical and intellectual contexts of the sixth century, it examines the diversity of ideation and thematic patterns in the writings of Yu Xin. This dissertation centers on two sets of questions: 1. how did the dominant poetic image of Yu Xin as a nostalgic poet come into being? Did his contemporaries see him this way? How is this image constructed in his writings, and in what way did later readers and commentators help maintain and shape this image? 2. Apart from the traditional reading strategy that links his tragic experience with his writings, what are the other lenses through which we can understand the rich poetic corpus of Yu Xin? The two parts of this dissertation are respectively informed by these two sets of questions. Part I, comprised of chapters 1 and 2, traces the historical reception of Yu Xin from the Northern Zhou to the early Five Dynasties by focusing on key historical moments that were significant in shaping historical context and providing interpretative framework to understand the poet. It shows that the mid-eighth century witnessed a shifting attention from the text of Yu Xin to his authorial image, with Du Fu being a major figure in this shift. Part II, comprised of chapters 3, 4, and 5, seeks to reorient our perspective on the poetic collection of Yu Xin and to uncover its polyvocality achieved by shifting language registers, voices, themes, and perspectives. Exploring the theme of state and wars, reclusion, and the religious realm respectively, the three chapters aim to unfold the literary craft of Yu Xin by exploring the complex relation between him and the textual traditions of classics, literature, and Buddhism as Daoism. Yu Xin was not only one of the best writers of the sixth century, but the most avid reader of the Classics, the literary texts, as well as religious scriptures, folklores, and ritual practices. This readerliness of Yu Xin’s corpus is represented by the extensive incorporation, transformation, and recreation of these earlier literary and religious canons into his writings. The main purpose of this dissertation is two-fold: 1) to explore how and when the conventional authorial image of Yu Xin came into being, and 2) to discover alternative lenses to reexamine his poetic corpus. In so doing this dissertation seeks to gain a fuller view of the diversity and inventiveness of the poet. By placing him in the social and intellectual context of the sixth century, this dissertation aims for a clearer understanding of the reading and writing practice in this period.