The Author's Two Bodies: Paratext in Early Chinese Textual Culture


Heng Du

PhD defended at: 

Harvard University


This dissertation addresses the contentious issue of early authorship by proposing a new set of methodologies developed out of an engagement with both unearthed and transmitted sources. It brings into a dialogue methodological discussions from fields such as Early China, Book History, Classics, and Biblical Studies. To tackle the questions of what constitutes a text and what constitutes an author in pre-imperial China (before 211 BCE), I adapt and expand the concept of “paratext,” namely the materials enveloping the main text such as titles, book covers, author names, and prefaces. In addition to demonstrating the role of paratext in demarcating textual boundaries, this dissertation develops a system of criteria for identifying hitherto unrecognized forms of paratexts in early sources, such as the reiterations of zi yue (the Master said), branching catalogues, and author anecdotes. Reading these features as paratextual language helps uncover new evidence concerning how early textual producers sought to circumscribe words as textual units. While many scholars dismiss early author attributions as apocryphal, I argue that the representations of author figures, real or putative, perform an instrumental role in defining and delimiting both a text and a corpus. The body chapters of this dissertation closely examine case studies straddling the transition into the imperial period, from aphorism and anecdotes preserved in bamboo manuscripts (c. 300 BCE) to excavated and received compilations such as the Yinqueshan Sunzi bingfa, Zhuangzi, Hanfeizi, and the Chuci zhangju. Its final chapter, in summing up the interactive dynamics between text-making and author-making, retraces an intriguing motif revolving around a zero-sum game between the author’s physical body and literary corpus.