PhD defended at:
This dissertation presents an alternative history of late medieval literature, one which traces the development of Chinese Buddhist poetry into a fully autonomous tradition. It does so through a careful study of the works of poet-monks in the late medieval period (760–960), especially Guànxiū (832–913) and Qíjǐ (864–937?). Weaving together the frayed threads of the literary traditions they inherited, these poet-monks established a tradition of elite Buddhist poetry in classical Chinese that continued in East Asia until the twentieth century. This dissertation also breaks new methodological ground by using digital tools to analyze and display information culled from medieval sources, and by using poetry composition manuals to understand medieval Chinese poetry on its own terms.
The introduction systematically analyzes the meanings of the concept of “religious literature” and situates this study of poet-monks therein. Part I, comprised of chapters 2, 3, and 4, presents a social history of poet-monks first by examining the invention of the term “poet-monk” in the late eighth century and its development until the tenth, then by mapping literary relations in the late medieval period using social network analysis. It demonstrates the existence and importance of poet-monks to the literary culture of this time. Part II, comprised of chapters 5 and 6, turns to the monks’ poetics at their most extreme: first the wild excess of repetition in song, madness, and incantation; then the austere devotion of “bitter intoning” (kǔyín) and the identification of poetry with meditation. Both extremes are the fruit of the poet-monks’ deliberate mixing of literary and religious practices. The conclusion brings the various threads together to show how the poet-monks identified their religious and literary practices, hints at why their work had been neglected in both Buddhist and classical literary circles, and reflects on the implications of this dissertation for the study of religious poetry.
Thus, this dissertation provides one way of answering the question of how to define religious poetry and, in the process, sheds light on an overlooked corner of Chinese literary history, reconstructing an entire subtradition to demonstrate their fusion of religious and literary practices.