A Portrait of Five Dynasties China: From the Memoirs of Wang Renyu (880-956) by Glen Dudbridge
English | 2013 | ISBN: 0199670684 | 320 pages | PDF | 2 MB
The anecdotal literature of late-medieval China is not unknown, but it is under-used. Glen Dudbridge explores two collections of anecdotal memoirs to construct an intimate portrait of the first half of the tenth century as seen by people who lived through it. The author Wang Renyu's adult life coincided closely with that period, and his memoirs, though not directly transmitted, can be largely recovered from encyclopaedia quotations. His experience led from early life on the north-west border with Tibet, through service with the kingdom of Shu, to a mainstream career under four successive dynasties in northern China. He bore personal witness to some great events, but also travelled widely and transcribed material from a lifetime of conversations with colleagues in the imperial Hanlin Academy.
The study first sets Wang's life in its historical context and discusses the nature and value of his memoirs. It then pursues a number of underlying themes that run through the collections, presenting nearly 80 distinct items in translation. Together these offer a characterization of an age of inter-regional warfare in which individual lives, not grand historical narrative, form the focus. A nuanced self-portrait of the author emerges, combining features that seem alien to modern values with others that seem more familiar.
Four appendixes give the text of the author's tombstone epitaph; a detailed list of his surviving memoir items; data from Song catalogues on the early transmission of his writings; and Wang Renyu's own definition of the four musical modes inherited from the Tang dynasty.
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