An Examination of Uncertainties about Wen Tingyun's Life and Works
|Keywords:||溫庭筠;飛卿;詞;揚州;科場;花間;寄託;Wen Tingyun;ci;Yangzhou;imperial examinations;huajian ci;allegory||Issue Date:||2007||Abstract:||
Wen Tingyun was remarkable for his ability to take his writings into the women’s quarters in the sense of displaying a deep understanding of the inner workings of the female mind. His style of writing from the female perspective was a leading force in the literary world of his day and eventually cumulated in the Huajian ci, a compilation of ci that served as a point of reference for all ci written thereafter. Unfortunately, the details of his life are much like his ci – cloaked in a heavy veil that makes them difficult to get a handle on. As a result, the image of him that was created by traditional historians and story tellers, inasmuch as it has persisted through the ages, now stands between the reader and his works as an aesthetic obstacle. And while there has been no shortage of scholars who have taken an interest in Wen, many points of contention about his life remain unresolved. In fact, to date there has not been one objective and systematic attempt to deal with these questions. This dissertation represents an effort to thoroughly resolve the most crucial and basic questions about his life and works through a extensive examination of existing biographical works, his own ci, and recent scholarship. It is hoped that the results will provide a new perpsective on a number of puzzles and controversies surrounding Wen and his works and that in the process, some misunderstandings as well as mysteries will be cleared up.
The tragedy of Wen’s life stemmed from the high estimation he had of his talent and his desire to have an impact on the world, on his insistence that his talent would be discovered and put to use. There were two stages on which this tragedy took place, one in Yangzhou and the other in the imperial testing rooms of the capital. As such, our first task is to examine what happened in Yangzhou and the imperial testing rooms and the consequences and influences of those events. Based on these results, we will bring together both factual details and pyschological aspects to put together a picture of his life which will be used to offer a new appraisal of Wen’s life and character as well as the idea that his works were allegorical in nature. This dissertation is divided into three chapters, as follows:
Chapter One: Wen Tingyun and Yangzhou. While he was in Yangzhou, Wen experienced two humiliating experiences. First, as a young man who had just passed the examinations at the local level, he travelled to the area between the Huai and Jiang Rivers only to be chased and lashed by an official. The second experience occurred late in life, when he returned to the area filled with dissapointment only to be beaten, this time while begging for money. These two events, one at the start of his adult life and the other towards its end, have become important evidence for scholars who argue that Wen’s life was marked by a lack of accomplishment. In this chapter, we look at the importance of this region in the salt trade and imperial transhipments, Wen’s political activities in the area. We then move on to examine the traditions that have accumulated around these events in order to determine when they occurred and why and what impact they had on Wen.
Chapter Two: Wen Tingyun and the Imperial Examination. Wen sat for his first imperial examination in 826, but was unable to pass on account of his run in with the official. After getting over his disappointment, he served as a soldier in border areas between the years 830-831, only to return to the capital in 832. This chapter will focus on his encounter with the imperial examination and his subsequent experiences.
Chapter Three: Wen Tingyun and his Works. Wen’s works deal mainly with lovely women and love. Despite that, there has been a controversy as to whether Wen intended his ci as an allegory for his sense of disappointment ever since the Qing dynasty scholar Zhang Huiyan interpreted his work Pusa man as being the work of an educated man who had not had the chance to live up to his potential. Wen composed both poems and ci. But he was able to invest his ci with an emotional content and establish a lyrical mode that opened up new stylistic possibilities and helped move the genre of the ci away from the restrictions imposed on traditional poetry and into a new realm of literary expression. Therefore, in addition to discussing the hotly debated issue of whether or not his ci were allegories, we will also look at Wen’s transition from the genre of the poem to the ci and the contributions he made to the expressive content of the ci and its lyrical form.
In this dissertation we draw the following conclusions. First, in terms of his life story, we amend or otherwise clarify mistakes or inadequacies in the traditional version with regards to roughly 20 details of Wen’s life. As a result of this effort, we can see that while Wen had a very high view of himself and was indeed smitten with the idea of pursuing the life of the official, he remained true to himself until the very end, never mixing himself up with inferior elements and always saying what he thought. This remained the case throughout the course of his life, despite facing slander, death, and demotion, until the final act of defiance when, late in life, he used his position as a testor for imperial candidates to post works poking fun at the political situation in the halls of the Ministry of Rites. This brought about what was to be his last demotion, one that ended up pushing him into the grave. While Wen was and is widely known for his breadth of knowledge and unrestrainable personality, in truth under this we can see that he was possessed of an incomparable courage and decency. Second, in terms of his ci, we see that arguments about whether his works were allegories stem from differing interpretations of his character. However, once we were able to brush away the errors and rectify mistaken impressions, we see Wen as an upright and noble character in a fallen world who never lost sight of the ideal of making a contribution to his country, a man who lived his life in accordance with his own verse “only the stays red until it dies”. Furthermore, by bringing together aspects of his life and character, together with the backdrop against which the Pusa man was written as well as its contents, we find that it is difficult to see this work as simply being about love. Some 68 of Wen’s ci have been passed down to the present. Looking at poems and ci with similar themes, we find that there is a common element of search and loss, a veiled resentment, and sorrow. In the transition from poem to ci, there is a clear move from the subjective to the objective, one in which the locus of expression moves towards the feminine, and especially the inner workings of the feminine mind. We also see an increased use of traditional modes of poetic analogy, an increased aestheticism in terms of the images used, and more subtle, shaded meanings. In terms the tunes to which the ci were set, the 18 different tunes that Wen used in his works, some original, some already existing, and some reworkings of older tunes, represents a diversity unparalleled by his peers. In his quest for a standardization of ci lyricism, Wen not only created his own personal style, but also created a style for the entire genre; at the same time, he helped to open up new areas of expression for ci that could be taken up by later generations of writers. As a result, we can say that although the practice of literati writing ci did not begin with Wen, the innovation that Wen made of emphasizing the lyrical nature of ci in his compositions opened up the way for ci to become a genre independent of traditional poetry.
|Appears in Collections:||中國文學系|
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