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Confucian Prophet: Political Thought In Du Fu’s Poetry (752–757) By David K. Schneid ...

Chapter 1:  Poetry and Political Thought
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Confucian Prophet:

Chapter 1

Poetry and Political Thought

Toward a Method of Reading

A new book on Du Fu is a risky proposition, especially one that attempts to read his poetry as political thought. One faces centuries of native tradition about China’s greatest and most beloved poet and decades of entrenched scholarly opinion about how he should be read and understood. With so much already said about Du Fu’s life and poetry, perhaps I should begin by setting forth what this book is not. I am not doing a biographical “life and times.” I am not engaging in a study of how Du’s poetry reflects the poet’s character or how his image as a loyalist and family man emerges from his poetry and later traditions about him. This is not a study of what accounts for his greatness as a poet or as a cultural figure, and it is not a critique of that figure. This work, for the most part, has been done already and done well. I am interested in political ideas. The traditional Sinological-literary view of Du’s poetry faces serious limitations in the study of political thought. Most studies of Du Fu, both traditional and modern, are grounded in a bedrock assumption about writing and reading poetry in the Chinese shi 詩 poetic tradition: that the poem “represents the actual experience, the true views, and the real personality of the poet.”1 This approach emphasizes Du’s responses to the political events of his times and examines such issues as whether