Writing Poetry, Surviving War: The Works of Refugee Scholar-Official Chen Yuyi (1090–1139)

by Yugen Wang


This book is in the Cambria Sinophone World Series headed by Victor H. Mair (University of Pennsylvania).

The book is a study of the works of the Northern Song Chinese poet Chen Yuyi (1090–1139) as he fled the invading Jurchen soldiers in the political throes of a dynastic transition. Author Yugen Wang demonstrates how Chen’s poems epitomize the new style of writing in the Song that is markedly different from that of his Tang predecessors.

Underscoring this stylistic and aesthetic analysis is a comparison of Chen and his model, the Tang master Du Fu (712–770). Wang concludes that although the traumatic experience triggered Chen’s inner Du Fu, he and Du were writing from different literary and cultural assumptions, with different expectations and skill sets. The collective eleventh-century pursuit of ideological and intellectual cohesion requires that Chen write more cogently than Du Fu; the urgent contingencies of his travel mandate that he observe and make sense of the political chaos from the perspective of a realistic road traveler. The result is a compact, practical, logically coherent, and technically precise style with ramifications that go far beyond Chen’s own times.

This is the first book-length study of Chen’s poetry in English. Through detailed analysis of Chen’s poems, and of the political and psychological conditions under which they were written, the reader gains intimate insights into not only how a classical Chinese poet conducted his business, on the road, in crisis, but also the sources of the poet’s inner strength, what culturally, psychologically, and emotionally sustained him on the long dreadful journey.

This was an important moment for Chen Yuyi and for Chinese literary history. Chen’s poems bring to focus the changing dynamics of the classical Chinese poet’s relationship to the world. As his journey grew longer and brought him farther away from central China, the richness of the local landscapes in the south made him less apprehensive about the political situation, allowed him to endure the constant fluctuations in his environment, and revitalized his inner self as a poet. As Chen struggled and reconciled with the political situation, he achieved a new balance between person and world, mind and landscape, a status later Chinese critics and theorists call qingjing jiaorong, the propitious fusion and coming together of emotion and nature in poetry.

Writing Poetry, Surviving War: The Works of Refugee Scholar-Official Chen Yuyi (1090–1139) is an original study on Chinese poetry and an important book for Asian studies and premodern Chinese humanities collections. It targets both the scholarly and the general audience whose interests intersect China, premodern travel, trauma literature, traditional ideas of nature, and landscape poetry.


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