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Amelia Ying Qin – Seeking Patterns: Close and Distant Readings of Two Collections of Tang 唐 (618-907) Dynasty Anecdotes
May 7, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Speaker: Amelia Ying Qin, An Wang Post Doctoral Fellow, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies
This study takes two different approaches—close and distant readings—to the hidden patterns in two anecdote collections. The Songchuang zalu 松牕雜錄 (Miscellaneous Notes under the Pine Window) is a small Tang 唐 (618-907) collection of sixteen anecdotes that claims its accounts are both “particularly unusual” 特異 and “definitely true” 必實. Close reading reveals it to be a text containing hidden structures with an emphasis on “the unusual” as a concept bearing discursive weight for the purpose of subtle political criticism. The intertwined ideas of unusualness and truthfulness define each other and form a discourse of “the unusual” that provides an interpretive framework for the collection’s core anecdotes. These accounts, when read closely within this framework, point to signs that foreshadow the Tang’s decline while voicing concerns over its end and directing muted criticism at the irresponsible Tang rulers. The Tang yulin 唐語林 (Forest of Conversations on the Tang), on the other hand, is a collection of over eleven hundred anecdotes about Tang historical figures, events, and customs compiled during the Northern Song 北宋 (960-1127). Its contents were selectively recycled from fifty or so earlier miscellanies of various sizes, and both the content and structure of the collection suffered from a hectic textual history of loss and restoration. To examine a text of this nature and size, this study experiments with the approach of distant reading to explore potential patterns in its content, structure, and selective use of source material. In juxtaposing these two texts examined with different methods, the speaker hopes to reflect upon the mercurial and ephemeral nature of anecdotal memories of the past, as well as the possible ways of reading and understanding such memories.
Amelia Ying Qin graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a Ph.D. in Chinese literature (2013) from the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature and an M.A. (2010) from the School of Library and Information Studies. Prior to her study in Madison, she also completed degrees at the University of Rhode Island and Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Her current research interest is in the relationship and dynamics between cultural memory and historiography in Chinese anecdotal and historical narratives during the time period of 600-1300. She is also the translator of two chapters of The Grand Scribe’s Records. Her teaching interests include Chinese language of all levels, survey of Chinese literature, special topics in modern and classical Chinese literature, as well as comparative topics in East Asian literature and cultures.