China and Inner Asia
University of Pennsylvania, United States
Drawing on theoretical insights from Michel de Certeau, scholars of European literary studies have been looking into the recording of poetry on everyday materials to explore how literary consciousness finds expression beyond the circles of literati. However, no China specialist has considered poetry in light of everyday life and popular politics. Based on 336 inscribed ceramic samples produced in Northern China from the late eleventh century to the thirteenth century, this paper takes a step to fill this gap by examining how decorative poems configured unique cultural space for non-elite audiences.
After reconstructing a picture of potential audience groups, I approach the inscribed stoneware from two angles. On the one hand, I suggest that the transtextual connections among performance texts, Zen aphorism, and ceramic decorations open up new possibilities to consider the diffusion, displacement, and appropriation of poetry as cultural artifacts. On the other, I explore the materiality of the inscriptions, and propose that the poetic decorations, mostly appearing on pillows and drinking ware, unite dream, drunkenness, and stage as a tripartite mirror of reality, thereby activating alternate spheres of values through the objects.
In contrast to the earlier scholarship of Chinese literature that defines popular culture by specific texts, this paper calls attention to the autonomy of popular spheres seemingly under elite influence. It argues that the act of poeticizing, rather than a claim to refinement, could muster a decentralizing power through the spatialization of individual experiences, which fragmented the teleological Confucian order in elite narratives.