Pattinson, David John
This thesis discusses the development and functions of an epistolary form called chidu, focussing on the period during which the chidu enjoyedthe greatest popularity, namely the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Partly because there has been very little work done on the genre at all, and more particularly to provide background to the discussion of late Ming and early Qing chidu, I begin by examining early uses of the term chidu and by looking at those texts which later writers referred to in...[Show more] their writings on the
genre. I will show that in fact the early development of chidu is not at all clear, and that the texts to which later writers on chidu referred were not about chidu at all, but were about the more formal form of letter-writing called shu, which achieved canonical status from quite early times. I then proceed to look at the more distinct emergence during the Song dynasty of the kind of chidu which were practised in late Ming and Qing times. In the main part of the thesis, I examine a range of chidu anthologies from the late Ming and early Qing period and a number of texts about chidu which accompanied some of the anthologies, showing how there was a considerable discrepancy between the pedigree and ideals of the genre which
they put forward on the one hand, and the actual practice of chidu-writing on the other. I will argue that the real motives of the compilers of chidu collections in presenting these arguments was to try to give their work the legitimacy it lacked precisely because of its lack of a classical pedigree and the
general perception that it was a minor genre. In the case study for this thesis, Chidu xinchao compiled by Zhou Lianggong in 1662, I then try to establish what some of the real attractions of the genre for late Ming and Qing scholars might have been, its value as
genteel entertainment aside. I will argue that the lack of classical antecedents and canonical status in fact gave writers considerable freedom, both stylistically and in terms of content. Although writers were still constrained by literary and social tradition as a whole, they did use the genre
to experiment and made attempts to express themselves more directly. I will also show that the minor status of the genre made it an ideal vehicle for the expression of ideas which, because of their sensitive nature, could not be easily expressed in the canonical genres where they would have much more weight. And in the case of Chidu xinchao at least, it is possible to show how a compiler of an anthology of chidu could use such an anthology to present certain arguments through the letters in the anthology; not only was it a minor genre which was being anthologised, but the compiler was a step further removed from the contents because it was not through his own letters that the content was being presented.
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