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The Qin and Literati Culture in Song China


My dissertation examines the distinctive role that the qin played in Chinese literati culture in the Song dynasty (960-1279) through its representations in literary texts. As one of the earliest stringed musical instruments in China, the qin has occupied a unique status in Chinese cultural history. It has been played since ancient times, and has traditionally been favored by Chinese scholars and literati as an instrument of great subtlety and refinement. This dissertation focuses on the period of the Song because it was during this period that the literati developed as a class and started to indulge themselves in various cultural and artistic pursuits, and record their experiences in literary compositions as part of their self-fashioning. Among these cultural pursuits, the qin playing was an important one. Although there have been several academic works on the qin, most of them focus on the musical aspects of the instrument. My project aims to reorient the perspective on the qin by revealing its close relationship and interaction with the literati class from a series of historical and literary approaches. During the Song, the qin was mentioned in a multiplicity of literary texts, and associated with a plethora of renowned literary figures. This dissertation argues that in the Song dynasty, the configuration of aesthetic sensitivities, poetic appeal and philosophical implications that literati imparted to the qin reached its mature form, which set a paradigm for later periods. The qin not only served as an object of literary representation, but also a primary medium through which literati’s full-fledged image as a person with comprehensive talents was formed.

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