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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tales from the Cinnamon Sea: Literary Appropriation and the Creation of Paradise in the works of Fan Chengda

  • Author(s): Merlo, Phillip Edward
  • et al.

This paper introduces the reader to China’s Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), and specifically the diplomat, court official, and poet Fan Chengda (1127-1279). During his years in government bureaucracy Fan Chengda traveled widely throughout the Southern Song Empire. During his travels he wrote several travel diaries, encyclopedias, and geographical treatises, in addition to thousands of extant travel poems. This paper investigates two of his works in particular: the Canluan lu and the Guihai yuheng zhi (both circa 1171-1174), written during his travels to Guilin, in the far South of the empire. Canluan lu, or the Register of Mounting a Simurgh is a travel diary of his trip to Guilin, and Guihai yuheng zhi is a geographical encyclopedia of Guilin and its surroundings. Comparative analysis of the two texts shows that in an apparent attempt to validate his self-image as an ideal Song scholar-official, Fan Chengda appropriated historical descriptions of Guilin from past scholars. His in-text statements as well as his descriptive style suggest that Fan Chengda wished to identify and commune with scholars from other eras of Chinese dynastic history. This is significant because the cultural landscape he describes became officialized knowledge in the Song court: characterizations of Guilin in the sixteenth century, as well as a common Chinese phrase about Guilin being the most beautiful place on Earth, can be traced to Fan Chengda.

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