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The Poetic Practices of Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091–1157): Gong’an Commentarial Verses on Old Cases and Verses for Lay Literati


This dissertation examines the textual production and doctrinal import of the gong’an commentarial verses of Hongzhi Zhengjue in the context of Chan literary traditions as well as his usage of secular literature. During the Song period (960–1279) revival of the Caodong lineage, Hongzhi was an influential figure, who promoted Silent Illumination Chan (mozhao chan). Hongzhi was talented in writing in a variety of genres, including verses, portrait poetry, and commentaries on gong’an (public cases). My study examines Hongzhi’s gong’an texts and uses them as a window to understand Chan literary traditions of the Song period. In addition to situating Hongzhi’s gong’an writings within Chan contexts, my dissertation places his gong’an commentarial verses within contemporary secular literary culture. My study considers how Hongzhi participated in mainstream literary culture by engaging in gong’an commentarial verses and poetry for literati.

My dissertation is divided into four chapters. Chapter 1 considers the context and Hongzhi’s life. Chapter 2 explores Hongzhi’s gong’an writings from the perspective of textual production. I examine fundamental forms of gong’an commentarial practice and critical statements about the function of various forms of gong’an commentaries. Next, through digital network analysis, I demonstrate the intertextual relationships between Hongzhi’s gong’an writing and other major gong’an collections to explore textual sources for Hongzhi’s gong’an writings. Lastly, by comparing Hongzhi’s gong’an verses with those in other important gong’an commentaries, I analyze their different commentarial strategies in composing their gong’an poetry. Chapter 3 explores Hongzhi’s doctrinal position in his gong’an commentarial verses. It examines how Hongzhi created a Caodong identity through metaphors referring to the doctrine of the interfusion of the principle and phenomena in his gong’an verses as well as in his sermons responding to criticism on the Caodong Chan, namely Silent Illumination Chan.

Chapter 4 explores how Hongzhi participated in literati culture by engaging in two types of poetic practices: gong’an commentarial verses and poetry for literati. I show how Hongzhi elucidated crucial points of cases by using abundant allusions from secular texts in his gong’an verses. I also examine Hongzhi’s verses for literati to explore intersecting pedagogical, social, and economic functions.

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