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Han Yu and his ku-shih poetry Schmidt, Jerry D.

Abstract

Although Han Yü is already famous as a great prose writer in Chinese literature, few Western scholars seem to be aware of the depth and originality of his poetry. This thesis is an attempt to shed some light on Han Yü's immense contributions to Chinese verse in order to correct this one-sided view of Han Yü which most scholars have. By way of introduction, a short biography of Han Yü has been prepared from the traditional historical sources and modern Chinese and Japanese materials. Also included is a short review of Han Yü's thought with particular reference to his attitudes toward Buddhism to correct the misconception that he was completely hostile to the Indian religion. Even though the thesis is mainly concerned with Han's poetry, his prose style cannot be ignored because of its importance to his poetry and Chinese literature in general. Han Yü's poetry is distinguished by the strangeness of its language and the consistent breaking of old rules of prosody. The fu device is found to be particularly prominent, and the writer's penchant for the composing of narrative verse is quite unique in China. The source of much of the weird subject material of Han Yü's verse is the mythology of the Chinese peasant, and Han's poetry is quite atypical in the predominance of an absurd humor never observed before in the Chinese tradition. Han's absurd humor is the key to his philosophy of life: a good-humored resignation to an inavoidable fate. The origin of the weirder aspects of Han Yü's poetry is hard to account for, and after an examination of possible sources in literati verse it is concluded that Han owes much to the non-literatus and folk tradition in Chinese literature. Han Yü was the center of one of the most important poetic movements in mid-T'ang times, and a school consisting of Li Ho, Meng Chiao, Lu T'ung, Ma Yi, Liu Ch'a, and others gathered about him and were all influenced by him to varying degrees. Although his contributions to Chinese poetry were nearly forgotten in late T'ang times, Ou-yang Hsiu and others renewed interest in his works, and as a result, he was one of the major sources of inspiration for the tremendous creativity of northern Sung poetry. Because of his boldness in writing verse, Han Yü was not always popular with Chinese critics, and he was frequently attacked for the prose-like quality of his poetry and the strangeness of its subject matter. However, many critics approved of his innovations, and we find that most of the adverse criticism comes from highly conservative authors.

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