Legitimation Process of Female Poetry During the Tang Dynasty (618–907)
Keywords:the Tang dynasty, female poetry, shi, Li Ye, Xue Tao, Liu Caichun, Yu Xuanji
This paper investigates the legitimation process of female poetry in Chinese culture during the Tang dynasty. My argument is that this process has three interrelated elements covering macro, meso and micro levels. The first level deals with the political, social and cultural conditions under which the poetry writing was very prolific and thriving for poets at that time. The second level deals with gender dimensions when after the An Lu-shan rebellion a changed gender balance of power weakened the gender barriers. As a result, the social composition of female poets changed significantly. A great number of shi poems were written by women with low social status and in many ways this practice set the stage for ci poetry with its controversial reputation because of its association with entertainment quarters and female singers. The third level deals with the poetic skills of four female poets: Li Ye (李冶, 732?–784), Xue Tao (薛濤, 768–832), Liu Caichun (劉采春, 9th century) and Yu Xuanji (魚玄機, 844–871). Having analyzed 167 extant poems I revealed the innovations allowing to distinguish them from other mediocre female shi. The final stage of the legitimation process is seen as appreciation of their poetry by male poets borrowing their lines, images and rhymes during the following centuries and their recognition as “Four Greatest Female Shi Poets of the Tang Dynasty” (“唐代四大女詩人”).
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