Lore and Verse

Poems on History in Early Medieval China

By Yue Zhang

Subjects: Chinese Studies, Asian Studies, History, Historiography
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438486918, 240 pages, January 2022
Paperback : 9781438486925, 240 pages, July 2022

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Table of contents

Terms and Conventions
The Chronology of Chinese Dynasties


1. What Are Poems on History in Early Medieval China?

2. Retrospective Memory and Zuo Si's "Poems on History"

3. Prospective Memory and the Reception of Zuo Si's "Yongshi" in Early Medieval China

4. Tao Yuanming's Perspectives on Life as Reflected in His Poems on History

5. Cultural Memory and Xie Zhan's Poem on Zhang Liang

6. Approaches to Lore in the "Yongshi" Section of the Wen xuan



Explores how poetry was used to disseminate and interpret history in early medieval China.


Lore and Verse is the first English-language book dedicated entirely to studying poems on history (yongshi shi) in premodern China. Focusing on works by poets from the entire range of early medieval China (220–589), Yue Zhang explores how history was disseminated and interpreted through poetry, as well as how and why certain historical figures were commemorated in poetry. In writing poems on history, poets retrospectively crafted their own identities through their celebration of historical figures, and they prospectively fortified a continuous lineage for transmitting their values and reputation to future generations. This continuous tradition of cultural memory informs a poet's reception of historical figures, which in turn shapes that tradition through further intertextual connections. Lore and Verse questions the sweeping generalization of early medieval Chinese poetry as consisting mainly of exuberant images and an ornamental style—an inaccurate characterization repeated by later historians and literary critics—and it provides translations, close readings, and analyses of selected poems on history that will be useful for students, instructors, and general readers interested in premodern Chinese literature and culture.

Yue Zhang is Associate Professor of Chinese Literature at the University of Macau.


"In this illuminating investigation of yongshi shi and cultural memory, Yue Zhang provides fresh insight into the conventions and purposes of a long-standing subgenre in the Chinese poetic tradition and sheds light on the functions of poetry in transmitting and reshaping history. Lore and Verse opens up new avenues for exploring the interplay among political, historical, social, and literary forces in early medieval China.” —Xiaoshan Yang, University of Notre Dame

"This is an original contribution to the field of poetics and literary studies in early and medieval China, especially to the neglected subgenre of to poems on history (yongshi shi). While there are many extant studies on the poetry from this historical period, none explore the role of cultural and historical memory in this level of detail. Written in clear, jargon-free prose, the book offers a good balance between easy access and sophisticated arguments." — David Chai, author of Zhuangzi and the Becoming of Nothingness

"As the first monograph in English on Yongshi shi (poems on history), this book offers a skillful examination of this important subgenre in traditional Chinese poetry through the lens of cultural memory. Not only does it present a new scenario for the unfolding of the dynamic relationship between poetry and history, it also convincingly shows how the past is collectively constructed and reconstructed in the poetic space in early medieval China. Strongly recommended for anyone who is interested in Chinese poetry and memory studies." — Ji Hao, author of The Reception of Du Fu (712-770) and His Poetry in Imperial China