The Rhetoric of Hiddenness in Traditional Chinese Culture

Edited by Paula M. Varsano

Subjects: Chinese Studies, Chinese Religion And Philosophy, Asian Studies, Asian Literature, Asian Art
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9781438463025, 400 pages, July 2017
Hardcover : 9781438463032, 400 pages, December 2016

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

1. Lowered Curtains in the Half-Light: An Introduction
Paula M. Varsano

I. The Art of Withholding

2. The Ruling Mind: Persuasion and the Origins of Chinese Psychology
David Schaberg

3. Beliefs about Social Seeing: Hiddenness (wei 微) and Visibility in Classical-Era China
Michael Nylan

4. Woman in the Tower:“Nineteen Old Poems”and the Poetics of Un/concealment
Xiaofei Tian

5. Hiding Behind a Woman: Contexts and Meanings in Early Qing Poetry
Wai-yee Li

II. The Lessons of Distraction

6. Hiddenness of the Body and the Metaphysics of Sight
Shigehisa Kuriyama

7. Worlds of Meaning and the Meaning of Worlds in Sikong Tu’s Twenty-Four Modes of Poetry
Paula M. Varsano

III. On Blind Spots

8. Hidden in Plain View: Concealed Contents, Secluded Statues, and Revealed Religion
James Robson

9. The Vernacular Story and the Hiddenness of Value
Sophie Volpp

10. Absence and Presence: The Great Wall in Chinese Art
Lillian Lan-ying Tseng

IV. The Languages of Synecdoche

11. Synecdoche of the Imaginary
Stephen Owen

12.“The Disarrayed Hills Conceal an Old Monastery”: The Dynamics of Poetry and Painting in the Northern Song
Eugene Wang

V. Just Words

13. Manifesting Sagely Knowledge: Commentarial Strategies in Chinese Late Antiquity
Michael Puett

14. The Yi-Xiang-Yan Paradigm and Early Chinese Theories of Literary Creation
Zong-qi Cai


Considers the role of hiddenness in the history of cultural production in premodern China.


This volume brings together fourteen essays that explore the role of hiddenness—as both an object and a mode of representation—in the history of cultural production in China from the Warring States Period (403–221 BCE) to the end of the Qing Dynasty (1911) and beyond. The rhetorical use of various forms of hiddenness makes its appearance in literary, political, philosophical, and religious writings, as well as in the visual arts. Working in fields as disparate as traditional Chinese literature, religion, philosophy, history, medicine, and art, the contributors attempt to characterize one of the fundamental signifying practices in traditional Chinese cultural production. In the process, they not only reveal otherwise obscure patterns connecting longstanding social, political, aesthetic, and epistemological practices, but also contribute to ongoing discussions—well beyond the field of China studies—regarding the representation and communicability of knowledge, as well as the practices controlling its dissemination.

Paula M. Varsano is Associate Professor of Chinese at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of Tracking the Banished Immortal: The Poetry of Li Bo and Its Critical Reception.


"Each essay in the volume is dense in significance although relatively short; all are richly footnoted. Each one subtly traces the nuances of its subject; all are worthy of careful consideration. And yet, especially under Paula Varsano's guidance in how to read it, the volume becomes significantly more than the sum of its parts … From every perspective, this is an excellent collection, as important for the questions it suggests as for the insights it provides." — Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews