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Rethinking Yijian zhi

Mon, June 22, 2:00 to 3:55pm, South Building, Floor: 8th Floor, S802

Session Submission Type: Roundtable Proposal Application


Yijian zhi is a collection of contemporary anecdotes compiled by Hong Mai (1123-1202) volume-by-volume during the last thirty years of his life, a product of the unprecedented social mobility during the Southern Song. With its extremely diverse stories, Yijian zhi has been an invaluable source for studying aspects of Song society and culture that are otherwise unseen in most elite writings. Scholars’ uses of it, however, are by no means uniform. It is still under debate, for instance, what roles Hong Mai plays in his work—as a curious listener, a creative writer, a skillful storyteller, an active editor only in the disguise of “faithful recording,” or more. Whether or not, and to what extent, do Hong Mai’s records reflect the voice of those other than himself and his elite circle? How do we situate Yijian zhi in Chinese literary tradition? How would a reconsideration of the authorship, the genre, and the linguistic and narrative style of Yijian zhi shed new light on its uses in studying history?

This roundtable will focus on not simply the content of Yijian zhi but also the work itself and its unexplored potential. We will precirculate sample entries proposed by each participant, read them closely, and facilitate discussions across disciplines and from a variety of perspectives: Hong Mai’s interest in exploring human experience beyond his own elite class (Ronald Egan); studies in Yijian zhi in Japanese scholarship and new possibilities in social history (Takashi Sue); the significance of Yijian zhi and anecdotal writing in medical history (TJ Hinrichs); Hong Mai’s activity around the West Lake and the cultural geography seen in Yijian zhi (Xiaolin Duan); the difference in linguistic and narrative style between Yijian zhi and Tang short stories (Rebecca Doran); the multivocality and fragmentality of some Yijian zhi narratives and its significance for studying women’s history (Hsiao-wen Cheng). In the meeting, we will provide English translations of our chosen entries and encourage active interaction between the panelists and the audience. Together, we will reconsider the nature of Yijian zhi, its current uses in our field, and its potential for inspiring scholarship to come.

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