The Inherited Writing Style and Modes of Expression in Han Yu's “Sending off Poverty”
Keywords:揚雄, 韓愈, 送窮文, 以文爲戲, 傳衍, Yang Xiong, Han Yu, “Sending off Poverty”, banter through literature, imitation
LANGUAGE NOTE | Document text in Chinese; abstract also in English.
The ritual of “sending off ghosts of poverty” was a New Year custom in ancient China: a means to ward off plagues and disasters, and pray for good health and luck. The ritual emerged during the Six Dynasties era, became popular in Tang-Song times, and has been passed down to the present. In the sixth year of the Yuanhe reign-period of the Tang (811) , Han Yu (768 一 824) wrote an essay entitled “Sending off Poverty,” the first such writing that records the ritual of the time. It initiated a tradition of writing conversations with poor ghosts. One feels curious to ask why authors of later times rewrote and retold this piece of work over and over again. In these activities，what remained intact and what changed from the original writing style? These questions have hitherto remained unheeded in relevant scholarship. Therefore, this article takes Han's “Sending off the Ghosts of Poverty” as the basis for investigation. As the piece was an imitation of Yang Xiong's (58 BC - 18 AD) “Rhapsody on Expelling Poverty,” our first task is to analyze Yang's motives behind this work as well as his use of rhetoric, to see in what ways this piece set a foundation for Han Yu's emulation. Secondly, Han's piece is classified under “ miscellaneous essays” in his collected works. Its form and structure reveal a combination of multiple literary styles, and it achieved a synthesis of prose, prayers, and novels of the Tang. Since these works deal mostly with the position, situation, and thoughts of their authors, they are full of autobiographic elements. Four categories are observed according to the motives behind creation. The first is flaunting one's literary talents. It demonstrates a competition with authors of previous times. The second is entertaining. Influenced by Yang Xiong and Han Yu, these writers developed self-entertaining as a means to express their inner feelings. The third is meliorism. Some authors set themselves free from self-sympathy and instead set out to care about the world, and thus achieved a grandiose style. The fourth is transmission of learning to later generations. This seems to result from the authors' failed career path. By instead seeking remedy from achievements in noble ethics and morality, they thereby regain their position and self-recognition, hoping to pass down their words to later generations through literary works. The study of this tradition formed around Han Yu's “Sending off Poverty” shall show the changes of writing in every era and discover the long-lost lineage of this writing tradition. These kinds of imitations should not be considered redundant but a corollary. They reflect diverse narrative psychological statuses, which collectively attest to the rhetoric power and enduring value of Han Yu's “Sending off Poverty.”
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