“Xi shuai” 蟋蟀 (“Cricket”) and its consequences: Issues in early Chinese poetry and textual studies

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The present article explores questions about the composition, performance, circulation, and transmission of early Chinese poetry by examining a small number of poems from the received Mao shi and their counterparts in recently discovered manuscripts. Starting from a close examination of the poem “Xi shuai” (“Cricket”), the essay briefly discusses the problems we face in dealing with looted manuscripts before advancing toward rethinking the patterns of early Chinese poetic composition and transmission. Instead of taking individual poems as discrete, reified objects in the form we encounter them in the Mao shi, it is suggested to read them as particular instantiations of circumscribed repertoires where the individual poetic text is but one of many realizations of a shared body of ideas and expressions. This analysis is informed by the examination of both manuscript texts and the received literature, but also by comparative perspectives gained from both medieval Chinese literature and other ancient and medieval literary traditions. In emphasizing the formation of poetry as a continuous process, it leaves behind notions of “the original text,” authorship, and the moment of “original composition”-notions that held no prominence in the early Chinese literary tradition before the empire.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-74
Number of pages36
JournalEarly China
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology
  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • Authorship
  • Classic of Poetry
  • Looted Artifacts
  • Manuscripts
  • Mao shi
  • Performance
  • Poetic Composition
  • Repertoires


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