The Cultural Politics of Old Things in Mid-Tang China

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Xiaofei Tian



A cross-generic examination of the discursive representations of a changing rela- tionship to a specific subcategory of things that are observable in writings from early to medieval China, this essay suggests that these representations denote the appearance of a culture of sentimentality about old, worn-out things at the turn of the ninth century. This culture of sentimentality indicates a deep-seated anxiety about the blurred boundary, on a conceptual and ideological level, between humans and things, and bespeaks the complex dynamics in the relationship of self and other at a time of profound cultural and intellectual changes, in which the textual representations of dilapidated ordinary things of daily life participated. It anticipates and yet remains profoundly different from Northern Song antiquarianism, thus showing gaps and fissures in the neat, familiar teleological narrative of the “Tang-Song transition.”

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