“Godly Worm” and the “Literati Prism” of Chinese Sources

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Sanping Chen



This essay is a case study of the inherent gentry bias of traditional Chinese sources, which tends to condition modern readers to view ancient East Asia through a “literati prism.” Using medieval onomastic data, the essay demonstrates the distorting effects caused by this prism, as well as the enigmas it engenders. In addition, the essay highlights a long-ignored legacy of early medieval nomadic conquests of northern China—the vulgarization of Chinese high culture.

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