Celebrating Sensual Indulgence Du Mu 杜牧 (803–852), His Readers, and the Making of a New Fengliu 風流 Ideal

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Yue Hong



This paper examines the construction of the poet Du Mu’s libertine image to illustrate how Chinese writers and readers of the ninth and tenth centuries validated the search for sensual pleasure by associating it with literary talent, unconventional character, and political disengagement. In doing so, they added indulgence in sensual pleasures to the repertoire of fengliu cultural ideals, a repertoire previously associated with reclusion and drinking. Because sensual pleasure was traditionally viewed as trivial and/or disruptive to social order, ninth-century writers approached the new ideal with considerable ambivalence. Although Du Mu had fashioned a libertine poetic self-image as a young man, he attempted to shed this image later in life. I argue that it was Du Mu’s readers who, by creatively reading his poems and writing anecdotes about his sexual adventures, re-imagined the poet as a figure of fascination and thus created one of the most enduring fengliu characters in Chinese history.

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