Pub Date2015
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City of Marvel and Transformation: Chang’an and Narratives of Experience in Tang Dynasty China

Linda Feng
University of Hawai’i Press

During the Tang dynasty, the imperial capital of Chang’an shaped literati identity and the collective imagination through its new relationship to the empire’s most prolific writers. They came through its fold as examination candidates, sojourners, prospective officials, and as participants in pageantries and contests showcasing literary talent. As the central site of examination culture and social transformation, Chang’an emerged in prose narratives with a distinctive and newly formed metropolitan consciousness. In spatially evocative tales and anecdotes featuring literati protagonists, narratives demonstrate the ways in which Chang’an generated new domains of experience and added new perceptual categories to the Tang cultural imagination. In particular, these narratives explore the role of the literati as routine travelers, the interplay between literary prowess and sexual license, and the possibilities for extra-official promotion and unorthodox forms of valuation and livelihood. Because these explorations are subsumed under metropolitan, situational knowledge, they bring to our attention an unprecedented interval of social, existential, and geographical mobility maintained and reinforced by the spatial contiguities of urban space. City of Marvel and Transformation conceptualizes this literary phenomenon, and argues that such narratives amend our understanding of men of letters in between social identities and institutions, as they straddled anonymity and legitimacy.