The Council is pleased to present the 56th Edward H. Hume Memorial Lecture.
The “High Tang” is seen as the apex of classical Chinese poetry. But understand an era, we need to free it from the aging weight of its reputation. I will show that the received understanding of the High Tang (indeed the very term) was entirely the creation of the early thirteenth century, half a millennium after the fact. Then I will go back and look at the community that defines the “High Tang,” producing a system of values and a version of empire different from and in opposition to the imperial center and the oligarchy of families that controlled it. I will argue that this was not only the beginning of the “literati” as a distinct community, but that poetry was constitutive of that community.
Stephen Owen is the James Bryant Conant University Professor, and a member of the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and the Department of Comparative Literature. Born in St. Louis in 1946, he received both his B.A. (1968) and Ph.D. (1972) from Yale University. After teaching for a decade at Yale in East Asian Languages and Literature and in the Literature Major, he moved to Harvard in 1982. At Harvard he served as chair of EALC and later of Comparative Literature. He has held a Fulbright and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and he is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Philosophical Society. In 2005 he received the Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award. He is the author of twelve books on Chinese literature and comparative literature, the most recent being The Making of Early Chinese Classical Poetry (2006) and The Late Tang: Chinese Poetry of the Mid-Ninth Century (827-860) (2006). An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Earliest Times to 1911 (1996) was in 1997 as outstanding translation of the year by American Literary Translators Association. He has been the author of numerous articles, including the entry on “poetry” in the most recent edition of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012). With the exception of the anthology and one book published in Chinese, the other ten of his books have been translated into Chinese, and he has been the subject of numerous studies in Chinese and one in English. He was the editor of the first volume of The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature (2010).