The Humble among the High: Wang Bo’s Self-image in His Hagiographic Inscriptions

Project: Research project

Project Details


Wang Bo (650–676?) was the most famous writer of his time but the values of the cache of literary works he left behind have yet to be fully explored and duly recognized. The abundant scholarship in recent decades mainly focuses on his poetry, very little attention has been given to his non-poetic writings despite the accolades they won in Wang’s own time and later generations.

The proposed project is intended to fill this lacuna by “recovering” the significant contributions these works made to the cultural and literary history, which have unfortunately become largely neglected, by studying a selection of representative writings mainly in the “prose” genres such as “record” (ji), “stele inscription” (bei), “preface” (xu), and “letter” (shu). The proposed project will focus on two pieces of writing, namely the “Yizhou Fuzi miao bei” 益州夫子廟碑 (“A Stele Inscription on the Temple of Confucius in Yizhou”) and the “Shijia Rulai Chengdao ji” 釋迦如來成道記 (“An Account of Śākyamuni the Tathatā’s Achievement of the Pathway to Enlightenment”), to explore how Wang Bo achieves their literary values and prove how he projects his own feelings in these occasional writings, which usually do not allow any such personal sentiments. This kind of investigation relies largely upon contrasting Wang’s writings with their predecessors. For the genre of stele inscriptions, I will examine about 10 such pieces penned by Wang Bo in comparison with his “models” anthologized in the Wenxuan (Selections of Refined Literature), as well as some written by his older contemporaries. For the hagiographic account of the Buddha, I will survey some early works on the same topic preserved in some Buddhist sutras. These comparisons will yield crucial hints to our probing of Wang’s innovation, which lays mainly in his deviant treatment of the conventional genres written in a highly ornate diction and style of the then-prevalent “parallel prose” form in unique presentations of the holy figures, which also serve as a veneer for autobiographical discourses.

Another focus is the place of a Confucian classic, the Analects, in the hands of Wang Bo. This part of discussion will first trace the Confucian backgrounds of the Wang clan since Wang Tong, Bo’s grandfather founded a “school” of Confucianism. This background enables us to discuss Wang Bo’s continuation of the compilation of Confucian classics and how he alludes to the Analects in literary creation.
Effective start/end date1/12/2130/11/23


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