Self-portrait as sea anemone, and other impersonations of Jiang Yan

Nicholas Morrow Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Jiang Yan 江淹 (444-505) is famous for his melancholy fu and poems of imitation modeled after earlier writers. This study aims to relate these two types of compositions by tracing Jiang's use of impersonation, as he borrows the voices of other writers, historical figures, and even animals and plants. Though we can place Jiang's works in the narrative arc of his official career, the rhetorical substitutions of his poems also displace them from that very biography. At the same time, his habit of presenting himself through alter egos seems to reflect something unique to his character. Jiang's "Fu on Bitter Regret" sums up the various tendencies of his work, combining impersonations of historical figures to form a universal depiction of frustrated expression. At the end of his life, a mysterious case of writer's block was the fitting dénouement to a literary career defined all along by self-concealment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-157
Number of pages27
JournalChinese Literature, Essays, Articles, Reviews
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


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