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Rhyme and Metre, Repetition and Numbers: Structural Features and Mnemonic Effects in Early Chinese Texts


Dr. Oliver Weingarten (Tschechische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Prag)

Datum und Zeit

05. April 2018, 16:15-18:00 Uhr


Universität Zürich, Asien-Orient-Institut, ZUB 317, Zürichbergstrasse 4, 8032 Zürich


Writings from the pre-Qin and early Han periods are usually associated with certain forms and genres, each typically thought to be represented by particular books: apothegmatic dicta and dialogues (Lunyu, Mengzi); essays (Xunzi, Han Fei zi); poetry (Shijing, Chuci); historical narrative (Zuozhuan, Shiji) as well as speeches (Guoyu, Zhanguo ce) and anecdotes (used widely for their rhetorical effect, but see esp. Han compilations such as Hanshi waizhuan, Shuoyuan). Yet, as has become increasingly clear, these 'books' are not in fact books, but rather compilations assembled from diverse sources to which David Lodge's observation on fictional prose can be aptly applied; They are "wonderfully omnivorous, capable of assimilating all kinds of [...] discourse", some of which likely served didactic ends (The Art of Fiction, New York 1992; 62).

This talk will explore some of the linguistic and stylistic features used to convey ideas and knowl­edge in a memorable form (cf. Alessandro Vatri on ancient Greek evidence). Many prose writings are interspersed with rhymes, at times out of aesthectic considerations, at others arguably for their mnemonic function. The increase in memorability effected by metrical and syntactic regularity is sometimes exploited to this end as well. So is the stylistically less elegant means of repetition, both in treatises and anecdotal narratives. Lastly, numbered catalogues deserve special attention for their potential to help arrange contents in ways which are mnemonically efficient and simultaneously al­low for hierarchical organisation and interconnected mental representation in a manner reminiscent of flowcharts (cf. Rupert Gethin on numerically arranged catalogues in the Pāli canon).

In illustrating and discussing these various means to efficiently convey contents, this talk attempts to draw attention to the formal variability of early writings below the bibliographic categories of the book of chapter; to the pervasiveness of quotations from the fragments of texts of practical utility (Gebrauchstexte); and lastly, to the interplay between linguistic pattern and function.


Asien-Orient-Institut - Sinologie