Self-Fashioning in Tang China: From the 'Casual Gaffer' to the 'Master of Extreme Torment'

Starting from the seventh century, several Tang literati began to consciously fashion their self-image through their writings. After assuming a specific identity at a particular stage of their lives, they persistently portrayed themselves in line with those individual identities. This talk explores this phenomenon by focusing on three writers: Lu Zhaolin 盧照鄰 (ca. 635–ca. 684), Li Bai 李白 (701-762?), and Yuan Jie 元結 (719–722). All three characterized themselves by adopting one or more sobriquets and went on to continuously fashion this aspect of themselves in the literature they produced. This talk investigates the issue of literary self-fashioning and considers the following questions: under what circumstances did they adopt those sobriquets? What kind of identities did they assume? How and why did they fashion themselves in certain lights? And how does this phenomenon contribute to our understanding of the ideas of ‘self’ and ‘individuality’ in Tang China?

Xiaojing Miao is the Stanley Ho Junior Research Fellow in Chinese Studies at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. Her research explores a wide range of issues in Chinese culture and literature, especially that of the medieval period, including self-writing, authenticity and sincerity, rhetoric, and historiography.