Thursday Lecture Series: Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek in Early Chinese Literature

Thursday, The Heyman Center

Professor Fischer explored four different instantiations of his
theme, which appear at the level of the word, the sentence, the
paragraph, and the book. Prior to the unification of eastern China
in 221 BCE, dozens of scholars wrote texts advising their readers
on a wide array of issues, from personal self-cultivation to political
success in an era of near-constant warfare. One central idea
among these texts reminds us that effective communication, both
personal and public, is predicated on defining our terms. A rhetorical
device that was often employed asks the reader to call to
mind precisely the words that were omitted. Longer bits of narrative
were often layered in parallel prose that demands analytical
attention. Finally, the very authorial paradigm with which we view
these texts has in recent decades evolved to appreciate a much
higher degree of opacity and uncertainty. Each of these aspects of
early Chinese literature highlights a process of concealment that
requires our careful attention to fully appreciate. Although these
examples are all drawn from early China, each may help us to
understand the vagaries of literature from around the world.