China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Although attention to Chinese (auto)biographical literature has grown in recent years, personal accounts of illness and healing remain unexplored. This panel asks how early medieval authors reflected experiences of illness, what the appeal of fashioning oneself as sick was, and on what occasions and in which genres writing about physical matters was permitted. Our inquiry into the rhetorical functions of narratives within their surrounding texts—in letters, essays, prefaces, and anecdotes—aims to deepen understanding of the literary conventions and social standards that evolved to govern early medieval discourses about the physical and literature’s role in creating and perpetuating certain cultural notions of illness.
Two papers examine third and fifth-century texts that justify refusals to take office on the grounds of poor health. Monique Nagel-Angermann focuses on Huangfu Mi’s presentation of illness as a key element of his self-perceptionand public persona, revealing ambiguities in his self-portrayal as a sick man throughout his oeuvre. Cynthia Chennault analyzes rhetorical strategies in Xie Zhuang’s letter to decline a significant promotion, reviewing his reported infirmities in the context of the Chenjun Xie lineage’s low longevity. Sarah Zanolini explores anecdotes in Luoyang qielan ji to elucidate the moral, social, and cultural dimensions of health and illness in the sixth century, reading them as a coded form of social critique. Antje Richter examines authorial prefaces from Sima Qian to Xiao Yi, showing the increasing acceptance of illness and physicality as part of an author’s self-image and public persona and as subjects of refined literature (wen).