China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The mid-sixth-century text Record of Buddhist Temples in Luoyang (Luoyang qielan ji) was ostensibly written by Yang Xuanzhi to record the splendors of the Northern Wei capital as it existed in his memory, before its destruction in the 530s. Numerous anecdotes about the residents of Luoyang are preserved within this spatial framing, including several that explore themes of illness, healing, and death. A close reading of these anecdotes elucidates the moral, social, and cultural dimensions of health and illness as they were understood in the sixth century. Analysis of recurring themes within this group, particularly when read in tandem with the larger political climate in which Yang lived, clarifies their broader rhetorical function within Yang’s work. I demonstrate that these anecdotes, particularly those focused upon personal illnesses caused by processes of social maladjustment, were leveraged by Yang as a coded form of social critique against his contemporaries. Furthermore, by reading these anecdotes as literary devices it becomes possible to view one figure in particular—Yang Yuanshen, of whom the historical record is strangely silent—as a literary double for Yang Xuanzhi himself.