China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
It is widely accepted that writing (wen 文 or wenzhang 文章) gained unprecedented status during the Jian’an period. Contrary to the popular notion of its independence and separation from the political realm, however, Jian’an writers understood the significance of writing as closely related to the political and military undertakings of their time. But how exactly did they contribute to the actual political and military engagements? Through a close analysis of their fu (rhapsody) and shi poetry on military campaigns, this paper shows that they did not merely record what had happened, but assumed a more active role of presenting the campaigns as acts of righteousness and justice, imposing a sense of order and ritual propriety, downplaying elements of violence and destruction, as well as claiming cultural ownership to the territory. In sum, Jian’an writings on military campaigns embody what I call a “discourse of cultural conquest” that provides moral, political and cultural justification and legitimacy to the military operation. Through the power of their writing, Jian’an literati not only participated in the politics of the day, but also fundamentally shaped the political discourse.