Jack W. Chen, professor of Chinese literature at the University of Virginia, hosted a webinar on Monday to discuss ghost poetry in the classical Chinese tradition.
Chen’s webinar was one of many lectures organized and funded by UT’s Center for the Humanities as part of their Distinguished Visiting Scholars lecture series.
This project aims to bring scholars and artists in the humanities to speak to students and staff to connect with their areas of research. Speakers chosen for this series should have records of publication and research activity, so that the program can bring together some of the most active and successful scholars in the study of the humanities.
Chen was introduced by Shellen Wu, associate professor of history and director of the Asian studies program. She gave more details about Chen’s academic history and her interests in Chinese literature.
“Professor Chen works on ancient and medieval Chinese literature and thought. His interests are varied and vast. This includes network visualization, lyric theory, computational approaches to literary analysis, information stories, and questions of comparative and global methodology,” Wu said.
Chen is the author of various books on Chinese poetry, including the monographs “Poetics of Sovereignty: On Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty” and “Anecdote, Network, Gossip, Performance: Essays on the Shishuo xinyu”. Chen was invited to the University of Tennessee by Professor Shellen Wu because of his current study of poems believed to be created by ghosts in medieval China.
Ghost poetry in Chinese literature is known as poems and works that were produced by the returning dead, a special feature of Chinese tradition. Chen went into detail about poems composed by ghosts. This includes Shen Yue’s “song story” and “Quan Tangshi” collection. It explains how their existence causes problems within the conceptual categories of the history of literature.
Chen dedicated the webinar to his late father. Chen’s father graduated from the University of Tennessee with a master’s degree in chemistry and agriculture in the late 1960s as an international student from Taiwan.
Chen then began to talk about his research on ghost poetry and the importance of his studies in Chinese literature.
“To speak of ghosts is to speak of the souls of the dead returning to haunt the living — a phenomenon that is found across historical periods and cultural traditions… What I am proposing here is more modest in scope, what one might call minor literature. of poetry composed by ghosts, but I hope my subject touches on a broader theoretical concern,” Chen said.
He then began to explain various terms in Chinese literature and translated them into English by reading poems composed by ghosts. Chen broke down each part of the poems and explained the story told by the ghost.
One of the poems Chen read was “Shout” by Hun Liang Fu, which describes an exiled prince from the state of Wei who plotted with a servant to seize the state from his own son. Once he took over the state, he eliminated the servant. Years later he dreamed of the servant, where they talked and the servant claimed his innocence.
According to Chen, the reason texts like Hun Liang Fu’s “Shout” cause complications with literary categories is because of its irregular length of lines, including words like “shout” which are not common to the genre of the poetry and have ghostly tones.
To learn more about the lecture series and professors like Chen, visit the UT Humanities Center website.