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Delving into the Theory of Nature-Pneuma of Li Shangyin

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2016/2017 School of Chinese Seminar

Delving into the Theory of Nature-Pneuma of Li Shangyin

劉青海 Liu Qinghai

Date and Time: March 21, 2017 (Tuesday); 5:30-6:45pm
Venue: Room 730 Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus
Language: Putonghua


Theory of nature-pneuma describes Li Shangyin’s understanding about the origin of poetry, which lays a strong foundation for his poetics. It can be traced back to the theory of nature-pneuma used to explain the origin of things in pre-Qin dynasty. Liu Yuxi’s and Liu Zongyuan’s discussion on the relation between heaven and man offered an important background of Li’s theory, whereas Bai Juyi and Liu Yuxi’s literary thoughts about pneuma also inspired Li. As a Daoism-influenced aesthetic thought, theory of nature-pneuma is a significant supplement of the Confucian poetic education, which regards political education as the basic function of literature. This talk examines how Li used the theory to expound the impassioned and sad style of Yuan Jie’s works and to explicate the orthodox, instead of variant, essence of Yuan’s writing. It also argues that Li employed the theory to offer his ideas on Dao and the origin of literature that are different from those held by Han Yu and other writers of ancient-style prose. In short, the aesthetic ideas of advocating truth and following feelings embedded in the theory of nature-pneuma are key factors that have contributed to the thematic and stylistic uniqueness of Li’s writing, and helped form the characteristic of “expressing emotions” in Li’s poetry.


Liu Qinghai obtained her PhD from Peking University. She is currently Associate Professor at Shanghai Normal University, and has taught in Korea and Lingnan University, HK. Her main research areas are medieval Chinese poetry and literary history. She has published extensively, including more than thirty articles in China’s top-tiered journals.


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