Precedence and Persuasion: Some Preliminary Thoughts on ‘Classicizing’ in the Tang Dynasty

Research Meeting: Prof Alexei Ditter

50 George Square, 2.54

The practice of ‘circulating scrolls’ developed during the mid-Tang as a means for civil service examination candidates to acquire the patronage they required in order to pass. The ‘cover letters’ that accompanied these circulated portfolios of written work offer a unique glimpse into candidates’ attempts to translate the cultural capital accumulated through years of classical learning into social and political relationships. In my talk, I look at how candidates used classical models and allusions both to legitimize the practice of circulating scrolls and to persuade, or coerce, their addressees into offering patronage. This discussion will serve in turn as a means to tentatively explore one way in which ‘classicizing’ might have been understood during the latter half of the Tang dynasty and why it might have been done.

The following book chapter may serve as preparatory reading and basis for discussion:

Alexei Ditter, ‘Civil Examinations and Cover Letters in the Mid-Tang: Dugu Yu’s (776–815) “Letter Submitted to Attendant Gentleman Quan of the Ministry of Rites”’, in A History of Chinese Letters and Epistolary Culture, ed. Antje Richter (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 643–74.

Alexei Ditter is Associate Professor of Chinese and Humanities at Reed College and presently a Fellow at Morphomata (Universität zu Köln).