The word “Jiangnan” first appears in Chinese literature in the line “My spirit returns to grieve over Jiangnan” in the poem “Beckoning the Soul” But what geographical region, literary meaning, and authorial sentiment does this term connote? This thesis undertakes to resolve these questions. The first two chapters approach the issue from a historical angle; the following three chapters endeavor to solve the question by examining plants, scenery, and the return of the soul.
Chapter one explores Jiangnan as it is described in local gazetteers from the early Six Dynasties period. By examining the geography, climate, illnesses, and customs of this region, I offer a systematic analysis, grounded in physical data, that explains the impressions Jiangnan had of this region. These impressions are discernable in the literature of the Six Dynasties.
Chapter two, focusing on the history of the Eastern Jin, Liu Song, Xiaoqi and Liang dynasties, interrogates the impact of history on the literature of this period. Social unrest led the court to endorse popular song and this indirectly influenced the production of poetry with five characters to a line (wu yan poetry). Additionally, as the seat of government moved from place to place, the migration rate of literati also rose. This directly caused landscape poetry to flourish.
Chapter three returns from history to literature and examines the origins of “Jiangnan” in literature going all the way back to Qu Yuan. Here we discover that the literary images of Jiangnan differ significantly from the historical and social constructs of the region (examined in chapters one and two). Literary representations of Jiangnan tend to be linked with spirituality; they depend on depictions of local flora that relate symbolically ethical enlightenment.
Chapter four revolves around the wu yan (five character line) landscape poetry of Xie Lingyun, Jiang Yan, and Xie Tiao and compares these poems with Zuo Si’s “Fu on the Capital of Wu” Here, from the perspective both of historical evidence and of personal experience, we explore what happens when subjective landscape poetry is matched with personal life experience. We find that the geography before the poet’s eyes takes on the unique character of the author’s life journey.
Chapter five interprets the bodily and psychological trauma caused by the political separation of North and South China. Through the lens of poems by three late Liang dynasty poets, Shen Jiong, Yu Xin,and Yan Zhitui, this chapter focuses on the themes of the immortality of the soul, memory, and the self, and permits an inside view of the mutual influences across geographic regions, North and South. It shows that the three poems analyzed, Shen Jiong’s “Rhapsody on the Return of the Soul,” Yu Xin’s “Rhapsody of Mourning for Jiangnan,” and Yan Zhitui’s “Rhapsody Observing my Life,” either manifest Qu Yuan-style laments over “Jiangnan” or actually add to the social upheaval prevalent during this time, unrest that even Qu Yuan did not experience.