A Reassessment of Chuci’s Influence on Hanfu

Vol. 30 No. 4   12/2000  


A Reassessment of Chuci’s Influence on Hanfu


Sherman Chu









Key words

Chuci, Qu Yuan, Hanfu


        Since ancient times, it has always been held that Chuci had exerted great influence on Hanfu. While agreeing with Liu Xie’s viewpoint that Hanfu carried on Chuci’s various literary achievements in building up an ethos that enables readers to appreciate the works more fully, this author argues that the influence Chuci had on Hanfu may not be as great as had always been accepted.

        First, this paper tries to show that in the historical development of Chinese literary genres, according to the Han people’s perspective, the emergence of Fu took precedence over that of Chuci, which was a mere sub-genre under it. It was Fu that impregnated Chuci, rather than the other way around. The general misconception that Chuci had influence Fu, especially Hanfu, has much to do with the fact that at a very early stage Chuci developed into a system of its own. Since the Han people only classified works penned by Qu Yuan himself or by authors showing empathetic understanding with the poet’s viewpoints or emotions under this title, it is fair to say that while Qu Yuan impersonates ChuciChuci re-presents various dimensions of Qu Yuan’s personality. If this is the case, we cannot decide whether Chuci has exerted gereat influence on Hanfu without considering the following two questions: (1) How Hanfu writers embraced Qu Yuan, the central figure of Chuci; (2) how their works emulated the themes and aspirations such as appeared in Chuci.

        In so far, as literary works are concerned, many themes of Chuci are missing in Hanfu. Similarly, in Chuci there is no trace of themes generally associated with Hanfu or Considered congenial to the literary tastes of the Hanfu writers. As for the limited number of common themes that authors of both camps occasionally touched upon, their approaches were distinctly divergent. The question of disappointed literati unable to impress them selves with the rulers provides a good example.

        As for the embracement of Qu Yuan, a thorough examination of all materials concerned shows that apart from very few pieces praising Qu Yuan, the mainstream Hanfu writers were critical of him. In other words, Hanfu writers did not admire Qu Yuan as profusely as posterity think they did. If we put Qu Yuan in a broader historical perspective and see how literary critics during the Han, Wei and Jin dynasties received him and those in the category (such as Buo Yi and Ji Kang), we find that he was at best a marginalized figure rather than one in the center stage. Although as a result of drastic social changes people of those periods were caught up in similar moral straits and faced hard choices such as Qu Yuan did, their lukewarm reception of his ideas and action betrayed a different value system and codes of conduct. This has little to do with whether Confucianism or Taoism had more influence on Qu Yuan’s thoughts, emotions, or action. Nor is it a relevant question whether Confucian or Metaphsic (Xuan) School constituted the major influence of those periods. Whichever school dominated the scene; the values and moral choices expressed through the Han, Wei, Jin literary works remained unchanged and did not have much impact on contemporaries’ critical views of Qu Yuan.



Author: Sherman Chu
Genre: Article