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Artistic and Philosophical Foundations: Allusions

Artistic and Philosophical Foundations: Allusions

Allusion: a figure of speech that makes a reference to a person, place, thing and/or event, be it historical, political, cultural, or literary. It is an expression designed to call to mind a person, place, thing or event without mentioning it explicitly. A literary device.

Diangu (典故): A literary allusion-quotation.

Taji (獭祭): A parade of allusions in literary compositions. Ta () is an otter, and ji () is to hold a memorial ceremony. So the parade of allusions are like the soon to be eaten clams resting on the stomach of an otter. An excellent poem with many examples comes from the Tang Dynasty poet Meng Haoren:

Beginning of Summer, Return to Han Nan Yuan, Send This Letter to My Chang’an Friends

Having read before the Gao Shi Zhuan
I like Tao Yuanming the best
Everyday you enjoyed your fields and gardens
You were your own ancient emperor.

Why do I try over and over again
To spend so much time asking for a salaried government position?
For many years I gave up hills and valleys
Like Shi Shang who traveled and stayed with phony people inside worldly affairs
I wanted to loyally serve one emperor
And do filial duty to family and ancestors.

Came back in the middle of a hot summer
Too late to sow and cultivate a crop of rice
Only now can take care of family in my hometown
Like Cai Zhi stay in valley and river seclusion
I write this letter of departure to you waiting in zhao lie
I admire the genuine yin yang.



Meng Haoran (689-740): Famous Tang Dynasty poet. His biography and some of his poems appear on this website.

Han Nan Yuan: Meng Haoran’s hometown

Chang’an: The ancient capital city during the Tang Dynasty

Gao Shi Zhuan: A book of senior scholars and comments on the classics

Tao Yuanming (365-427): Famous Eastern Jin Dynasty poet. His biography and some of his poems already appear on this website.

Shi Shang: A man who tried to secure a position to advise the emperor, but had no success. He had to sell his expensive clothes and jewelry in order to remain living in the capital

Cai Zhi: A famous book from the Qin Dynasty

Zhao lie: At dawn, people line up by rank order to have an audience with the emperor

Yin Yang: Ancient Chinese philosophy where opposite forces exist in nature and in human affairs. In this poem, Meng means to identify a place of rural seclusion, Nature and simplicity.

Commentary:  As one can readily see, the more allusions these ancient Chinese poets use in their poems, the more notes a translator has to use so that the readers can follow the meaning and intent.

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