A Historical Taxonomy of Parrots in Chinese Literature: From Mi Heng's Rhapsody on the Parrot to Prime Minister Parrot

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Photo taken by Eveline Stuijfzand.


Thursday, February 16, 2023
10:00 AM - 11:30 AM
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Starting from Mi Heng’s Rhapsody on the Parrot this colorful and eloquent bird has been prominently present in Chinese literature, not only in various genres of poetry but also in anecdotes and tales, precious scrolls and other forms of prosimetric storytelling. From a very early date Chinese parrot lore was enriched by parrot tales that reached China from South Asia in Buddhist contexts. While some South-Asian themes were quickly incorporated into Chinese elite literature, other themes only reappeared after centuries in popular genres. Among Chinese animal tales parrot tales stand out because these birds can engage in dialogue with human beings without needing to take on a human shape. In these tales their intelligence makes them not only receptive to morality and religion, but also allows them to become effective preachers, versatile entertainers, and effective statesmen.

Wilt L. Idema (Ph.D. Leiden University 1974) taught Chinese literature at Leiden (1970-1999) and Harvard (1999-2013). His research has mostly focused on the vernacular traditions (ballads, plays and fiction) of the late-imperial period. He has also worked on women’s literature His most recent publications include The Orphan of Zhao and Other Yuan Plays: The Earliest Known Versions (with Stephen H. West, 2015); Two Centuries of Manchu Women Poets: An Anthology (2017); Mouse vs Cat in Chinese Literature: Tales and Commentary (2019); Insects in Chinese Literature: A Study and Anthology (2019); and The Legend of Prince Golden Calf in China and Korea (with Allard Olof, 2022).


Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies