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Poet-Monks: The Invention of Buddhist Poetry in Late Medieval China

Book cover for Poet-Monks: The Invention of Buddhist Poetry in Late Medieval China by Thomas J. Mazanec. Black ink splotches on a white background. The title and author are on a bar across the middle.

Author: Thomas J. Mazanec

Poet-Monks focuses on the literary and religious practices of Buddhist poet-monks in Tang-dynasty China to propose an alternative historical arc of medieval Chinese poetry. Combining large-scale quantitative analysis with close readings of important literary texts, Thomas J. Mazanec describes how Buddhist poet-monks, who first appeared in the latter half of Tang-dynasty China, asserted a bold new vision of poetry that proclaimed the union of classical verse with Buddhist practices of repetition, incantation, and meditation.

Mazanec traces the historical development of the poet-monk as a distinct actor in the Chinese literary world, arguing for the importance of religious practice in medieval literature. As they witnessed the collapse of the world around them, these monks wove together the frayed threads of their traditions to establish an elite-style Chinese Buddhist poetry. Poet-Monks shows that during the transformative period of the Tang-Song transition, Buddhist monks were at the forefront of poetic innovation.

Poet-Monks promises to transform our understanding of middle-period Chinese poetry, offering a highly readable and in-depth analysis of a crucial and as-yet understudied subject. A must-read for all who are curious about the interface between the Chinese poetic tradition and the growth of Buddhism during this critical period.

—Paula Varsano, University of California, Berkeley, author of Tracking the Banished Immortal

Combining lucid exposition with incisive close reading, Poet-Monks sheds fresh insight on the process through which Buddhist poet-monks created a distinct type of poetry between 760 and 960 CE. Mazanec challenges the received narrative about the period and demonstrates how it can be viewed as one of innovation and possibility.

—Xiaoshan Yang, University of Notre Dame, author of Wang Anshi and Song Poetic Culture

Even within the scholarship of classical Chinese poetry, Buddhist poet-monks have not been given sufficient attention, especially not as a community or tradition with a specific history. Not only does Poet-Monks bring needed attention to these poets and works, but it also complicates the standard narrative of late Tang poetry—raising the issue of how literary history should and can be constructed.

—Meow Hui Goh, Ohio State University, author of Sound and Sight



Additional Information



  • Book

  • Cornell East Asia Series

Publication Details

Publication Year: 2024

Publication Number: 217

ISBN: 9781501773839