A writer of enormous impact on Chinese literary history, Tao Yuanming 陶淵明 (ca. 365–427) became a cultural symbol through his deep and pervasive influence on generations of scholar-officials. What emerged was the image of an individual pure and high-minded, freethinking in spirit, reconciled to poverty, and upholding “ineptitude.” Through a survey of the mu Tao 慕陶 (idolizing Tao) phenomenon in Chinese cultural history, this essay discusses the process by which Tao assumed the status of a wenhua fuhao 文化符號 (cultural symbol) and explores the factors that made it possible. Specifically, this essay maintains that Tao achieved this exemplary role through the cultural work of later scholar-officials who reimagined, constructed, and selectively formulated a paradigmatic character-type on top of the base supplied by his own core character. Finally, this essay discusses the international and contemporary significance of Tao Yuanming.

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