This article explores the textual world and functionalities of sanqu songs in relation to the court milieu. The imperial court is not usually considered a natural habitat for the sanqu genre, best known for its portrayal of “disengagement” and “retirement” from official life, yet one cannot ignore the presence of a substantial number of sanqu songs that addressed and engaged with various court contexts and imperial occasions. I call this type of songs “courtly sanqu songs,” written in a style suitable for presentation to the imperial court or for courtly occasions. By identifying a number of Ming dynasty qu anthologies that prominently feature courtly sanqu songs, this article examines how these anthologies, through their organizational structure, draw the reader's attention to courtly sanqu songs. Ming anthologies also act as the major source for tracing the textual lineage of courtly sanqu and the spectrum of songs contained within this textual world. Using one song suite (“Nation Blessed”) as a case study, the article traces its variations and different “positions” over time, across anthologies, and across different editions of the same anthology, thereby uncovering the status and place of such songs in the court milieu and beyond.

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