The present essay combines the theory of Cultural Memory with ideas about textual repertoires, composite text, and distributed authorship that in recent years have been advanced in studies of early and medieval Chinese literature. In its first part, the essay introduces in detail the historical development and key features of Cultural Memory theory. In its second part, it applies this theory to the study of Qu Yuan 屈原 and the Lisao 離騷, the greatest poem of early China. Through detailed philological analysis, the Lisao is described not as a single text by a single author but as a composite, authorless artifact that participates in a larger Qu Yuan discourse distributed across multiple texts in both prose and poetry. This distributed “Qu Yuan Epic” is an anthology of distinct characteristics attributed to the quasi-mythological Qu Yuan persona—a persona that itself emerges as a composite textual configuration into which are inscribed the nostalgic ideals and shifting aspirations of Han imperial literati. This Han social imaginaire recollects the noble exemplar of the old Chu aristocracy; the dual prophecy of the fall of Chu to Qin and of Qin's subsequent collapse; the religious, historical, mythological, and literary traditions of Chu; the embodied paradigm of the ruler-minister relationship; and the gradual formation of the ideal of authorship through the transformation of poetic hero into heroic poet.

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