The Shishuo xinyu 世說新語 (A New Account of Tales of the World) is a collection of anecdotes concerning extraordinary historical figures active in the second through fourth centuries. This article highlights and explores the importance of the Shishuo xinyu as cultural memory. In the collection, the public display and use of personal memory of the cultural past are taken as means to preserve cultural legacy, construct cultural identity, and establish cultural authority in the elite literati community. Cultural memory gained much significance after the migration of the Western Jin 西晉 (265–316) royal house and aristocratic families to the south after its fall. On one hand, shared memory and the sharing of memory of the past created an unbroken chain of cultural legacy and secured the elite literati's cultural identities in a “continuous” tradition; on the other hand, personal memory and the monopoly of memory were crucial tools to claim cultural privilege in the highly competitive community of elite literati. The peculiar nature of the anecdote as a cross between private and public matters, as well as between local and universal knowledge, lends itself perfectly to carrying out the various social functions of cultural memory. The attention to cultural memory in the Shishuo xinyu was not an accidental or isolated phenomenon. Its sentimental and personal approach to the past reflects the prevailing cultural nostalgia in writings by elite literati of the fourth and fifth centuries.

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