The author argues that the Greek tradition of ekphrasis and the Chinese genre of fu 賦 share at least two essential characteristics: they are devoted to exhaustive descriptions and are manifestly nonmetaphorical. The six texts under scrutiny—Mei Sheng's fu poem “Qi fa,” book 6 of Quintilian's Institutio oratoria, Zuo Si's preface to his “Sandu fu,” Xunzi's analysis of Zhou tombs and funerary rituals in his “Li lun” essay, the “Shield of Achilles” episode in the Iliad, and the metaphorical section of Sima Xiangru's “Shanglin fu”—all employ a similar set of rhetorical strategies but with different emphases. A reading of one in light of the others reveals new information about Chinese and Western theories of representation and metaphoricity. For example, Homer makes his audience alternate between belief and disbelief in the scenes engraved on Achilles's shield. A similar to-and-fro movement in Xunzi's ekphrastic text is configured very differently. By contrast, the abrupt change in mode of expression from ekphrasis to metaphor at the end of “Shanglin fu” emphasizes the key themes of that poem: the shift from excess to frugality, from hedonistic pleasure seeking to ritualized asceticism, and from aristocratic (and thus vulgar) display of wealth to a royal celebration of purity and introspection.

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