Smoke and Mirrors: Buddhist Conceptions of Mind and Emptiness in Xiao Gang's
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The Liang dynasty poet Xiao Gang’s “poems on things” (yongwu shi) have traditionally been read as shallow, overwrought descriptions of palace life devoid of the allegorical dimensions that were thought to ennoble the genre. This thesis argues that the figurative dimensions of these supposedly non-figurative poems must be understood in the context of the profound influence Buddhism and Buddhist thought had on Xiao Gang’s conceptions of literary practice. Through close readings of six “poems on things,” I demonstrate that Xiao Gang’s use of descriptive language doubles as an exploration of Buddhist concepts of sensuous reality, emptiness, and dependent co-arising. By exploring Xiao Gang’s thematization of abstract Buddhist philosophical concepts in the traditionally Confucian genre of the yongwu shi, I suggest that the impact of Buddhist ideas on Chinese figurative modes of poetic meaning was more profound than scholars of this period have previously suggested.