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On the Fungibility of Money, Merit, and Meter: Debts in the Late Tang

image of Chinese texts
January 25, 2018 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
East Asia Library, Room 224, 518 Memorial Way
Thomas Mazanec - Assistant Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies at UC Santa Barbara

This event is for current Stanford faculty and students ONLY.

About the event:

This presentation explores the concept of debt in ninth and tenth-century China as it was manifested in three discursive systems: those of finance, religion, and poetry. These three systems did not exist in isolation from one other; rather, money, merit, and meter were often understood to be fungible.That is, diverse sources reveal that these debts could be repaid not only in kind (poetry with poetry, merit with merit) but also by one of the other forms (money with poetry, merit with money). By adding poetry and merit to the mix of exchangeables, this presentation upsets the idea of a binary metaphor, that monetary debt was real and other forms were metaphoric. Its central claim is that the writing of poetry and the creation of merit came to be seen as economic as much as an aesthetic and religious activities in the late Tang: they had value, concrete value which could be directly traded for very real benefits. Poets and monks, even more than merchants, were the creators of wealth.

About the speaker:

Thomas Mazanec is Assistant Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies at UC Santa Barbara. His research on medieval Chinese Buddhist poetry and translation has been published in T’oung Pao, Tang Studies, and the Journal of Oriental Studies. He received a joint Ph.D. in East Asian Studies and Interdisciplinary Humanities from Princeton in 2017, and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 2011. He is currently revising the manuscript of his first book, The Invention of Chinese Buddhist Poetry, and guest-editing a special issue on Digital Methods in Traditional Chinese Literary Studies for the Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture. For more information, please visit his website,

This event is for Stanford faculty and students ONLY.

Event Sponsor: 
Stanford University Libraries, East Asia Library, Center for East Asian Studies, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education
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