Remembered today primarily as a poet, calligrapher, and critic, the protean Su Shi was an outspoken player in the contentious politics and intellectual debates of the Northern Song dynasty. In this comprehensive study, Ronald C. Egan analyzes Su’s literary and artistic work against the background of eleventh-century developments within Buddhist and Confucian thought and Su’s dogged disagreement with the New Policies of Wang Anshi.
Egan explicates Su’s views on governance, the classics, and Buddhism; and he describes Su’s social-welfare initiatives, arrest for disloyalty, and exiles. Finding a key to the richness of Su’s artistic activities in his vacillation on the significance of aesthetic pursuits, Egan explores Su’s shi and ci poetry and Su’s promotion of painting and calligraphy, looking specially at the problem of subjectivity. In a concluding chapter, he reconsiders Su’s role as a founder of the wenren (“literati”) and challenges the conventional understanding of both Su and the Northern Song wenren generally.