This chapter considers the irreducible complexity of Du Fu’s relationship to the Tang empire in his late poetry from Kuizhou. During this period, his poems repeatedly portray miniature versions of the empire in the ostensibly private, domestic affairs that occupied his attention in a region where he had no property and few friends. Readers have been divided as to the significance of these poems: for some, that he should have continued even in his exile to see the empire everywhere he turned has evidenced his continuing commitment to the Tang; to others, the patent absurdity of some of these miniature empires has suggested a mockery of imperial pretensions. This chapter argues that both of these antithetical interpretations are correct. As soon as Du Fu seeks to assert his continued connection with the values of the empire, he recognizes the absurdity of his overreach; and as soon as he recognizes the absurdity of his overreach, he acknowledges the darker ways in which he remains dependent, even in Kuizhou, upon imperial hierarchies of questionable justice.
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