Chinese poetry

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"Quatrain on Heavenly Mountain" by Emperor Gaozong Quatrain on Heavenly Mountain.jpg
"Quatrain on Heavenly Mountain" by Emperor Gaozong
Hand-painted Chinese New Year's dui lian (Dui Lian  "couplet"), a by-product of Chinese poetry, pasted on the sides of doors leading to people's homes, at Lijiang City, Yunnan. Chinese New Year's poetry.jpg
Hand-painted Chinese New Year's dui lian (對聯 "couplet"), a by-product of Chinese poetry, pasted on the sides of doors leading to people's homes, at Lijiang City, Yunnan.

Chinese poetry is poetry written, spoken, or chanted in the Chinese language. While this last term comprises Classical Chinese, Standard Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, Yue Chinese, and other historical and vernacular forms of the language, its poetry generally falls into one of two primary types, Classical Chinese poetry and Modern Chinese poetry .


Poetry has consistently been held in extremely high regard in China, often incorporating expressive folk influences filtered through the minds of Chinese literation. In Chinese culture, poetry has provided a format and a forum for both public and private expressions of deep emotion, offering an audience of peers, readers, and scholars insight into the inner life of Chinese writers across more than two millennia. [1] Chinese poetry often reflects the influence of China's various religious traditions as well. [2]

Classical Chinese poetry includes, perhaps first and foremost shi (詩/诗), and also other major types such as ci (詞/词) and qu (曲). There is also a traditional Chinese literary form called fu (賦/赋), which defies categorization into English more than the other terms, but perhaps can best be described as a kind of prose-poem. During the modern period, there also has developed free verse in Western style. Traditional forms of Chinese poetry are rhymed, however the mere rhyming of text may not qualify literature as being poetry; and, as well, the lack of rhyme would not necessarily disqualify a modern work from being considered poetry, in the sense of modern Chinese poetry.

Beginnings of the tradition: Shijing and Chuci

The earliest extant anthologies are the Shi Jing (詩經) and Chu Ci (楚辭). Both of these have had a great impact on the subsequent poetic tradition. Earlier examples of ancient Chinese poetry may have been lost because of the vicissitudes of history, such as the burning of books and burying of scholars (焚書坑儒) by Qin Shi Huang, although one of the targets of this last event was the Shi Jing , which has nevertheless survived.


The elder of these two works, the Shijing (also familiarly known, in English, as the Classic of Poetry and as the Book of Songs or transliterated as the Sheh Ching) is a preserved collection of Classical Chinese poetry from over two millennia ago. Its content is divided into 3 parts: Feng (風, folk songs from 15 small countries, 160 songs in total), Ya (雅, Imperial court songs, subdivided into daya and xiaoya, 105 songs in total) and Song (頌, singing in ancestral worship, 40 songs in total).This anthology received its final compilation sometime in the 7th century BCE. [3] The collection contains both aristocratic poems regarding life at the royal court ("Odes") and also more rustic poetry and images of natural settings, derived at least to some extent from folk songs ("Songs"). The Shijing poems are predominantly composed of four-character lines (四言), rather than the five and seven character lines typical of later Classical Chinese poetry. The main techniques of expression (rhetorics) are Fu (賦, Direct elaborate narrative), bi (比, metaphor) and Xing (興, describe other thing to foreshadowing the main content).


In contrast to the classic Shijing, the Chu Ci anthology (also familiarly known, in English, as the Songs of Chu or the Songs of the South or transliterated as the Chu Tz'u) consists of verses more emphasizing lyric and romantic features, as well as irregular line-lengths and other influences from the poetry typical of the state of Chu. The Chuci collection consists primarily of poems ascribed to Qu Yuan (屈原) (329–299 BCE) and his follower Song Yu, although in its present form the anthology dates to Wang I's 158 CE compilation and notes, which are the only historically reliable sources of both the text and information regarding its composition. [4] During the Han dynasty (206 BCE−220 CE), the Chu Ci style of poetry contributed to the evolution of the fu ("descriptive poem") style, typified by a mixture of verse and prose passages (often used as a virtuoso display the poet's skills and knowledge rather than to convey intimate emotional experiences). The fu form remained popular during the subsequent Six Dynasties period, although it became shorter and more personal. The fu form of poetry remains as one of the generic pillars of Chinese poetry; although, in the Tang dynasty, five-character and seven-character shi poetry begins to dominate.

Han poetry

Also during the Han dynasty, a folk-song style of poetry became popular, known as yuefu (樂府/乐府) "Music Bureau" poems, so named because of the government's role in collecting such poems, although in time some poets began composing original works in yuefu style. Many yuefu poems are composed of five-character (五言) or seven-character (七言) lines, in contrast to the four-character lines of earlier times. A characteristic form of Han Dynasty literature is the fu . The poetic period of the end of the Han Dynasty and the beginning of the Six Dynasties era is known as Jian'an poetry. An important collection of Han poetry is the Nineteen Old Poems .

Jian'an poetry

Between and over-lapping the poetry of the latter days of the Han and the beginning period of the Six Dynasties was Jian'an poetry. Examples of surviving poetry from this period include the works of the "Three Caos": Cao Cao, Cao Pi, and Cao Zhi.

Six Dynasties poetry

A Tang dynasty era copy of the preface to the Lantingji Xu poems composed at the Orchid Pavilion Gathering, originally attributed to Wang Xizhi (303-361 AD) of the Jin dynasty "Lan-ting Xu"Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion,copy by an artist in the Tang dyna... - Google Art Project.jpg
A Tang dynasty era copy of the preface to the Lantingji Xu poems composed at the Orchid Pavilion Gathering, originally attributed to Wang Xizhi (303–361 AD) of the Jin dynasty

The Six Dynasties era (220−589 CE) was one of various developments in poetry, both continuing and building on the traditions developed and handed down from previous eras and also leading up to further developments of poetry in the future. Major examples of poetry surviving from this dynamic era include the works of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, the poems of the Orchid Pavilion Gathering, the Midnight Songs poetry of the four seasons, the great "fields and garden" poet "Tao Yuanming", the Yongming epoch poets, and the poems collected in the anthology New Songs from the Jade Terrace , compiled by Xu Ling (507–83). The general and poet Lu Ji used Neo-Taoist cosmology to take literary theory in a new direction with his Wen fu, or "Essay on Literature" in the Fu poetic form.

Tang poetry

A high point of classical Chinese poetry occurred during the Tang period (618–907): not only was this period prolific in poets; but, also in poems (perhaps around 50,000 poems survive, many of them collected in the Collected Tang Poems ). During the time of, poetry was integrated into almost every aspect of the professional and social life of the literate class, including becoming part of the Imperial examinations taken by anyone wanting a government post. By this point, poetry was being composed according to regulated tone patterns. Regulated and unregulated poetry were distinguished as "ancient-style" gushi poetry and regulated, "recent-style" jintishi poetry. Jintishi (meaning "new style poetry"), or regulated verse, is a stricter form developed in the early Tang Dynasty with rules governing the structure of a poem, in terms of line-length, number of lines, tonal patterns within the lines, the use of rhyme, and a certain level of mandatory parallelism. Good examples of the gushi and jintishi forms can be found in, respectively, the works of the poets Li Bai and Du Fu. Tang poetic forms include: lushi , a type of regulated verse with an eight-line form having five, six, or seven characters per line; ci (verse following set rhythmic patterns); and jueju (truncated verse), a four-line poem with five, six, or seven characters per line. Good examples of the jueju verse form can be found in the poems of Li Bai [5] and Wang Wei. Over time, some Tang poetry became more realistic, more narrative and more critical of social norms; for example, these traits can be seen in the works of Bai Juyi. The poetry of the Tang Dynasty remains influential today. Other Late Tang poetry developed a more allusive and surreal character, as can be seen, for example, in the works of Li He and Li Shangyin.

Song poetry

By the Song dynasty (960–1279), another form had proven it could provide the flexibility that new poets needed: the ci (词/詞) lyric—new lyrics written according to the set rhythms of existing tunes. Each of the tunes had music that has often been lost, but having its own meter. Thus, each ci poem is labeled "To the tune of [Tune Name]" (调寄[词牌]/調寄[詞牌]) and fits the meter and rhyme of the tune (much in the same way that Christian hymn writers set new lyrics to pre-existing tunes). The titles of ci poems are not necessarily related to their subject matter, and many poems may share a title. In terms of their content, ci poetry most often expressed feelings of desire, often in an adopted persona. However, great exponents of the form, such as the Southern Tang poet Li Houzhu and the Song dynasty poet Su Shi, used the ci form to address a wide range of topics.

Yuan poetry

Major developments of poetry during the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) included the development of types of poetry written to fixed-tone patterns, such as for the Yuan opera librettos. After the Song Dynasty, the set rhythms of the ci came to be reflected in the set-rhythm pieces of Chinese Sanqu poetry (散曲), a freer form based on new popular songs and dramatic arias, that developed and lasted into the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Examples can be seen in the work of playwrights Ma Zhiyuan 馬致遠 (c. 1270–1330) and Guan Hanqing 關漢卿 (c. 1300).

Ming poetry

The Ming dynasty (1368–1644) poets include Gao Qi (1336–1374), Li Dongyang (1447–1516), and Yuan Hongdao (1568–1610).

Ming-Qing Transition

Ming-Qing Transition includes the interluding/overlapping periods of the brief so-called Shun dynasty (also known as Dashun, 1644–1645) and the Southern Ming dynasty (1644 to 1662). One example of poets who wrote during the difficult times of the late Ming, when the already troubled nation was ruled by Chongzhen Emperor (reigned 1627 to 1644), the short-lived Dashun regime of peasant-rebel Li Zicheng, and then the Manchu Qing dynasty are the so-called Three Masters of Jiangdong: Wu Weiye (1609–1671), Qian Qianyi (1582–1664), and Gong Dingzi (1615–1673).

Qing poetry

The Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912) is notable in terms of development of the criticism of poetry and the development of important poetry collections, such as the Qing era collections of Tang dynasty poetry known as the QuanTangshi and the Three Hundred Tang Poems . Both shi and ci continued to be composed beyond the end of the imperial period.

Post-imperial Classical Chinese poetry

Both shi and ci continued to be composed past the end of the imperial period; one example being Mao Zedong, former Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, who wrote Classical Chinese poetry in his own calligraphic style.

Modern (post-classical) poetry

Modern Chinese poetry (新诗/新詞 "new poetry") refers to the modern vernacular style of poetry, as opposed to the traditional poetry written in Classical Chinese language. Usually Modern Chinese poetry does not follow prescribed patterns. Poetry was revolutionized after 1919's May Fourth Movement, when writers (like Hu Shih) tried to use vernacular styles closer to what was being spoken (baihua) rather than previously prescribed forms. Early 20th-century poets like Xu Zhimo, Guo Moruo and Wen Yiduo sought to break Chinese poetry from past conventions by adopting Western models. For example, Xu consciously follows the style of the Romantic poets with end-rhymes.

In the post-revolutionary Communist era, poets like Ai Qing used more liberal running lines and direct diction, which were vastly popular and widely imitated.

In the contemporary poetic scene, the most important and influential poets are in the group known as Misty Poets, who use oblique allusions and hermetic references. The most important Misty Poets include Shu Ting, Bei Dao, Gu Cheng, Duo Duo, and Yang Lian, most of whom were exiled after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. A special case is the mystic poet Hai Zi, who became very famous after his suicide.

However, even today, the concept of modern poetry is still debated. There are arguments and contradiction as to whether modern poetry counts as poetry. Due to the special structure of Chinese writing and Chinese grammar, modern poetry, or free verse poetry, may seem like a simple short vernacular essay since they lack some of the structure traditionally used to define poetry.

See also


Poetry works and collections

Individual poets

Lists of poets

Important English translators

English-language translation collections

Technical factors of poetry

Notes and references

  1. Cai 2008, p. xxi and p. 1
  2. Williams, Nicholas Morrow (2022). Chinese Poetry as Soul Summoning: Shamanistic Religious Influences on Chinese Literary Tradition. Cambria Press. ISBN   9781621966234.
  3. Yip, 31
  4. Yip, 54
  5. 五言絕右丞,供奉(白曾供奉翰林,故云),七言絕龍標,供奉,絕妙古今 ,別有天地。


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The history of Chinese literature extends thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature vernacular fiction novels that arose during the Ming dynasty to entertain the masses of literate Chinese. The introduction of widespread woodblock printing during the Tang dynasty (618–907) and the invention of movable type printing by Bi Sheng (990–1051) during the Song dynasty (960–1279) rapidly spread written knowledge throughout China. In more modern times, the author Lu Xun (1881–1936) is considered an influential voice of baihua literature in China.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Classical Chinese poetry</span> Traditional Chinese poetry

Classical Chinese poetry is traditional Chinese poetry written in Classical Chinese and typified by certain traditional forms, or modes; traditional genres; and connections with particular historical periods, such as the poetry of the Tang dynasty. The existence of classical Chinese poetry is documented at least as early as the publication of the Classic of Poetry (Shijing). Various combinations of forms and genres have developed over the ages. Many or most of these poetic forms were developed by the end of the Tang dynasty, in 907 CE.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Qu Yuan</span> Chinese poet and politician (c.340–278 BCE)

Qu Yuan was a Chinese poet and politician in the State of Chu during the Warring States period. He is known for his patriotism and contributions to classical poetry and verses, especially through the poems of the Chu Ci anthology : a volume of poems attributed to or considered to be inspired by his verse writing. Together with the Shi Jing, the Chu Ci is one of the two greatest collections of ancient Chinese verse. He is also remembered in connection to the supposed origin of the Dragon Boat Festival.

, also known as chángduǎnjù and shīyú, is a type of lyric poetry in the tradition of Classical Chinese poetry that also draws upon folk traditions. use various poetic meters derived from a base set of fixed pattern forms, using fixed-rhythm, fixed-tone, and line-lengths varying according that of the model examples. The rhythmic and tonal pattern of the are based upon certain, definitive musical song tunes (cípái), and in many cases the name of the musical tune is given in the title of a piece, in a form such as "after ...." The underlying songs are generally lost or uncertain.

<i>Shi</i> (poetry)

Shi and shih are romanizations of the character /, the Chinese word for all poetry generally and across all languages.

<i>Chu Ci</i> Anthology of Chinese poetry

The Chu ci, variously translated as Verses of Chu,Songs of Chu, or Elegies of Chu, is an ancient anthology of Chinese poetry including works traditionally attributed mainly to Qu Yuan and Song Yu from the Warring States period, and also a large number of works composed several centuries later, during the Han dynasty. The traditional version of the Chu ci contains 17 major sections, anthologized with its current contents by Wang Yi, a 2nd-century AD librarian who served under Emperor Shun of Han. The early Classical Chinese poetry is mainly known through the two anthologies the Chu ci and the Shi jing.

The Three Hundred Tang Poems is an anthology of poems from the Chinese Tang dynasty (618–907). It was first compiled around 1763 by Sun Zhu (1722–1778), who was a Qing Dynasty scholar and was also known as Hengtang Tuishi. Various later editions also exist. All editions contain slightly more than 300 total poems. The number 300 was a classic number for a poetry collection due to the influence of the Classic of Poetry, which was generally known as The Three Hundred Poems.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arts of China</span>

The arts of China have varied throughout its ancient history, divided into periods by the ruling dynasties of China and changing technology, but still containing a high degree of continuity. Different forms of art have been influenced by great philosophers, teachers, religious figures and even political leaders. The arrival of Buddhism and modern Western influence produced especially large changes. Chinese art encompasses fine arts, folk arts and performance arts.

Tang poetry refers to poetry written in or around the time of or in the characteristic style of China's Tang dynasty, and/or follows a certain style, often considered as the Golden Age of Chinese poetry. The Quan Tangshi includes over 48,900 poems written by over 2,200 authors. During the Tang dynasty, poetry continued to be an important part of social life at all levels of society. Scholars were required to master poetry for the civil service exams, but the art was theoretically available to everyone. This led to a large record of poetry and poets, a partial record of which survives today. The two most famous poets of the period were Li Bai and Du Fu. Through the Three Hundred Tang Poems, Tang poetry has remain familiar to educated Chinese in modern times.

Jueju, or Chinese quatrain, is a type of jintishi that grew popular among Chinese poets in the Tang Dynasty (618–907), although traceable to earlier origins. Jueju poems are always quatrains; or, more specifically, a matched pair of couplets, with each line consisting of five or seven syllables.

Song poetry refers to Classical Chinese poetry of or typical of the Song dynasty of China (960–1279). The dynasty was established by the Zhao family in China in 960 and lasted until 1279.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Classical Chinese poetry forms</span> Overview of Classical Chinese poetry forms

Classical Chinese poetry forms are poetry forms or modes which typify the traditional Chinese poems written in Literary Chinese or Classical Chinese. Classical Chinese poetry has various characteristic forms, some attested to as early as the publication of the Classic of Poetry, dating from a traditionally, and roughly, estimated time of around 10th–7th century BCE. The term "forms" refers to various formal and technical aspects applied to poems: this includes such poetic characteristics as meter, rhythm, and other considerations such as vocabulary and style. These forms and modes are generally, but not invariably, independent of the Classical Chinese poetry genres. Many or most of these were developed by the time of the Tang Dynasty, and the use and development of Classical Chinese poetry and genres actively continued up until the May Fourth Movement, and still continues even today in the 21st century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Classical Chinese poetry genres</span>

Classical Chinese poetry genres are those genres which typify the traditional Chinese poems written in Classical Chinese. Some of these genres are attested to as early as the publication of the Classic of Poetry, dating from a traditionally, and roughly, estimated time of around 10th–7th century BCE, in what is now China, but at that time was composed of various independent states. The term "genres" refers to various aspects, such as to topic, theme, and subject matter, what similes or metaphors were considered appropriate or how they would be interpreted, and other considerations such as vocabulary and style. These genres were generally, but not always independent of the Classical Chinese poetry forms. Many or most of these forms and genres were developed by the Tang Dynasty, and the use and development of Classical Chinese poetry genres actively continued up until the May Fourth Movement, in 1919, and still continues even today in the 21st century.

The Music Bureau served in the capacity of an organ of various imperial government bureaucracies of China: discontinuously and in various incarnations, the Music Bureau was charged directly, by the emperor, or indirectly, through the royal government to perform various tasks related to music, poetry, entertainment, or religious worship. These tasks included both musical and lyrical research and development, and also directing performances.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Han poetry</span>

Han poetry as a style of poetry resulted in significant poems which are still preserved today, and whose origins are associated with the Han dynasty era of China, 206 BC – 220 AD, including the Wang Mang interregnum. The final years at the end of the Han era often receive special handling for purposes of literary analysis because, among other things, the poetry and culture of this period is less than typical of the Han period, and has important characteristics of its own, or it shares literary aspects with the subsequent Three Kingdoms period. This poetry reflects one of the poetry world's more important flowerings, as well as being a special period in Classical Chinese poetry, particularly in regard to the development of the quasipoetic fu; the activities of the Music Bureau in connection with the collection of popular ballads and the resultant development of what would eventually become known as the yuefu, or as the rhapsodic formal style; and, finally, towards the end of the Han dynasty, the development of a new style of shi poetry, as the later development of the yuehfu into regular, fixed-line length forms makes it difficult to distinguish in form from the shi form of poetic verse, and at what point specific poems are classified as one or the other is somewhat arbitrary. Another important poetic contribution from the Han era is the compilation of the Chuci anthology, which contains some of the oldest and most important poetic verses to be preserved from ancient China, as well as the transmission of the Shijing anthology.

Six Dynasties poetry refers to those types or styles of poetry particularly associated with the Six Dynasties era of China. This poetry reflects one of the poetry world's more important flowerings, as well as being a unique period in Classical Chinese poetry, which, over this time period, developed a poetry with special emphasis on romantic love, gender roles, and human relationships. The Six Dynasties era is sometimes known as the "Age of Fragmentation", because China as a whole through this period lacked unification as a state, at least for any extended period of time; and, instead, many states rose and fell, often overlapping in existence with other states. Which of the various states and dynasties constituted the "6" dynasties of the Six Dynasties period varies somewhat according to which of the traditional selection criteria are chosen. The Six Dynasties era covers several somewhat overlapping main periods including all of the following: the Three Kingdoms (220–280), Jin dynasty, the Sixteen Kingdoms, and the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420–589). Sometimes, chronological discrepancies occur in regard to the turbulent political events of the time, from which these traditional historical-era designations derive, together with the somewhat different chronology of poetic developments. Thus, neither the lives of the poets nor the trends in their poetry fit gently and neatly together with these period dates. Furthermore, conversions to the Common Era dating system can create further complications. However, regardless of the chronological difficulties, major developments of poetry during the Six Dynasties include formalizing the distinction between the Jian'an era regular yuefu and the shi style poetry, further development of the fu, theoretical work on technique, and the preservation of both Six Dynasties and earlier poetry by collecting and publishing many of the pieces which survive today into various anthologies consisting all or in part of poetry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Qing poetry</span>

Qing poetry refers to the poetry of or typical of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Classical Chinese poetry continued to be the major poetic form of the Qing dynasty, during which the debates, trends and widespread literacy of the Ming period began to flourish once again after a transitional period during which the Qing dynasty had established its dominance. Also, popular versions of Classical Chinese poetry were transmitted through Qing dynasty anthologies, such as the collections of Tang poetry known as the Quantangshi and the Three Hundred Tang Poems. The poetry of the Qing Dynasty has an ongoing and growing body of scholarly literature associated with its study. Both the poetry of the Ming dynasty and the poetry of the Qing dynasty are studied for poetry associated with Chinese opera, the developmental trends of Classical Chinese poetry and the transition to the more vernacular type of Modern Chinese poetry, as well as poetry by women in Chinese culture.

History of <i>fu</i> poetry

The History of fu poetry covers the beginnings of the Chinese literary genre of fu. The term fu describes literary works which have certain characteristics of their own. English lacks an equivalent native term. Sometimes called "rhapsodies", sometimes called "rhyme-prose", fu are characterized by qualities of both poetry and prose: both are obligatory. The fu form of literary work is a treatment in a poetic manner, wherein some topic of interest, such as an exotic object, a profound feeling, or an encyclopedic subject is described and rhapsodized upon, in exhaustive detail and various angles of view. And, for a piece to be truly considered to be within the fu genre, it must follow the rules of this form, in terms of structure, meter, and so on.