Classical Chinese poetry

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The character that more-or-less means "poetry", in the ancient Chinese Great Seal script style. The modern character is shi (Shi /Shi ). Shi -bigseal.svg
The character that more-or-less means "poetry", in the ancient Chinese Great Seal script style. The modern character is shī (詩/诗).

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 , (the 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.


Use and development of Classical Chinese poetry actively continued up until the May Fourth Movement, in 1919, and is still developed even today. Poetry created during this period of more-or-less continuous development displays a great deal of diversity – categorized by both major historical periods and by dynastic periods (the traditional Chinese historical method).

Another key aspect of Classical Chinese poetry is its intense inter-relationship with other forms of Chinese art, such as Chinese painting and Chinese calligraphy. Classical Chinese poetry has proven to be of immense influence upon poetry worldwide.

History and development

The stylistic development of Classical Chinese poetry consists of both literary and oral cultural processes. These are usually divided into certain standard periods or eras, in terms both of specific poems as well as characteristic styles; these generally correspond to Chinese dynastic eras, per the traditional Chinese method of chronicling history. The poems preserved in writing form the poetic literature. Parallel traditions of oral and traditional poetry known as popular or folk poems or ballads also exist. Some of these poems have been preserved in written form. Generally, folk-type poems are anonymous, and many show signs of having been edited or polished in the process of recording them in written characters. The main source sources for the earliest preserved poems are the Classic of Poetry (Shijing) and the Songs of the South ( Chuci ). Some individual pieces or fragments survive in other forms – embedded, for example, in classical histories or other literature. During the Tang dynasty poetry was very important

Classic of Poetry (Shijing)

Shijing first verse by Qing Qianlong Emperor. Qing Dynasty. Shi Jing.jpg
Shijing first verse by Qing Qianlong Emperor. Qing Dynasty.

The literary tradition of Classical Chinese poetry begins with the Classic of Poetry , or Shijing, dated to early 1st millennium BC. According to tradition, Confucius (551 BCE – 479 BCE) was the final editor of the collection in its present form, although the individual poems were mostly older than this. Burton Watson dates the anthology's main compilation date to about the 7th century BCE, with the poems having been collected over the previous four to five centuries before. [1] This, among other factors, indicates a sustained cross-class popularity for this type of poetry, including their characteristic four-character per line meter. [2] The Shijing tends to be associated with northern Chinese vocabulary and culture, and in particular with the great sage and philosopher Confucius: this helped encourage the development of this type of poetry into the classic shi style, the literal meaning of Shijing. Despite their commendation by Confucius, there are no extant samples of any poetry of this style made within the next three hundred years. [3] [note 1]

Songs of the South (Chu Ci)

Map of the Chu area, in one of its reconstructed historical configurations. EN-CHU260BCE.jpg
Map of the Chu area, in one of its reconstructed historical configurations.

Another early poetry collection/genre is the Chu Ci (dated to the Warring States period about 475–221 BCE), which is typified by various line lengths and the imagery and influence of the vernacular associated with the state of Chu, in southern China. One important part of this is the Li Sao, attributed to Qu Yuan. These poems from the State of Chu are among the most important of all Classical Chinese poetry; however, these poems and their style seem to have had less influence on Classical Chinese poetry, at least at first, than did the Shijing collection and style.

Han dynasty

A Han Dynasty terracotta horse head (1st-2nd century CE). HanHorse.jpg
A Han Dynasty terracotta horse head (1st–2nd century CE).

The classic shi poetry, with its four-character lines, was revived by Han and Three Kingdoms poets, to some extent. [4] Among other poetic developments during the Han epoch was the development of a new form of shi poetry, dating from about the 1st century BCE, which initially consisted of five- and later seven-character lines. [5] The development of this form of shi poetry occurred in conjunction with various other phenomena related to Han poetry. The new form of shi developed during the Han and the Jian'an period would become known as " gushi ", or "ancient style poetry".

Music Bureau and folk ballads

The Han dynasty witnessed major developments in Classical Chinese poetry, including both the active role of the imperial government in encouraging poetry through the Music Bureau and through its collection of Han dynasty folk ballads (although some of these seem to have been subject to at least some post-folk literary polishing, as in the case of the Shijing). In Chinese, Yuefu, "Music Bureau", is synonymous with yuefu the poetry style, thus the term Yuefu (traditional Chinese : 樂府; simplified Chinese : 乐府; pinyin : yuèfǔ) has come to refer both to the Music Bureau's collected lyrics and to the genre of which they are representative and serve as a source of inspiration. [6] Another important Han dynasty poetry collection is the Nineteen Old Poems .

Han fu

The Han dynasty poetry is particularly associated with the fu , as opposed to the shi style of poetry or literature: note, however, that this fu (traditional Chinese : ; simplified Chinese : ; pinyin : ) is a different word than the fu (府) meaning government bureau in the term yuefu (乐府; sometimes spelled Yüeh Fu, or similarly). One exponent of this style was Sima Xiangru.

Jian'an poetry

A Ming Dynasty portrayal of Cao Cao. Cao Cao scth.jpg
A Ming Dynasty portrayal of Cao Cao.

Jian'an poetry refers to those poetic movements occurring during the final years of the failing Han Dynasty and continuing their development into the beginning of the Six Dynasties period. Jian'an is considered as a separate period because this is one case where the poetic developments fail to correspond with the neat categories aligned to chronology by dynasty. Typical poets of this period are Cao Cao, Cao Pi, Cao Zhi, and Xu Gan. One of the more important poetic developments of this period is toward the odd number, fixed length verse styles also typical of the Tang poetry period. As a result, some of the poetic forms often associated with Tang poetry can be traced back developmentally to some of the forms developed during the Jian'an period.

Six Dynasties poetry

Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove from a picture from the brick wall of a tomb located near the Eastern Jin capital (modern Nanjing, China). Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.jpg
Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove from a picture from the brick wall of a tomb located near the Eastern Jin capital (modern Nanjing, China).

The Six Dynasties (220–589) also witnessed major developments in Classical Chinese poetry, especially emphasizing romantic love, gender roles, and human relationships, and including the important collection New Songs from the Jade Terrace. The Six Dynasties era covers three main periods: the Three Kingdoms (220–280), Jin Dynasty (266–420), and Southern and Northern Dynasties (420–589). The Three Kingdoms period was a violent one, a characteristic sometimes reflected in the poetry or highlighted by the poets' seeking refuge from the social and political turmoil by retreating into more natural settings, as in the case of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. The Jin Dynasty era was typified poetically by, for example, the Orchid Pavilion Gathering of 42 literati; the romantic Midnight Songs poetry; and, Tao Yuanming, the great and highly personal poet who was noted for speaking in his own voice rather than a persona. Some of the highlights of the poetry of the Northern and Southern Dynasties include the Yongming poets, the anthology collection New Songs from the Jade Terrace , and Su Hui's Star Gauge.

Sui and Tang dynasties poetry

Sui poetry

Sui Dynasty Pilgrim Flask Sui Dynasty Pilgrim Flask.JPG
Sui Dynasty Pilgrim Flask

Although poetry continued to be written, and certain poets rose in prominence while others disappeared from the landscape, the brief Sui Dynasty (581–618 CE) lacks distinction (in terms of the development of Chinese poetry); though it nonetheless represents a continuity between the Six Dynasties and the poetry of Tang. [7] Sui dynasty poets include Yang Guang (580–618), who was the last Sui emperor (and a sort of poetry critic); and also, the Lady Hou, one of his consorts.

Tang poetry

A Map showing the approximate extent of the Tang Dynasty in the beginning of the 8th century. Tang Dynasty circa 700 CE.png
A Map showing the approximate extent of the Tang Dynasty in the beginning of the 8th century.

The Tang dynasty (618–907) was particularly noted for its poetry, especially the shi forms such as jueju and lüshi . [8] This poetry was both a pervasive social phenomenon throughout the Tang literate classes, who developed the ability to compose poems on demand as part of the Imperial examination system, but also a social grace necessary for polite conduct on social occasions, such as part of the interaction at banquets or social gatherings. Some 50,000 poems survive, mostly represented in the Ming Dynasty collection the Quantangshi . Their popularity in the historical Chinese cultural area has varied over time, with certain authors coming in and out of favor and others permanently obscure. Some authors, such as Li Bai (also known as Li Po), Wang Wei, Du Fu, and Bai Juyi (also known as Po Chü-i) managed to maintain consistent popularity.

Tang poetry has developed an ongoing influence on world literature and modern and quasi-modern poetry; for instance, as in the case of Li Bai whose modern influence extends as far as Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde and Beat poetry. In part because of the prevalence of rhymed and parallel structures within Tang poetry, it also has a role in linguistics studies, such as in the reconstruction of Middle Chinese pronunciation.

Song dynasty poetry

Calligraphy detail of one of Su Shi (Dongpo)'s poems. Su shi-calligraphy.jpg
Calligraphy detail of one of Su Shi (Dongpo)'s poems.

The Song dynasty (960–1279) was noted for its poetry, perhaps especially the development of the Ci form; indeed, the ci as a poetic form perhaps reached a high point during the Song Dynasty. The ci is a kind of lyric poetry using a poetic meter based upon certain patterns of fixed-rhythm formal types, of which there were about 800 of these set patterns, each associated with a particular title. Originally ci were written to be sung to a specific tune of that title, with set rhythm, rhyme, and tempo. However, over time the actual tunes seem to have disappeared (similarly to the case of English ballads). Thus, the title of a certain ci may have nothing to do with its contents, although the poetic meter is the same. It is common for several ci to share the same title. As developed during the Song poetic period, the ci was a versatile verse form.

The poets of the Song Dynasty drew on a long tradition of poetry, perhaps especially the forms which were prevalent in the Tang Dynasty. The Song Dynasty is known for its achievements in the combination of poetry, painting, and calligraphy into a shared art form. Prominent Song poets include Su Shi (Dongpo), Ouyang Xiu, Lu You and Yang Wanli.

The Southern Song Dynasty which ruled southern China from 1127 to 1279 was largely co-existent with the Jurchen Jin dynasty (1115–1234), which had established control over northern China and its largely Chinese population. The Chinese poets of the Jin Dynasty produced poetry which shared the characteristics of the Song Dynasty poetry; and towards the end of the Jin, the poetry begins to similarly show the effects of the Mongol invasions that eventually led to the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty with its own characteristic poetry.

Yuan dynasty poetry

Yuan Dynasty theater, a reconstruction based on a contemporary temple mural. Yuan qu.jpg
Yuan Dynasty theater, a reconstruction based on a contemporary temple mural.

Poetry during the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) continued the Classical Chinese poetry tradition and is especially noted for the burgeoning of Chinese opera verse tradition. Yuan drama's notable qu form was set to music, restricting each individual poem to one of nine modal key selections and one of over two hundred tune patterns. [9] Depending on the pattern, this imposed fixed rhythmic and tonal requirements that remained in place for future poets even if its musical component was later lost. Noteworthy Yuan dramatist-poets include Bai Pu, Guan Hanqing, Ma Zhiyuan, and Qiao Ji. [10]

A painter-poet tradition also thrived during the Yuan period, including masterful calligraphy done by, for example, Ni Zan and Wu Zhen. [11] Another exemplar was Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322), a former official of the Song dynasty who served under the Mongol administration of the Yuan and whose wife Guan Daosheng (1262–1319) was also a painter-poet and calligrapher.

Ming dynasty poetry

Classical Chinese poetry continued to thrive during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Ming prosperity was accompanied by a tremendous increase in population, commerce, and poetry composition. Thanks to educational opportunities made possible by commercial printing and the reinvigorated examination system, a massively larger literate population emerged. This population relied on poetry to express personal emotion and to engage with each other socially. [12] A debate as to whether the Tang or Song poets had achieved the highest heights of excellence solidified a collective opinion that past heights could not be surpassed. With over one million surviving Ming poems, modern critics and researchers have been unable to definitively answer whether that conviction is a prejudice or a fact. [13]

Leading Ming poets include Gao Qi, Li Dongyang, and the publisher-poet Yuan Hongdao. Representatives of the dramatist-poet tradition include Tang Xianzu [14] and Li Yu. Li Yu is also a prime example of the Ming-Qing transition's emotional outpouring when disorder swept away Ming stability as the incoming dynasty's Manchu warriors conquered from North to South. [15] Another example of the poetic focus on emotion during this period is Dong Xiaowan. Ming representatives of the painter-poet tradition include Shen Zhou, Tang Yin, and Wen Zhengming. [16]

Qing dynasty poetry

Classical Chinese poetry continued to be the major poetic form of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). This was also a time of related literary developments, such as the collection of Tang poetry under the Kangxi Emperor. The debates, trends, and widespread literacy of the Ming period began to flourish once again after the Qing Dynasty had established its dominance. The fresh poetic voice of Yuan Mei has won wide appeal, as have the long narrative poems by Wu Jiaji. [17] Kunqu opera matured and led toward the later Chinese opera tradition of combined drama, poetry, and music. The painter-poet tradition thrived with exemplars such as Yun Shouping. [18]

The challenge for modern researchers grew as even more people became poets and even more poems were preserved, including (with Yuan Mei's encouragement) more poetry by women. [19] In 1980 fine shi poems by the famed Qing novelist Liu E were published for the first time, illustrating the potential to continue finding sunken treasure in the vast body of surviving Qing poetry. [20]

Post-Qing Classical Chinese poetry

Although Qing is the last Chinese dynasty, this did not mean that Classical Chinese poetry disappeared with the end of the imperial period; indeed, Mao Zedong of the Communist Party of China was a major exponent and practitioner of Classical Chinese poetry well into the 20th century. However, the development and great expansion of modern Chinese poetry is generally thought to start at this point in history, or shortly afterwards.

Oral versus written

Oral nature of poetry

One important aspect of Classical Chinese poetry is that it was generally designed to be chanted or sung, with or without musical accompaniment. In fact, folk poetry, almost by definition, was orally composed and orally transmitted. This is because the "folk" were for the most part illiterate, as opposed to the generally literate scholarly classes; however, even the poems of the scholarly classes were intended to be sung or chanted.

Characteristics of written poetry

The particular characteristics of the Chinese writing system played an important role in Chinese poetry. In fact, a continuous poetic tradition in China was enabled in part by the fact that Chinese words can be represented by their corresponding Chinese characters semi-independently of their pronunciation (which extends even to their use in classical versions of Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese). [21] The pronunciations of spoken Chinese changed quite a bit over the course of time from the oldest surviving written Chinese poetry (in Old Chinese), through the Middle Chinese period (which included the Tang Dynasty), and up into the Modern Chinese period. During this course of development, Classical Chinese evolved as a distinct literary language, distinct from the spoken vernacular. The tension between a spoken vernacular and a literary form of the language worked both ways, the poetry of literature can be seen to have "various degrees of vernacular overlay" [22] and also the oral folk poetry sometimes were "filled with literary phrases and constructions", perhaps due to the prestigious nature of the written language. [23] [24]

Influence of Chinese writing system

A depiction of the evolution of writing shan, meaning "mountain". Evo-shan.svg
A depiction of the evolution of writing shān, meaning "mountain".

Scholars have also asked to what degree the pictorial element latent in Chinese characters informed Classical Chinese poetry. The etymology of Chinese characters is related but distinct from the evolution of the language itself. As is the case with many ancient writing systems, such as the Phoenician alphabet, many of the earliest characters likely began as pictograms, with a given word corresponding to a picture representing that idea.

Evolution of the character corresponding to ri, meaning "sun". Evo-ri.svg
Evolution of the character corresponding to , meaning "sun".

By the time of Classical Chinese poetry, a complex system of writing had evolved with many characters being composed of combinations of other characters, chosen for similarities of meaning and/or sound. The resulting strong graphical aspect, versus a weaker phonetic element (in comparison to other languages, such as English) is very important. However, different translators of Classical Chinese poetry have emphasized these elements in differing degrees. Sinologist and translator A. C. Graham cautions against over-emphasizing this visual effect, which he says can "...act on the imagination like blobs in the Rorschach test. It is rather difficult to estimate this effect since a habitual reader of Chinese is hardly conscious of it without deliberately analysing his reactions....Certainly one can give too much weight to the visual aspect of Chinese writing. Poems in China, as elsewhere, are firstly patterns of sound...." [25] However, Graham is in no way suggesting that the Chinese poet is unaware of the background considerations stemming from character construction. [26]


There are various typical forms in which Classical Chinese poetry was written. These include the shi , the ci , and qu . The fu literary is also often considered to be within the category of poetry.


Various genres of Classical Chinese poems have been discerned, either by the composing poet or literary critics. The most widely accepted genres of Classical Chinese poetry include the landscape style poetry genres of Shanshui poetry, and Fields and Gardens poetry, which are associated with poets such as Tao Qian and Wang Wei.


Besides various formal modes and genres, Classical Chinese poetry has several other typical features.


The use of a poetic persona is often encountered in Classical Chinese poetry, in which the author writes a poem from the viewpoint of some other person (or type of person). Often these persona types were quite conventional, such as the lonely wife left behind at home, the junior concubine ignored and sequestered in the imperial harem, or the soldier sent off to fight and die beyond the remote frontier.

Sociopolitical criticism

Many Classical Chinese poems can be read as a commentary upon current events and society. Sometimes this commentary is disguised through the use of symbolic imagery. One popular author who made commentary in this regard was Tang poet Bai Juyi.

Imagery and symbolism

Certain images and symbolism became quite conventional, and are key to understanding many of the Classical Chinese poems. For example, the falling autumn leaf can refer to personal or dynastic decline.


Imaginary tour through Xiao-xiang Imaginary tour through Xiao-xiang.jpg
Imaginary tour through Xiao-xiang

Many Classical Chinese poems were written as more-or-less subtle or implied complaints for the treatment of the author by the government. This is in part due to the nature of the imperial examination system as a way of recruiting talented persons into high political office, and the expectations of the talented poet of finding a suitable position within such a society. One example of this is the poetry written to accompany of to follow the eight-fold settings of the Eight Views of Xiaoxiang which were popularized during the Song Dynasty; although, the theme can certainly be traced back as far as the Chuci.


Many Classical Chinese poems involve allusions or references to previous literature or well-known folk material.

Optional precision

In part due to the possibilities inherent in the Classical Chinese language and in part as an esthetic principle, many Classical Chinese poems are imprecise when it comes to gender, number, case, or other logically informative elements of speech which tend to be grammatically obligatory or difficult to avoid in various inflected languages, such as certain Indo-European languages.

Reader participation

Many Classical Chinese poems appear simple on the surface, but contain deeper, more profound ideas. In order to realize what these are, the reader is expected to meet the poet halfway — not just to be told something, but to actively think and feel in sympathy with the poet or the poet's persona.

Parallelism and antithesis


The arrangement of poems into couplets encouraged the use of parallelism: where for two lines of a poem it would be expected that the reader would compare and contrast the meaning of two lines, which would be specifically marked by the poet by using the same parts of speech in each position, or in certain key positions in each line, or else within one line.


Antithesis refers to the often latent contradiction between two statements which when sufficiently considered can lead to the understanding of a third, unstated opinion. It often plays a part in relationship to parallelism: the reader has to consider whether what seem to be parallel constructions and ideas really are so.

Autobiographic occasionalism

Many of the Classical Chinese poems were written on the occasion of a certain event. This was generally expected to be a fairly spontaneous creation made just for that particular period of time, and sometimes with a fairly limited intended audience in mind. Examples include occasions of parting from a close friend for an extended period of time, expression of gratitude for a gift or act of someone, lamentations about current events, or even as a sort of game at social gatherings.


Major collections of Classical Chinese poetry include the Shijing , the Chuci , the Collected Tang Poems , the New Songs from the Jade Terrace , the Three Hundred Tang Poems , the Tang era Wangchuan ji , and the poems collected from the Orchid Pavilion Gathering and the Midnight Songs poems from the Six Dynasties period .


Classical Chinese poetry has been an influence both on modern Chinese poetry but also on the poetry of other languages. One group of languages on which Classical Chinese poetry had an early influence was the poetry of the neighboring linguistic groups (that is, the local sprachbund). For example, this influence is strong on certain early forms of Vietnamese poetry, Korean poetry. A more global influence has developed in modern times, including Beat poetry, exponents of which even produced translations of Classical Chinese poetry into English, such as Kenneth Rexroth ( One Hundred Poems From the Chinese , 1956) and Gary Snyder (Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, 1959, which includes translations of Hanshan).

Translation into English

Various translators have worked to translate Classical Chinese poetry into English, including A. C. Graham, Arthur Waley, and Archie Barnes.

See also


  1. One possible exception is Cao Cao, who wrote successful poems in the four-character line mode, although these were isolated from the mainstream of Chinese poetry.

Related Research Articles

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.

Chinese poetry

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.

<i>Shi</i> (poetry)

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

Yuefu are Chinese poems composed in a folk song style. The term originally literally meant "Music Bureau", a reference to the imperial Chinese governmental organization(s) originally charged with collecting or writing the lyrics, later the term yuefu was applied to later literary imitations or adaptations of the Music Bureau's poems. The use of fu in yuefu is different from the other Chinese term fu that refers to a type of poetry or literature: although homonyms in English, the other fu is a rhapsodic poetry/prose form of literature.

<i>Chu Ci</i>

The Chu Ci, variously translated as Verses of Chu or Songs of Chu, is an anthology of Chinese poetry traditionally attributed mainly to Qu Yuan and Song Yu from the Warring States period, though about half of the poems seem to have been 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.

Arts of China

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 Quantangshi 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. Tang poetry has had an ongoing influence on world literature 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.

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 BC. 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.

Classical Chinese poetry genres

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.

Han poetry

Han poetry as a style of poetry resulted in significant poems which are still preserved today, and which have their origin 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.

Jianan poetry

Jian'an poetry, or Chien'an poetry (建安風骨), refers to those styles of poetry particularly associated with the end of the Han dynasty and the beginning of the Six Dynasties era of China. This poetry category is particularly important because, in the case of the Jian'an poetic developments, there is a special difficulty in matching the chronology of changes in poetry with the usual Chinese dynastic chronology based on the political leadership of the times. For example, according to Burton Watson, the first major poet of the new shi style that emerged at this time was Cao Zhi, one of the sons of Cao Cao, a family which came into power at the end of Han and developed further during the Three Kingdoms era of the Six Dynasties period.

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 is 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.

Yuan poetry refers to those types or styles of poetry particularly associated with the era of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), in China. Although the poetic forms of past literature were continued, the Yuan period is particularly known for the development of the poetic aspects included in the complex mix of different art forms which characterize Chinese opera, namely the qu or fixed-tone pattern type of verses that were delivered by the actors of these shows. Although the language of Yuan poetry is still generally considered to be Classical Chinese, a certain vernacular aspect reflecting linguistic changes can be seen in some of the fixed-rhythm verse forms, such as Yuan ci and qu. Certain aspects of Yuan poetry can be understood in the context of the social and political changes which took place as part of the process of the Mongol conquest of the Jin and Song Dynasties and their subsequent establishment of the Yuan dynasty.

Qing poetry

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.



  1. Watson 1971, p. 15.
  2. Watson 1971, p. 15.
  3. Watson 1971, pp. 15–16.
  4. Watson 1971, p. 16
  5. Watson 1971, p. 16
  6. Yip 1997, p. 66.
  7. Watson 1971, p. 109
  8. Davis 1970, p. xlii
  9. Cai 2008, p. 330
  10. Chaves 1986, pp. 3–6
  11. Chaves 1986, p. 5
  12. Cai 2008, pp. 354–355
  13. Chaves 1986, pp. 6–9
  14. Chaves 1986, p. 338
  15. Cai 2008, pp. 361–364
  16. Chaves 1986, p. 8
  17. Chaves 1986, pp. 9–11
  18. Chaves 1986, p. 388
  19. Cai 2008, pp. 359–360
  20. Chaves 1986, p. 466
  21. Norman 1991, pp. 74–79
  22. Norman 1991, p. 111
  23. Norman 1991, p. 83-84, 1008–112
  24. Watson 1971, p. 13
  25. Graham 1977, p. 17
  26. Graham 1977, p. 18


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