New Songs from the Jade Terrace

Last updated
New Songs from the Jade Terrace
Traditional Chinese 玉臺新詠
Simplified Chinese 玉台新咏

New Songs from the Jade Terrace (Chinese :玉臺新詠; pinyin :Yùtái xīnyǒng) is an anthology of early medieval Chinese poetry in the romantic or semi-erotic "palace style" (gongti宮體) that dates to the late Southern dynasties period (420589). [1] Most editions of New Songs contain 670 poems by many different authors, mainly comprising pentasyllabic poetry but also some yuefu lyrical verse and other types of poems. [1] New Songs was probably compiled around the early to mid-530s by Xu Ling, an official and scholar who served at the court of Xiao Gang, a crown prince of the Liang dynasty (502587) who later ascended the throne as Emperor Jianwen of Liang. [2]


The term "Jade Terrace" is a reference to the luxurious palace apartments in to which upper-class women were often relegated, and a number of scholars have concluded that the New Songs was probably compiled to provide reading material for palace ladies. [3] The American sinologist Burton Watson notes that this expression may also refer to "a mirror stand of jade such as women use in their toilet; and since the Chinese are fond of elegant euphemisms for parts of the body, it may even have some more esoteric connotation." [4] New Songs from a Jade Terrace is an important collection of Chinese poetry, in part because of the individual poems which it contains, but also because the overall theme of the collection involves the discussion of sex and gender roles and ideals of love and beauty.


A number of details regarding the creation of New Songs from the Jade Terrace are unclear and subject to debate. Its first surviving mention appears in the bibliographic section of the Book of Sui , the official dynastic history of the Sui dynasty (589618), and lists "Xu Xiaomu" (the courtesy name of Chinese writer Xu Ling) as its compiler. [1] However, in Xu Ling's official biography in the earlier Book of Chen , the dynastic history of the Chen dynasty (557589), the New Songs is not mentioned. [1] Strangely, the New Songs does not contain any poems by Xu Ling's father Xu Chi (徐摛; 471551), a notable scholar and poet who was traditionally considered the founder of the "palace style" poetry (gōngtǐ shī宮體詩) the New Songs collects. [5]

The textual history of New Songs is particularly complicated. Although it was compiled in the early- to mid-530s, no manuscript or printing of the New Songs from before the Ming dynasty (13681644) has survived to modern times. [5] The traditional edition of the New Songs was printed in 1633 and is based on a late Song dynasty (9601287) edition printed in 1215 that itself was a "patchwork" of two other printed editions and one manuscript copy. [5] [6] It contains 654 poems and was long considered the best surviving edition, but recent scholarship has indicated that it contains a number of significant flaws and errors, causing renewed attention toward other surviving editions. [5]


New Songs from a Jade Terrace contains poems by about 115 poets, of whom 14 were female. [7] It is divided into ten sections, and 769 headings of verses "devoted almost entirely to poems about love," [8] that is, the primary emphasis is upon male-female love in the context of the women's apartments, and contains material ranging from anonymous Han Dynasty ballads through poems contemporary to the time of composition. The various poems are mostly by men, though some by women. The collection contains over 600 pieces focused on the ideals of feminine beauty, and some of the poems are matter-of-factly homoerotic, describing the beloved young man involved in much the same terms as the female beloved is in other pieces. In other cases, a "hint of fetishism" is shown in poetic verses describing the objects associated with the men or women described in the poems; that is, their bedrooms and feast halls, the musical instruments, lamps or mirror-stands which they handle, or the fine stationary upon which they write their love notes. [9]

Related Research Articles

Chinese classic texts or canonical texts or simply dianji (典籍) refers to the Chinese texts which originated before the imperial unification by the Qin dynasty in 221 BC, particularly the "Four Books and Five Classics" of the Neo-Confucian tradition, themselves a customary abridgment of the "Thirteen Classics". All of these pre-Qin texts were written in classical Chinese. All three canons are collectively known as the classics.

Six Dynasties period of Chinese history (220–589)

Six Dynasties is a collective term for six Han-ruled regimes in China during the periods of the later phase of Three Kingdoms era, the Jin dynasty (265–420), and the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420–589), around the same time of the early half of the late antiquity period in Europe. It also coincides with the era of the Sixteen Kingdoms (304–439), a chaotic warring period in northern China after the collapse of the Western Jin dynasty.

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.

Classical 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,. 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.

Chen dynasty

The Chen dynasty, also known as the Southern Chen, was the fourth and last of the Southern Dynasties in China. Following the Liang dynasty, the Chen dynasty was founded by Chen Baxian. The Chen dynasty further strengthened and revitalized the economy and culture of Southern China, and even made territorial expansions northward, laying the foundation for future dynasties. It was succeeded by the Sui dynasty, a short-lived dynasty that was then destroyed by the Tang dynasty. The Chen royal family continued to hold powerful high-ranking positions in both the Sui and Tang governments.

Song Yu was a Chinese poet from the late Warring States period, and is known as the traditional author of a number of poems in the Verses of Chu . Among the Verses of Chu poems usually attributed to Song Yu are those in the Jiu Bian section. Also credited to Song Yu, somewhat improbably, are several fu collected in the 6th century literary anthology Wen Xuan.

Emperor Jianwen of Liang (梁簡文帝), personal name Xiao Gang (蕭綱), courtesy name Shizuan (世纘), nickname Liutong (六通), was an emperor of the Chinese Liang Dynasty. He was initially not the crown prince of his father Emperor Wu, the founder of the dynasty, but became the crown prince in 531 after his older brother Xiao Tong died. In 549, the rebellious general Hou Jing captured the capital Jiankang, and Hou subsequently held both Emperor Wu and Crown Prince Gang under his power, having Crown Prince Gang take the throne after Emperor Wu's death later that year. During Emperor Jianwen's reign, he was almost completely under Hou's control, and in 551, Hou, planning to take the throne himself, first forced Emperor Jianwen to yield the throne to his grandnephew Xiao Dong the Prince of Yuzhang, and then sent messengers to suffocate the former emperor.

Shen Yue, courtesy name Xiuwen (休文), was a poet, statesman, and historian born in Huzhou, Zhejiang. He served emperors under the Liu Song Dynasty, the Southern Qi Dynasty, and the Liang Dynasty.

Xiao Tong Crown Prince of Liang Dynasty

Xiao Tong, courtesy name Deshi (德施), formally Crown Prince Zhaoming, was a Crown Prince of the Chinese Liang Dynasty, posthumously honored as Emperor Zhaoming (昭明皇帝). He was the oldest son of Emperor Wu of Liang, whom he predeceased. Xiao Tong's enduring legacy is the literary compendium Wen Xuan.

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: in this case, 300 is an estimate; the ten, twenty, or more extra poems represent a bonus. Also, 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.

<i>Fu</i> (poetry)

Fu, often translated "rhapsody" or "poetic exposition", is a form of Chinese rhymed prose that was the dominant literary form during the Han dynasty. Fu are intermediary pieces between poetry and prose in which a place, object, feeling, or other subject is described and rhapsodized in exhaustive detail and from as many angles as possible. Features characteristic of fu include alternating rhyme and prose, varying line length, close alliteration, onomatopoeia, loose parallelism, and extensive cataloging of their topics. They were often composed using as wide a vocabulary as possible, and so classical fu usually include many rare and archaic Chinese words. They were not sung like songs, but were recited or chanted.

<i>Wen Xuan</i>

The Wen Xuan, or Selections of Refined Literature, is one of the earliest and most important anthologies of Chinese poetry and literature, and is one of the world's oldest literary anthologies to be arranged by topic. It is a selection of what were judged to be the best poetic and prose pieces from the late Warring States period to the early Liang dynasty, excluding the Chinese Classics and philosophical texts. The Wen Xuan preserves most of the greatest fu rhapsody and shi poetry pieces from the Qin and Han dynasties, and for much of pre-modern history was one of the primary sources of literary knowledge for educated Chinese.

Liu Xun, courtesy name Zitai, was a military general and minor warlord who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China.

Xu Ling (507–583) was the compiler and editor of the famous poetry anthology New Songs from the Jade Terrace during the poetically prolific Southern Dynasties era, 420–589. His courtesy name (zi) was Xiao Mu.

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.

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.

Tao Hongjing Philosopher (0456-0536)

Tao Hongjing (456–536), courtesy name Tongming, was a Chinese polymath writer, calligrapher, waidan alchemist, pharmacologist, musician, and astronomer during the Northern and Southern dynasties (420–589). He is best known as a founder of the Shangqing "Highest Clarity" school of Daoism and the compiler-editor of the basic Shangqing religious texts.

Bronze Bird Terrace

The Bronze Bird Terrace was an iconic structure in the city of Ye built in AD 210 by Cao Cao, the prominent warlord of the late Eastern Han dynasty. Despite reconstructions after Cao Cao's time that exceeded his in scale, the Bronze Bird Terrace is metonymous with Cao Cao in Classical Chinese poetry, where the terrace is a popular topic. Although its destruction in 577 and natural disasters left only ruins of the Bronze Bird Terrace, the terrace lives on in the Chinese cultural memory through its connection with Cao Cao and retains its place in Chinese literature and modern media pertaining to the Three Kingdoms period.



  1. 1 2 3 4 Knechtges (2014), p. 2101.
  2. Knechtges (2014), pp. 2101-02.
  3. Knechtges (2014), pp. 2102-03.
  4. Watson, 91
  5. 1 2 3 4 Knechtges (2014), p. 2103.
  6. Tian (2010), p. 256.
  7. Jansen (2015), p. 483.
  8. Watson, 91
  9. Watson, 91-92

Works cited

  • Jansen, Thomas (2015). "Yutai xinyong 玉臺新詠". In Chennault, Cynthia L.; Knapp, Keith N.; Berkowitz, Alan J.; Dien, Albert E. (eds.). Early Medieval Chinese Literature: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. pp. 482–93. ISBN   978-1-55729-109-7.
  • Knechtges, David R. (2014). "Yutai xinyong 玉臺新詠 (New Songs from the Jade Terrace)". In Knechtges, David R.; Chang, Taiping (eds.). Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature: A Reference Guide, Part Three. Leiden: Brill. pp. 2101–10. ISBN   978-90-04-27216-3.
  • Tian, Xiaofei (2010). "From the Eastern Jin through the early Tang (317649)". In Owen, Stephen (ed.). The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Volume 1: To 1375 . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 199–285. ISBN   978-0-521-11677-0.
  • Watson, Burton (1971). Chinese Lyricism: Shih Poetry from the Second to the Twelfth Century. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN   0-231-03464-4

See also