Shi (poetry)

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Shī (诗)
Hanshan and Shide.jpg
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaningpoetry
Traditional Chinese 古詩
Simplified Chinese 古诗
Literal meaningancient poetry
Traditional Chinese 近體詩
Simplified Chinese 近体诗
Literal meaningmodern poetry

Shi [1] and shih [2] are romanizations of the character / , the Chinese word for all poetry generally and across all languages.


In Western analysis of the styles of Chinese poetry, shi is also used as a term of art for a specific poetic tradition, modeled after the Old Chinese works collected in the Confucian Classic of Poetry . This anthology included both aristocratic poems (the "Hymns" and "Eulogies") and more rustic works believed to have derived from Huaxia folk songs (the "Odes"). They are composed in ancient Chinese, mostly in four-character lines. In such analysis, "shi" poetry is contrasted with other forms such as the Chu-derived " ci " and the Han-era " fu ". [3] [4] This use is not common within Chinese literature, however, which instead classifies these poems into other categories such as "classical Chinese poetry", "Field and Garden" poetry, and "curtailed" poetry. [5]



Shi -bigseal.svg
Large seal character for shi ("poetry")
Traditional Chinese 古詩
Simplified Chinese 古诗
Hanyu Pinyin gǔshī
Wade–Giles ku-shih

Gushi, which means "Ancient Poetry", may be used in either of two senses. It may be used broadly to refer to the ancient poetry of China, chiefly the mostly anonymous works collected in the Confucian Classic of Poetry , the separate tradition exemplified by Qu Yuan and Song Yu's Songs of Chu , and the works collected by the Han "Music Bureau".

It may also be used strictly to refer to poems in the styles of the Confucian classic, regardless of their time of composition. Owing to the variety of pieces included in the Classic, there are few formal constraints apart from line length (usually four characters and no more than seven) and rhyming every other line.


Jintishi, which means "Modern Poetry", was actually composed from the 5th century onwards and is considered to have been fully developed by the early Tang dynasty. The works were principally written in five- and seven-character lines and involve constrained tone patterns, intended to balance the four tones of Middle Chinese within each couplet. The principal forms are the four-line jueju , the eight-line lüshi , and the unlimited pailü . In addition to the tonal patterns, lüshi and pailü were usually understood to further require parallelism in their interior couplets: a theme developed in one couplet would be contrasted in the following one, usually by means of the same parts of speech.

See also

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Chinese classic texts or canonical texts 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.

Chinese poetry literary tradition of China

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. Its existence was documented at least as early as the publication of the Classic of Poetry. Various combinations of forms and genres exist. Many or most of these were developed by the end of the Tang Dynasty, in 907 CE.

<i>Classic of Poetry</i> collection of Chinese poetry, comprising works dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC

The Classic of Poetry, also Shijing or Shih-ching, translated variously as the Book of Songs, Book of Odes or simply known as the Odes or Poetry, is the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry, comprising 305 works dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC. It is one of the "Five Classics" traditionally said to have been compiled by Confucius, and has been studied and memorized by scholars in China and neighboring countries over two millennia. It is also a rich source of chengyu that are still a part of learned discourse and even everyday language in modern Chinese. Since the Qing dynasty, its rhyme patterns have also been analysed in the study of Old Chinese phonology.

Cui Hao was a Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty in China and considered a main early exponent of the regulated verse form of Classical Chinese poetry.

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.

Jia Dao Tang Dynasty poet

Jia Dao (779–843), courtesy name Langxian (浪仙), was a Chinese poet active during the Tang dynasty.

<i>Chu Ci</i> literary work

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) first compiled around 1763 by Sun Zhu (1722–1778), the Qing Dynasty scholar, also known as Hengtang Tuishi. Various later editions also exist. All editions contain slightly more than 300 total poems: in this case, three hundred means not exactly 300 but refers to an estimative quantification; the ten, twenty, or more extra poems represent a sort of a good luck bonus, analogous to the "baker's dozen" in the West. Even more, 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.

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.

Classical Chinese poetry forms

Classical Chinese poetry forms are those 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.

Nineteen Old Poems, also known as Ku-shih shih-chiu shou is an anthology of Chinese poems, consisting of nineteen poems which were probably originally collected during the Han Dynasty. These nineteen poems were very influential on later poetry, in part because of their use of the five-character line. The dating of the original poems is uncertain, though in their present form they can be traced back to about 520 CE, when these poems were included in the famous literary analogy Wen Xuan, a compilation of literature attributed to the Liang Crown Prince Xiao Tong. The Nineteen Old Poems have been supposed to date mainly from the second century CE. The gushi, or old style, poetry developed as an important poetic form of Classical Chinese poetry, in subsequent eras. The authorship of the "Nineteen Old Poems" is anonymous, however there are indications as to the authorship in terms of class and educational status, such as the focus on "the carriages and fine clothing, the mansions and entertainments of the upper classes", together with the literary references to the Shijing. One of the tendencies of these poems is towards a "tone of brooding melancholy."

Anonymous voices speaking to us from a shadowy past, they sound a note of sadness that is to dominate the poetry of the centuries that follow.

Midnight Songs poetry, also Tzu-yeh Songs, refers both to a genre of poetry as well as to specifically collected poems under the same name, during the fourth century CE. This is of major significance within the Classical Chinese poetry tradition, finding such practitioners of the genre as Li Bai ; as well as importantly influencing world poetry through translations, such as by David Hinton. The Midnight Songs have been much used as inspiration for later poetry.

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.

Gushi is one of the main poetry forms defined in Classical Chinese poetry, literally meaning "old poetry" or "old style poetry": gushi is a technical term for certain historically exemplary poems, together with later poetry composed in this formal style.

Regulated verse – also known as Jintishi – is a development within Classical Chinese poetry of the shi main formal type. Regulated verse is one of the most important of all Classical Chinese poetry types. Although often regarded as a Tang Dynasty innovation, the origin of regulated verse within the Classical Chinese poetic tradition is associated with Shen Yue (441–513), based on his "four tones and eight defects" (四聲八病) theory regarding tonality. There are three types of regulated verse: the eight-lined lüshi, the four-lined jueju, and the linked couplets of indeterminate length pailu. All regulated verse forms are rhymed on the even lines, with one rhyme being used throughout the poem. Also, and definitionally, the tonal profile of the poem is controlled. Furthermore, semantic and tonal parallelism is generally required of certain interior couplets. During the Tang Dynasty, the "Shen-Song" team of Shen Quanqi and Song Zhiwen greatly contributed to the development of this Classical Chinese verse form.

Lüshi refers to a specific form of Classical Chinese poetry verse form. One of the most important poetry forms of classical Chinese poetry, the lüshi refers to an eight-line regulated verse form with lines made up of five, six, or seven characters; thus:


  1. Based on the Hanyu Pinyin romanization system developed by mainland China in the 1950s and used by Taiwan since the 2000s.
  2. Based on the Wade-Giles system formerly used by Taiwan and English-speaking countries.
  3. Watson, Burton. Chinese Lyricism: Shih Poetry from the Second to the Twelfth Century. Columbia Univ. Press (New York), 1971. ISBN   0-231-03464-4.
  4. Frankel, Hans. The Flowering Plum and the Palace Lady. Yale Univ. Press (New Haven), 1978. ISBN   0-300-02242-5.
  5. Yip Wai-lim. Chinese Poetry: An Anthology of Major Modes and Genres. Duke Univ. Press (Durham), 1997. ISBN   0-8223-1946-2.