Traditional Chinese Poetry

Olga Lomová

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Traditional Chinese Poetry

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In modern China, “traditional poetry” (also called “classical”) refers to gu shi 古詩 (old poetry) and encompasses poetic writing since Antiquity to the end of the imperial era. The concept must be understood in opposition to “new poetry” (xin shi 新詩), written after the May Fourth movement (1919), with its own poetic assumptions and modes of expression inspired by Western models. “Old poetry” also embraces all production in traditional forms practiced after May Fourth outside the mainstream of new literature. Before the impact of Western culture, five basic poetic “genres” were recognized, including shi 詩 (poetry, verse) in various forms, yuefu 樂府 (Music Bureau verse), fu 賦 (rhapsody, rhymed prose, etc.), ci 詞 (song, lyric), and qu 曲 (aria), each with its own variety of formal, stylistic, and performative conventions and social roles. In bibliographies, anthologies, and personal collections, genres are separated. Two ancient anthologies, Shi jing 詩經 (Book of odes) and Chu ci 楚辭 (Songs from Chu), were treated as separate categories, though a direct link between them and later genres (shi, fu) is established. A hierarchy of genres was acknowledged, with broadly defined shi (including the yuefu) deriving its authority from the canonical Shi jing on the top. (The position of the fu is complicated, and after the Tang dynasty it was classified as prose.) The boundaries between high and low were not impenetrable, and interplay between them constitutes much of the dynamics of traditional Chinese poetry evolution. In the beginning of the 20th century, Chinese scholars, reinterpreting earlier ideas about genres under the impact of evolutionary theories, established a new template of literary history consisting of genres of poetry and prose alternating in “dominant” positions along the lines of dynastic change. For poetry these period genres are defined as Shi jing and Chu ci (pre-Han period); fu, yuefu, and gu shi 古詩 (Han period); and wu yan shi 五言詩 (early medieval period), followed by Tang shi, Song ci, and Yuan qu. Until the 1980s, when the established template was first challenged, a genre was studied in Chinese literature almost exclusively in the period in which it was supposed to be “dominant.” Poetry after the Yuan was mostly disregarded, though all previous genres continued to be practiced. For political reasons, contact between Western scholarship and East Asian Sinology after 1949 was largely limited to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. Scholarship in China was subject to strict ideological control, culminating during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). The situation changed after the 1980s, and regular contacts between East and West and between China and Taiwan and Japan have been established. Nevertheless, much of the research in China and in the West is separate due to differing traditions and academic contexts.

Article.  23024 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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