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  • 1 - Early Chinese literature, beginnings through Western Han
    pp 1-115
  • View abstract
    The earliest evidence for the Chinese language, and for the Chinese script as its writing system, is found in oracle bone and bronze inscriptions from the site of the Late Shang royal capital near modern Anyang. Chinese poetry emerged from the ancestral sacrifices and political rituals of the Western Zhou, where it was produced by court officials. When Cang Jie first created writing, he probably made images of forms according to their categories; thus, his simple characters are called 'patterns' [wen]. It was only in late Western Han times, around the middle of the first century BC, that wen began to denote primarily 'writing'. This chapter discusses the inscriptions on oracle bones and bronze artifacts, the 'Airs' or 'Court Hymns' in Chinese poetry, royal speeches in the Classic of Documents, and Warring States narrative literature. The Warring States period came to be seen through the prism of competing 'schools of thought' in dialogue with one another.
  • 2 - From the Eastern Han through the Western Jin (ad 25–317)
    pp 116-198
  • View abstract
    In the Eastern Han period writers began to compose in two closely related prose forms, the ming (inscription) and zhen (admonition). The scholar-officials in the middle period of the Eastern Han became increasingly critical both of the consort clan and of the eunuchs, who had great power and influence at the imperial court. At the end of the Han traditional values no longer held their appeal to some members of the scholar-official class. The Jian'an period is the last reign period of the Eastern Han and a time of much debate and argument, and the discourse was a common literary form. The Zhengshi period was important in intellectual history for the emergence of the ontological philosophy known as 'abstruse learning' or 'arcane learning'. Although its days of peace and stability were short, the Western Jin, was a period of remarkable intellectual, scholarly, and literary activity.
  • 3 - From the Eastern Jin through the early Tang (317–649)
    pp 199-285
  • View abstract
    In the Eastern Jin, the fate of the empire was controlled by a number of great families that had immigrated from the north. Fifth-century literary-historical accounts credited Yin Zhongwen and Xie Hun as initiating a move away from the 'arcane' poetic style popular in the Eastern Jin. The Liang dynasty represented the apex of the cultural achievement of the Southern Dynasties. Emperor Wu restored the Imperial Academy and demanded that schools be set up in prefectures and commanderies. Erudites of the Five Classics were reestablished in the Imperial Academy. Although members of the Han Chinese elite were employed in government service, the Northern Wei court remained largely dominated by Xianbei nobles, until Emperor Xiaowen launched a large-scale sinicization program in the 490s. The combination of pattern and substance to achieve perfection and balance was not a novel idea, but in the historical context of the early Tang such a fusion represented the poetics of a unified empire.
  • 4 - The cultural Tang (650–1020)
    pp 286-380
  • View abstract
    The cultural Tang begins with Empress Wu's rise to power in the 650s and carry on into the first decades of the eleventh century, over half a century after the Song dynasty was established. The Tang inherited a map of literary-historical styles, genres, and character types, each with its own associations. Empress Wu was in large measure responsible for giving China her most stable and longest-lived dynasty since the Han. The old community of literary courtiers was broken in the spate of executions and exiles between Zhongzong's death and Xuanzong's final triumph over his aunt, the powerful Taiping Princess, in 713. As Buddhism, particularly in its elite forms, accommodated itself to the Chinese tradition, it acquired a historical record with a level of detail absent in the religion's Indian form. The chapter also talks about the mid-Tang generation, flowering of poetry in the eighth century, the age of regional states, and Dunhuang narratives.
  • 5 - The Northern Song (1020–1126)
    pp 381-464
  • View abstract
    The literature of Northern Song, in all of its richness and earnest engagement with social and political issues, or determination to be freed of the same, should be read against this backdrop of the dynasty's march toward catastrophe. This chapter examines the emergence of a new style of poetry roughly half a century after the dynasty was founded. It traces the development of writing styles through the lives and works of five towering figures: Mei Yaochen, Ouyang Xiu, Wang Anshi, Su Shi, and Huang Tingjian. The chapter discusses the influence of Buddhism on Song poetry and the subgenre of poems on paintings. The development of the song lyric, which gradually emerged as an alternative form of poetic expression, tracing its growth through successive generations of writers, follows. The chapter concludes with a survey of prose writings that flourished during the period and expanded the scope of prose expression: the miscellany, remarks on poetry, connoisseur literature, and informal letters.
  • 6 - North and south: the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
    pp 465-556
  • View abstract
    Zhao Gou brought an end to the first half of the dynasty later known as the Northern Song and became the first emperor of the Southern Song. This chapter discusses literature in the age of 'China turning inward', the impact of Daoxue, groups and clubs and the impact of X and elite literature of the Jin dynasty. In the realm of learning, the Southern Song seemed to have been oriented toward refinement, elaboration, and specialization. Few Southern Song poets, apart from three, had the talent and force of personality to make as decisive a break from the Jiangxi School. The most remarkable examples of song lyrics on remembrances of things past are to be found in the works of Liu Chenweng, a writer who followed the vigorous and forthright style of Xin Qiji. Anecdotes of Qiantang should be considered an unusual and remarkable piece of narrative literature compiled by a scholar who witnessed the traumatic fall of a brilliant civilization.
  • 7 - Literature from the late Jin to the early Ming: ca 1230–ca 1375
    pp 557-650
  • View abstract
    The mainstay of the examinations in the Jin, as in the Southern Song, was the regulated fu, which had a series of tonal and rhyme stipulations, the mastery of which was one of the primary bases for selection in the examinations. This chapter discusses southern writers with a closer examination of the major cultural phenomena and writers that had a lasting influence on Yuan writing. Liu Guan, Huang Jin, Yang Zai, Fan Peng, Jie Xisi, and Yu Ji. Liu Guan and Huang Jin were collectively known as the 'Four Masters of Yuan Poetry'. Among the legion of good poets, two names stand out: Sadula and Yang Weizhen. The early provincial tests combined three areas: the 'discussion' (lun), 'meanings of the Classics' ( jingyi), and the 'regulated fu' (lufu). A new poetic genre emerged during the late Jin and early Yuan, the colloquial song (sanqu), which matured quite rapidly under the early Yuan to become a favorite form of lyric expression.
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