Chinese literature: Literary Style

Literary Style

The literary style was exceedingly concise and was unmatched for its vigor, richness, and symmetry. Historical and literary allusions abounded, and finally special dictionaries were required for their elucidation. In poetry the relatively simple prosody of the Chou period was followed by systems of more minutely prescribed forms. The lines, which rhymed, had to be matched syllable by syllable in both part of speech and intonation. By the T'ang period the prosodic rules no longer suited the spoken structure of the everyday language; they continued to be observed in spite of changes in pronunciation. It is generally agreed that China's greatest poetry was written in the T'ang dynasty. Wang Wei, Li Po, Tu Fu, and Po Chü-i are masters of this period. In the succeeding Sung dynasty Su Tung-p'o was perhaps the foremost poet.

Translations of T'ang and Sung poetry strongly influenced the modern imagist school in English (see imagists). Chinese lyrics are generally very short, unemphatic and quiet in manner, and limited to suggesting a mood or a scene by a few touches rather than painting a detailed picture. Intellectual themes and narratives are comparatively rare. Many varieties of learned prose have also been written in China. Notable for accuracy and objectivity are the series of dynastic histories produced since Han times; the famous Shih chi [records of the historian] (c.100 b.c.) by Ssu-ma Ch'ien served as their model.

Chinese lexicography developed in response to multiplication of characters. The last of a great series of dictionaries (still in standard use) was produced in the reign of K'ang Hsi (1662–1722). So-called encyclopedias, actually extracts from existing works, have been occasionally compiled; one such work of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) ran to over 11,000 short volumes and appeared in three manuscript copies.

Sections in this article:

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Asian Literature