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Reviewed by:
  • Song qian yongshi shi shi
  • Yue Zhang (bio)
Wei Chunxi 韋春喜. Song qian yongshi shi shi 宋前詠史詩史 (History of poems on history in the pre-Song period). Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 2010. 366 pp. Paperback RMB49, ISBN 978-7-5004-8308-3.

Historical themes play an important role in poetic composition in Chinese literature and are prominent in the subgenre of “poems on history” (yongshi shi 詠史詩). Wei Chunxi’s book, Song qian yongshi shi shi 宋前詠史詩史 (History of poems on history in the pre-Song period), based on his PhD dissertation at Shandong University, is the first that systematically discusses the literary history of this subgenre with a broad temporal scope.

Wei defines the term yongshi shi in his introduction: “It is an important category/theme in ancient Chinese poetry. Yongshi shi are based on historical figures, events and relics-chanting and reflecting on them in order to articulate the poets’ emotions, express arguments and historical inspiration or using history for entertainment, admonition, remonstration, or education” (p. 1). In his first chapter, he further explains this connotation by comparing yongshi with the “meditation on the past” (huai gu 懷古) and “expression of my heart” (yong huai 詠懷) subgenres, as well as historicised myth and folklore, historical allusions, epic, and poetic history. This chapter also investigates the scope and origin of yongshi shi (pp. 13–34).

The main body of the book is arranged by chronological sequence and dynastic periods. Wei divides the second to eighth chapters into five parts by their evolutionary features: the germination period from the Shijing 詩經 to the Warring States (chapter 2); the formation stage in the Han dynasty (chapter 3); the development phase in the Wei-Jin era (chapter 4); further progress in the Northern and Southern dynasties, and Sui dynasty (chapter 5); and the flourishing period: the early Tang (chapter 6), high Tang (chapter 7), and mid-late Tang (chapter 8).

Wei feels that most of the available articles and books on yongshi shi center on several important literary figures who made tremendous contributions to the development of writing yongshi shi, such as Zuo Si 左思 (ca. 253–ca. 307), [End Page 113] Tao Yuanming 陶淵明 (ca. 365–427), Du Mu 杜牧 (803–ca. 852), and Li Shangyin 李商隱 (ca. 813–ca. 858). The extant scholarship also attaches more importance to a few historical periods, such as the middle and late Tang. This book fills the lacuna of current research by delineating the literary development of yongshi shi from the Shijing to late Tang. Wei carefully delves into the overall development and contextualizes crucial poets in their own milieu to comprehend their contributions. This process provides background for the major poets, and the analysis is concrete.

The primary sources of yongshi shi are addressed in great detail. Wei meticulously documents individual poets, the number of poems, and specific titles for each period. He consults modern standard editions for essential poets under their own sections. For example, Liu Yuxi’s 劉禹錫 (772–842) yongshi shi are cited from Qu Tuiyuan’s 瞿蛻園 annotated edition Liu Yuxi ji jianzheng 劉禹錫集箋證 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1989), and Jiang Weisong 蔣維崧 and Zhao Weizhi 趙蔚之 et al.’s Liu Yuxi shiji biannian jianzhu 劉禹錫詩集編年箋注 (Jinan: Shangdong daxue chubanshe, 1997). This lays a solid foundation for his later discussion and is also a valuable source for other scholars doing studies on yongshi shi. Wei aims to provide a comprehensive list, including all the authors and their yongshi shi in different poetic categories.

Wei’s argument and analysis occasionally challenge current scholarship and bring intriguing and interesting findings to the field. In chapter 3, Wei employs a new perspective on yongshi shi in the Han dynasty. Previously, scholars have mainly analyzed Ban Gu’s 班固 Yongshi shi as the first in literary history and the only example in the Han. Wei not only discusses Ban Gu but also departs from the standard narrative by collecting twenty-one music bureau (yue fu 樂府) yongshi shi from Guo Maoqian’s 郭茂倩 Yuefu shiji 樂府詩集. The current scholarly consensus is undecided as to when these poems were composed, but Wei, following Lu Qinli 逯欽立 (1910–1973), attributes them to the Han dynasty. These poems establish the functions of yongshi shi: drawing lessons from the tradition, admonishing and criticizing the poets’ contemporary...