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Tang Studies 22 (2004) Shige: The Popular Poetics of Regulated Verse YUGENWANG UNIVERSITY OF OREGON The shige ~~1~, a now much forgotten genre of popular poetics produced in large numbers during the Tang and the Five Dynasties period, provides valuable information about how poetry and poetic composition were conceived in Tang literary consciousness. The proclaimed goal of this pedagogically motivated and highly technical genre was to help beginning writers understand the formal patterns of poetry by providing them with a set of clearly articulated rules of poetic composition abstracted from exemplary writings by established authors. As a genre, the shige made its debut in literary history in the seventh century; it flourished for over three hundred years in the Tang and the Five Dynasties and disappeared almost completely from mainstream literary criticism after the Northern Song. The chance discovery in Japan in the late nineteenth century of the Bunkyo hifU ron )z:MtM!M~(known in Chinese by the title Wenjing mifU tun), an early-ninth-century shige compendium by the Japanese monk Kiikai 'tg$j. (774-835), not only vindicated the shige as a legitimate critical genre from the Tang but also stimulated new interest in using the material to study Tang literary history and criticism. Most previous studies, however, have focused on the technical aspects of the genre and failed to sufficiently engage the vast and rich literary culture that made the shige thrive in the first place. The current study is an attempt to better understand the genre by situating it in the larger context of Tang literary culture. 81 Wang: Popular Poetics The rise to prominence of the shige in the Tang was motivated largely by the need to codify the newly risen regulated verse (liishi 1$ ~). It rode on the popular enthusiasm for poetry fueled in part by thejinshi examinations, success in which sometimes depended solely on the candidate's ability to write poetry well. In so doing, the shige actively participated in a broader cultural movement to promote contemporary Tang values. This is demonstrated most prominently in the effort of the shige authors to redefine traditional poetic terms and principles to make them better serve the needs of "recent style" poetry (jinti shi lli~t~) and in their preference, especially toward the end of the tradition, to quote from contemporary Tang authors as examples for their theoretical constructions. As such, the shige provides an unusual path to Tang literary culture as a whole. I will begin with a discussion of the popularity the shige enjoyed in the Tang and the Five Dynasties, as well as the critical and cultural processes initiated in the Northern Song that would eventually throw the genre out of fashion in late imperial times. This will be followed by an outline of the most prominent formal features that characterize the shige as a genre on the whole, in order to provide a conceptual framework for the more focused discussions in the second half of the article. The latter half of the article focuses on a particular group of shige works in the later development of the genre, in particular their obsession with establishing stock associations between poetic images and their social and political meanings. I will examine how, in the process, the shige authors subtly but significantly changed the hermeneutic landscape and how, by overly focusing on the immediate environment, they gradually lost touch with the broader cultural developments of the 82 T'ang Studies 22 (2004) time, which, I would argue, sowed the seed for the genre's own destruction. POETRY MANUALS AND THE CARVING OF THE DRAGON: SHIGE AS A POPULAR GENRE ON POETRY Luo Genze ~tlU'(1900-1960), the pioneering modern Chinese scholar who has made extensive use of the shige in his study of literary criticism in the Tang and the Five Dynasties period, used the word "revolution" (geming:$ tifJ) to describe the dramatic change of mentality in the late eleventh century when a new critical genre on poetry, the shihua ~~li, or "remarks on poetry," began to rise in the literary critical scene.l "Revolution" is perhaps an overstatement of the relationship between the two genres, but the falling out of fashion of the shige...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1759-7633
Print ISSN
0737-5034
Pages
pp. 81-125
Launched on MUSE
2021-04-08
Open Access
No
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