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date: 04 June 2020

(p. 163) Traditional Genre Spectrum

Abstract and Keywords

Each of the texts and commentarial traditions known as the “Confucian” classics derives ultimately from Zhou dynasty models for speech and ritual behavior. Shijing (Classic of Poetry) includes both court liturgy and local popular song, Shangshu (Documents Classic) gathers speeches attributed to early rulers, Chunqiu (Spring and Autumn Anna ls) assembles historical accounts and interpretations, the Classics on ritual (li) addresses fine points of ceremony and political order, and Yijing (Classic of Changes) offers a guide to divination and the connections between the natural and human worlds. Conceived of as a set and linked over time to the teachings of Confucius, the canon was adopted during the Han dynasty as the prime expression of China’s ideals for morality, education, administrative practice, and governance. As a rich literary corpus that had implicit legitimacy, the classics offered models both for particular literary styles and for an enduring order of textual expression and interpretation.

Editor’s Introduction (Wai-yee Li)

The title of this section raises the question: Should the four textual categories discussed in the following chapters be characterized as “genres”? The next four chapters present “Classics” (jing 經), “Histories” (shi 史), “Masters” (zi 子), and “Collections” (ji 集) both as concepts and as evolving bibliographic categories, whose contours are explored through specific examples. Implied (and occasionally self-conscious) reflections on the meanings and boundaries of these categories periodically come to the fore, but there is no place for the kind of normative and prescriptive discourse one finds in, say, Aristotle’s definition of tragedy in the Poetics. For Aristotle, the genre of tragedy has an extratemporal “nature” or “entelechy”: “Having passed through many changes, it found its natural form, and there it stopped” (Poetics IV, Adams 1971: 50).

In the Chinese context, the comparably normative discourse of “defining genres” (bian ti 辨體) arises not from discussions of bibliographic categories but from reflections on modes of writing and composition. Thus Cao Pi 曹丕 (187–226) sums up the essential attributes of eight genres with four words. Lu Ji 陸機 (261–303) offers more elaborate definitions of ten genres. Liu Xie 劉勰 (ca. 460s–520s) devotes twenty out of fifty chapters in Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍 (Literary Mind and the Carving of the Dragon) to tracing the history and norms of twenty genres. In these examples, the genres considered range from very broad ones like poetry (shi 詩) or rhapsody (fu 賦) to function-determined ones such as elegy (lei 誄), eulogy (song 頌), remonstrance (p. 164) (zhen 箴), or memorials to the throne (zou 奏). The Chinese term ti 體 overlaps with the idea of genre but also encompasses the notion of normative style not only for genres but also for periods, authors, topics, or occasions. “In other words, while everything we would call a genre was a ti, not all ti were genres” (Owen 2007: 1392).

Rules invite both conformity and defiance. Writers and scholars have both disparaged and celebrated the audacity to mix genres (can ti 參體, wenti hucan 文體互參) or to break the genre (po ti 破體), a metaphor borrowed from the Tang discourse on calligraphy. From about the eleventh century on, debates about breaking generic rules recur in critical discourse, even as distinctions proliferate (Wu 1991) and Yan Yu’s 嚴羽 (1191–1241) advocacy of “original form” (bense 本色) points to a heightened awareness of generic boundaries (Jiang 2008). Thus Shen Kuo 沈括 (1031–1095) complains, for example, that Han Yu’s 韓愈 (768–824) poetry is merely “rhymed prose” 押韻之文, and the woman poet Li Qingzhao 李清照 (1084–1151) takes Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037–1101) to task for writing song lyrics (ci 詞) that end up being no more than “shi poems in uneven lines” 句讀不蕺之詩. From another perspective, generic norms cannot remain constant if they are to accommodate changes in literary history, as Liu Xie already argues in “Continuity and Transformation” (“Tong bian” 通變, Wenxin diaolong, Chapter 29). Rules of genres have to be negotiated through the fusion (or tension) between tradition and individual talent, between supposedly perennial norms and the exigencies of the historical moment. Perhaps that is why late imperial critics who write extensively on “defining genres,” such as Xu Shizeng 徐師曾 (1517–1580) and Xu Xueyi 許學夷 (1563–1633), also implicitly justify the need for flexibility.

Modern scholars are prone to affirm the breaking of boundaries as regeneration: “Famous authors and famous pieces often break the rules of genres, which thereby gain breadth and sweep” (Qian 1980: 3:890). While there are antecedents for such views (e.g., Hong Liangji 洪亮吉 [1746–1809]), the dominant position in pre–twentieth-century writings usually judges “miscegenation” according to the hierarchy of genres—“carrying the high to the low” 以高行卑 or “the ancient to the more recent” 以古行近 is admissible or even praiseworthy, but the reverse is unacceptable (Jiang 2008). For example, one can debate the merit of using shi poetry diction in song lyrics (ci 詞) or even applaud it, but a song lyric taking up the colloquialisms and sensuality of popular vernacular songs (qu 曲) or operatic arias would definitely be decried as vulgar. Some of the most famous couplets in Tang poetry flout the syntactical rules of regulated verse (e.g., Cui Hao’s 崔顥 [d. 754] lines, “The yellow crane, once gone, will never return,/White clouds, for a thousand years, endure in vain” 黃鶴一去不復返,白雲千載空悠悠): using the more rugged rhythm and imperfect parallelism of old style verse in regulated verse can mark a lofty sensibility. A poet who brings the aesthetics of regulated verse to ancient style poetry, however, is likely to be faulted for being too mannered.

The categories discussed in the following four chapters are usually not referred to as ti (except perhaps sometimes for “Histories”). Their parameters and historical (p. 165) transformations belong less to literary thought than to “bibliographical scholarship” (mulu xue 目錄學), which encompasses the collation and cataloguing of texts and their organization into a coherent system. But if they are not “genres” as usually understood in the Chinese tradition, they are rooted in the need for system, taxonomy, and textual order, which are germane to conceptions of “genre.” Classification answers concrete questions of “where to put (and find) what” in imperial libraries. By the Tang dynasty, scrolls in the palace library were divided into the four categories we will discuss, each distinguished by wooden rollers, silk ribbons, and ivory clasps in specific colors (Tang liu dian 唐六典, 9.280). Zheng Qiao 鄭樵 (1104–1162) compares bibliographic organization to “the method of organizing armies” 部伍之法 (Zheng 1987: 71.831). Military division requires relatively even distribution. Hu Yinglin 胡應麟 (1551–1602) observes: “From the Tang dynasty on, the number of scrolls for the four divisions are comparable” (Hu 1958: 25).

This four-part system, first traceable to Zheng Mo 鄭默 (213–280) and Xun Xu 荀勖 (d. 289), eventually took hold by the seventh century after absorbing and transforming bibliographic categories from other classification systems (see also Chapter 11). Zhang Xuecheng 章學誠 (1738–1801) describes this trajectory as inevitable (Zhang 1985: 2:956), but “pragmatic calculations of balanced distribution” (Chapter 11) played a key role. Thus the emergence of “Histories” as a separate category and the assimilation of writings about warfare and the technical arts into “Masters” from the third century on merely reflected an evolving textual reality. The proliferation of historical writings meant that they could no longer be subsumed under Chunqiu 春秋 (Spring and Autumn Annals) and classed with other “Classics” (as in “Monograph on Arts and Writings” [“Yiwen zhi” 藝文志] in Han shu 漢書 [History of the Former Han], while the more modest number of military (bingshu 兵書), divinatory (shushu 數術), and technical (fangji 方技) writings (each an independent classification in the Han shu Monograph) and of post-Han Masters Texts meant that they could be coalesced into the category of “Masters.”

Shifts in the boundaries of these categories or their internal organization yield insights into social, cultural, and intellectual history. “Classics” is the most elevated category, comprising the ancient texts that became the sources of the Confucian tradition. Its status as official learning is evident in its close ties with the bureaucracy, education, and later the examination system. Labeled “Six Arts” (liu yi 六藝) in the “Monograph on Arts and Writings,” the appellation of the category as “Classics” only caught on after Wang Jian’s 王儉 (452–489) Qi zhi 七志 (Seven Monographs). Although Shi 詩 (Poetry; later Shijing 詩經 [Classic of Poetry]) and Shu 書 (Documents; later Shangshu 尚書 or Shujing 書經 [Classic of Documents]) are most frequently cited as authoritative texts and listed first in the enumeration of the “Six Arts” or “Six Classics” in pre-Qin materials, Yi 易 (Changes; later Yijing 易經, [Classic of Changes]) is listed first in the Han shu Monograph, either because it was considered the most ancient or because it was the first set of canonical texts to resurface in early Han after the (p. 166) Qin destruction (Li 2011: 12). All subsequent catalogues follow this sequence, implicitly claiming a cosmological foundation for the moral and political precepts embodied in the Classics.

Exegetical commentaries and subcommentaries on the Classics are listed in the same bibliographical category with their “parent texts.” Apocryphal and prophetic texts that purport to “interpret” the Classics (chen wei 讖緯 or wei shu 緯書) are included in “Classics” in the bibliographic chapters in Sui shu 隋書 (History of the Sui), Jiu Tang shu 舊唐書 (Old History of the Tang), Xin Tang shu 新唐書 (New History of the Tang), Chen Zhensun’s 陳振孫 (ca. 1179–ca. 1262) Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書錄解題 (An Annotated Record of the Books in Zhizhai’s Collection), and Ma Duanlin’s 馬端臨 (1254–1323) Wenxian tongkao 文獻通考 (Comprehensive Textual Investigations), sometimes with stated reservations. Such texts disappeared from later bibliographies and catalogues, reflecting the decline of these fanciful elaborations. In general, the antiquity and difficulty of the Classics granted interpretive commentaries a special authority. The fact that the three exegetical traditions of Chunqiu came to be considered three independent Classics in the “Nine Classics” during the Tang indicated acknowledgement of Chunqiu’s daunting opacity when considered on its own.

Although Lunyu 論語 (Analects), Mengzi 孟子 (Mencius), Xiaojing 孝經 (Classic of Filial Piety), and the dictionary Er ya 爾雅 were not called jing during the Han dynasty, court academicians (boshi 博士) were appointed to teach and interpret them. References to the “Seven Classics” (e.g., Sanguo zhi 38.973) probably include the Analects and Xiaojing. Analects, Xiaojing, and Er ya come under “Six Arts” in the “Monograph on Arts and Writings” in Han shu and are included in the category of “Classics” in Ruan Xiaoxu’s 阮孝緒 (479–536) Qi lu 七錄 (Seven Lists) and the “Monograph on Bibliography” (“Jingji zhi” 經籍志) in Sui shu. In other words, even before they became part of the “Twelve Classics” carved on stelae in 837 under imperial auspices, these three texts enjoyed the de facto status of “Classics,” probably because they were considered fundamental for ethical training and linguistic competence. In the Han shu Monograph, Mencius is put in “Masters,” and there it remained until the late twelfth century, when Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130–1200) elevated the Analects, Mencius, and two chapters from Liji 禮記 (Records of Rituals), Great Learning (Daxue 大學) and Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong 中庸), as the Four Books. By the 1190s, Mencius was printed as one of the annotated “Thirteen Classics.” The Four Books with Zhu Xi’s commentary became the basic texts for the civil service examination after 1313, and “Four Books” became a subset under the category of “Classics” in the bibliographic chapter in Ming shi 明史 (History of the Ming, late seventeenth century) and in Siku quanshu 四庫全書 (The Complete Library of the Four Treasuries, 1773–1782). Although “Classics” is arguably the most stable component of the four-part division, changing boundaries suggest that notions of continuity and exemplarity—the semantic associations of jing (Chapter 12)—evolved over time.

(p. 167) As mentioned above, “Histories” was originally classified under Chunqiu in the Han shu Monograph. Its separation as an independent category in Xun Xu’s scheme was reversed by Wang Jian’s Qi zhi but confirmed by the delineation of nine subcategories (including “histories of illegitimate domains” [weishi 偽史], “miscellaneous histories” [zashi 雜史], and “ghosts and spirits” [guishen 鬼神]) under “Records and Accounts” (“Jizhuan” 紀傳) in Ruan Xiaoxu’s Qi lu. Ruan’s subdivisions might have influenced the broad compass of “Histories” (with thirteen subcategories and 13,264 scrolls, twice as much as any of the other three categories) in the bibliographic chapter in Sui shu (see also Chapters 13, 18). The wealth of materials and range of genres (some of which would be classified as “fiction” in the twentieth century) under an independent bibliographic category, as well as theoretical discussions of historical writings by Liu Xie and Liu Zhiji 劉知幾 (661–721), suggest that a new historical consciousness had emerged between the third and seventh centuries (Lu 2000; see also Chapter 13).

Put in the third place in Xun Xu’s scheme, “Histories” was ranked second after “Classics” in the Sui shu bibliography and thereafter retained its eminent place as being secondary to, but also complementary with, the “Classics.” Chunqiu and its exegetical traditions, which are supposed to concretize moral and political precepts through records about past events, establish close ties between the first two bibliographic categories. But there are also unresolved tensions. Voices raising doubts about the exegetical filiation of Zuozhuan 左傳 (Zuo Tradition, fourth century bce) to Chunqiu typically aver that Zuozhuan’s commitment to historical narrative sometimes leads to dubious value judgments. The Song Neo-Confucian scholar Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032–1085) chided his disciple Xie Liangzuo’s 謝良佐 absorption in the details of historical writings as “toying with things and losing [moral] ambition” (wan wu sang zhi 玩物喪志). Zhu Xi also sometimes elevated the Classics at the expense of historical writings. Espousing the opposite position are important Ming and Qing thinkers and writers arguing from various perspectives that historical instantiations are necessary for moral truths, among them Wang Yangming 王陽明 (1472–1529), Wang Shizhen 王世貞 (1526–1590), Li Zhi 李贄 (1527–1602), Qian Daxin 錢大昕 (1728–1804), and most famously Zhang Xuecheng, who (like Li Zhi) maintained that the “Six Classics are all Histories” 六經皆史 (Zhang 1985: 1:1).

The section on “Various Masters” (zhuzi 諸子) in the Han shu Monograph lists ten schools. Of these, the Sophists (Mingjia 名家) and Mohists are only represented through pre-Han works, while Confucians, Daoists, and Yin-yang specialists continued their traditions up to the first century bce. In other words, the Han shu Monograph presents intellectual lineages of varying duration and relevance to the present. Xun Xu made a distinction between “Early Masters” (gu zhuzi jia 古諸子家) and “Recent Masters” (jinshi zi jia 近世子家), by which he probably meant post-Han Masters. Chapter 14 focuses on pre-imperial and Han Masters, who best exemplify, respectively, the sense of fervent intellectual debate and the close ties to statecraft and (p. 168) scholar-officials. While the Analects was never put in the bibliographic category of “Masters,” to consider it as one of the Masters Texts is to draw attention to its engagement with other intellectual positions from late Warring States to Han. Exegetical texts in the category of “Classics” present Confucius as the Sage mediating and augmenting Zhou tradition. From the perspective of Warring States thought, Confucius represents less a unifying system of ideas than a point of reference, the crucial medium or catalyst through which other thinkers articulate their differences.

The bibliographic chapter in Sui shu follows Xun Xu in expanding the scope of “Masters,” incorporating military writings (bing 兵), astrology (tianwen 天文), calendrical and mathematical expertise (lishu 曆數), and divinatory and esoteric arts (wuxing 五行). “Masters” became a category both for thought and “expertise literature” (Chapter 14). The same label can conceal significant shifts. While zajia 雜家 in the Han shu Monograph feature Syncretic works like Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋 (Mr. Lü’s Spring and Autumn Annals) and Huainanzi 淮南子 (Master Huainan), za 雜 in the Sui shu bibliography encompasses in addition a host of miscellaneous texts, texts difficult to classify, and encyclopedias and epitomes (see also Chapter 10), as well as some Buddhist and Daoist writings (Cheng and Xu 1988: 159–161). (The Sui shu bibliography lists most Buddhist and Daoist texts separately; later fourfold classifications will include them in “Masters” and sometimes in “Histories.”) This trajectory of za is symptomatic of the fate of “Masters” as a bibliographic category. The expansion is driven by numbers and the need for “balanced redistribution,” but it might also have reinforced the hierarchy between “Classics” and “Masters.”

The fact that “Poems and Poetic Expositions” (shi fu 詩賦) in the Han shu Monograph—the antecedent of later “Collections” by substance if not by conceptual frame—constitute a separate category, while historical writings are grouped under Chunqiu, might simply have been a function of the size of the respective corpora: there are 411 pian 篇 (bundles of bamboo slips) for historical writings but 1,317 pian for “Poetry and Rhapsodies.” Whatever the rationale, the separate grouping of “Poems and Poetic Expositions,” while germane for later notions of literary production, was a far cry from “Collections” as a conceptual and bibliographic category (Chapter 15). With “Collections,” we arrive at the heart of classical literature, for its very idea signifies a vital link between life and writings and implies self-conscious literary production (Chapter 15). Most of the works discussed in our volume fall under this category. Just as Chunqiu and its exegetical traditions traverse the conceptual boundaries of “Classics” and “Histories,” Shijing is a Classic that is organizationally no different from a collection or an anthology. The separate categorization of Shijing under “Classics” notwithstanding, the model of Shijing will continue to be invoked in literary production by the authors in “Collections” (Chapter 12). More generally, works from the first three bibliographic categories provide endless ideas, images, and topoi for authors of collections. The Ming writer Yang Shen 楊慎 (1488–1559), for example, underlines this continuity by listing lines from Masters Texts and historical writings that could (p. 169) have passed for “poetic lines” by later reckoning (Yang 2008: 1:58–62). At the same time, emergent literary self-consciousness in the Six Dynasties means that for some even Classics, supposedly a higher category, should not be the model of emulation for poets. Thus Xiao Gang 蕭綱 (503–551, Emperor Jianwen, r. 549–551) disparaged poets whose lines are reminiscent of Liji, Shangshu, or Yijing (Liang shu 49.690). Commenting on this passage, the Qing critic Ye Jiaoran 葉矯然 (1614–1711) implicitly elevates poets above scholars of Classics: “One should know that these words do not merely show how differences between genres and positions (tiwei 體位) matter when one prepares to compose. It also shows that the romantic élan (fengliu 風流) of great poetry cannot be falsely assumed (guituo 詭托) by scholars of moral learning in solemn garb” (Ye 1983: 2:937). “Literariness” came to be considered a separate sphere: “Criticism of Poetry and Prose” (“Shi wen ping” 詩文評) eventually became a subcategory in “Collections” in Siku quanshu.

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