Chuci 楚辞 “Poetry of Chu” or “Poetry of the South”


The Chinese literary type of Chuci 楚辞 “Poetry of Chu” or “Poetry of the South” is a sort of poem that found its origin in the works of Qu Yuan 屈原, a high minister in the state of Chu 楚.

After his death, many persons from that region imitated his style of writing. The formal style and the themes of this poems was so different from the poems of the states in the Yellow River plain that it was always treated as a separate type of literature. The most famous poem is Qu Yuan’s Lisao 离骚 “Sorrow after departing”. The style of the Chuci and commentaries to these poems have been included as a separate sub-category in the collectaneum Siku quanshu 四库全书. It includes only 6 writings of and on this type of poetry.
A great part of the poems is ascribed to the statesman Qu Yuan. The collection Chuci was compiled by the Han period 汉 (206 BCE-220 CE) scholar Liu Xiang 刘向 and commented by Wang Yi 王逸. The collection comprises poems of Qu Yuan and Song Yu 宋玉, both ministers at the court of the king of Chu, and the Han period scholars Jia Yi 贾谊, Huainan Xiaoshan 淮南小山, Dongfang Shuo 东方朔, Zhuang Ji 庄忌, Wang Bao 王褒, Liu Xiang and Wang Yi. All of them came from the same region in modern central China which had a cultural tradition distinct from the states in the Yellow River plain.
Qu Yuan was a high minister of King Huai of Chu 楚怀王 (r. 328-299) to whom he suggested reforms in government and an alliance with the state of Qi 齐 in order to encounter the growing power of the state of Qin 秦. Qu Yuan was slendered by another minister called Qin Shang 靳尚 and thereupon dismissed. When King Qingxiang 楚顷襄王 (r. 298-263) was taken prisoner by Qin, Qu Yuan wrote his famous poem Li Sao 离骚 “Sorrow after department” which can be interpreted as a kind of autobiography. The disappointed Qu Yuan drowned himself in the River Miluo 汨罗江. People later started offering rice balls to his soul, and during the mid-autumn moon festival (zhongqiujie 中秋节), rice balls enveloped in bamboo leaves (zongzi 粽子) are still a popular meal in southern China.
Other poems that are ascribed to Qu Yuan are the Nine Songs (Jiuge 九歌), the Nine Elegies (Jiuzhang 九章), “Asking Heaven” (Wentian 问天) and some more. The particular style of the Chuci poetry differs from the northern poetry styles both in verse (the verse divider xi 兮, a particle expressing sighing) and in content. The northern literature is much more plain of feelings, while the poems in the southern state of Chu are full of sentiment and even mystical visions. Qu Yuan, for example, is guided on his horse chart to a heaven far from the human world. His evokings of the Goddess of the River Xiang 湘君 is an example of shamanism common in the southern religion. Southern poetry later became very popular among Daoists that also saw man as a mere small being in cosm and nature.
The Chuci collection was enlarged by some other poems that were partially also written by “southerners”, partially imitations of Qu Yuan’s style, like the Han period poet Wang Bao from the region of Sichuan, and Liu Xiang, son of Liu Jiao 刘交 (posthumous title Prince Yuan of Chu 楚元王), or Jia Yi and Dongfang Shuo, both writers known for their inclination to Daoism.

In the bibliography Yiwen zhi 艺文志, part of the official dynastic history Hanshu 汉书, the poems of Qu Yuan are listed as fu 赋 “rhapsodies” in 25 chapters. The bibliography treatise Jingjizhi 经籍志 in the Suishu 隋书 already lists ten books about the Chuci, of which the greatest part is lost today.

In the bibliography Yiwen zhi 藝文志, part of the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書, the poems of Qu Yuan are listed as fu 賦 “rhapsodies” in 25 chapters. The bibliography treatise Jingjizhi 經籍志 in the Suishu 隋書 already lists ten books about the Chuci, of which the greatest part is lost today.

Poems of the Chuci anthology
Poems of the Chuci anthology1 离骚 Lisao On encountering sorrow
2 九歌 Jiuge The Nine Songs
–东皇太一 Donghuang taiyi The Great One, Lord of the Eastern World
–云中君 Yunzhong jun The Lord Within the Clouds
–湘君 Xiang jun The Princess of the Xiang
–湘夫人 Xiang furen The Lady of the Xiang
–大司命 Dasi ming The Great Master of Fate
–少司命 Shaosi ming The Lesser Master of Fate
–东君 Dongjun The Lord of the East
–河伯 He bo The God of the Yellow River
–山鬼 Shangui The Mountain Goddess
–国殇 Guoshang The spirits of the fallen
–礼魂 Shenhun The ritual cycle
3 天问 Tianwen Heavenly questions
4 九章 Jiuzhang The Nine Declarations
–惜诵 Xisong Grieving I make my plaint
–涉江 Shejiang Crossing the river
–哀郢 Aicheng A lament for Ying (capital of Chu)
–抽思 Chousi The outpouring of sad thoughts
–怀沙 Huaisha Embracing the sand
–思美人 Si furen Thinking of a fair one
–惜往日 Xi wang ri Alas for the days gone by!
–橘颂 Jusong Inpraise of the orange-tree
–悲回风 Beihui feng Grieving at the eddying wind
5 远游 Yuanyou The far-off journey
6 卜居 Buju Divination
7 渔父 Yufu The fisherman
8 九辩 Jiubian The Nine Arguments (by Song Yu 宋玉 [old Chu])
9 招魂 Zhaohun The summons of the soul
10 大招 Dazhao The great summons (later)
11 惜誓 Xishi Sorrow for troth betrayed (by Jia Yi 贾谊 [Former Han])
12 招隐 Zhaoyin Summons for a gentleman who became a recluse (淮南小山 Huainan xiaoshan [Former Han])
13 七谏 Qijian The Seven Remonstrances (by Dongfang Shuo 东方朔 [Former Han])
–初放 Chufang When first exiled
–沈江 Chenjiang Drowning in the river
–怨世 Yuanshi Disgust at the world
–怨思 Yuansi Embittered thoughts
–自悲 Zibei Grieved by my miseries
–哀命 Aiming Mourning my lot
–谬谏 Miujian Reckless remonstrance
14 哀时命 Aishi ming Alas that my lot was not cast! (by Zhuang Ji 庄忌)
15 九怀 Jiuhuai The Nine Regrets (by Wang Bao 王褒 [Former Han])
–匡机 Kuangji Freedom from worldly contrivings
–通路 Tonglu A road to beyond
–危俊 Weijun Dangerous heights
–昭世 Zhaoshi A light on the world
–尊嘉 Zunjia Honouring the good
–蓄英 Chuying Storing blossoms
–思忠 Sizhong Thoughts on loyalty bent
–陶壅 Taoyong Raising barriers
–株昭 Zhuzhao Quenching the light
16 九叹 Jiutan The Nine Laments (by Liu Xiang 刘向 [Former Han])
–逢纷 Fengfen Encountering troubles
–离世 Lishi Leaving the world
–怨思 Yuansi Embittered thoughts
–远逝 Yuanshi Going far away
–惜贤 Xixian Lament for the worthy
–忧苦 Youku Saddened by sufferings
–愍命 Minming Grieved by this fate
–思古 Sigu Sighing for olden times
–远游 Yuanyou The far-off journey
17 九思 Jiusi The Nine Longings (by Wang Yi 王逸 [Later Han])
–逢尤 Fengyou Meeting with reproach
–怨上 Yuanshang Resentment against the ruler
–疾世 Jishi Impatience with the world
–悯上 Minshang Pity for the ruler
–遭厄 Cao’e Running into danger
–悼乱 Daoluan Grieving over disorder
–伤时 Shangshi Distressed by these times
–哀岁 Aisui Lament for the year
–守志 Shouzhi Maintaining resolution

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