( 楚     辞 )

In the 4th century BC, a new type of writing-SONGS OF CHU (楚辞, “Chu Ci” in Chinese) came into being in the Chu Kingdom in the Southern part of China. This new type of writing, originated by Qu Yuan, was being imitated by more and more people among whom Song Yu was the most famous one. During the reign of Qin,people paid little attention to 《The Songs of Chu》. When it came to the Han Dynasty in 26 BC, Liu Xiang compiled a book entitled 《The Songs of Chu》 which collected the works of Qu Yuan, Song Yu and some other imitators. Liu’s book contained 16 volumes, but all of them got lost in the later years. Wang Yi of the Eastern Han Dynasty wrote an annotation of 《The Songs of Chu》 which was entitled 《The Syntactic &Semantic Analysis of the Songs of Chu》which has 17 volumes, still exist and has always been popular. So, the term-THE SONGS OF CHU has two meanings: 1, a new type of writing occurred in the Kingdom of Chuduring the Warring States period with Qu Yuan as its chief representative; 2, a title for the collection of ancient poetry that contains the works of Qu Yuan and others. Whatever the meaning is, the most important poet in 《The Songs of Chu》 is Qu Yuan, because he was the originator of this new type of poetry, his poems are most valuable and take up a greater part of the collection.

《The Songs of Chu》 has its own features. It is said its entire works were written in the Chu dialect with Chu pronunciations, and they referred to Chu place names and things happened in Chu. As a matter of fact,《离骚, Li Sao, Grievances》, the representative work of Qu Yuan was a term in the Chu dialect of the time.Among these features, the Chu pronunciation is the most important, because this type of writing was a form of singing based on Chu dialect. When Liu Bang and his troops encircled Xiang Yu’s army, he asked his soldiers to sing Chu songs from all sides to shake the morale of Xiang Yu’s soldiers who were mainly from the Chu area and when they heard the hometown songs, they had no heart to fight any more. So, Liu won the battle and then became the first emperor of Han. We can see from this story that Chu songs were very attractive and dear to the Chu people. Chu was a big state during the Warring States period, it was situated in the basins of Changjiang and Huaihe rivers with fertile soil and abundant products. Its people were very fond of music and dances. Thus it provided favorable conditions for the development of singing and poetry.Wang Yi told us in his prelude to 《The Syntactic & Semantic Analysis of the Nine Songs》 that “as a custom of the Chu people, they believed in ghost and liked to offer sacrifices, and when there was a sacrificial ceremony, there were always singing and dancing in order to make the gods happy.” “九歌, Jiu Ge, Nine Songs” was a work of Qu Yuan’s revised version of folk songs for offering sacrifices to gods. 《The Songs of Chu》 contains many fairy tales and legends. It is rich in splendid imagination. The strong local flavor of Chu constitutes the uniqueness of 《The Songs of Chu》.

Unlike 《The Book of Songs》, the words in 《The Songs of Chu》 are much longer in both length and sentences. 《Grievances》 and 《Nine Chapters》 were written by basically six-word-a line sentences while《Nine Songs》 by five-word a line sentences. 《The Songs of Chu》 is much stronger in feeling, morecomplicated in content and more varied in style.

《The Songs of Chu》 can never be parted from the name of Qu Yuan who originated a new type of writing,which can amplify the expressional power of poetry. With this new artistic form, Qu Yuan, the first great poet in China’s history of literature, composed many patriotic and beautiful poems. Until now we can still feel its intense artistic strength. In more than 2,000 years, his poems have been on the lips of people. His love of his state and people has been encouraging the Chinese people 

Qu Yuan was listed in the 20th century as one of the most famous person of culture in the world. He was born on January 14, 339BC, died in 278BC at the age of 62. He was the “Zuo Tu” (左徒) in the cabinet of King Huai of Chu. Zuo Tu was a position right after the prime minister. He was appointed later the Minister of Patriarchal Affairs. The position was called “San Lǚ Dai Fu”in Chinese. “San Lǚ” means “three family names”. The nobility of Chu was composed of three families of Zhao(昭),Qu(屈) and Jing(景). On this position, Qu Yuan was responsible for the education of the children of these families. Sima Qian said in his 《Record of History》that Qu Yuan “discussed state affairs with the king when he entered the palace and issued orders when he came out of the palace. He received guests and dealt with other dukes. The King really trusted him.” 《Record of history》 also tells us that he “had acquired a wide knowledge and a remarkable memory. He was good at handling social unrest and very articulate.” He was, however, being elbowed out by those in the ruling clique who envied his position and talents. As a result, King Huai of Chu believed their malicious slanders and deposed Qu Yuan, who, out of his love of Chu, cherished a broad aspiration in reforming the politics in Chu and helping Chu to unify the whole of China. Yet, the King didn’t have a clear sense of what was right and wrong, Qu was no longer able to contribute his efforts. There was only reactionary nobility around King Huai of Chu since Qu Yuan was dismissed from his office and the political life in Chu was thrown into confusion. There were supposed to be seven powers existing during the Warring States period, but Han, Zhao and Wei were smaller and weaker states, the state of Yan was far in the northeast, aloof from the center of struggle for supremacy. The state of Qin in the northwest with strong armies was actively expanding. Qi and Chu were big powers from the Spring and Autumn period, Chu had the largest territory and Qi was the richest state. As a matter of fact, those who were contending were Qin and Chu. The best policy for Chu was to ally itself with Qi in opposition to Qin. Qu Yuan advocated this policy and favored reform. To our regret, this upright stand of Qu Yuan was strongly opposed by the reactionary nobility. We can say the process of Chu’s decline caused the tragedy of Qu Yuan. To annex other states, Qin did everything possible to break the alliance between Qi and Chu, yet, at the same time, the ruling clique of Chu was time and again deceived by Qin until King Huai of Chu was lured into Qin and finally died as a prisoner there. The son of King Huai of Chu, King Qing Xiang was even more fatuous than his father and still pursued a pro-Qin policy. Qu Yuan was further persecuted and was sent into exile by the side of Mi Luo River in Hunan. As a result, Qin troops took Ying, the capital of Chu in 278BC and the tombs of all Chu kings were burnt into ashes. The King and his ministers fled in panic, and Chu was never able to rise again. Qu Yuan was 62 when Qin took over Chu. Seeing his own state being defeated, he could no longer restrain his grief and indignation, the poem 《The Elegy on Ying》 was composed. Before his death, he wrote another poem- 《Remembrance of Sha》. It was on the fifth of May that year; he drowned himself in the Mi Luo River. It was not yet three months since the fall of Ying. It is said that the people of Chu deplored at the loss of such a great poet, they rowed their boats hurriedly to save him, they threw “Zhongzi”glutinous rice with fillings wrapped by reed (leaves)- into the river to keep Qu Yuan away from being eaten by fish. This is how the Dragon Boat Festival and the custom of eating Zhongzi started. The festival and the custom reflect how much people feel for and respect Qu Yuan.It is said Qu Yuan wrote altogether 26 poems:

离 骚, Lí Sāo, The Grievances 》
《 九 歌, Jǐu Gē, Nine Songs》which contains 11 poems;
《 天 问, Tiān Wèn, Questioning the Heaven 》
《 招 魂, Zhāo Hún, Calling Back the Spirit 》
《 九 章, Jiǔ Zhāng, Nine Chapters 》 which contains 9 poems;
《 远 游,Yuǎn Yóu, Travelling Far 》
《 卜 居,Bǔ Jǖ, The Divinatory Residence 》 and
《 渔 夫,Yú Fū, The Fisherman


《The Grievances》
Among them, 《”Li Sao”, The Grievances》 is Qu Yuan’s representative work. There are more than 370 lines and 2,460 characters in it. It was an unprecedented, great long lyric in the history of Chinese literature. It was written when he was in exile.
The poem began with his family background, his virtue, talents and his aspirations as manifested in the following lines:

乘骐骥以驰骋兮,       Cheng qi ji yi chi cheng xi

来吾导夫先路!        Lei wu dao fu xian lu!

岂余身之惮殃兮,       Qi yu shen zhi dan yang xi,

恐皇舆之败绩。         Kong huang yu zhi bai ji.

余固知謇謇之为患兮,   Yu gu zhi jian jian zhi wei huan xi,

忍而不能舍也。         Ren er bu neng she ye.

指九天以为正兮,       Zhi jiu tian yi wei zheng xi,

夫唯灵修之故也。       Fu wei ling xiu zhi gu ye.

Gallop on a steed,
I wish to be the vanguard!

How could I worry if myself may face disater,
What I worry is the state may end in failure.

I knew my frank criticism would do me mischief,
I just don’t have the heart to give it up.
I point to the sky and ask it to testify
It was indeed for the sake of the King that I am so outright

Qu Yuan then talked about his experience of being persecuted, his feeling of wanting to die; his wishes of going to a remote place to meet the ancient emperor, his imagination of going up to the sky, but all these wishes could not come true. He asked the diviner twice about what to do, and was told on both occasions that he would find auspice at a place far away. So, he decided to leave for the Western Sea near the Kunlun Mountains. Yet, on his way when he was ascending to the heaven, he suddenly looked down at the state of Chu. His servants wept and his horse was neighing in grieve. Seeing all these, he could no longer bear to go on. Qu Yuan cried out at the end of the poem:

已矣哉!                Yi yi zai!          

国无人,莫我知兮,      Guo wu ren, mo wo zhi xi, 

又何怀乎故都?          You he huai hu gu du?

既莫足与美政兮,        Ji mo zu yu mei zheng xi

 吾将从彭咸之所居。     Wu jiang cong peng xian zhi suo ju

Let it be!
In e state there is no one who understands me,
Why do I must miss my country?
Since I can pursue the ideal politics with nobody,
I shall just go and join Peng Xian in eternity!

Peng Xian was a virtuous man of the Yin Dynasty from the Chu region who always maintained his principles and never went along with fashionable ideas. When Qu Yuan said he wished to join a person who died a long time ago, it indicated that he had decided to die for his ideal. You would find seemingly contradictions in the poetry, because there were conflicts in his feelings. He wanted to go to a far place, at the same time, he begrudged to leave, yet, remaining in Chu, and there was nothing for him to do. Therefore, the only way out was for him to die. So, 《Li Sao》 is filled with a troubled heart of the poet and a tragic tone. It was quite common for scholars to seek an official position in other states during the Warring States period. Mencius was an official in both Qi and Liang. It was so common that the phrases describing such matters became popular,these phrases are: “To be in Qin in the morning and in Chu in the evening”, “Chu talents used by Jin.” So, Qu Yuan could have left Chu, states like Qi would welcome him. He had his own political ideal and aspirations, to hold his ideal out of his profound love of his state, he could not leave; he could only die for his country. This great spirit of Qu Yuan has nurtured in the long history of China a deep and patriotic moral strength and laid a solid basis for the development of Chinese literature.

Basic Features of Composition in 《Li Sao》
A.A great amount of ancient fairy tales and legends are used, through rich imagination and association. Thepoet knitted actual figures with historic figures and mythological figures; the earth and the heavenly kingdom,the human world and dreamland, the past and present were blended. All these constitute a splendid, unique,and gorgeous world and produced strong artistic appeal. The poet mentioned more than 20 historic figures in the poem such as Yao, Shun and Yu (尧,舜,禹), the three popular rulers in the earlist years of China.Mythological figures like Xi He, the driver of the Sun; Wang Shu, the driver of the Moon; Fei Lian, the Deity ofWind and Feng Long, he Deity of Thunder all made their appearance in the poem. Fu Sang, a tree that grows at where the Sun rises and Ruo Mu, a tree grows at where the Sun sets in Chinese legends appeared in the poem as well. I have to mention particularly “Long Ma, 龙马”, the dragon horse, a vehicle Qu Yuan used between the human world and the heaven. 《The Rites of Zhou》 described it thus, “Any horse that is more than eight foot long is a dragon.” And “it is a horse on earth, once it is in the sky it becomes a dragon.”

B.Readers can find many well-conceived analogies and metaphors in the poem. Nice birds, fragrant grass and beautiful girls are compared to people of loyalty and integrity; malicious birds and stingky things to people of evil. The poet used his planting of large areas of fragrant grass as a metaphor of his duty of educating children.

C.Language-wise, 《The Grievances》 is a break through from the four-character-a line format of 《The Book of Songs》. The use of the character of “xi 兮” at the end of every other line, together with the use of other form words for purpose of coordinating syllables laid down the basis for what became later the “Grievance Style (Sao Ti,骚体)”. Antithesis (Dui Zhang) was beautifully arranged in more than a hundred lines, for instance,the line of

“zhao         yin   mulan       zhi zui    lu      xi,

 In the morning  drink wood orchid of fallen  dew  (form word)

 朝              饮   木兰        之 坠     露      兮” is matched with:

“xi         can        qu ju              zhi  luo     ying.

In the evening  eat  autumn chrysanthemum  of  fallen   petals

夕           餐         秋菊               之   落      英。”

Readers can find alliterations such as in this line:
“Tun yu yi yu cha chi xi ( 忳郁邑余侘傺兮—I stood there feeling lost, disgruntled in depression)”, “yu” illierates with “yi” and “yu”, “cha” with “chi”. The following line could serve as an example for vowel rhyme repetitions:
Liao xiao yao yi xiang yang (聊逍遥以相羊—Let me leisurely wander)”, clearly the vowels “ao” and “ang” are repeated.
One thing we should bear in mind is that the poem contains many words that are special in the Chu dialect.
To conclude, these factors together with the ideas and imaginations of the poet attribute to a “great, unique and matchless poem”, so commented by Lu Xun, the greatest contemporary writer of China.

《Nine Songs》

There are 11 poems in 《Nine Songs》 which carry a tone of fairy tales and the richness of beautiful imagination. In contrast to 《Li Sao》, the style of 《Nine Songs》 is refreshingly light and graceful. The first and last two poems, namely “东皇太一, Dong Huang Tai Yi, The Eastern Emperor Tai Yi” and “礼魂, Li Hun,Rite for Spirits” are solumn songs for welcoming and sending off gods, they are descriptions of sacrificial ceremonies. Please read the first one:


   九    歌        Jiu     Ge

东皇太一                   Dong Huang Tai Yi

吉日兮辰良,                Jí rī xī chén liáng,

穆将愉兮上皇。             Mù jiāng yú xī shāng huáng.

抚长剑兮玉珥,             Fū chāng jiàn xī yù ér,

璆锵鸣兮琳琅.              Qiú qiāng míng xī lín láng.

瑶席兮玉填,               Yáo xí xī yù zhèn,

盍将把兮琼芳。             Hē jiāng bǎ xī qióng fāng.

蕙肴蒸兮兰籍,             Hùi yáo zhēng xī lān jī,

奠桂酒兮椒浆.              Dián gùi jiǔ xī jiáo jiāng.

  扬枹兮拊鼓,             Yáng fú xī fù gǔ,

疏缓节兮安歌,             Shū huǎn jié xī ān gē,

陈竽瑟兮浩倡。             Chēn yú sè xī hào chāng.

灵偃蹇兮姣服,             Líng yǎn jiǎn xī jiáo fū,

芳菲菲兮满堂。             Fāng fēi fēi xī mǎn táng.

五音兮繁会,               Wǔ yīn xī fán hùi

君欣欣兮乐康。             Jūn xīn xīn xī lè kāng.

The Eastern Emperor Tai Yi in the 《Nine Songs》

At a good time on this auspicious day,
Solemn and respectful, people try to make the Emperor happy.
Stroking the jade ring of the long sword,
While the jade pendants on the clothes clanked.

Jade weights lay on the four sides of the precious mat,
Bunches of flowers were so fragrant.
Big pieces of meat wrapped with scented grass lay on orchid,
Osmanthus was the sacrificial wine smelt.

Raising high the sticks to beat the drums,
Singing started with unhurried rhythm,
Powerful music played by wind and string instruments

Sorceress in pretty dresses danced beautifully,
The entire hall was filled with fragrance
All tones sounded high symphoniously,
And the Emperor was healthy, happy and delighted

Other nine poems are dedicated respectively to “湘君, Man of the Xiang River”, “湘夫人, Madame of the Xiang River”. “河伯, the God of Water”, “山鬼, the God of Mountain”, “大司命” and “少司命”- Gods of Stars, “东君, the God of Sun” and nameless heroes. Diction in 《Nine Songs》 is most graceful; lines like the following have
been widely spread:



   “Niao niao xi qiu feng, dong ting bo xi mu ye xia”
   “The soft and graceful autumn wind,

   “悲莫悲兮生别离, 乐莫乐兮新相知。”

 “Bei mo bei xi sheng bie li, le mo le xi xin xiang zhi.”“ To part when both are alive is the saddest

To make a new friend is the happiest.”

《Questioning the Heaven》 is no ordinary poem. Its four-word a line sentences are all questions, and

there are more than 170 of them. The questions asked about the structure of the celestial body, traditions of

the past, myth, legend and conceptions of men betray the rich imaginations of the poet, his concern about

natural phenomenon and development of history and his doubt on belief. Today, we still can not entirely

comprehend the poem because of lack of enough records on ancient history and ancient fairy tales. But, some

of the historical material the poem contained has been verified by findings from the underground discoveries.

 《Zhao Hun-- Calling Back the Spirit》

 was written to mourn over the death of King Huai of Chu. It was a custom in Chu at that time to call back the

spirit of the deceased with a certain kind of ceremony. After an introduction, the poem states the danger in six

sides, the upper side, the lower side, the east, west, south and north, in order to tell the spirit not to run

aimlessly, the superb and wonderful description tastes a bit like a fairy tale. To persuade the spirit to return to

the hometown, the poem then depicts various pleasures inside Chu which range from the magnificent palace

and residence, to the delicate food, beautiful cloths, to various songs, dances and games. At the end, the

poem calls out loudly, ”Please come back, spirit!” The poem voiced Qu Yuan’s strong sense of reality by

making a distinctive comparison between human life and celestial life for the purpose of telling the spirit that

the only safe place is in actual life, not even in the paradise. Unlike other poems of Qu Yuan which are lyrics,

《Zhou Hun》 is composed of elaboration and portrayals. This way of writing influenced greatly on later

verses and poetic prose (赋,Fu).

 《Nine Chapters》 is a collection of Qu Yuan’s separate poems put together by people of the Han Dynasty.

The title was given by people of later period. Among the nine poems, “橘颂, Ju Song, Ode to Orange” is very

different, it was probably written in Qu Yuan’s early years. By portraying the features of orange, the poem sings

the praises of the noble, unsullied and unyielding qualities of man.

 九   章                  Jiǔ  Zhang

橘 颂                     Jū Song

后皇嘉树,               Hòu huáng jiā shù,

橘徕服兮。               Jú lái fū xī.

受命不迁,                Shòu mìng bù qiān,

生南国兮。                Shēng nán góo xī.

深固难徙,                Shēn gù nán xī,

更壹志兮。                Gèng yī zhì xī.

绿叶素荣,                Lǜ yè sù róng,

纷其可喜兮。              Fēn qī kě xǐ xī.

曾枝剡棘,               Céng zhī yán jí,

圆果抟兮。               Yuán gǔo tuān xī.

青黄杂糅,                Qīng huáng zá rōu,

文章烂兮。               Wén zhāng làn xī.

精色内白,                Jíng sè nèi bái,

类可任兮。                Lèi kě rèn xī.

纷縕宜修,                Fēn yùn yí xiū,

姱而不丑兮。              Kuǎ ér bù chǒu xī.

嗟尔幼志,                Juē ér yòu zhì,

有以异兮。                Yǒu yǐ yì xī.

独生不迁,                Dú shēng bù qiān,

岂不可喜兮。              Qí bù kě xī xī.

深固难徙,                Shēn gù nán xī,

廓其无求兮。              Kùo qī wú qiú xī.

苏世独立,                Sū shì dú lì,

横而不流兮。              Hēng ér bù liú xī.

闭心自慎,                Bì xīn zì shèn,

不终失过兮。              Bù zhōng shí guò xī.

秉德无私,                Bǐng dē wú sī,

参天地兮。                Cān tiān dì xī.

愿岁并谢,                Yuàn sùi bìng xiè,

与长友兮。                Yú cháng yǒu xī.

淑离不淫,                Shū lí bù yīn,

梗其有理兮。              Gěng qī yǒu lǐ xī.

年岁虽少,                Nián sùi súi shào,

可师长兮。                Kě shī zhǎng xī.

行比伯夷,                Xīng bǐ bó yí,

置以为像兮。              Zhì yǐ wēi xiàng xī.


Ode to Orange in 《Nine Chapters》

Orange tree, nurtured by nature,
Born to be adaptable to the soil and water here.
Since you were given the mission of not to immigrate,
You’ll live forever in this southern state.

So deeply rooted, to nowhere else you could be driven,
You’re constantly firm in your determination
Your leaves green and flowers clean,
So delightful is the riotous profusion.
Even though between layers of leaves there are thorns,
The fruits are so beautiful and round.
The green and yellow ones in fine contrast,
Such color looks like rosy cloud.

Your outer color distinct, you’re purely white inside,
You are just like a gentleman who can be entrusted with a big task.
Being natural and unrestrained,
Your beauty is refined.

I admire you, orange tree in southern state
You made up your mind so early, you are unique.
You refuse to move away, you’re independent,
Such strong will is pleasing and pleasant.

So deeply rooted, to nowhere else you could be driven,
You’ve no lust; your mind is so broadly open.
You’re sober and remote from dirt
Never yield to vulgarity, even though you’re free in action.

You’re so prudent, keeping your heart clean,
You committed no mistakes, no sin.
Your unselfish values,
Can be matched with the earth and heaven.

I wish in the cold spell when all flowers withered,
Be your firm and life-long friend.
You’re kind-hearted and disciplined,
With clear veins, your body is so straight.

Though you’re still young,
You can be a teacher I look upon.
Your behavior is good as that of Bo Yi
An example for me to follow for long.

Like “Li Sao”, the other eight poems expressed the grievance and indignation of Qu Yuan. Let’s read the first few lines in “哀郢, Ai Ying, The Elegy on Ying”:

皇天之不纯命兮,   Huang tian zhi bu chun ming xi,

何百姓之震愆?     He bai xing zhi zhen qian

民离散而相失兮,   Min li san er xiang shi xi,

方仲春而东迁。     Fang zhong chun er dong qian.

Ah, Heaven, you don’t abide by the norms,
Why do you destroy the lives?
So many have died, and families scattered
In this second month of spring, they flee to the east.

These lines show how much Qu Yuan cared about the people who became homeless in war. We can find from 《Remembrance of Sha》 that Qu Yuan’s grievances had come to a climax:

知死不可让,           Zhi si bu ke rang,

愿勿爱兮!             Yuan wu ai xi!

明告君子,             Ming gao jun zi,

吾将以为类兮!         Wu jiang yi wei lei xi!

I know I should die, I don’t want to avoid it,
I don’t want to treasure my body!
Ancestors of virtue, you are open and above-board,
Your examples I shall follow!

So, the great and talented poet of integrity ended his life in tragedy. People of every generation respect and

feel much for him. The artistic power of his poetry has affected intensely all his readers. His poetry is both

realistic and romantic, realistic is his spirit of resisting against things unreasonable; romantic is his way of

composing and the artistic features of his poems- rich imagination, distinct individuality, sincere feelings,

various forms of expression, splendid diction and the usage of fairy tales. The greatness of Qu Yuan’s poetry

 lies in the blend of ideological content with artistic quality.

Outstanding poets of 《The Songs of Chu》 after Qu Yuan were Song Yu, Tang Le and Jing Cai. Among

them, Song Yu is the most famous one. According to records, he wrote sixteen poems, but most of them have

not been handed down. 《九辩, Jiu Bian, Nine Arguments》 is a representative work of Song Yu, which

depicts mainly his feelings about autumn.

We can see how profound an influence 《The Songs of Chu》 has had on the history of China by quoting two most outstanding Tang poets:

“Qu Yuan’s poetry hangs high in the sky like sun and moon”-- Li Bai

“Seeing the falling leaves, one deeply understood why Song Yu was so sad.”--Du Fu And remember every year Chinese people will spend the “Dragon Boat Festival”!     

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