Timothy Wai Keung CHAN

Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BCE), once a high official of the state of Chu. Many works in the anthology Chuchi were attributed to him, especially the poem “Encountering Sorrow.” Readers of the anthology sympathized with the political misfortunes of Qu, who was slandered, estranged, and finally exiled.

Regarded as the ancestor of anthologies in Chinese history, Chuci ?? (Verse of the Chu State) is an important literary work of poems, dialogues, hymns to local deities, proverbs and other allegories written during the Warring States period (475–221 BCE) from the southern state of Chu (in modern Hubei and Hunan provinces).

The earliest known edition of the anthology Chuci, in sixteen juan (installments), was recompiled by Liu Xiang (c. 77–76 BCE) from earlier sources. This edition was subsequently augmented to seventeen juan with commentary by Wang Yi (c. 89–158 CE). The Chuci buzhu (Subcommentary on Chuci) of Hong Xingzu (1019–1155), which incorporates Wang’s commentary, is the most important edition. Most of the Chuci poems were written during the Warring States period (475–221 BCE) and performed, sung, and spoken in the Chu dialect. They record Chu culture and history, and present a distinctive Chu style.

The anthology consists of individual poems and suites. The first and most representative work in the collection is the “Lisao” (“Encountering Sorrow”). This first-person, politically oriented poem in 187 couplets is one of the greatest, and longest, poems in Chinese literature. Thus the Chuci style is often simply named, after this monumental poem, the Sao style. The anthology also includes shorter lyrical and narrative poems, dialogues, and hymns to local deities, most of which have traditionally been interpreted as allegories for the poet’s frustrations.

Encountering Sorrow

This brief translation by E. H. Parker of Qu Yuan’s famous Chuci poem, Li Sao (Encountering Sorrow), exemplifies the common literary style.

Seize, thus, the moment whilst life is early,

Whilst Vice is of modern birth,

Before King Time with his ruthless sickle,

Sweeps Virtue from off the Earth.
(Li Sao, lines 150–51)

Source: Classe, O.. (2000). Encyclopedia of literary translation into English. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1304.

The attribution of the Chuci poems is uncertain. Qu Yuan (c. 343–290 BCE), a high official of Chu who was later slandered, estranged, and finally exiled, was long considered the author of “Lisao” and of most of the Chuci. These works, accordingly, were read against the story of his political fortunes. Although this view is not clearly proven by the evidence, it has found sympathy from readers who see in Qu Yuan a patriotic hero, who, thwarted in his efforts to serve his king, ended his life by throwing himself into the Miluo River in northeast part of modern Hunan province.

Further Reading

Chan, Timothy Wai Keung. (1998). The jing/zhuan structure of the Chuci anthology: A new approach to the authorship of some Chuci poems. T’oung Pao, (84), 293–327.

Hawkes, D. (Ed. & Trans.) (1985). The songs of the south: An ancient Chinese anthology of poems by Qu Yuan and other poets. Harmondsworth, NY: Penguin.

Schneider, L. A. (1980). A madman of Ch’u: The Chinese myth of loyalty and dissent. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Source: Chan, Timothy Wai Keung (2009). Chuci. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 394–395. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Chuci (Ch? cí ??)|Ch? cí ?? (Chuci)

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