The New Chinese Classics
Rhymes and Reasons:
The Chinese Classic of Poetry
E Bruce Brooks and A Taeko Brooks
The Chinese Shr Jing (Classic of Poetry) has been the least suspected of the Confucian classics; the one the archaeologists are most ready to cite. Its place as a witness to the Jou dynasty, and its aftermath down to about 0600, seems to be secure in majority scholarly opinion. The external evidence suggests that the Shr began to be collected, as a text in its own right, in the early 05th century and was largely stabilized by the end of that century, and that new material continued to be added until late in the 04th century. This does not directly challenge the traditional dating (many of the poems may easily have been much older than their date of inclusion), but it does reopen the subject. This book brings together a number of specialized studies of the Shr in a comprehensive treatment of its formation process, and finds that little of the material predates its collection. Among the aspects explored are these:
Lines repeating from one poem to the next have been wrongly construed as evidences of "oral formulaic" procedure. Most of them are instead signs of literary indebtedness, and define lines of imitation cutting across the divisions of the Shr. Each series of poems defined by one common line constitutes, in effect, a potential mini-history of its members. Since 262 of the 305 Shr poems participate in one or more of these common-line mini-histories, the study of them promises to say a great deal about the history of the whole work.
Attention to inconsistencies in rhyme and prosody assists in the detection of interpolations; others are obvious on substantive grounds alone. The interpolations reveal several interesting late ideological developments, from criticism of the unequal position of women to the justification of the unification wars of the classical period.
Rhymes in the Shr are not uniform. There seem to be several areas of local practice, which are overlaid in the Shr by later areas of common practice. These lends a certain reality to the idea of local court orchestras as among the nuclei for the creation of the local repertoires which may lie behind the fifteen sections of the Fvng division of the Shr, each corresponding to an important (though sometimes, only symbolically important) early state.
In recent years it has been the habit to deride the moralistic interpretation of the Shr, and some passages of the standard commentaries, imposing edifying readings on morally subversive material, are indeed ridiculous. But other poems have an original moral intent, and were written with precisely the meaning attributed to them in the traditional commentaries..
Another dimension noticed by the commentaries but often slighted by modern interpreters is the creation of historical vignettes, both positive and negative, in order to shape perceptions of the different states in the post-Jou period (from 0771), and to extol Jou itself, at its beginning, and bemoan the decay that overtook it at its end. Jou was emblematic of the unified polity which the major Warring States, by then, were seeking on the battlefield.
Extracts from Rhymes and Reasons:
2. Common Lines
8. The Lost Poems
11. The Formation of the Shr
1. Poems With Common Lines
2. The 271 Common Lines
3. Tones and Rhymes
4. Stanza Forms
5. Citations in Other Texts
Chinese Romanization Table
This book redefines the Shr as an object of study, and makes clearer the forces, some of them political and some of them literary, that shaped the collection during its formative period.
E BRUCE BROOKS is Research Professor of Chinese and A TAEKO BROOKS is Research Associate at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Rhymes and Reasons: The Chinese Classic of Poetry
Approximately 384 pages.
Tentative $51.95 cloth. ISBN 978-936166-22-0
Tentative $28.95 paper. ISBN 978-036166-62-6
Tentative Release Date: February 2016
When announced, this book may be ordered from the University of Massachusetts Press
1 Aug 2011 / Contact The Project / Exit to Publications Page