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Song Ci

Song Ci enjoys the same high reputation as Tang Poem, both of which are two peaks in Chinese culture and literature. Today Song Ci is collected in the anthology “Three hundred Ci from the Song Dynasty”.

Ci is very different from poem. While poem can be read without minding the underlying melodies even if there were some underlying melodies, Ci must be seen as written songs. Most of the Ci do not even have a distinct title but are named after an original melody. Composers and writers used this melody to write a new poem that could be sung to the original famous melody or tune pattern (Ci Pai), a technique called contrafactury. There are more than


800 tune patterns known. This is the reason why we often see the same title for a Ci, like “Die Lian Hua” (“Butterflies love blossoms”), “Man Ting Fan” (“Scent fills the hall”) and “Yu Mei Ren” (“Lady Yu”).

Ci emerged already during the Tang Dynasty in response to the popularity of foreign musical tunes imported from Inner Asia. Already the outer shape of the Ci is apparently different to the poem. In Ci the verses have different length, while in poem all verses have the same length of five or seven syllables.
The most famous ci poets of Tang period are Wen Tingyun (812-870AD) and the last king of the Southern Tang (937-975), Li Yu (937-978AD). But the apogee of Ci was the Song Synasty (960-1279). Under the influence of the great writer Su Shi (1037-1101AD) the Ci began to free itself from its musical background and became primarily a literary creation. Two different styles of Ci developed, the “School of Hao Fang” (“heroic abandon”) and the “School of Wan Yue” (“delicate restraint”).
Like poem was still in use during the Song period, Ci was written all through the following ages. It became again very popular during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) as a very refined style of poetry. Mao Zedong, the founder of the PRC is also an outstanding Ci poet and has a lot of famous Ci and poems left and prevailing.
Most of Song Ci poets were also known as writers, politicians, painters and calligraphers. While Tang poets often were mid-level officials or professional poets, Song Ci poets belonged to the new emerging class of scholar-buraucrats that had passed the state examinations. Poetry-making was thus a fundamental technique every state official had to dispose of. There are many other famous Song Ci poets, such as Wang Yucheng (954-1101AD), Liu Yong (980-1053AD), Yan Shu (991-1055AD), Mei Yaochen (1002-1060AD), Shao Yong (1011-1077AD), Wang Anshi (1021-1086AD), Huang Tingjian (1045-1105AD), Qin Guan (1049-1100AD), Zhao Buzhi (1053-1110AD), Chen Shidao (1053-1102AD), Ye Mengde (1077-1148AD), Li Qingzhao (1084-1155AD), Yang Wanli (1127-1206AD), Chen Liang (1143-1194AD), Jiang Kui (1155-1221AD), Shi Dazu (1163-1220AD), Liu Kezhuang (1187-1269AD), Zhou Mi (1232-1298AD), Wang Yisun (1240-1290AD), and Zhang Yan (1248-1320AD), etc.

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