Formality and Pleasure in Jian’an Banquet Poetry

Thomas Lavallee

Chinese and Comparative Literature

Washington University

St. Louis, MO



1.  Introduction


 The Jian’an period (196-220 C.E.) is the first point in Chinese history that it is possible to study extensive and detailed textual representations of the convivial life of ruling elite and their attendant literati.  The Han (Former 202 B.C.-9 A.D. and Latter 25-220 C.E.), leaves only scattered historical sources and rhapsodies (fu) that sporadically describe festive gatherings.[1]  In addition to contemporaneous poetry (shi), songs (yuefu), rhapsodies, and letters (shu) that recall or document social gatherings, later Six Dynasties writers captured the spirit of Jian’an banquet poetry in its specific setting by producing imitative works.[2]  All of these materials may be pieced together to form a rough mosaic that reveals many of the important and complex aspects of the Jian’an banquet environment.  This chapter will explore several different textual representations of Jian’an poets experiencing the formality and pleasure of the banquet scene;   focussing on the manner by which the Cao clan and the Seven Masters of the Jian’an period simultaneously negotiated and transformed their social and physical environment while they gathered to compose poems, drink and feast.  As we shall see, both the inherited and newly invented shape of their leisure space conditioned the poets’ expression of both sober and convivial sentiments.[3] 

Though not the first age to witness convivial gatherings in a clearly defined pleasure space, the Jian’an period is unique in the number of recorded occasions when literati and rulers gathered to enjoy the company of like-minded gentlemen.[1]  Cao Pi in a letter to his friend Wu Zhi stated with wistful joy:


“In days past if we went roaming, we went with our carriages one after the other; if we       stayed in, we sat on mats placed together.  We would not be separated for an instant.  Whenever the wine goblets and ladles were moving freely and the strings and woods       played together, we felt tipsy from the wine and warm about the ears and, lifting our            heads, composed poems.”[4]

These words give us a small glimpse of an image of conviviality that was characteristic of the literati who gathered at Cao Cao’s capital city of Ye.[5]  The greater context, however, allows us to see that these times were gone forever for Cao Pi, who writing ten or more years later mourned the death of many of those parties’ guests. 

The surviving body of poetry that Cao Pi alludes to in the above passage is rich with varying contours.  However, from the perspective of literary histories, the banquet scenes are not the most celebrated aspects of the period.  I will begin this portion of the chapter with a study of how commentaries such as the Poems Systematicaly Graded (Shipin, ca. 513-517) and The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons (Wenxin diaolong, ca. late 5th century) shape our perceptions of the Jian’an historical image by using specific yet opaque literary terms such as kang kai, and feng gu to describe the literary style of the age.  Because of these terms, the poetry of the Jian’an period is most often interpreted systematically as being heroic, straightforward and impassioned.  Consequently, this leads to certain types of Jian’an poems being more highly valued than others.[6]  By reading less well-read works such as the banquet poems, we can further explore the literary richness of the period and test the usefulness of standard critical vocabulary.[7] 


At the banquet scene, literati gathered to enjoy themselves, to indulge in wine and food, yet because of inherited customs of decorus behavior as well as the reality of a precarious political environment, their conviviality has restrained and ironic tendencies.  Both the leaders and their attendant literati gentlemen betray this uneasiness in their writings.  The traditional literary terms kang kai and feng gu preserve many aspects of these ironic circumstances, yet when the texts are viewed through the terms decorum (li) and pleasure (le) contradictions appear more clearly.  Instead of employing literary terms concerned with aesthetics that may imply certain social values, I will instead attempt to guage the social setting where poetry was composed in a more direct fashion.  At the center of the chapter, I will employ these terms to consider several poetic postures that reveal how the leaders of the community, Cao Cao (155-220), and later his son Cao Pi (187-226), expressed their struggles with the responsibility of ruling while simultaneously enjoying the fruits of their labors.

In the final section of the chapter, I will explore various textual descriptions of the physical  environments in which the poets distracted themselves.  By separating Jian’an banquet poems into two categories - interior and exterior - it is possible to begin to witness how inner and outer spaces effect the production of poetry.  Poetry produced indoors or in clearly defined, enclosed spaces often is more concerned with aspects of ritual and decorum (li) that relate to social hierarchies, whereas poetry produce out of doors is more likely to express an unrestrained sensation of pleasure (le).  It is in these spatial contexts that both the language and social behavior of the Jian’an poets can be more fully appreciated and understood.  Moreover, the textual representations of leisure space initiate a new vocabulary in the creation of  fictional settings for revelry to be imitated later in the literary tradition.



2.  The Historical Image of the Jian’an Literary Coterie


One of the ways that the literary environment of the Jian’an period differs from the Han dynasty is in the motivation and function of a performed song or textual work.  The poets that the Han emperors gathered around themselves such as Mei Sheng (d. 141 B.C.E.) and Sima Xiangru (179-117 B.C.E.) were properly rhapsodists who extolled the virtues of the ruling dynasty and the grandness of its scenic capital parks.   Their fu can also be described as examples of moral persuasion or verse of an epideictic character.  These poets composed poetry in a charged public atmosphere at the behest of the emperor.  This compositional environment was not conducive to the utterance of personal political plaints nor was it the appropriate place to initiate a dialogue in poetry with fellow literati.[8]  During the Jian’an period this compositional environment changed with the appearance of Cao Cao and his literary coterie known as the Seven Masters of the Jian’an period.  This shift in part was due to Cao Cao’s modification of  the expectations a ruler had when evaluating talent both literary and martial.  Instead of using virtue (de) as an instrument of evaluating worth, Cao Cao looked to how a man could be useful in his service to the kingdom and to the king.[9]  “My several men!  Assist me in bringing to light and raising up the the unorthodox and the lowly.  As long as a man be talented he is to be recommended.  Upon gaining him, I shall put him to use.”[10]  Chi-yun Chen in his study of the late Han period indicates that with the decline of the centralized empire, political and ideological control was relaxed.[11]  Cao’s edict is an example of how far this trend had developed by the year 210.  Cao Cao also was aware of the power a leader possessed when he had at his command a group of talented men of letters who could be his advisors and literary companions.  Just as the Han emperors had rhapsodists, Cao Cao too could bring a more refined visage to his court by having the means by which he could produce textual culture.  In this atmosphere, the dynamic between the ruler and the literati transformed to allow for greater literary freedom.  This development also corresponded to the rising respectability of literature as a valid vehicle for self-expression as opposed to commentary on the classics that was exhaustively produced during the Han dynasty.[12]  Cao Pi in his Discourse on Literature (Dianlun lun wen) stated: 

“I would say that literary works (wen-chang) are the supreme achievement in the business of state, a splendor that does not decay.  A time will come when a person’s life ends; glory and pleasure go no further than this body.  To carry both to eternity, there is nothing to      compare with the unending permanence of the literary work.”[13]

Possibly for the first time in Chinese literary history we have textual representations of poets that were able to communicate their innermost thoughts to their immediate peers and superiors while remaining in close proximity and often addressing imperial authority.[14]   In the Jian’an period not only is there ample amount of extant biographical sources that describe this new trend in literary relationships, we can furthermore corroborate literary and political dialogues by reading surviving documents.  Most importantly, personal exchanges of a political nature were made between poets within their poems.  This practice establishes a new conception of what was deemed appropriate or decorous in social gatherings.  Because of these conditions, literary historians have referred to the Jian’an period as an occasion of watershed change in the development of literary coteries or wenren jituan.[15]           

It is at this point that we can also see a stage in the process of generic change in poetry that took place among the literati class.  While rhapsodies continued to be composed, the five character poem (wu yan shi) became a popular mode of poetic expression during the Jian’an period.  More than half of the poems by Jian’an writers were composed in pentasyllabic-line verse.[16]  This change started long before the Jian’an period, but it is with writers like Cao Zhi that the pentasyllabic-line poem came to be a common mode of expression for the literati.[17]  A convincing argument has been made for the case that the five character line allowed for more specific description of subjective feelings.[18]  This reasoning combined with the new political ideals espoused by Cao Cao most likely facilitated the advent of the Jian’an style of poetic expression.  However, as Christopher Connery has wisely stated, the texts produced in the social environment of the Jian’an period should not be construed as private in the Western sense of individual creation.[19]  It is the very social nature of the setting that facilitated the production of these texts which gives them public currency.  However, in the Chinese context Jian’an poems mark a significant departure from the praise-oriented rhapsodies of the Han dynasty.

The aesthetics and linguistic style of literary expression during the Jian’an period has been lauded throughout the centuries and because of its perceived simplicity and pureness is often looked to with nostalgia, especially from the perspective of later Six Dynasties critics. The pervasive comparison of  Jian’an poetry to later Six Dynasties works implies a chronological development in poetry styles from good (Jian’an) to bad (later Six Dynasties). In the following passage, Liu Xie (c. 455-522), the author of The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons (Wenxin diaolong), contrasts the Jian’an period in its use of language with later Six Dynasties poetry. 

“Their common themes [Jian’an poets] are love for the wind and the moon, excursions to    gardens and parks, royal grace and favors, drunken revelry and feasts.  Heroic [kang kai}      in giving free play to their vitality, open and artless in the application of their talents, never resorting to petty cleverness in the expression of their feelings or in the descriptions of         what they saw, and in harnessing language for their descriptions, aiming simply at lucidity -in all ways they manifest the same spirit.”[20]


The essential comparison in this passage resides in the evaluation of Jian’an poetry as not “resorting to petty cleverness” bu qiu xian mi zhi qiao.[21]  Liu Xie admires the simplicity and lucidity of the Jian’an period as opposed to the ornately wrought works of the critic’s own time.  The term kang kai used in this passage has thereafter been used to characterize the Jian’an period, which Vincent Shih has translated here as “heroic.”  Kang kai is difficult to translate as Robert Joe Cutter has discussed fully, citing the efforts of Paul Kroll and other scholars.[22]  Cutter’s translation as “impassioned” is a workable rendering; yet also important in the binome is an acute sense of sadness.  It is this balance of heroic yearning and inherent sadness that has captivated many later critics who characterize the Jian’an period.  The first sentence of Liu Xie’s remarks, which describes the themes and descriptions favored by the Jian’an poets, often is neglected when portraying the spirit of Jian’an poetic works.  Critics more often look to the serious tones of the poetry when distilling its essence.  In his preface to The Poets Systematically Graded (Shipin), Zhong Rong (c. 465-518) also favors this characterization.

“We have to wait for the arrival of the Jian’an period (196-220A.D.), in which Cao Cao     and his son Cao Pi developed a liking for the [shi] genre, with Cao Zhi and his son Cao             Biao writing in a formally disciplined manner and producing the sombrely austere effect.     Liu Zhen and Wang Can were the only supporting writers of these blueblooded artists, although hundreds of climbers sought to be members of the prince’s retinue.  Ah, what a      train of pomp and circumstance there was at the time!”[23]

The key phrase in this passage characterizes Jian’an verse as “formally disciplined manner and producing the somberly austere effect” yu wei wen dong.  Again, Zhong Rong, like Liu Xie, favors the more direct and disciplined style of the earlier Jian’an period.  Both critics are writing about the use of language and the style of poetry produced in order to evaluate the aesthetics of the Jian’an period.  By characterizing the period in such a manner, readers are left with the impression that the best of Jian’an verse is uniformly serious, lucid, heroic and somber.  In comparison to later Six Dynasties poetry this is cetainly a valid point.  However, not all Jian’an verse can be lumped together under this description.  In recent scholarship, Lin Wenyue comes closest to liberating the Jian’an period from the limitations of these evaluations.  However, the emphasis of her characterization still lends itself to a familiar reading of the Jian’an period poets as heroes of a politically troubled age.  Quoting the Wenxin diaolong passage above in relation to banquet poetry, Lin concludes the following:

“This passage points out that, in addition to the grief of parting and the aspirations of the     mind, social activities were themes for versification.  However, even in poems on the joys             of life, they were ‘heroic in giving free play to their vitality, open and artless in the   application of their talents.’  The way they wrote and the way they lived were consistent,       which distinguishes even the salon poetry of this period from that of later generations.”[24]


Here, the comparison of  Jian’an poetry to later Six Dynasties literary trends rehearses the same degenerative chronological pattern, this time in the context of the aesthetic term feng gu or wind and bone.  Lin continues to drive this point home by stating: “In all its celebration of feasts and natural charms, Chien-an poetry never denegrated into pettiness and triviality.  Exposed to stimulating surroundings, the poets broadened their horizon, but never pursued a passive mannered style, as later poets did.”[25]  Employing Chi Yun’s interpretation of Liu Xie’s idea of feng gu as qi “vigor,” Lin states: “Vigor marks not only the writings of the period but the individual poets.  The Jian’an literati made clear in their work that they neither hesitated to declare their ambition nor abandoned pleasure.”[26]  Since the meaning of feng gu is framed in this comparative structure, we can only be impressed with the vigor of the Jian’an period.  However, reading poetry through these terms alone blinds us to the possibility of variation in poetic styles when works from the same period are held up to each other.  Kang kai and feng gu despite the range of their numerous interpretations/translations, mask the richness of the poetry produced during the Jian’an period.  While I agree with the conclusions reached by Prof. Lin when evaluating the Jian’an period compared to later poety, and I appreciate her interpretation of social behavior extracted from specific literary vocabulary, we need to take a closer look at the particular contours of the Jian’an poetic landscape.  Furthermore, a more clearly defined sense of the kind of social behavior the Jian’an era poets believed to be pleasurable will enhance our understanding of the banquet scene.



3.  Spitting Images in the Environment of Pleasure


Having found that the literary terms kang kai and feng gu distill a particular and enduring image of Jian’an poetry, I will proceed by demonstrating how historical allusions and natural imagery may be viewed through the rubric of pleasure and decorum.  The two pervasive terms kang kai and feng gu will not be completely abandoned, they will in part facilitate the illumination of irony vis a vis the negotiation of pleasure and ritual decorum in the banquet scene.  Before beginning a discussion of banquet poetry allusions and selected imagery however, I would like first toconsider the way allusions function in early Chinese poetry. 

  James J. Y. Liu’s description of allusions in Chinese poetry is simple and direct.  There are two kinds of allusions:  general and specific.[27]  Specific allusions (on which I will concentrate here) in Chinese poetry are often plot pointers.[28]  That is to say, an allusion is a set of words or images that are used in order to recall a specific narrative.  In most cases, Chinese allusions are textual (as opposed to topical) and are raised within poetic discourse by a quotation or reiteration of something a prior historical figure has uttered or acted out.  This is true particularly in the case of literati and ruling elite who share a knowledge of texts that constitute a tradition.  These participants are “in the know” so to speak and have commited to memory a range of authoritative texts that impart cultural norms.  As David Lattimore has stated, “In such a group, reading an allusive poem is something like taking part in a ritual.”[29]  Allusions carry on a tradition, and as the etymology of the modern Chinese word diangu (dian - a rule, a canon, gu - past) suggests, assist a culture in its effort to maintain ties to the past.  Liu Xie in Wenxin diaolong stated in reference to allusion:  “To use the words of others as your own, the past must offer you no opacities.”[30]  By using an allusion a poet can demonstrate his cultural knowledge and as a consequence exercise formidable power by harnessing textual authority for his own ends.  Chinese allusions are often solemn, yet I agree with Lattimore that the English etymology of allusion - “to play or sport with any thing, to joke, jest, to do a thing sportively”[31] should be kept close at hand especially if a poet is employing a sense of irony in the recollection of a particular historical event.  The tie to the past is paramount, yet often the poet uses the older narrative to say something about a current situation; in effect renewing the narrative with his own particular semantic twist.  The recycling of allusions in early Chinese poetry seem to appear in clusters with certain narratives enjoying a frequent retelling.  This is the case with the first allusion I would like to consider in the context of the Jian’an banquet scene.

One of the most striking images that captures a central irony in Jian’an banquet poetry is the allusion to the Duke of Zhou spitting out his food.  The origin of this narrative  may be found within Shiji chapter 33 (lu ZhouGong shijia) that records the activities of Zhou Gong.   The context of this scene involves the Duke of Zhou telling his son Boqin, the Marquis of Lu, that at that very moment there were about ten men he would like to have as teachers, about thirty he would like to have as friends, about a hundred he would like to talk to at leisure, and some one thousand subordinates who would have to make reports to him from time to time.  He confessed to his son about not wanting to miss any opportunity to hear from those who came to see him,  “So I wring my hair thrice with each wash, spit thrice with each meal, and get up to wait on the gentlemen, since I fear losing the trust of the worthies of the land.”[32]  The central theme to this story is the Duke of Zhou’s self-sacrifice for the sake of his duty to serve the populace with benevolence and responsibility.  When viewed in terms of moral decorum or li, Zhou Gong in this instance has acted fittingly and properly for the good of all concerned.  Zhou Gong’s exemplary decorous behavior is later abbreviated in poetic form to the single image of his spitting out of food.  With this historical allusion in mind, Cao Cao’s poem “Brief Song” is an appropriate place to begin an observation of how Jian’an poets handled the paired activities of consuming and expectorating in order to express attitudes toward duty.

Brief Song


Over wine let one sing,

For a man’s life lasts how long?

Its like would be the morning dew,

And the days that have passed are bitter enough.


Forlorn, let one avail of fortitude,

Anxious longings are hard to forget.

What can be used to dissolve sorrow?

There is only Tu K’ang.


Bluest blue your collar,

Distantly wistful is my heart.

Only for the sake of you milord,

Am I sunk till now in musings.


Yu, Yu, cry the deer,

Eating artemesia of the wild.

I have an excellent guest!

Pluck the zither and blow the syrinx!


Brightest bright as is the moon --

What season may it be culled?

Anxiety comes from the inside one,

Not to be severed or cut short.


Passing over, traversing, the criss-cross paths,

In vain I inquired for you.

In toil and travail, or chatting and feasting,

The heart recalls old courtesies.

The moon is luminous and stars are faint,

Raven and magpie southward fly.

Circling a tree, three times rounding --

Which bough are they to light on?


Hills are not troubled by height,

Seas are untroubled by the deep.

The Duke of Chou spat out his mouthful of food --

The realm under Heaven turned toward him its heart.[33] 


This poem, perhaps the most famous from Cao Cao’s collected works, contains several quotations of earlier texts such as the Shijing and presents a compelling portrayal of a ruler celebrating the moment, yet aware of the political and historical forces at work that make the responsibilities of leading so difficult.  The reference to Zhou Gong and the quotation of the Shijing poem “Deer Cry” are integral parts of the authoritative literary persona Cao Cao creates.  “Deer Cry” is a song that was historically performed by entertainers at court banquets in the presence of the emperor.  Cao Cao assumes this leadership role and compares himself to Zhou Gong, yet the sentiment is one of humility and responsibility.  We have here a pairing of contradictory values that finds resolution in sacrificing ones own personal pleasure or nutrition for the good of others.[34]  The responsibility of exhibiting li (moral decorum) in the end is more important than ones own personal pleasure (le). The spitting image served up in the context of drinking or banqueting is fundamental to this political posture and was to be reiterated by his sons.  Cao Zhi uses the image in the following fu in order to praise the leadership qualities of his older brother the crown prince Cao Pi.

Entertaining Guests


Stirred by the summer day’s blazing sunlight,

I wander in the fresh coolness of winding towers.

I go with happy guests to join a sublime feast,

Where cinnabar curtains hang brightly on every side.

The bountiful foods of the inner kitchen are made;

Alluring singing girls from Qi and Zheng perform.

Writers spew their marvelous talk,

Set flying light quills and complete compositions.

We speak of the clear odes of bygone days,

All within the weft of the worthies and sages.

We delight in the lofty righteousness of our young lord;

His virtue is as fragrantly perfumed as thoroughwart.

He extends his humaness and kindness to simple homes,

And surpasses the Duke of Zhou’s missed meals.

In this air of goodwill I forget my cares;

The fine wine is pure and the viands sweet.[35]


Cao Pi was selected by Cao Cao to be his heir and subsequently established the Wei dynasty in 220 AD.  Much has been written about the family drama that transpired in the process of Cao Cao’s decision making; this I will leave to the reader to explore elsewhere.[36]  While in the first poem Cao Cao likened himself to Zhou Gong, Cao Zhi here respectfully defers to the elder Cao Pi and again brings out the spitting image of the humble servant of the people.  Perhaps it is useful to view this comparison of Cao Pi to Zhou Gong as one of expectations.  Li or ren “benevolence” is the standard for measuring a leader’s worth.

The following poem further illustrates this conflict between social responsibility and enjoying the pleasures and comforts of political power.  Here the image of Zhou Gong spitting out his food is linguistically reconfigured, truncated to simply the character tu - to spit or vomit.  Yet the sentiment of this image is further delineated by additional vocabulary.

How Splendid!


At dawn joy rises upon joy;

Intoxicated, yet I am not drunk.

From the moving strings comes the new sound;

From the long flutes comes the pure breath.


The stringed song moves men’s hearts;

On every side there is rapture.

Then the high hall is deserted;

A cool breeze enters my room.


I hold this fullness as if it would not overflow;

What can be gained can be lost!

Gentlemen have much sorrow;

And its causes are many.


Discontented, I leave my humble chamber;

Official business (literally spitting [food] and wringing[hair]) cannot be delayed.

Satisfied, the guests go home;

Their host’s labors they do not know.


The one-winged geese soar to the Milky Way;

How can fowlers restrain them?

Soaring to tranquillity and reaching spontaneity,

Can glory and honor equal this?[37]


The movement of imagery from the clear breath producing music through the flute to the spitting act demonstrates an abrupt transition in the poem highlighting the opposing attitudes of relaxation and duty.  Commentators link the image of the humble chamber (bai shi) - literally white house - to the spitting image of Zhou Gong and refer readers to Cao Cao’s poem “Brief Song.”[38]  By viewing these social values in terms of li, we can attain a greater awareness of just how much the Jian’an leaders still espoused certain Confucian values personified in cultural heroes such as Zhou Gong despite the fact that most social histories of the period emphasize the opposite.[39]  It is in the negotiation of propriety or social responsibility and personal pleasure that we can see the cultural and social conflicts present during this time.

In the end, I believe that terms such as kang kai or feng gu may be pointing at qualities of behavior and aesthetics retrospectively that imply conceptions of li.  If one is decorous, then in these banquet situations participants impart emotions that have been socially construed as kang kai.  The language with which these sentiments are conveyed may be described as feng gu.  With these considerations in mind, we can see that there are particular expectations for types of behavior at banquet scenes.  Li or decorum is simply a broader category through which we can read this cultural phenomena.  Whereas the later Six Dynasties literary critics probably were not reading Jian’an poetry with conceptions of li in mind, the actual participants of the banquet most likely were.

The image of the one-winged, one-eyed goose is often utilized as a symbol for the expression of political relationships.  Only by joining together can this mythic bird fly.  Cao Pi’s use of this bird in his poem is one of positive capability.  However, the poet Ying Yang provides a fuller description of a similar yet less mythic bird and draws attention to the tenuous nature of political relationships during the Jian’an period.  In the next section, I will look at Ying’s poem more closely.



4.  Talking Fowl and Fretting at the Feast


Another area of demeanor found in the banquet scene that experienced a transformation during the Jian’an period was the expression of political vulnerability and the negotiation of loyalties between literati and the ruler.  In the second chapter, we witnessed the progression of a song cycle that in a ritual fashion gave voices to both the ruler and his ministers.  This exchange acted out the expression of desires and expectations that each party had in relation to each other.  The practice of this exchange persisted in the Jian’an period, but both the form and the content of these communications experienced noticeable mutations.   The programatic ritual toasting and the song cycle seem to have fallen out of use or were observed only partially during banquet events.[40]  However, new forms were invented, perhaps derivative of the older customs.  Banquet decorum may not have been dictated by a ritual text during this time, yet the gathering and communication between literati and royalty was certainly not unorganized.  We can witness an example of this pattern of communication in a praise poem by Ying Yang.  Whereas Cao Pi in “How Splendid” employed the image of a goose in order to convey a feeling of shared optimistic aspirations, Ying Yang uses the goose to voice his own sufferings of doubt and insecurity in a troubled political environment.  Ying Yang’s poem may be compared to the second poem of the song cycle “Four Steeds” when the minister has the opportunity to voice the frustrations experienced while serving his king.  Without the ritual formula, expressing fear and vulnerability in the context of a festive literati gathering might dramatically alter the mood of such an occasion, especially in an unstable court such as Cao Cao’s.  Yet with an appropriate form - a modified praise poem - such statements are possible.  While not as formulaic as the ritual song cycle, and not as direct, something of the spirit of the exchange remains.  This new style of expression helps to further define the Jian’an sense of decorum for banquet scenes.  Before taking a closer look at how Ying’s poem demonstrates this settling of loyalties, I would like to familiarize the reader with the manner in which Chinese poets employed bird imagery in order to vocalize their own feelings.  The conventions associated with bird imagery in part facilitated the poet’s ability to speak of sensitive political relationships in an indirect and non-threatening way.


A useful way to characterize the Chinese approach to employing bird imagery in poetry is to think of the symbolizing process in terms of sympathy and empathy.  Zuoya Cao in her discussion of the relationships between the “perceiving subject” and the “perceived bird” makes the following illuminating point by contrasting Western Romantic poetry with Chinese poetry.


When poets in both Chinese and Romantic traditions write poems about an animated            object such as a bird, and express the inner world by establishing certain relationships      between the perceiving subject and the perceived bird, the Romantic poets usually create a    tension between the two, perceiving the bird as a contrast to the speaker and also a symbol             for what the speaker strongly desires, whereas Chinese poets tend to merge the identity of   the subject with that of the bird, either projecting themselves physically into the bird or         blurring the distinction between the observer and the bird.  The relationship between the     perceiving subject and the perceived object in Chinese poems is close to the so-called         “empathic” relationship.[41]


Empathy may be defined as the attribution of ones feelings to an object.  In several Jian’an banquet poems, poets use this strategy of empathy in order to indirectly vocalize their feelings through the image and voice of a bird.  The result is that the poet essentially fuses his own or another’s personality with the bird.  The origins of using bird imagery in Chinese poetry may be dated to a very early time as evident in the Shijing.  However, Jian’an poets when calling up the image of birds are most often interpreted as participating in the tradition of the Chuci anthology.   This statement may be supported by the fact that commentators frequently cite lines from the Chuci in reference to a poet’s use of bird imagery.[42]  By adopting this style of speaking, the poet (in the manner of Qu Yuan or other Chuci poets) may politely mask his troubled feelings, yet banquet participants are (as are later readers) very much aware of the nature of such a posture.  This practice expresses an old ideal of decorum for the banquet scene in a novel way.  Ying Yang’s poem is an excellent example of this approach to airing political insecurities. 

Written on Behalf of the Leader[43] of Court Gentlemen for Miscellaneous Uses, at Jianzhang Terrace[44] (Ying Yang 190-252)


At dawn geese cry in the clouds.

What sorrow in their sounds!

I ask one[45] to what area does he travel?

Folding its wings and pacing about,

he responds: “I come from the northern frontier,[46]

and will return to Hengyang[47] to rest.

When it was spring I flew to northern land.

Now in the winter months I will visit south of the Huai.[48]

During this long trek I encounter frost and snow.

Everyday my feathers and tail are torn.[49]

Constantly I fear wounds to the flesh and bone,

that my body will fall deep into yellow mud.

A large pearl sunken in gravel.[50]

How will I manage to lift myself up?

I long to rely on a meeting of the ‘clouds and rain,’[51]

to wash my wings and ascend on high.

If I cannot meet with this good opportunity,

how can I reach the place of favor and rank?


The lord honors dearly loved guests[52]

and tires not of pleasure and drink.

With a warm countenance, he is congenial;

willing to look on those who are trifling.

He goes as far as to bestow poems for our comfort;

for ones so lowly this is highly unfitting.

Yet let us enjoy his generosity to the utmost,

“Don’t return home until drunk.”[53]

All of you in attendance take special care of your duties

and he will hold in his heart all of your needs.[54]


In reading this poem, I would like to highlight the social practice of performing or composing this kind of work at a banquet occasion.  Ying Yang’s presentation of such a poem at a public gathering is an indication of the fluid atmosphere of Cao’s court at Ye.  Cao Cao welcomed many new literati into his fold during the Zhongping and Jian’an periods such as Chen Lin in 190 and Wang Can in 209.  Ying is clearly recalling his past struggles and looking to Cao Cao’s court as a place of refuge.  This poem, by subtle means, is quite forthcoming about the poets social and (by extension) physical welfare.   The literary term kang kai is particularly useful in understanding the personal emotions expressed in this poem.  Prof. Lin’s assesment of the heroicism of Jian’an poets is also quite fitting here.  However, kang kai does not help to explain the social practice of presenting such a poem at a banquet. We could analyze the poem (especially the last eleven lines) within the genre of praise poetry, yet something more is occuring in this text than simply Ying Yang praising Cao Cao.  Because of the startling contrast between the first portion of the poem and the ending, I hesitate to call this poem a standard praise work.  The earliest examples of praise poetry in China may be found in the song section of the Shijing.  As Stephen Owen has remarked, the song poem embodies the approximate idea of what a praise poem should accomplish.[55]  Often these works are formal declarations of a figure’s high moral character and are embellished by stiff hyperbole.  After the Han dynasty, however, this four-character praise vehicle fell out of use.  The last eleven lines of Ying Yang’s five-character poem fulfills Owen’s general description of praise poetry.  “Praise poetry has always served the legitimate function in society of articulating the highest public values of that society and, by applying those values to a specific person or event, implicitly measuring the reality against the ideal.”[56]   When yoked to the conventions of praise, the first portion of Ying Yang’s poem serves to amplify his gratitude to Cao Cao.  Yet in its vivid depiction of suffering, Ying Yang’s veiled self-portrayal as a goose stretches the boundaries of praise decorum.   

The following two poems form an exchage in poetry between a member of the aristocracy (Cao Zhi) and a literatus (Wang Can).[57]  Other scholars have placed these poems in the context of epistolary poetry in an effort to describe the close literary community that existed during the Jian’an period.[58]  My point in highlighting Wang Can and Cao Zhi’s exchange is to indicate the use of the poem as a medium for assuaging political anxiety.  When viewed in the context of Ying Yang’s poem and the last poem of this secton, Wang Can and Cao Zhi’s works represent a new development in the communication between literati and the ruling family.  In previous eras, there is no similar precedent for how these two groups managed such sentive expressions.  That this exchange could have taken place in writing is evidence of a sophisticated decorum at work that allowed for direct communication couched in coded imagery.

“Miscellaneous 3 of 5" (Wang Can)


At sunset I roam the Western Gardens,

Wishing to relieve my meloncholy feelings.

The curved pools are astir with white ripples,

Rows of trees radiate cinnabar blossoms.

Overhead there is a solitary perched bird,

With fond thoughts of spring it sings to me.

I gather up my gown, longing to follow him.

But the road is steep, I cannot proceed --

I pace to and fro, unable to leave.

[To the bird:  ]

Standing on tip-toe I gaze at your form,

The wind spirals and raises up dust,

The white sun is suddenly obscured.

I return and enter my empty chambers,

Through dreams let me show my “pure sincerity.”

Human wishes are not denied by heaven,

Why fear that we shall not be united?[59]


Ronald Miao indicates that from the start of this work we can understand that Wang Can has decided to visit the Western Gardens in order to “relieve” his “meloncholy feelings.”[60]  This point is noteworthy in its indication of how literati and the aristocracy viewed nature (or controlled nature) as a theraputic force.  However, nature is not entirely calming as Wang Can’s attention turns to a bird which we may be able to identify as a representation of Cao Cao.  Miao makes the argument that this kind of reading of symbolism (bird representing Cao Cao) while not readily apparent to non-Chinese readers is a valid interpretation given other poems by Wang Can that express anxiety about his political position using similar imagery.  “I gather up my gown, longing to follow him./But the road is steep, I cannot proceed/ pace to and fro, unable to leave.”  If we are to accept the symbolic reading of the narrator following the bird for Wang Can following Cao Cao, then the political context for Wang Can is precarious.  Wang Can emphasizes his “pure sincerity” qing cheng in line fourteen with a quotation from Zhuangzi.  “Truth is the ultimate manifestation of pure sincerity; without purity and sincerity one cannot move others.”  Miao states in relation to this quote: “Wang Can’s use of allusion here implies not only the sincerity of his longing to follow the bird, but a desire to influence it through the ‘purity’ of his motive.”[61]  Cao Zhi responds to Wang Can in the following poem.

“To Wang Can” (Cao Zhi)


I sit gravely troubled by sorrowful thoughts,

grasp my robe, rise, and wander west.

Trees blossom with spring flowers,

the clear pond splashes into a long stream.

In the pond is a lone mandarin duck

crying sadly for its mate.

I want to befriend this bird,

pity!  There is no light boat.

About to return, I forget the old path.

I turn back to look and feel only sorrow.

The sad wind moans by my side,

and the sun goes and will not stay.

Yet layered clouds nourish all things;

why fear their moisture will not reach all around?

Who makes you ponder so?

You cause yourself to dwell on a hundred worries.[62]


Cao Zhi in this poem placates Wang Can’s fears of political instability in Cao Cao’s court.  Using the shared imagery of the Western Garden, Cao Zhi focuses on the mandarin duck in an effort to characterize Wang Can as the solitary courtier seeking the support of his lord, Cao Cao.  Robert Joe Cutter in his explication of this poem states: “Cao Zhi is saddened that he is unable to help Wang Can (lines 7-12), but he tells him not to worry (lines 13-16), for the moisture of layered clouds -- metaphors for the favor of someone in high position -- will surely come sooner or later.”[63]  This exchange in verse helps to describe the intimacy and supportive nature of the Jian’an literary community.  Competitiveness and political posturing surely had its place during the Jian’an period, yet poetry helped to diffuse rivalries and assuage the insecurities of the literati in their efforts to demonstrate loyalty and worthiness.   The li observed in grooming these relationships found its fullest expression in shared verse.

The last poem in this section, by Chen Lin (d. 217) offers another glance at the troubled feelings experienced by the literati at the banquet scene.

“No Title”


It was a fine feast, joy suddenly left,

and I, a stranger, could not keep my cheer;

dark thoughts came from deep within,

a sadness stirred by a song’s clear notes.

I set down my cup and left the happy board,

went aimlessly walking among tall trees,

where the wind whistled down mountain valleys,

and tracks through sky darkened with clouds.

Lost in sad thought I forgot to turn home,

and tears fell with sighs and soaked my robes.[64]


As an outsider, Chen Lin voices his innermost worries of the security of his position at Cao Cao’s court.  Stephen Owen writes: “In the middle of the feast, dark thoughts come.  The feaster may rise, leave the party in the great house, and like the wandering soul to be called back, go wandering off through the darkness.”[65]  Just as Ying Yang described his harrowing journey before arriving at Cao Cao’s city of Ye, Chen Lin is well aware that political alliances are fragile at this moment in Chinese history.



5.  The Physical Environment:  Indoor li vs Outdoor le


Having considered some of the more important aspects of banquet social behavior in relation to the paired terms of decorum and pleasure, I would like to now consider the physical  environment in which these scenes took place.  From my reading of Jian’an convivial works, the space that banquets and gatherings occupied often had a noticeable effect on the content and style of versification.  We have seen that the words of literary critics shape the perception of Jian’an works, but they also impel us to more fully explore their spatial dimensions and the recording of social activities.  Liu Xie’s quote from the Wenxin diaolong can be useful in this endeavor.  “Their common themes [Jian’an poets] are love for the wind and the moon, excursions to gardens and parks, royal grace and favors, drunken revelry and feasts.”[66]  Starting from this line, we can see that the gardens and parks chi yuan are featured as the sites of revelry and feasting.  Vincent Shih has chosen to translate chi yuan as a binome “gardens and parks,” yet the water imagery conveyed by chi, a word frequently seen in Jian’an poetry, should not be overlooked.[67]  Also, the verb xia deserves attention.  Wang Gengsheng glosses this word as wanshang “to play and enjoy.”[68]  Xia can also be translated as “to dally” or “come close to” or “approach.”  Thus, we can see that the activity in the space of the gardens and parks was interpreted as a form of leisure.  The purpose of these spaces may have been to distract and to provide outdoor enjoyment, yet we should keep in mind that what transpired there may not have always been consistent with their design. 


The parks and gardens referred to in Liu Xie’s commentary were at the time of the Jian’an period closely fashioned after previous dynasty recreation spaces and hunting parks.  Edward Schafer in his study “Hunting Parks and Animal Enclosures in Ancient China” describes the evolution of these aristocratic leisure spaces from earliest times through the Period of Disunion to the Tang dynasty.[69]  For the most part, Schafer’s analysis concentrates on the larger estate parks as described in Han fu such as Sima Xiangru’s “Rhapsody on Shanglin park” (Shanglin fu.)  However, the spaces of pleasure as viewed through Jian’an works include smaller pleasure gardens as well as the larger enclosed areas.  Also, it is evident from Jian’an works that banquets were frequently held in interior spaces within palace halls and garden pavilions.  These places, regardless of size, were built for the entertainment and leisure of the aristocratic class and the literati who served them and were a testament to the ruler’s political power.  Cao Cao when consolidating his authority at the end of the Han dynasty emulated earlier Han emperors in his building of palaces, terraces, parks and gardens.  Below is a overview of this construction process.[70]

In the year 204, Cao Cao defeated Yuan Shang, conquered the city of Ye and made it his center of government.  After this time, he started numerous construction projects.  In the year 213, Cao Cao was installed as the feudal lord at Ye and he made it his official capital.  The important engineering projects of this time as recorded in the biography of Cao Cao in the (Sanguo zhi) are listed as follows.  “In the first month of the 13th year of Jian’an period (208), Dark Warrior Lake was built for the purpose of training the navy.”  “In the winter of the 15th year (210), Bronze Sparrow Terrace was built.”  “In the ninth month of 18th year (213), Golden Tiger Terrace was built, and a channel was dug to draw off water from the Zhang River which then flowed into the White Moat.”  The “Record of Ritual” (li zhi) section of the History of the Song (Song shu) also records the following projects.  “In the 22nd year of the Jian’an period (217), the state of Wei built an institute for higher learning (pan gong) south of the city of Ye.”  The History of the Song also records that “during the seventh month of the 18th year (213), construction began on the imperial ancestral temple in the city of Ye.”  Cao Cao’s newly established city of Ye was an inventive capitol city.  He improved upon the plan of the Eastern Han capital of Luoyang.  In doing so, he founded the palace district, the governmental district and expanded the general populace housing district.  In the north of Ye was the palace, the park, the housing district for the nobles; in the south was the general populace housing.  The city was seven li from east to west and five li from north to south.  The city had seven gates with three in the south, one in the east, one in the west, and two in the north all of which Cao Cao constructed.  He abandoned both the Western Han and Eastern Han plans of two palaces and consolidated the palace plan into one complex.  The topography of the northern section of the City of Ye is elevated and descends farther northward down toward the Zhang River.  Cao Cao’s palace, garden and three terraces as well as the housing for the nobles were located here.  At the center of the northern wall was the palace complex living quarters.  Within the palace were the main court halls which facilitated meetings of ministers and feasting of guests.  The configuration of halls within the palace was altered somewhat by Cao Cao from the Han model by adding one extra hall which lended the structure its own distinct architectural style.  Just south of the palace outside of the main gate were numerous temples.  To the north of the Virtuous Governing Hall were spaces such as Crane and Agate Hall, long lanes and palace corridors, and Catalpa and Magnolia Quarters.  To the west of the palace there was the Bronze Sparrow Park which contained winding ponds and stone shoals, vegetable gardens and tall pavillions.  This area is identified in the poetry of the time as West Park.  At the northwest extremities of the Bronze Bird Park there were three famous terraces known as Bronze Sparrow Terrace, Golden Tiger Terrace and Frozen Well Terrace respectively.  The River Classic Commentary (Shuijing zhu) includes the following description of these three terraces.  “To the north west of the city were three terraces, each along the wall foundation, lofty and majestic rising on high, their heights were like mountains, during the 15th year of the Jian’an period, Cao Cao erected them. . . . The middle one was called Bronze Sparrow Terrace, ten chi in height and had more than 100 rooms.  The Southern one was called Bronze Sparrow Terrace, eight chi in height and had 109 rooms.  The northern one was called Ice Well Terrace, also eight chi in height, had 140 rooms, above there were cold rooms, the rooms had wells whose depths reached fifteen chi, they stored ice as well as graphite.  The graphite could be used to write and it was especially difficult to exhaust its supply; it was also referred to as coal.  There also were grain cellars and salt cellars, to be prepared and secure.  Now, above these cellars are stone inscriptions.”  Each of the three terraces were connected by wooden walkways and may have been built with the intention of housing a protecting army.  Each of the three terraces had four vistas.  To the east was Bronze Bird Park, to the west beyond the wall was Dark Warrior Park.  Within Dark Warrior Park was Dark Warrior Lake where Cao Cao trained his naval forces.  There were also fish bridges, fishing terraces, bamboo trees, and thick undergrowth.

The Wei Capital Rhapsody (Weidu fu), the source of information for much of the above description of the Ye palaces and grounds, gives a vivid picture of the area that comprises Dark Warrior Park.

“Its park is the Dark Warrior,

Which adjoins a dense wood.

They have circled it with walls and opened a preserve,

Where belvederes look out one upon another.

Large fruit grow in thick clusters;

Giant trees shoot up fathoms high.

Thicket bamboo and dwarf bamboo embrace the wind;

Grapevines cast heavy shadows.

The eddying pools are deep;

The standing water is thick.

Eulalia and marsh grass vigorously flourish;

Metaplexis and cattails are densely clustered.

Red lotuses riding the waves, glisten brightly;

Green water chestnuts, drifting on the swells, are soaked and drenched.

Winged creatures soar and glide;

Fish and turtles swim and dive.

Those who roost here have their choice of trees;

Calling pheasants have their choice of shelter.

They screech like the fowl of Boxie and Guyu,

Constantly trumpet like the crane in the shade.

They mark the pristine preserve,

And engrave the “Forester’s Admonition.”

The emperor only thinks of state concerns,

and forgets his pursuit of game.

Fuel-gatherers and grass-cutters go there without fear,

And people may hunt the deer with no restrictions.”[71]

One of the most interesting aspects of the information presented above is that most of the description of the buildings and grounds of the Ye capital come from literary sources.  With the exception of the dynastic histories and the River Classic Commentary, all of our information concerning the architectural deatails, flora and fauna of the Ye palaces and gardens come from descriptive fu.  As we know from studies of the genre, many of the descriptive details incorporated in fu are hyperbolic and should not be taken as fact.[72]  Yves Hervout in his study of Sima Xiangru has provided examples of how directional orientation and place names in Shanglin fu are in many instances unverifiable and more importantly frequently inaccurate.  Modern historians of Chinese architecture and gardens of the Jian’an period are often not concerned with these discrepancies.  What I find most intriguing about these sources is that they provide a vocabulary and a pattern of description that maybe used to read the manner by which Jian’an poets describe their convivial spaces.  Realism is not the objective of Jian’an poets or later writers.  Reproducing the feeling and texture of the scene is much more important.  While the poets did not think of themselves as conjuring their surroundings from previous descriptive models, we can venture to say that their efforts contributed to a fictionalization of their leisure space.  However, before moving too far afield, there are many aspects of Jian’an writing that can be attributed to the environment in which the poets occupied.  While we can only view that environment through the subjectivity of their works, it is possible to distinguish very rough parameters such as divisions between indoor and outdoor space.

Indoor li


Poems that possess descriptions of interior spaces or that can be safely recognized as having been composed in an indoor setting have the tendency to focus on particular themes.  Therefore, in addition to observing the writing conventions of genre (shi, yuefu or fu), the import of a specific occasion and the influence of the presence of high ranking officials such as Cao Cao and his sons, Jian’an poets harness their images and diction in order to accomodate the decorum associated with the physical environment they occupy.  Poems composed in the context of a festal hall elicit sentiments appropriate to their interior space where relationships are the central focus.  For this reason, most praise poems are anchored within an interior setting.  Wang Can’s praise poem for Cao Cao illustrates this tendency.


 “Lord’s Feast poem”[73] (Wang Can 177-217)


Heaven sends down abundant favors,

The hundred plants show luxuriant growth;

Cool breezes draw away the stifling heat,

Limpid clouds diffuse the blazing sunlight.

A lofty assemblage meets in the lord’s[74] hall,

Sits with him under the shaded bowers.

Fine viands fill dishes round and square,

Vintage wines brim the golden goblets,

Pipes and strings produce dulcet sounds,

Their tunes and rhythms evoke quiet pathos.

Sitting together to share this joy,

Our only complaint is the cups move too slowly.

Heard now are the words of the Shi poet:

“One should not return home unless drunk!”[75]

If today we do not celebrate completely,

For whom should we wait, restraining spirits?

When one has enjoyed limitless favor,

How can that person renege on duty?

Men of antiquity bequeathed this proverb:

“The Good Man is blessed with fortune.”[76]

I hope that you, my master,

Will enjoy heaven’s riches.

You have matched Duke Zhou’s[77] achievements:

Succeeding generations cannot equal you.[78]


Ronald Miao in his commentary on this poem states: “Stereotyped praise, of a sort commonly found in eulogistic poems addressed by a grateful courtier to his superior, constitutes the theme of Wang Can’s poem.  The eulogized figure whose importance the banquet celebrates emerges as a paragon rather than an individualized human being.”[79]  In constructing his eulogy, Wang Can begins with a description of the plants, clouds, heat and breezes of exterior space, gradually moves indoors by focusing first on the objects that lay before the guests and then shifts to the activities of listening to music and drinking wine.  The descriptions of the luxuriant banquet scene build toward the final expression of praise for Cao Cao where he is compared to the Duke of Zhou and then from Miao’s perspective is mildly admonished to “uphold the conduct of his famous predecessor in history.”[80]  Cao Cao’s position in the hall is foregrounded by natural elements, objects, and activities.  If we were to imagine a painting of this scene, Cao Cao would be positioned facing outward and occupying the inner most space.

The next poem offers another perspective on the way that architectural designs help ground a poem and influence the sentiments observed.  In contrast to Wang Can’s praise poem for Cao Cao, in Cao Zhi’s poem “For Ding Yi” we have a private feast for a small group of friends.  The relationships are intimate and the space reinforces this closeness.

For Ding Yi


Distinguished guests fill the wall’s watchtowers,

Fine delicacies emerge from the inner kitchens.

I and two or three friends,

Privately feast in this corner of the city wall.

A Qin lute plays western airs;

Large Zithers from Qi raise an eastern song.

When the viands come, they don’t go back empty,

But when the cups arrive, they return without a drop.

Would I act familiar with strangers?

My comrades and friends are here with me.

Our great country has many good, talented men

Just as the sea produces bright pearls.

The gentleman is never in want of goodness,

Small men have no source of virtue.

By amassing good deeds one has blessings to spare,

And changes in fortune can be awaited any time.

August are those who adhere to great principles,

Most commoners cling to trivial rules.

The gentleman comprehends the great way,

And does not want to be a worldly scholar.[81]


It is tempting to read this poem in light of the numerous narratives of frustrated ascension that surround Cao Zhi and his relationship with his father Cao Cao and his older brother Cao Pi.  However, we can observe simply that this poem describes an effort on the part of Cao Zhi to consolidate a group of close friends in a space distant from the central kitchens and the official and centrally located banquet halls.  From the very start of the poem, the exterior position of the gathering is indicated by the presence of the city walls.  In this demarcated space, similar to Wang Can’s poem, there is the description of activities in the foreground gradually leading the reader to the central focus, the esteemed relations of the guests at hand.  Secured in this edge of the city, Cao Zhi delivers his panegyric verse salted with advise for his friends to emulate the way of the gentleman who is unconcerned with worldly affairs.  Unlike Wang Can’s poem both in function and in the position the composer holds, it is appropriate that these kinds of statements are uttered at the edge of the walled city limits. 

The next yuefu poem by Cao Zhi describes another private space for banqueting and edges toward an almost secretive or defensive portrayal of celebration.  While there are numerous poems set in outdoor spaces that express similar carpe diem sentiments, the interior physical environment of this work enhances its power to convey the need of the poet to seize the day with urgency.

To “In the Days to Come of Great Trouble”


The day is painfully long

And our enjoyment too great,

So jade goblets are set, preparations made in the east kitchen.

We open our true feelings,

Our hearts are close.

We have a feast behind closed doors,

And are cordial and merry.

Set the horses to roam and bring them back late;

Tip the carriages poles up and take off their wheels.

Today we share the same hall,

But once out the door, we scatter to different places.

Parting is all too easy, meeting is hard,

so let’s all empty our cups.[82]


The central opposition presented in this yuefu poem resides in the description of the open hearts of the guests and the closed doors of the hall.  Further precautions to secure the presence of the friends invited to this intimate gathering is facilitated by the removal of the guests’ carrige wheels.  The physical environment in this poem is not restrictive; it is protective, for when the guests leave the chances for meeting again are uncertain.

The next poem may be viewed as a compliment to the above piece, as it conveys a very similar picture of convivial pursuits.

To “The Carriages Are Hitched”


Happily seated in a fine hall,

Bringing together all the honored guests.

Servants pass wine cups;

The host leaves his place.

Turning to look in the east and west chambers,

There are stringed and woods, drums and bells.

They won’t go home until drunk,[83]

and carry on the night with bright lanterns.[84]


One of the salient features of poetry portraying indoor settings is the description of wine and drinking.  The host of this party (Cao Zhi) gets up from his place, surveys the surroundings and then remarks that the guests will not leave until late in the night when all are satisfactorily inebriated.   Cutter indicates that several commentators have defended Cao Zhi’s attitudes towards wine by stating that the poet was aware of the dangers of drinking.[85]  Huang Jie forces this argument in his commentary on the last two lines of this poem.  I agree with Cutter that there is ample evidence in his poetry that Cao Zhi enjoyed the pleasures of drink.  Quoting the Shijing poem “Sopping Dew” is appropriate given the festive context and if we are to believe the Han commnetator Zheng Xuan, to not get drunk would be impolite.  Nonetheless, the reader can sense in this poem how precious these gatherings were to Cao Zhi and his guests.  The interior setting assists the host in preserving this time together.

Outdoor le

The most noticeable feature of poems that describe outdoor convivial gatherings is that they possess an unrestrained quality of expression.  Whereas the indoor poems focus on eulogy, closely forged relationships, staged drinking and entertainment, this next series of poems embrace the descriptive tendencies of fu with extended narration of garden strolls, carriage riding in the open night air and a hearty exhortation to live life to the fullest.  In these outdoor poems there is a conspicuous absence of alcohol as well as the decorum that regulates its consumption.  Instead of celebrating with wine, poets out of doors embrace the headiness of luxuriant gardens.  Activities in this environment frequently lead to statements of a carpe diem nature.  Li Zihou in his description of the Wei-Jin era highlights these carpe diem sentiments in the works of Cao Cao, Cao Pi , Cao Zhi and later poets and scholars.  “From the Jian’an through the Jin and the Song of the Southern Dynasties, from royalty and nobility down to middle and lower social echelons, this anxiety over life and death, survival and extinction, and sorrow over the shortness of life, spread far and wide, becoming the keynote of a whole epoch.”[86]  These concerns appear in both indoor and outdoor settings, yet outdoor settings require a more impassioned expression.  The confines of halls and interior structures shelter the banquet participants, but the gardens place them on a larger stage.  There is a decorum in outdoor celebrations that centers around a conception of playfulness and sport, two activities that recurr in the following works.


“Written by Hibiscus Lake” (Cao Pi 187-226)


By hand-drawn cart, an excursion at evening,

a carefree stroll in the Western Gardens.

Double conduits pour water into the lake,

rare trees line the streams that pass through,

their low limbs brushing my feathered carriage top,

their tall branches sweeping the azure sky.

A sudden wind lifts the carriage hubs,

flying birds start up before me.

The red of sunset flanks the bright moon,

gleaming stars come out between the clouds --

the heavens send down their shining colors,

their five hues fresh and clear!

Mine is not the long life of Song or Qiao;[87]

who can hope to be immortal like them?

With pleasures I will ease my heart,

take care to live out my hundred years![88]


From the first couplet of this work, the reader is presented with the mood of expansive wandering echoing the words of the Zhuangzi chapter Shaoyao you translated by Burton Watson as “Free and Easy Wandering.”  The description of the excursion contrasts the man-made wonders in the Western Gardens such as the fine trees lining the controlled streams of water with the sudden arrival of gusts of wind catching the carriage hubs and setting birds into flight.  The narrator’s vision, moving with the ascending birds, then takes in the atmosphere of dusk with the moon and stars sending down their colors.  The response to this scene rejects conceptions of immortality and emphasizes the mortal, human pleasures of life to be enjoyed within ones natural span of years.  Set in a larger setting than the banquet hall, Cao Pi’s poem focuses on an individual experience of the wonderous garden, a microcosm for the universe.  Freed from ritual behavior and the obligations of human relationships, the poet can ease his heart with pleasure.  However, despite the absence of other human characters in this poem, this is an experience shared with a gathering of literati.  Cao Zhi’s poem that complements “Written at Hibiscus Pool” provides a more complete depiction of this social dimension.

“Lord’s Feast poem”[89] (Cao Zijian 192-232).


The prince[90] honors dearly loved guests,

and he tires not to the party's end.

We roam West Park[91] on clear, cool nights,

canopied coaches one after another.

With clear rays the bright moon washes all pure,

the constellations[92] lie scattered.

Fall's orchids blanket the long slopes,

red blooming covers green pools.

The sunken fish leap in limpid waves,

and in high boughs the fine birds sing.

Numinous gusts catch our russet hubs,

light carriages move along with wind.

Whirled along, our spirits are free ‑

may it stay this way for a thousand autumns!


After clearly indicating the social and spatial setting of the poem in order to convey his gratitude to Cao Pi, the host of this gathering, Cao Zhi offers a similar depiction of the West Gardens.   As Cutter has observed, Cao Zhi offers an ordered portrayal of the West Garden that reinforces the praise directed toward Cao Pi.  The controlled imagery contrasts with Cao Pi’s wandering eye.  The social function of Cao Zhi’s work harnesses the description, yet at the conclusion a hearty refrain emerges that equals Cao Pi’s expression, “Whirled along, our spirits are free ‑may it stay this way for a thousand autumns!” 

The following two poems by Wang Can are examples of what Ronald Miao calls “conventional exercise[s] on the theme of communal excursion.”[93]  The vistas offered in this work expand on the scenery described by Cao Pi and Cao Zhi.

“Miscellaneous 1 of 5" (Wang Can 177-217)


On a lucky day, taking advantage of fine weather,

We follow the lord to the Western Gardens.

Carriage axels abreast, we whip on our fine steeds,

Side by side we proceed, striking the road to the central plain.

In the north we overlook the Ch’ing-chang waters,

In the west we gaze upon the Po-yang Mountains.

Turning, we roam the spacious close,

Drift at will on the rippling waters.[94]


Here the host of the outting is Cao Cao and the landscape portrayal serves to laud his real estate.  In addition to carriage travel, Wang Can mentions in the last line moving about by boat.  The body of water most likely is Dark Warrior lake where Cao Cao conducted naval exercises prior to his Red Cliff (208) campaign.  This poem, however, was composed sometime after 209.

#4 “Miscellaneous 2 of 5" (Wang Can)


Rows of Carriages; at rest the thronging equipage --

A convivial scene by the green water margin.

The dark magnolia spouts glorious fragrance,

The lotus radiates a pink glow.

A hundred birds -- how they flap and flutter,

With winged tumult the flocks chase each other.

Cast the nets, draw in the deep hiding fish,

Pull the crossbow -- down the high flying ones!

The sun is already hidden in the west,

Amidst such joy one forgets to return home.[95]


This particular outing is of a notable scale.  Hunting and fishing are the featured activities.  As a very brief piece, its value is in documenting convivial life at a distance from the capital. 

The last poem that considers outdoor scenes is by Liu Zheng (d. 217) who died just a year after the gathering described here.[96]  The imagery bears a striking resemblance to the works presented above by Cao Pi and Cao Zhi composed four years earlier in 212.  There are numerous expressions in this poem that distill the pleasure experienced at this occasion.

“Lord’s Feast poem”


A long day of roaming at leisure[97]

and still our delight is not yet complete.[98]

Enjoying after-gathering entertainment[99] in the dark night,

together we return, moving at ease.

Our silk canopied coaches[100] whirl along

as followers fill the roadside.

The moon comes out and shines in the garden

where precious trees are lush and deep green.

Clear streams course through stone channels,

flowing waves pass the fish locks.[101]

Hibiscus scatter their brilliance,

Lotus flowers spill over onto gold banks.

Phoenix[102] sojourn at the water’s edge,

Unicorns[103] roam near Flying Bridge.

We lodge in resplendent quarters near the flowing waves,

where open spaces invite cool breezes.

Never before in my life have I heard

a song that could capture the tranquility of this moment.

Setting down my brush, I heave a long sigh.

Such magnificence, I will never forget.


Several commentators, including Zhu Xi, hold this poem in high regard because of the absence of any eulogistic language as is found in Wang Can’s “Lord’s Feast poem.”  They note its beauty in portraying scenery and single out the line “The moon comes out and shines in the garden”for specific praise.[104]  Like Cao Pi and Cao Zhi’s works, Liu Zheng begins his description of the gathering with a cluster of words conjuring varying aspects of leisure such as “Roaming at leisure” and “delight”.  Following a description of the various natural elements in the garden such as the trees, streams, flowers, animals and architecture, Liu Zheng departs from previous gongyan models by giving the reader an assessment of his own emotional state without the carpe diem theme.  “Never before in my life have I heard/a song that could capture the tranquility of this moment./Setting down my brush, I heave a long sigh./Such magnificence, I will never forget.”  The image of the poet setting down the brush gives the poem a touch of immediacy that other works in the genre lack.  Instead of direct praise to Cao Cao, Liu praises the splendor of the moment, a novel way to honor the entire occasion. 

Overall, the poems that describe outdoor settings while not leaden with wine imagery manage to project carefree and leisurely attitudes that works set in interior spaces can not.  The compositions are for the most part just as well ordered and balanced in their phrasings, yet description abounds instead of quotation, allusion and drunken cheers.  The cheering that is present finds expression in closing statements and often seem to be shouted out while the poets are in motion, rattling through the garden in a hand-drawn carriage.  Out of doors the guests can momentarily escape the li of seating plans, toasting sequences and polite verse and turn their attentions beyond themselves to the le experienced in the garden.



6.  Conclusion


 Characterized by its simple purity, directness in language and impassioned emotional expression, the poetry produced during the Jian’an era has long been held in high esteem within the literary tradition of China.  Praise for the works of the Cao family and the Seven Masters of the Jian’an period has been for the most part conducted as a literary evaluation of individual works.  Starting with Cao Pi’s Dianlun lunwen, the poetry has been measured against the personalities that produced it.  Later critics such as Liu Xie, Zhong Rong and shihua “poetry chats” writers introduced critical vocabulary such as kang kai and fenggu in order to measure its worth aesthetically.  However, few have moved beyond the most well known of Jian’an works in order to survey the more mundane aspects of literary relationships, literary social activities and the way that their physical environment played a role in their poetic production.  By approaching a less well trampled landscape such as the Jian’an banquet scene we can find new insights in to this body of poetry. 

With the fall of the Han dynasty, rulers and literati struggled to bring order to their world.  In this struggle, conceptions of moral decorum and personal pleasure had to be negotiated.  The banquet scene is an ideal place to measure this process of redefining cultural norms.  Despite the fact that many political, literary and cultural historians find the Jian’an period a time when Confucian beliefs were in decline, the way in which the Cao family and the Seven Masters defined themselves at the banquet provides evidence of a renewal of longstanding Confucian values such as loyalty, duty and moral decorum.  As many scholars of China have observed, in times of political upheaval, there is a tendency among rulers and arbiters of culture to look to the past for models of behavior and patterns of literary expression.

In addition to looking to social behavior as a key to unlocking new perspectives on literary production, I have found that the physical setting of poetic composition is a fertile area for investigation.  When it is possible to identify where a work was composed or how a work portrays a particular environment, there are often important literary cues to be identified.  What might seem obvious to the participants of a banquet such as being indoors or being out of doors, often goes unnoticed by later readers.  Compositional environments play as large a role in the writing of poetry as does the occasion for which the work is produced.  This is an area of literary studies that needs more careful attention.

One of the problems of describing how the physical environment effects poetic composition is the ever present influence of the literary tradition and the generic models that poets pattern their works after.  In my next chapter, I will explore the subject of generic conventions in the banquet poetry of early medieval China.




[1]. One of the most detailed descriptions of a banquet scene in a Han rhapsody may be found in Zhang Heng’s (78-139) “Western Metropolis Rhapsody” Xidu fu found in Selections of Refined Literature, Wen xuan .  Xiao Tong, comp.  Taipei:  Huazheng shuju, 1991.  ch. 1.  Hereafter Wx.

[2].Here I use the term “Six Dynasties” to refer to the Wu (222-280), Eastern Jin (317-420), Liu-Song (420-479), Qi (479-502), Liang (502-557), and Chen (557-589) dynasties respectively that made their capital in the south at Jiankang.  Both Xie Lingyun (385-433) and Jiang Yan (444-505) imitated Jian’an period works.  See Wx ch. 30 and 31.

[3].The Seven Masters of the Jian’an period identified by Cao Pi in his Discourse on Literature, Dianlun lunwen are:  Wang Can (177-217), Chen Lin  (d. 217), Xu Kan (170-217), Liu Zhen (d. 217), Ying Yang (d. 236), Ruan Yu   (d.

212), and Kong Rong (153-208).

[4].For further discussion of the dating and description of court belletristic composition in group form see Christopher Leigh Connery’s Empire of the Text: Writing and Authority in Early Imperial China.  New York:  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1996.  p. 160.  Hereafter cited as Empire.

[5].Composed March 18th, 218.  Tr. Robert Joe Cutter in “Cao Zhi (192-232) and His Poetry.”  diss.  University of Washington, 1983.  p. 71.  Hereafter cited as Cao Zhi.

[6].Cutter’s second chapter “Symposium Poems and ‘Drum and Dance Songs’” presents a detailed discussion of Cao Zhi’s banquet poems and several translations of letters that document literati attitudes toward convivial pursuits.  See Cao Zhi, p.  67-193.

[7].Zheng Yuyu in her “Shilun gongyanshi zhi yu Yexia wenshi jituan de xiangzheng yiyi” provides an excellent reconsideration of the historical image of the Jian’an period by focusing on banquet poems.  In Liuchao qingjing meixue.  Taipei: Liren shuju, 1997.  p. 171-218.

[8].David Pollack indicates that the first substantial instance of dialogue conducted in poetry or linked-verse dates to the Boliang tai poem composed by Han Wudi and twenty-five ministers in 108 B.C.E..  See “Linked-Verse Poetry in China: A Study of Associative Linking in ‘Lien-Chu’ Poetry with Emphasis on the Poems of Han Yu and his Circle,”  Dissertation.  University of California, Berkeley, 1976.  This poem, however, is an isolated example. Group composition of fu appears to be a well practiced court activity during the Han, yet the lack of textual evidence makes the study of this subject impossible.  See Connery 1996, p. 159-160.

[9].Part of Cao Cao’s three proclaimations known as “Edicts on Seeking the Worldly” delivered in the years 210, 215 and 217 respectively.  For a more detailed description of this adjustment in political ideology and its impact on literature see Jing Shuhui’s Wei Jin shiren yu zhengzhi.  Taipei:  Wenlu, 1991.  (Originally published as a dissertation by Sichuan University, 1990.) pp. 27-39.  Also, see Paul Kroll’s “Portraits of Ts’ao Ts’ao: Literary Studies on the Man and the Myth.”  Dissertation.  University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1976.  pp. 17-24.

[10].Tr. Kroll, 1976.

[11].Chi-yun Chen.  Hsun Yueh (A.D. 148-209): The Life and Reflections of an Early Medieval Confucian.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.  p. 7.


[12].Jay Sailey treats this issue in his The Master Who Embraces Simplicity:   A Study of the Philosopher Ko Hung, A.D. 283-342.  San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, Inc., 1978.  p. 314.

[13].Tr. Stephen Owen.  in Readings in Chinese Literary Thought.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.  p. 68.  There are arguments, however, that deflate the importance of literature at this time.  Cao Zhi in a letter to Yang Xiu states that “Belleristic writing is a minor path, certainly insufficient for proclaiming and championing the Great Content in order to make it a shining example for generations to come.  Yang Xiong was a court attendant in the Han, but he still said that ‘a grown man does not compose literary pieces.’” See Connery Empire, p.145.

[14].It is true that much of Shijing verse assumes a functional and expressive nature, yet the sources that describe the singers or those who provided lyrics for the singers limit our knowledge of biographical information.  Also, it is not known if Shijing poets communicated with each other as literary peers through their works.  In the case of Qu Yuan, it is precisely because of his exiled status that we know that he can only speak of his most intimate and honest thoughts safely in a solitary posture removed from the proximity of the throne.

[15].See studies in Chinese by Guo Yingde Zhongguo gudai wenren jituan yu wenxue fengmao.  Beijing: Beijing shifan daxue chubanshe, 1998, and  Lu Guanghua Nanchao guiyou wenxue jituan yanjiu.  Dissertation.  National Taiwan University, 1990.  Many  Japanese literary histories of the Six Dynasties period are organized under the category of literary coteries.  See Morino Shigeo’s Rikucho shi no kenkyu.  Tokyo: Dai-ichi gakushusha , 1977.

[16].See Robert Joe Cutter Cao Zhi.  p. 42.

[17].Burton Watson’s treatment of this generic change is lucidly described in his enduring work Chinese Lyricism: Shih Poetry from the Second to the Twelfth Century.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.  chs. 1 and 2.

[18].See the first chapter of Christopher Connery’s dissertation Jian’an Poetic Discourse.  Princeton University, 1991. 

[19].Christopher Leigh Connery.  Empire.  p. 159.

[20].Tr. Vincent Shih in The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons.  New York:  Columbia Press, 1959.  p. 35.

[21].Chinese text from Wang Gengsheng’s.  Taipei: Juliu tushu gongsi, 1994.  p. 136.  Hereafter cited as Wenxin.

[22].Robert Joe Cutter.   Cao Zhi (192-232) and His Poetry.  Dissertation.  University of Washington, 1982.   p. 46-47.

[23].Tr. Siu-kit Wong.  Early Chinese Literary Criticism.  Hong Kong:  Joint Publishing Company, 1983.  p. 90.

[24].Lin Wenyue.  “The Decline and Revival of Feng-ku (Wind and Bone): On the Changing Poetic Styles from the Chien-an Era through the High T’ang Period.” in The Vitality of the Lyric Voice.  Ed. Shuen-fu Lin and Stephen Owen.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.  p. 143.

[25].Ibid.  p. 144.

[26].Ibid.  p. 145.

[27].James J.Y. Liu The Art of Chinese Poetry.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.


[28].This term I have borrowed from Enhua Edward Peng’s description of allusion in his dissertation “The Role of Allusion in Classical Chinese Poetry.”  University of California, Irvine, 1994.  p. 63.

[29].David Lattimore.  “Allusion and Tang Poetry.”  in Perspectives on the T’ang.  Ed.

[30].Tr. David Lattimore.  Allusion.  p. 414.

[31].Allusion.  p. 406.

[32].Shiji, ch. 33.

[33].Tr. Paul Kroll in “Portraits of Ts’ao Ts’ao: Literary Studies on the Man and the Myth.”  Diss.  The University of Michigan, 1976.  p. 87-88.  Chinese text from Wei Jin Nanbeichao wenxueshi cankao ziliao.  Beijing daxue Zhingguo wenxue shi jiaoyan shi, ed.  Beijing:  Zhonghua shuju, 1962.  p. 15-17.

[34].One of two essential characteristics of Jian’an period writings according to Dai Fang.  Sympathy for common people’s suffering and ambition to be politically established in a noble cause represent the overiding concerns of Jian’an writers.  See Dai Fang “Drinking, Thinking, and Writing: Ruan Ji and the Culture of His Era.”  Dissertation.  The University of Michigan, 1994.  p.  241.

[35].Tr. Cutter.  Cao Zhi.  p. 79.  Chinese text from SanCaoshiwen quanji yizhu.  Zhuan Yashu.  Ed.  Changchun:  Jilin wenshi chubanshe, 1997.  p. 724.

[36].This drama is describe from the vantage point of Cao Zhi in Hugh Dunn’s  Cao Zhi: The Life of the Princely Poet.  Beijing: New World Press, 1983.

[37].Tr. Lois Fusek.  “The Poetry of Ts’ao P’i (187-226).  Dissertation.  Yale University, 1975.  p. 213.  Chinese text from Wei Jin wu jia shi zhu.  Anot. Huang Jie. Taipei:  Shijie shuju, 1973.  p. 38-39.  Hereafter cited as Wei Jin wu jia.

[38].See  Wei Jin wu jia.  p. 39.

[39].For an example of this characterization of the latter Han and Wei-Jin era see Wan Shenggan’s Wei Jin nanbei chao wenhua shi.  Taipei: Yunlong chubanshe, 1995.  p. 35. 

[40].Huang Jie bases part of his commentary on Cao Zhi’s poem “Harp Song” Konghou yin from his understanding of the ritual text the Yili.  However, he qualifies his comments by stating that he is not certain if the Yili was closely observed at Cao Cao’s court during the Jian’an period.  Cao Zijian shizhu.  p. 95.

[41].Cao, Zuoya.  The Internal and the External: A Comparison of the Artistic Use of Natural Imagery in English Romantic and Chinese Classic Poetry.  New York:  Peter Lang, 1998.  p. 66.

[42].For examples see commentaries to Wx and Huang Jie’s commentary on Cao Zhi’s poem “To Wang Can.”  Huang Jie, p. 56.  Wx, p. 339.

[43].The leader of the Court Gentlemen here is Cao Pi. Yu Xianhao and Zhang Caimin date the gathering in this poem to the first month of the year 211 A.D.  See Jian’an qizi shi jianzhu.   Guangyuan: Bashu shushe chuban, 1990.  p. 247.  Hereafter cited as Jian’an qizi.  The title wuguan zhonglangjiang is translated by Charles Hucker as “the Leader of Court Gentlemen for Miscellaneous Uses.”  This title used during the Han dynasty and subsequent era of division was one of a group of three leaders (right, left and miscellaneous uses positions) and refered to the person who was in charge of expectant appointees serving as courtiers and called Court Gentlemen.  A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China.  p. 571.

[44].The structure known as Jianzhang Terrace was a part of the Han dynasty building called Jianzhang Palace jianzhang gong located in the capital city of Chang’an.  The Qing dynasty commentator Liang Zhangju (1775-1845) indicates that there are two parts to this poem.  The second part begins from the line gong zi jing ai ke.

[45].Yu Xianhao and Zhang Caimin indicate that zi refers to a goose or the geese.

[46].I am inclined to follow the notation of Yu Xianhao and Zhang Caimin who refer to han men as “a very cold northern frontier area.”  Uchida sites sources such as the Huai Nanzi and the commentary of Zhang Xian who states that this place is located in the northern extremities (beiji).

[47].Hengyang refers to the area south of Heng Mountain in present day Hunan province which according to traditional lore was the southern most resting area for migrating geese.

[48].Area south of the Huai river which flows east from Henan province through the northern portion of Anhui province.

[49].The Yutai xinyong contains an old style yuefu poem entitled “Two White Geese” which has a line that Birrell translate this line as “I would carry you away on my back,/but my feathers and tail each day would be crushed.”  Chinese Love Poetry:  New Songs From a Jade Terrace.  London: Penguin Books, 1986.  rpt.  p. 37.

[50].Li Shan explains that the large pearl refers to a person of virtue and talent while the gravel refers to common folk.

[51].This “meeting of clouds and rain,” understood by commentators as a favorable opportunity, refers to a meeting with Cao Pi. 

[52].This line is identical to the first line of Cao Zhi’s poem in this set of Gongyan shi.

[53].This line comes from Shijing ode Mao #174 ‘Sopping Dew’ translated by Waley as “Deep we quaff at our night drinking;/Not till we are drunk shall we go home.”  The Book of Songs.  p.  147.

[54].Wx ch. 20.  p.  283B.

[55].Stephen Owen,  “Praise Poetry in the T’ang.” in Studies in Chinese Poetry and Poetics, Vol. 1.  Ed. Ronald C. Miao.  San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, 1978. p. 131.


[57].Yu Xianhao and Zhang Caimin have indicated that these two poems are likely a direct exchange.  See Jian’an qizi, p. 111.

[58].See Christopher Connery’s dissertation “Jian’an Poetic Discourse.  Princeton University.  1991.  p. 304.

[59].Tr. Ronald C. Miao.  Early Medieval Chinese Poetry: The Life and Verse of Wang Ts’an (A.D. 177-217).  p. 174.  Chinese text from same work, p. 256.  Hereafter cited as Early Medieval.

[60].Wang Can, p. 174-175.

[61].Ibid, p. 175.

[62].Tr. Robert Joe Cutter.  Cao Zhi.  p. 203.  Chinese text from San Cao.  p. 559.

[63].Cao Zhi, p. 205.

[64].Tr. Owen.  p. 278.  Chinese text from Jian’an qizi shi jianzhu.  Ed. Yu Xianhao and Zhang Zaimin.  Chengdu: Bashu shushe, 1988.   p. 160.

[65].Stephen Owen.  An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.  p. 278.

[66].Tr. Vincent Shih in The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons.  New York:  Columbia Press, 1959.  p. 35.  Chinese text from Wenxin, p. 136.

[67].Cao Pi’s poem “Written at Hibiscus Pool” Furong chi zuoshi is one important instance of the appearance of the word chi.

[68].Wenxin.  p. 145.  n. 54.

[69].Edward Schafer, “Hunting Parks and Animal Enclosures in Ancient China.”  HJAS 14 (1951): p. 130-84.

[70].My discussion is closely  based on the second chapter of Zhongguo gongdian shi.  Lei Congyun, Chen Shaokang and Lin Xiuzhen.  Taibei:  Wenlu chubanshe, 1995.   My translations of historical and geographical texts are based on this chapter’s selections and then corroborated with standard editions.

[71].Tr.  David Knecteges.  Wen xuan or Refined Selections of Literature.  vol. 1,  p. 447-449.

[72].Hervouet, Yves.  Un Poete de cour sous les Han: Sseu-ma Siang-jou.  Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1964.  

[73].Slight modification of translation by Ronald C. Miao.  Early Medieval.  p. 179-180.  Chinese text from Wx.  Ch. 20, p. 283.

[74].The “lord ” in this poem is most likely Cao Cao.  The event took place around the year 216 A.D. .

[75].Quotation of Shijing poem.  Mao #174.

[76].Li Shan (?-689) not es that the source for this line is unknown.

[77].The sagely  younger brother of the founder of the Zhou dynasty, King Wu. 

[78].This final line alludes to a passage in the Guoyu (Conversations of the States) which Ronald C. Miao translates as “Succeeding generations complete [the tasks] of Virtue.  They must not bring dishonor to the men of antiquity.”  See Early Medieval Chinese Poetry.  p. 181.

[79].Early Medieval Chinese Poetry.  p. 180.

[80].Ibid, p. 181.

[81].Translation based on consultation with Robert Joe Cutter’s version in Cao Zhi, p. 86-7 and Cai Zongqi’s version in The Matrix of Lyric Transformation: Poetic Modes and Self-Presentation In Early Chinese Pentasyllabic Poetry.  Ann Arbor:  Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan, 1996.  p. 107-8.  Chinese text from Wenxuan.  Ch. 24, p. 339. 

[82].Translated by Robert Joe Cutter in Cao Zhi.  p. 98-9.  Chinese text from Cao Zijian shizhu.  Ed. Huang Jie.  Taipei: wenhai chubanshe, 1973.  p. 141-142.  Hereafter cited as Cao Zijian shizhu.

[83].See endnote #53.

[84].Tr. Cutter.  Cao Zhi, p. 100.  Chinese text from Cao Zijian shizhu, p. 150-1.

[85].Cao Zhi, p. 100.

[86].Li Zihou.  The Path of Beauty: A Study of Chinese Aesthetics.  Tr. Song Lizeng.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.  p. 86.

[87].The immortals Song (Master of the Red Pine) and Prince Qiao.

[88].Tr. Watson.  The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry.  p. 111.

[89].Modification of  Stephen Owen’s translation.  Anthology of Chinese Literature, 282.

[90].The “prince” most likely refers to Cao Zhi’s brother, Cao Pi.  Fang Zushen dates this poem to the year 212 A.D.  See Hanshi yanjiu A Study of Han Dynasty Poetry,  p.  255.

[91].West Park was located in the suburbs of the ancient city of Ye in modern day Loyang.

[92].The phrase is also found in the poem “A Road to Beyond” in the Jiu huai ‘Nine Regrets’ section of the Chuci.  Hawkes translates this line as “I wander through all the constellations.”  Songs of the South.  p.  271.

[93].Wang Can, p. 172-73.

[94].Tr. Ronald C. Miao.  Early Medieval Chinese Poetry: The Life and Verse of Wang Ts’an (A.D. 177-217).  p.  172.

[95].Ibid.  p. 173.

[96].The Tang dynasty commentator Liu Liang (n.d.) mentions that this poem was written at the same gathering at Ye as the poem “Lord’s Feast” by Wang Can.  Modern commentators such as Yu Xianhao and Zhang Caimin date the gathering to the fifth month of the year 216.  See Jian’an qizi shi jianzhu Commentary to the Poems of the Seven Masters of th Jian’an Period.  p. 193.

[97].The phrase you xian is also found within the 19 Ancient poems (Gushi shijiu shou).  Watson translates the line“qu che ci nu ma, you xi wan yu lo.” as “I race the carriage, whip the lagging horse,/roam for pleasure to Wan and Lo.”  Chinese Lyricism.  p.  24.

[98].Wang Yi  in his commentary to the Li Sao glosses the phrase wei yang which Hawkes translates as “Gather the flower of youth before it is too late,/While the good season is still not yet over.”  Songs of the South.  p. 76.

[99].In a poem by Qin Jia (active ca. 147 A.D.) entitled “To my wife, three poems”contained in the Yutai xinyong (New Songs from a Jade Terrace) there is the shared phrase yi si.  Ann Birrell translates the line as “I send my love , pledge fidelity.”  New Songs from a Jade Terrace.  p.  46.  The Tang commentator Li Zhouhan (n.d.), however, reads the word yi  “surplus, left over” or “leave behind.”  Another interpretation glosses yisi as yuxing or “entertainment after a social gathering.”  See Xinci Zhaoming wenxuan Taipei:  Sanmin shuju, 1997.  p. 838.

[100].According to Yu Xianhao and Zhang Caimin the characters nian che originally referred to a hand drawn cart.  From the Han dynasty onward nian che was a carriage used for transporting the emperor.  The silk canopy was usually white.

[101].The Tang dynasty commentator Zhang Xian (n.d.)  explains that yu fang  refers to a dike that prevents fish from escaping.  (Usually called a fish weir.)

[102].The Mao commentary to Shijing ode #252 indicates that feng huang is equivalent to ling niao.

[103].The Shuowen defines ren shou as  qi li, a fabulous creature that has the body of a deer, tail of an ox, hoofs of a horse, and one fleshy horn.  Following Knechteges, and others, I translate ren shou (qi lin) as “unicorn.”

[104].See critical notes on this poem in Jian’an qizi shi jianzhu Commentary to the Poems of the Seven Masters of th Jian’an Period.  p. 196-7.