Dramatic and narrative modes of presentation in Han Yüeh-fu

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Journal article

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Monumenta Serica: Journal of Oriental Studies

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Taylor & Francis, Ltd.


This study is not a comprehensive discussion of all Han yueh-fu 樂府 (music-bu-reau poems), but a close examination of only those composed in pentasyllabic lines. It is part of a larger project on the evolution of early pentasyllabic poetry (wu-yen shih 五言詩) in Han and Wei-Chin times. First, I will address general issues concerning the overall classification of Han pentasyllabic poetry and the inter-generic distinction between Han yueh-fu and Han ku-shih 古詩 (ancient poems). Next, I will turn my attention to the issue of the classifications of extant Han yueh-fu poems. I will question traditional classifications of Han yueh-fu based on scattered accounts of Han music performance and argue for a re-classification of Han yueh-fu primarily on the ground of internal textual evidence. Lastly, I will analyze a number of representative Han yueh-fu poems, identify two distinct clusters of thematic and formal features in them, and examine these two clusters as internal evidence of dramatic and narrative modes of presentation, respectively. In the meantime, I will trace the dramatic mode to the collective composition and performance in a folk community, and the narrative mode to the solo presentation of a literati composer. In support of my discussion of the dramatic mode, I will examine three different kinds of corroborative evidence of folk dramatic performance. On the ground of the internal and corroborative external evidence examined, I will draw a broad intra-generic distinction between folk yueh-fu and literati yueh-fu, and set forth the transition from the dramatic mode in the former to the narrative mode in the latter.

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Cai, Z. (1996). Dramatic and narrative modes of presentation in Han Yüeh-fu. Monumenta Serica: Journal of Oriental Studies, 44, 101-140. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40727084