A Feast of Lanterns, by L. Cranmer-Byng, , at sacred-texts.com
Great dynasties in China made for great art and literature largely under the influence of a national awakening. Expeditions and embassies to distant lands brought back new ideas; and, above
all, the fusion of two widely different types of mind, the Northern or Confucian type and the Southern or Taoist, prevented thought from becoming too formalised and gave a new impetus to creative imagination. Small kingdoms meant perpetual warfare and militarism; hence few names famous in literature will be found in the annals of dynasties like the Ch‘i and early Sung.
The poetical metres of each age vary according to the requirements of the period. In the beginning we find the short metre of the Odes well adapted to the needs of a simpler civilisation. Gradually, as society becomes more complex, the verse needs grow until finally the five and seven-character line of the T‘ang dynasty appears, and after that the form has become stereotyped. The great Sung poets continued the T‘ang tradition, but added little to it, and after them only a few flashes of original genius illumine here and there a dark horizon.
The oldest period of all, that of the Odes, has a range of nearly 1,200 years, from 1765 to 585 B.C.
Towards the close of the Chou dynasty, in the fourth century B.C., Ch‘u Yuan wrote his celebrated Li Sao, or "Falling into Error." He may be called the father of the Chinese nature poets.
The Han dynasty, B.C. 206 to A.D. 221, contains very little poetry of the first rank.
T‘ao Ch‘ien belongs to the eastern Tsin dynasty, which lasted about one hundred years, from 317
to 419 A.D. This author has been comparatively neglected as yet by Western scholars. Many of his poems would be well worth translating.
The T‘ang dynasty, 618 to 905 A. D., is the golden age of Chinese poetry. Most of the famous poets belonged to this period. Li Po, Tu Fu, Po Chü-i, Han Yu, are only a few names mentioned at random.
From 907 to 960 A.D. came the period of the Five Dynasties, with no great name outstanding.
The Sung dynasty, from 960 to 1206 A.D., ranks after the T‘ang as the second greatest epoch in Chinese literature. The most celebrated poets of this age were Ou-Yang Hsiu and Su Tung-p‘o.
The Mongol, or Yuan dynasty, lasted from 1206 to 1368 A.D., and produced one great poet, Liu Chi.
During the Ming dynasty, A.D. 1368-1644, novel-writing was greatly in vogue, but there is nothing in the poetry of this period that would challenge comparison with the masterpieces of an earlier date.
The Manchu dynasty, which began in A.D. 1644 and only recently ended, contains the names of Yuan Mei and Chiu Tsy-Yung, whose Cantonese Love Songs, translated by Mr. Cecil Clementi, are fast becoming a classic.