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Persons in Chinese History - The Eight Talents of the Jiajing Reign Period ( (Jiajing ba caizi 嘉靖八才子)

Periods of Chinese History
The Eight Talents of the Jiajing Reign Period (Jiaqing ba caizi 嘉靖八才子) were writers belonging to the so-called Tang-Song group (Tang-Song pai 唐宋派). Their writings and theories were based on excellent works of literature from the Tang 唐 (618-907) and Song 宋 (960-1279) periods. The members of this group were Li Kaixian 李開先 (1502-1568), Wang Shenzhong 王慎中 (1509-1559), Tang Shunzhi 唐順之 (1507-1560), Chen Dong 陳東 (jinshi degree 1529), Zhao Shichun 趙時春 (1509-1567), Xiong Guo 熊過 (1506-1565), Ren Han 任瀚 (1502-1592), and Lü Gao 呂高 (1544-?), the first three being the most important and successful ones. The group can be seen as opponents to the "Former Seven Masters" (qian qi zi 前七子) who were of the opinion that the highest form of literature was to be found among Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) writers. The Seven Masters advocated strict imitation of the writing style of that distant period, while the Eight Talents argued that sincere feelings and true emotions had to be expressed in writings of prose and poetry.
Li Kaixian 李開先 (1502-1568), courtesy name Bohua 伯華, style Zhonglu 中麓, hailed from Zhangqiu 章丘, Shandong. He is known as an essayist, poet, and writer of theatre plays, but also as a literary theorist. Having obtained the jinshi degree in 1529, he rose to the office of Vice Minister of the Court of Imperial Sacrifices (taichangsi shaoqing 太常寺少卿), but in 1541 intrigues effected his dismissal and returned to his home town, where he lived to the end of his life, as leader of a "lyric society" (cishe 詞社). It is known that he owned more than 1,000 pieces of Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) theatre plays, and was praised as one whose poems and airs described the mountains and the seas (ci shan qu hai 詞山曲海). He published a collection of Yuan plays, Gaiding yuanxian chuanqi 改定元賢傳奇, but also wrote theatre plays himself. In the story Baojianji 寶劍記 Li Kaixian describes the fate of Lin Chong 林沖, a hero of the group of sagas about the "Water Margin" (Shuihuzhuan 水滸傳). Another play called Duanfaji 斷發記, printed during the Wanli reign, bears Li's name as that of the author. Of six further plays written by him (in the collection Yixiaosan 一笑散), none survives (Yuanlin wumeng 園林午夢, Dayachan 打啞禪, Jiaodaochang 攪道場, Qiao zuo ya 喬坐衙, Hunsimi 昏廝迷 and San zhi hua danao tudi tang 三枝花大鬧土地堂; the fate of Dengtanji 登壇記 is unknown). His book Cinüe 詞謔 is a critique of selected theatre plays, airs (sanqu 散曲), and the talents of some actors. Li Kaixian was inspired by popular art, and believed that true poetry was only to be found among the people. An unadorned mode of writing, coming directly "out of the heart" (zi xiong zhong liu chu 自胸中流出) would allow anyone to understand poems, regardless his educational background. Yet regular poems (shi 詩) and poems based on tune patterns (ci 詞) were to be composed in different ways, the latter in a straightforward, the former to be long-lasting in the reader's mind. This belief can be seen in his airs, some of which are written in a very popular style. Apart from literature, Li Kaixian was also interested in painting. Li's poems are preserved in the collection Xianju ji 閑居集. A modern edition of his writings is called Li Kaixian ji 李開先集 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959).
Wang Shenzhong 王慎中 (1509-1559), courtesy name Sidao 思道, style Nanjiang 南江 or Zunyan jushi 遵巖居士, also called Wang Zhongzi 王仲子 (because he was the second or "middle" son), came from Jinjiang 晉江, Fujian, and had several posts in the central government, and finally served as Administration Vice Commissioner (canzheng 參政) of Henan, before he was dismissed, in 1541. He was very known for his prose writings. In earlier years he was influenced by the Seven Masters, but later burnt all his early writings because he was much more attracted by the writings of the Song period masters Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 and Zeng Gong 曾鞏, but particularly the latter because he was most able to express true inner feelings in his writings. In this theoretical thoughts, Wang conceded that ancient models were quite suitable, but in the end, a writer had to use his own words (zi wei qi yan 自為其言), and to write directly out of his heart (zhi shu xiongyi 直書胸臆). The prose writings of Wang himself were so outstanding that he was called "a school of his own" (zhuoran cheng jia 卓然成家), influencing the writings of Gui Youguang 歸有光 and Mao Kun 茅坤. Wang's prose was strong in drawing a mental outline, regarding themes from various standpoints, and adapting the lexicon to the theme. The philosopher Li Zhi 李贄 described the style as detailed and dense, yet clear and refined. The most famous works were Haishang pingkou ji 海上平寇記, Song Cheng Longfeng junbo zhishi xu 送程龍峰郡博致仕序, Jinxi youji 金溪游記, You Qingyuanshan ji 游清源山記 and Zhu Bitan shi xu 朱碧潭詩序.
Although Wang Shenzhong also wrote some fine poems, they were not that esteemed as his prose writings. Wang's writings are found in the collections Zunyan ji 遵巖集, Wanfangtang zhaigao 玩芳堂摘稿, Zunyanzi 遵巖子, Wang Canzheng ji 王參政集, Wang Zunyan xiansheng jixuan 王遵巖先生集選, Wang Zunyan wenxuan 王遵巖文選, and Zunyan xiansheng ji 遵巖先生集.
Tang Shunzhi 唐順之 (1507-1560), courtesy name Yingde 應德 or Yixiu 義修, known as Jingchuan xiansheng 荊川先生, posthumous title Tang Wenxianggong 唐文襄公, came from Wujin 武進, Jiangsu, and passed the metropolitan examination of 1529 as the optimus which gave him direct access to official career. In his last position he served as Right Assistant Censor-in-chief (you qiandu yushi 右僉都御史) of the southern capital Nanjing 南京, concurrently serving as grand coordinator (xunfu 巡撫) of the prefecture of Fengyang 風陽 (modern Bengbu 蚌埠, Anhui). His prose was as highly esteemed as that of Wang Shenzhong (both were therefore known as the pair Wang-Tang 王唐), and in the field of theory he was also influenced by him, yet Tang was much more able to express the need that each essay was to have a distinct character and to express variations from the mainstream of authors. The best method to do this was to release one's own feelings so they could find their way to words and phrases.
Tang criticized the Seven Masters for skipping Tang and Song period writers as models for excellent writing, and stressed that literature had spun forth one single and continuous thread (qian gu yi mai 千古一脈) until recent times. The idea that the writers of all ages had superficial standards (fa 法), was renounced by Tang. Instead he explained any standards were embedded in the state of non-standardization (fa yu yu wufa zhi zhong 法寓于無法之中). This inherent standards were the results of a natural way of writing, directly coming from the heart and mind (zhi ju xiongyi 直據胸臆), not of formal criteria or of a certain range of words. An ideal essay was written in a way that beginning and end had common points, and the text showed one coherent weaving pattern. A natural style meant, to lay trust into one's hand just as if writing to a family member (xin shou xie shu ru xie jia shu 信手寫出,如寫家書), and to choose one's own words (zi wei qi yan 自為其言). In his own writings, Tang even used words of everyday language. Writings of his later years show traces of the "sayings" (yulu 語錄) style, reflecting a dialogue between the master and his disciples. Quite outstanding among his essays are Zhuxiji 竹溪記, the description of a garden, Xiyu caotang ji 西峪草堂記, Shu Qin Feng jianjia sanzhang hou 書秦風蒹葭三章後 or Yongjia Yuan Jun Fang zhouji 永嘉袁君芳洲記, all writings in which he allows his thoughts to wander around freely. After all, Tang Shunzhi was never able to make himself wholly free from the rigid and formal style that was prevalent in his youth, but his writings were the fundament that helped to overthrow the dominance of the Seven Masters and the forerunner of the Gong'an school (gong'an pai 公安派) that advocated a spontaneous style of writing. Some important writings of Tang Shunzhi are Youbian 右編, Shizuan zuobian 史纂左編, the historical critique Liang-Han jieyi 兩漢解疑, the military treatise Wubian 武編, Nanbei fengshi ji 南北奉使集, Jingchuan baibian 荊川稗編 and Zhuru yuyao 諸儒語要, a selection of Confucian discourses. He also compiled a selection of writings, Wenbian 文編, in which he laid the foundation for the expression "the eight great masters of the Tang and Song period" (Tong-Song ba da jia 唐宋八大家). Tang furthermore revised Li Panglong's 李攀龍 Yunxue yuanhai 韻學淵海, a book on rhyme groups.
Apart from writing and thinking about literature in the narrow sense, Tang also did some research in astronomy, geography, music and arithmetics. His collected writings are called Jingchuan ji 荊川集 or Jingchuan xiansheng wenji 荊川先生文集. A more recent edition is Tang Jingchuan ji 唐荊川集, compiled by Li Shu 林紓 (Shanghai Commercial Press, 1924).


Sources: Zhao Zecheng 趙則誠, Zhang Liandi 張連弟, Bi Wanchen 畢萬忱 (ed. 1985), Zhongguo gudai wenxue lilun cidian 中國古代文學理論辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), pp. 125-126. ● Ma Hongsheng 馬鴻盛 (1986), "Tang Shunzhi 唐順之", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, p. 840. ● Li Yiyang 李頤揚 (1986), "Wang Shenzhong 王慎中", in idem, p. 895. ● Wang Shichang 吳世常, Chen Wei 陳偉 (ed. 1987), Xinbian meixue cidian 新編美學辭典 (Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe), p. 191. ● Cao Jirong 曹繼榮 (ed. 1992), Jiancheng hecheng cidian 簡稱合稱詞典 (Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe), p. 141. ● Lin Fei 林非 (ed. 1997), Zhongguo sanwen da cidian 中國散文大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), pp. 287-288. ● Deng Shaoji 鄧紹基 (ed. 2004), Zhongguo gudai xiqu wenxue cidian 中國古代戲曲文學辭典 (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe), p. 386.

December 17, 2015 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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