Aici 哀辭, aici 哀詞, aiwen 哀文, aice 哀冊 or aice 哀策, short ai 哀, is a literary genre belonging to the group of laments and sacrifices (aiji 哀祭), to which also dirges (lei 誄), commemorations (diao 吊) and sacrificial texts (jiwen 祭文) belong. The oldest types of laments are the hymns (song 頌) in the Confucian Classic Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs", and the songs Huangniao 黃鳥 and Er zi sheng zhou 二子乘舟 which are part of the airs (guofeng 風) in the Shijing.
Zhi Yu 摯虞 (250-300) explained in his fragmentarily surviving literary theory Wenzhang liubie lun 文章流別論 that laments were derivates of dirges (aici zhe, lei zhi liu ye 哀辭者，誄之流也), for which reason the expression ailei 哀誄 was common. In his collection Lunwen houbian 論文後編, Yao Hua 姚華 (1876-1930) says that in the beginnings, dirges (lei) were used if a superior person bemoaned a subordinated one, while laments (aice 哀策) were composed by inferior persons to grieve for a superior one. The word aici 哀辭 was reserved for persons who died at a young age. If lamenting the passing away of a person of equal standing, the expression beiwen 悲文 was used.
Lamentations include sad words about a person passed away, and often prayers to various spirits as well. In this combined shape, the text is called aiji. Laments typically express grief about talents that cannot be used any more, virtues that did not achieve longevity, adolescent search for completion, or young and unfulfilled beauty, and describe the sad circumstances of the passing away of the bemoaned person. In the original shape aici were dedicated to unmarried persons who died at an age of less than 20 sui. Outstanding examples of this early use are Ban Gu's 班固 (32-92 CE) Liangshi aici 梁氏哀辭, Cao Zhi's 曹植 (192-232) Xingnü aici 行女哀辭 and Jinhu aici 金瓠哀辭 (for his daughters), Pan Yue's 潘岳 (247–300) Zelan aici 澤蘭哀辭 (for Ren Zixian's 任子咸 daughter) and Dugu Shenshu aici 獨孤申叔哀辭, Liu Zongyuan's 柳宗元 (773-819) Yangshi zi Chengzhi aici 楊氏子承之哀辭 or Fang Bao's 方苞 (1668-1749) Xuan Zuoren aici 宣左人哀辭.
This narrow frame of laments was left during the Tang period 唐 (618-907), and aici were dedicated to persons of all ages, like in Pan Yue's Ai yong shi wen 哀永逝文, Xie Tiao's 謝朓 (464-499) Qi Jing Huanghou aice wen 齊敬皇后哀策文, Han Yu's 韓愈 (768-824) Ouyang Sheng aici 歐陽生哀辭 or Fang Bao's Zhang Yitan aici 張彝嘆哀辭. During the Song period 宋 (960-1279), ai-type texts had replaced lei texts as the major genre of lamentations of the dead.
The literary shape of ai-type laments are vivid words in rhymes with four- or six-syllable verses, long or short sentences, as common in elegiac rhapsodies (saoti 騷體). During sacrifices, the presenter used to recite praises of virtuous behaviour.
In the shape of a brief letter attached to an obituary notice (fugao 訃告) - but also as a letter document of its own that was handed over to the bereaved - laments were called aiqi 哀啟.
Yet another expression for lamentations is wan 挽, with the words wanwen 挽文, wanci 挽詞, wanlian 挽聯 or wanzhang 挽幛.