An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

diaowen 吊文 (弔文), commemorations

Sep 16, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Diao 吊 (also written 弔), also called diaowen 吊文 (弔文), are commemorations of a dead person or condolences to the bereaved. They belong to the genre of laments and sacrifices (ai ji 哀祭), which also includes dirges (lei 誄), laments (ai 哀), commemorations (diao), and sacrificial texts (ji 祭).

The dictionary Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 explains the word as "taking care for late persons" (wen zhong 問終) and the character as an image of a person who covers a corpse (with cloth 巾) to protect him/her. The oldest diaowen text is Jia Yi's 賈誼 (200-168 BCE) Diao Qu Yuan wen 吊屈原文, a lament for the politician and writer Qu Yuan 屈原 (d. 278 BCE). The literary critique Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍 (ch. Ai diao 哀吊) holds that in the case of Qu Yuan, who drowned himself, the rituals did actually not stipulate the compilation of a commemoration text. Some diao texts could even bring forward criticism, even if it was expected to praise the virtues of the late person and to avoid bad words.

The text of Jia Yi is written in the style of an elegiac rhapsody (saoti 騷體) with the verse divider xi 兮 and rhymes. The difference between diao and rhapsodies (fu 賦) were in the emotional tone, the word choice and sound and rhythm. Slow rhythm and ornamented language was only used in rhapsodies.

The use of condolence texts was very similar to that of sacrificial texts (jiwen 祭文), with the difference that commemorative texts were dedicated to persons living long ago, while sacrificial texts were written for contemporary persons and were presented in front of a tomb. Diaowen texts were therefore often used to praise the model roles of the old. However, this temporal distinction is not always made, because the sacrificial texts included in the anthology Wenxuan 文選 were written at the occasion of delivering sacrifices to ancient persons, like Yan Yannian's 顏延年 (384-456) Ji Qu Yuan wen 祭屈原文.

Other famous condolences are Mi Heng's 禰衡 (173-198) Diao Zhang Heng wen 吊張衡文, Wang Can's 王粲 (177-217) Diao Yi Qi wen 吊夷齊文, Lu Ji's 陸機 (261-303) Diao Wei Wu-wen 吊魏武文, Li Hua's 李華 (715-774) Diao gu zhanchang wen 吊古戰場文, Bai Juyi's 白居易 (772-846) Diao erliang wen 吊二良文, Liu Zongyuan's 柳宗元 (773-819) Diao Quyuan wen 吊屈原文 and Diao Yue Yi wen 吊樂毅文, Wang Zhong's 汪中 (1745-1794) Diao Huang Zu wen 吊黃祖文 or Huang Kan’s 黃侃 (1886-1935) Diao Wang Rongfu wen 吊汪容甫文.

Lin Fei 林非, ed. (1997). Zhongguo sanwen da cidian 中國散文大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 74.
Luo Zhufeng 羅竹風, ed. (1990). Hanyu da cidian 漢語大詞典 (Beijing: Hanyu da cidian chubanshe), Vol. 4, 83.
Yan Jinghan 閻景翰 (1990). Xiezuo yishu da cidian 寫作藝術大辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 1272.