An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

lianzhu 連珠, "linked pearls"

Aug 24, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Lianzhu 連珠 "linked pearls" is an early literary genre of ancient China in which allegorical expressions are compared to a row of linked-up pearls. Texts of this genre are usually written in rhymed verse-prose (pian’ou 駢偶). They appeared during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) and were particularly popular during the Jin period 晉 (265-420), as used, for instance, by Fu Xuan 傅玄 (217-278), who characterized them as texts with “beautiful and concise words” (ci li er yan yue 辭麗而言約) that “are clear and distinct like stringed-up pearls” (lili ru guan zhu 歷如貫珠). Lu Ji’s 陸機 (261-303) Yan lianzhu 演連珠 in 50 parts, for example, which is included in the anthology Wenxuan 文選 begins each “pearl” (stanza) with the words “I heard” (chen wen 臣聞).

The earliest text of the genre is Yang Xiong’s 揚雄 (55 BCE-18 CE) Lianzhu 連珠. Later on, writers used titles like Yan lianzhu 演連珠, Ni lianzhu 擬連珠, Chang lianzhu 暢連珠 or Guang lianzhu 廣連珠. Famous authors of lianzhu texts are Ban Gu 班固 (32-92 CE), Jia Kui 賈逵 (174-228) and Fu Yi 傅毅 (d. 90 CE). The 50 lianzhu poems of Lu Ji are the last example. Thereafter, the genre fell into desuetude.

The biography of Li Xian 李先 (335-429) in the official dynastic history Weishu 魏書 speaks of 22 chapters of lianzhu in the book Hanzi 韓子 (i.e. Hanfeizi 韓非子). This statement might point at the sequence of exempliarious stories in the chapters Neichushuo 內儲說 (30-31) and Waichushuo 內儲說 (32-35), and not the literary genre.

Li Bingzhong 李秉忠, Wei Canjin 衛燦金, Lin Conglong 林從龍, ed. (1990). Jianming wenshi zhishi cidian 簡明文史知識詞典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 332.
Lin Fei 林非, ed. (1997). Zhongguo sanwen da cidian 中國散文大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 75.
Su, Jui-lung (1998). "Lien-chu 連珠", in William H. Nienhauser, Jr., ed. The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press), Vol., 89-92.
Yan Jinghan 閻景翰, ed. (1990). Xiezuo yishu da cidian 寫作藝術大辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 1037.