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taige ti 臺閣體, ministerial style

Sep 18, 2015 © Ulrich Theobald

The "ministerial style" (taige ti 臺閣體) was a literary style en vogue during the early Ming period 明 (1368-1644). It was developed and used by the three Yangs (san Yang 三楊) Yang Shiqi 楊士奇 (1364-1444), Yang Rong 楊榮 (1371-1440) and Yang Pu 楊溥 (1372-1446), who were all high officials at the court of the Yongle Emperor 永樂 (r. 1402-1424). Other important writers using that style were Jin Ziyou 金幼孜 (1367-1431), Huang Huai 黃淮 (1367-1449), Zhou Shu 周述 (d. 1436) and Wang Zhi 王直 (1379-1462).

The taige style was characterized by a solemn and elegant language, and graceful yet natural. Most poems written in this style were used to celebrate the Ming dynasty, the authority and benevolence of its rulers. In this sense, it was a kind of propaganda literature. In some poems, auspicious signs were described that bolstered the legitimacy of the Yongle Emperor, who was actually a usurper of the throne of his nephew. At the same time the writings reflected the economic advancement and the political stabilization and normalization of the fifteenth century.

As one would not expect from this "balanced and graceful" (pingzheng yongrong 平正雍容) type of literature, taige writings kept to a natural style (ziran chunzheng 自然醇正) and did without chiseling out extravagant wording. This would express the true side of Heaven's intentions (tian qu zhi zhen 天趣之真), and in such a sincere language even later generations would recognize the brilliant and peaceful character of the age. Even official documents (yingzhi 應制) were written in that style.

Tang period 唐 (618-907) poetry was the great paradigm for the "ministerial" writers, yet the Yangs also interpreted Tang lyrics from the viewpoint of their times, and ignored the historical and cultural background of times 800 years before. The style of the three Yangs was widely imitated for many decades, and often just copied in the one or other way, so that later scholars described the product of that school as "a thousand poems all the same" (qian pian yi lü 千篇一律), becoming worse and worse over time (yu jiu yu bi 愈久愈弊).

In the long run, the taige style proved without influence, due to its uninspiring, shallow, and insubstantial character, even if it showed reliable standards (fadu 法度) was "without faults" (wu ci 無疵). A group of poets and essay writers, the so-called Earlier Seven Masters (qian qi zi 前七子)—inspired by the Chaling poet group (Chaling shipai 茶陵詩派), rebelled against this unhasty and overloaded (tanhuan chenta 嘽緩沉沓) style and created their own idea of writing poetry, by taking Han and Tang period works as paradigms.

Sources:
Cao Feng 曹鳳 (1987). "Taige ti 臺閣體", in Wang Xiangfeng 王向峰, ed. Wenyi meixue cidian 文藝美學辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning daxue chubanshe), 856.
Ji Shourong 季壽榮 (1990). "Taige ti 臺閣體", in Li Zehou 李澤厚, Ru Xin 汝信, ed. Meixue baike quanshu 美學百科全書 (Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe), 450.
Li Kanghua 李康化 (1998). "Tige ti 臺閣體", in Zhang Dainian 張岱年, ed. Zhongguo wenshi baike 中國文史百科 (Hangzhou: Zhejiang renmin chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1031.
Shi Changyu 石昌渝 (1986). "Taige ti 臺閣體", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學, Vol. 2, 821.