An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

zhuzhi ci 竹枝詞

Apr 5, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhuzhi ci 竹枝詞 "bamboo-twig poems" is a type of yuefu 樂府-genre poetry. It is also called zhuzhi 竹枝 or zhuzhizi 竹枝子 and originates in folk songs from the region of Chongqing (Ba-Yu 巴渝) during the mid-Tang period 唐 (618-907). The oldest record concerning a zhuzhi ci is found in Cui Lingqin's 崔令欽 (early 8th cent.) Jiaofangji 教坊記 (ch. Quming 曲名) and among Gu Kuang's 顧況 (d. 814) poetry. The genre obtained public attention by the poems of Liu Yuxi 劉禹錫 (772-842), who was once regional inspector (cishi 刺史) of the prefecture of Kuizhou 夔州 (east of today's Fengjie 奉節). He used the local mode of zhuzhi folksongs to describe landscape, nature, local customs, love, and sentiments. Each poem is a quatrain with four-syllable verses (qiyan siju 七言四句).

Bai Juyi 白居易 (772-846) soon adapted the mode and popularized it.

Tang-period zhuzhi ci do not strictly obey the tonal rules (pingze 平仄, even and inflected tone pitches) and can thus be sung to melodies, out of which lyric-metre patterns (cipai 詞牌) emerged. The collection Cipu 詞譜 includes two such patterns used by Huangfu Song 皇甫松 (early to mid-9th cent.), one with ping (level) rhymes, and one with ze (inflected) tone pitches and rhymes, and both with only 14 characters (two verses), as well as a model from a poem of Sun Guangxian 孫光憲 (196-968) with four verses with three ping rhymes. In all three models, the fourth and seventh character of each verse follows the rhyme patterns of the models Zhuzhi and Nü'er 女兒.

Quotation 1. Two zhuzhi-style 竹枝 poems of Huangfu Song 皇甫松 (early to mid-9th cent.)
Hibiscus flowers unite their stems like one heart,
their blossoms touch the window frame, so eyes must pierce through them.
Peach flowers on the mountain, and almonds down in the vale,
[but] of both, the gentle blossoms sway and give each other shade.
From the collection Cipu 詞譜. The circles and squares symbolize tone patters and rhymes: ○ level-tone word (pingsheng 平聲), ● inflected-tone word (zesheng 仄聲), □ level-tone rhyme (pingyun 平韻), ■ inflected-tone rhyme (zeyun 仄韻). The word in brackets symbolize the melodic harmony performed by the chorus (qun xiang sui he zhi sheng 群相隨和之聲), namely those of the song patterns zhuzhi 竹枝, and nü'er 女兒.

The melody and rhyme pattern was used for rustic poems or such dedicated to local customs and landscape descriptions, as can be seen in the collections Qianmiao zhuzhi ci 黔苗竹枝詞, Chen Can's 陳璨 Xihu zhuzhi ci, or the poems accompanying the illustrations of the agricultural book Gengzhitu 耕織圖.

Gu Yisheng 顧易生 (1987). "Zhuzhi ci 竹枝詞", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1311.