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How to Read Chinese Poetry Podcast

How to Read Chinese Poetry Podcast

By Zong-qi Cai, Lingnan University
This podcast presents cutting-edge scholarship on Chinese poetry to a broad general audience. In its 52 episodes, leading experts guide listeners through a pleasurable journey of Chinese poetry, poem by poem, genre by genre, and dynasty by dynasty. They demonstrate how the selected poems work in Chinese to create a fascinating, untranslatable poetic beauty while illuminating their broader cultural significance. Poems are read aloud in English and Chinese to the background of the Chinese qin music. English translations, romanizations, and brief notes are provided at howtoreadchinesepoetry.com.
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Women and Poetry in the Tang Dynasty -A Traitor and a Murderess: the Poetic Nuns Li Ye and Yu Xuanji
This episode tells the stories of two Daoist nuns, Li Ye, who became a palace woman, and Yu Xuanji, who became a courtesan. Both left behind highly regarded poems but lost their lives to execution. The episode explores the perception of literary talent as it intersects with femininity. Guest Host: Dr. Maija Bell Samei
28:41
October 03, 2022
Women and Poetry in the Tang Dynasty -Courtesans, Poets, and the Courtesan-Poet Xue Tao
This episode discusses the interactions between courtesans and the literati during the Tang and how this is related to the formation of early ci poetry, and then introduces a few works by the well-known courtesan-poetess Xue Tao. Guest Host: Dr. Maija Bell Samei
28:53
September 26, 2022
Women and Poetry in the Tang Dynasty - Writing women from the inner quarters to the halls of power: Shangguan Wan’er
This episode introduces the problem of writing for women in the Tang in terms of the ritual regulation of women’s behavior and the social nature of poetry writing, then discusses the poetry of Shangguan Wan’er, a palace woman who became secretary to Empress Wu Zetian and also served at the court of her successor Emperor Zhongzong, becoming his consort. Guest Host: Dr. Maija Bell Samei
20:33
September 19, 2022
The Tang Dynasty: Quatrains - Waking from a Yangzhou Dream: Middle and Late Tang
This episode discusses the differences in tonal patterns between wujue and qijue, which had a clear impact on poetic practice. After the Tang, wujue became increasingly rare; we can conclude that poets no longer saw creative potential in the form—the great Tang writers had exhausted it. Qijue, on the contrary, remained one of the most popular and expressive poetic forms throughout the classical period. Guest Host: Prof. Charles Egan, San Fransico State University English poem recital by Andrew Merritt @ Andrew Merritt (divacatrecords.com)
29:18
September 12, 2022
The Tang Dynasty: Quatrains - The Boudoir and the Frontier: High Tang
Although a small number of Six Dynasties heptasyllabic quatrains are extant, and Early Tang poets experimented with the form, stylistically mature qijue poetry was an invention of the High Tang poets, most notably Wang Changling and Li Bai. Qijue developed along with Tang popular music, for which it was the major song form. Thus initially the thematic scope was narrow: qijue lyrics were generally limited to popular yuefu themes and those describing parting from friends and loved ones. Only gradually did the scope of qijue themes expand, until by the Middle and Late Tang, the form had become a flexible tool for personal expression. Guest Host: Prof. Charles Egan, San Fransico State University English poem recital by Andrew Merritt @ Andrew Merritt (divacatrecords.com)
22:38
September 05, 2022
The Tang Dynasty: Quatrains - Empty Mountains and Mirror Ponds: High Tang
Although Tang poets all used wujue to record concentrated poetic experience, and pursued the same fundamental aesthetic goals for the form, differing styles of poems can be discerned. Using representative poems by Wang Wei, Wang Zhihuan, and Li Bai, this episode presents two basic styles of Tang wujue, differentiated primarily by the choice of themes and the type of language employed. Guest Host: Prof. Charles Egan, San Fransico State University English poem recital by Andrew Merritt @ Andrew Merritt (divacatrecords.com)
25:08
August 29, 2022
The Tang Dynasty: Quatrains - Songs of the Heart, Verses of Nature: Pre-Tang Quatrains
The Chinese equivalent term of quatrain, i.e., jueju, literally means “cut-off lines.” It was erroneously believed by many critics that this meant the wujue and qijue forms had originated as quatrain segments cut from the eight-line lüshi forms. This episode begins with close readings of representative poems to provide readers a sense of the thematic and formal origins of jueju. A detailed examination of common jueju features then follows. Guest Host: Prof. Charles Egan, San Fransico State University English poem recital by Andrew Merritt @ Andrew Merritt (divacatrecords.com)
27:35
August 22, 2022
Recent-Style Poetry: Pentasyllabic Regulated Verse - Wang Wei the Poet-Immortal
This episode examines how Wang Wei embodies moments of heightened perception or rather Buddhist enlightenment through his painterly depiction of a mountain climbing trip. His masterful blending of illusive images, perceptual illusion, and Buddhist worldview exemplifies his towering achievement as the poet-Buddha. Host: Zong-qi Cai, Lingnan University of Hong Kong; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign English poem recital by Andrew Merritt @ Andrew Merritt (divacatrecords.com)
11:48
August 15, 2022
Recent-Style Poetry: Pentasyllabic Regulated Verse - Li Bai the Poet-Immortal
This episode examines Li Bai’s self-fashioning as a free spirit or rather the creator of the universe in a poetic form seemingly ill suited for making glamorous claims. The poem discussed is not among the best known of his works but well attests to his reputation as the poet-immortal. Host: Zong-qi Cai, Lingnan University of Hong Kong; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign English poem recital by Andrew Merritt @ Andrew Merritt (divacatrecords.com)
09:05
August 08, 2022
Recent-Style Poetry: Pentasyllabic Regulated Verse - Du Fu the Poet-Sage
This episode provides a close reading of Du Fu’s “Jiang and Han Rivers” and shows how the poet makes a masterful use of topic+comment construction to project his Confucian vision of the universe and the self and earns himself the title of poet-sage. Host: Zong-qi Cai, Lingnan University of Hong Kong; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign English poem recital by Andrew Merritt @ Andrew Merritt (divacatrecords.com)
10:01
August 01, 2022
Recent-Style Poetry: Pentasyllabic Regulated Verse - Dancing with Shackled Feet: Art of Recent-Style Poetry
This episode explains the lexical, syntactic, and structural rules of regulated verse and shows how high Tang masters turn these formal rules into a nonpareil vehicle of projecting their visions of the universe and the self, as evidenced in Du Fu’s famous poem “Spring Scene.” Host: Zong-qi Cai, Lingnan University of Hong Kong; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
34:13
July 25, 2022
Pentasyllabic Shi Poetry: Landscape Poetry - Xie Tiao: The Integration of Landscape
This episode concludes our exploration of Six Dynasties landscape poetry by considering the verse of Xie Tiao (464–499). By Xie Tiao's time, landscape was becoming an increasingly common topic within the world of courtly verse. Partly for this reason, Xie's poetry begins to efface the previously definitive distinction between the human world and the natural landscape, and moreover imbues that landscape with the passions of the courtier—in Xie's case, both his yearning for the court and capital and his well-justified fear of the dangers of court politics. Guest Host: Lucas Rambo Bender, Yale University English poem recital by Andrew Merritt @ Andrew Merritt (divacatrecords.com)
19:11
July 18, 2022
Pentasyllabic Shi Poetry: Landscape Poetry - Xie Lingyun's "Mountains and Waters"
Xie Lingyun (385–433) is generally recognized as the progenitor and paradigm of poetry on "mountains and waters" (shanshui 山水). Where Tao Qian had written predominantly of the only-partly wild landscapes near his cottage, Xie made his theme the dramatic wildernesses of the southlands. Much of his poetry concerns the scenery of his massive estate, which he staffed with a small army of servants and retainers. His most powerful verse, however, was written in the rugged, unforgiving landscapes he passed through on journeys into exile. Guest Host: Lucas Rambo Bender, Yale University English poem recital by Andrew Merritt @ Andrew Merritt (divacatrecords.com)
20:02
July 11, 2022
Pentasyllabic Shi Poetry: Landscape Poetry - Tao Qian's "Fields and Gardens"
Tao Qian (365–427) is premodern China's most famous recluse. After relinquishing his official career at around age 40, Tao returned to his rustic hometown to hide away from what he often suggested was a corrupt court and society. In the hermitage he made for himself at the foot of Mt. Lu, Tao wrote poetry that, on the one hand, extolls his enjoyment of life on the rural margin between the human world and the wilderness and, on the other, narrates the difficulties he had making a living there. For the first time in Chinese history, this is a poetry that grapples in a realistic way with both the beauty and the recalcitrance of the natural landscape. Guest Host: Lucas Rambo Bender, Yale University English poem recital by Andrew Merritt @ Andrew Merritt (divacatrecords.com)
20:35
July 04, 2022
Pentasyllabic Shi Poetry: Landscape Poetry - Landscapes of the Mind
This episode discusses the prehistory of Chinese landscape poetry. In the centuries before poets began to write consistently of their concrete, personal experiences out in nature, landscape appeared in poetry primarily as a foil for the city and the court, where most poets were writing. In this role, the natural landscape could be terrifyingly inhospitable or wondrous and pure. Either way, it was for the most part imagined rather than experienced, a site more often for mental roaming than for extended in-person exploration. Guest Host: Lucas Rambo Bender, Yale University English poem recital by Andrew Merritt @ Andrew Merritt (divacatrecords.com)
19:23
June 27, 2022
Han Ancient-style Poetry: The “Nineteen Old Poems” - Reflection through a Female Persona: a Mosaic of Emotions
The first of the “Nineteen Old Poems”, the best known poem of an abandoned woman in the collection, features a mosaic combination of time, space, and emotion fragments and thereby captures the otherwise inexpressible melancholy of an abandoned woman.  Such a mosaic combination is to become a preferred structure for the most intense of lyrical expressions in later poetry. Host: Zong-qi Cai, Lingnan University of Hong Kong; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
11:26
June 20, 2022
Han Ancient-style Poetry: The “Nineteen Old Poems” - Interplay of Images and Emotions: Binary Structure and Multilateral Texture
Two distinct formal features, binary structure and multilateral texture, are developed in the “Nineteen Old Poems,” the definitive collection of Han pentasyllabic poetry.  The rise of these two formal features attests to the profound impact of transitions from oral performance to poetic writing, from the dramatic/narrative to the lyrical mode of self-presentation. Host: Zong-qi Cai, Lingnan University of Hong Kong; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
15:19
June 13, 2022
Han Ancient-style Poetry: The “Nineteen Old Poems” - The Magic of One Additional Character and the Rise of Reflective Poetry
After nearly one millennium since its birth, Chinese poetry achieved an optimal convergence of sound and sense in its pentasyllabic poems developed during the Eastern Han (25-220 CE).  Taking full advantage of an explosive rise of two-character compounds, the anonymous Han pentasyllabic poets created a poetic rhythm far more flexible and expressive than all existing rhythms and adapted it for philosophical reflection and emotional brooding on human transience. Host: Zong-qi Cai, Lingnan University of Hong Kong; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
19:00
June 06, 2022
Yuefu Poetry - Political Satire or Coquetry? An Ambiguous Song
This episode discusses the two opposing interpretations of the poem entitled, “Mulberry Along the Lane,” one of the best-known yuefu songs in classical Chinese literature. Traditionally this poem has been interpreted as a representation of social injustice, depicting the situation of an official harassing a peasant girl. The other perspective is the poem is simply a verbal flirtation between a man and a woman and a popular song about a clever lady who employs an engaging and inoffensive way to turn down her suitor. Guest host: Jui-lung Su, National University of Singapore
19:37
May 30, 2022
Yuefu Poetry - A Bad Breakup in the Han Yuefu
This episode analyzes this yuefu piece from different perspectives. As many of the popular songs of the Han, this poem contains dialogue and monologue at the same time. The poem follows a daring woman’s emotional changes from her initial rage against her lover from the south who jilted her to an unsettling feeling of anxiety. Guest host: Jui-lung Su, National University of Singapore
13:13
May 23, 2022
Yuefu Poetry - War as a Theme in Early Popular Chinese Poetry
This episode first discusses the functions of the Han Music Bureau and the yuefu poetry as a poetic genre. It points out the fact that we still don’t know if the Bureau really collected these songs from various regions and matched them with music. Many of the popular poems we now call “Han yuefu” are actually preserved in the History of the Liu Song Dynasty written in the sixth century. The second part focuses on analyzing the yuefu poem entitled, “We Fought South of the Walls” from different angles. Guest host: Jui-lung Su, National University of Singapore
18:39
May 16, 2022
Lisao: The Poem and Its Author As a Composite Text - The Lisao as a Composite Intertext
This episode offers a detailed discussion of the structure and diction of the Lisao and describes the text not as a single poem but as a composite text created from different poetic registers, and different voices, that are otherwise known from the poems of Jiu ge, Jiu zhang, and Tian wen. Guest host: Martin Kern, Princeton University
21:08
May 09, 2022
Lisao: The Poem and Its Author As a Composite Text - The Fusion of Poetry and Biography
This episode discusses how Qu Yuan’s poetry and biography flow seamlessly into each other, and how the figures of poetic hero and heroic poet repeatedly switched places. Likewise, later transmitters, commentators, and poets could appropriate Qu Yuan’s voice with ease. Guest host: Martin Kern, Princeton University
19:24
May 02, 2022
Lisao: The Poem and Its Author As a Composite Text - The Meaning of Qu Yuan in the Western Han
This episode discusses what the Qu Yuan persona meant to Han dynasty intellectuals. Why was Qu Yuan important to Han thinkers in literary, political, and historical, terms? What did they find in the Qu Yuan persona? How did they identify with that persona of their imagination? Guest host: Martin Kern, Princeton University
19:47
April 25, 2022
The Lyrics of Chu: Qu Yuan and His Poetic Allegories - Spiritual and Imaginary Journeys in Lisao or “On Encountering Trouble”
This episode continues our previous discussion of the Li sao or On Encountering Trouble. It focuses on two failed spiritual/supernatural trips or flights in search of Qu Yuan’s ideal and his final decision to commit suicide as the result of his disillusionment with his ruler and society. Guest host: Fusheng Wu, The University of Utah
20:41
April 18, 2022
The Lyrics of Chu: Qu Yuan and His Poetic Allegories - The Poetic Persona in Lisao or “On Encountering Trouble”
This episode discusses Li sao or On Encountring Trouble,” the crowning achievement in the Chu ci repertoire. This poem evolves around the life of Qu Yuan, a poetic persona who is the alleged author of the poem. In the first part of the poem, Qu Yuan talks at length about his glorious family history and his own self-cultivation. Guest host: Fusheng Wu, The University of Utah
19:36
April 11, 2022
The Lyrics of Chu: Qu Yuan and His Poetic Allegories - A General Introduction to Chuci
This episode provides a brief general introduction to Chuci; it also discusses a poem in this repertoire, Xian jun(“The Lord of the Xiang River), and its influence on Li sao (“On Encountering Trouble”) that will be discussed in the next two episodes. Guest host: Fusheng Wu, The University of Utah
19:08
April 04, 2022
The Book of Poetry: The Han Canonization - Dead Deer Meat as a Gift
This episode looks at the concerted effort by three prominent Han commentators to allegorize a poem made up of disjointed or rather conflicting parts. It also reflects on the ironic fact that Han commentators’ allegorizing process itself constitutes a beautiful exercise of literary imagination, foreshadowing the fruitful exploitation of semantic, syntactic, and structural ambiguities by Du Fu, Li Shangyin, and other Tang poets. Host: Zong-qi Cai, Lingnan University of Hong Kong; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
14:06
March 28, 2022
The Book of Poetry: The Han Canonization - Romeo and Juliet-like Rendezvous
This episode features a poem that enacts, through incremental repetition, the unfolding drama of a young woman being torn by longing, hesitancy, love, and fear while a suitor is crushing all physical barriers to have a tryst with her. To sanitize this poem, Han commentators resorted to an allegorizing strategy called “cutting off a section to create a new meaning,” constructing a political allegory on the thinnest of evidence. Host: Zong-qi Cai, Lingnan University of Hong Kong; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
14:58
March 21, 2022
The Book of Poetry: The Han Canonization - A Love Song and A Moral Exemplum
This episode discusses how the anonymous author of “Prefaces to the Book of Poetry” turned “Osprey,” the first of the 305 Shijing poems, from a lively love song into a moral exempla by means of gender switching. It also explains that such imaginative gender switching was made possible by classical Chinese grammar, especially its ungendered use of pronouns and its frequent omission of sentence subjects. Host: Zong-qi Cai, Lingnan University of Hong Kong; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
12:52
March 14, 2022
The Book of Poetry and Diplomacy - What Does it Mean to Say, "I love you"?
This episode discusses how the language of love and kinship is used in diplomatic negotiations through the recitation of odes. For example, a Lu minister uses a wedding song to compare smaller states to a bride welcomed by her groom (the powerful Jin). A woman picking artemisia with care becomes the analogue for a powerful state cherishing a weak one. A Zheng minister uses an ode about seduction to forestall or resist aggression. A Jin leader affirms an alliance through an ode celebrating brotherhood. Guest host: Wai-yee Li, Harvard University
17:54
March 07, 2022
The Book of Poetry and Diplomacy - Who is the Boss?
This episode uses two scenes of reciting odes to explore the struggle for hegemony. The first shows how a fugitive Jin Prince declare his ambition despite his precarious and dependent position. The second features a Jin leader pushing back against the hubristic self-aggrandizement of a Chu prince. Guest host: Wai-yee Li, Harvard University
13:45
February 28, 2022
The Book of Poetry and Diplomacy - Who is the Barbarian?
This episode discusses how a “barbarian” chief gains diplomatic advantages by reciting an ode now included in Shijing. The recitation both asserts and effaces differences between “Chinese” and “barbarian” states. It seeks to redefine the past and argues for equality and amity between Jin and the Rong. Guest host: Wai-yee Li, Harvard University
12:21
February 21, 2022
The Book of Poetry - Zhou Dynastic Building
“Woven” like many of the Da ya (Greater Odes) sings of two of the heroes who laid the groundwork for their grandson and son to overcome the Shang and establish the Zhou dynasty. The text lends itself to memorization and may have been part of early court ritual as our own Star-Spangled Banner celebrates an event in the early history of our country. Guest host: William H. Nienhauser, University of Wisconsin at Madison
19:02
February 14, 2022
The Book of Poetry - Courtship Poems
The three courtship forms, “I Beg of you, Zhong Zi,” “The Banks of the Ru,” and “The Retiring Girl,” present contrasting depictions of the courtship process in early China. In the first, a village encounter between two lovers or potential lovers is depicted. The man and the woman in “The Banks of the Ru” may be married or simply lovers, but the link to the previous poem is the concern about the girl’s parents. This is the most clearly erotic of the poems presented. “The Retiring Girl” depicts a couple in a relationship with the young woman still reticent to have their love made public. Guest Host:William H. Nienhauser, the University of Wisconsin at Madison
26:12
February 07, 2022
The Book of Poetry - Marriage Poems
A brief introduction to The Book of Poetry (Shijing), the earliest Chinese poetical collection. While providing close reading of two poems, it informs us about the provenance, subgenres, presentational modes, thematic categories, and formal features of this great poetical collection. Guest Host:William H. Nienhauser, the University of Wisconsin at Madison
23:18
January 25, 2022