China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
General primers in premodern China usually focused on character recognition, basic knowledge of nature, life, and history, and moral instruction. They sometimes appeared in a poetic form to help children memorize and to better convey the content. Children from elite families received poetry education in various ways, including by means of anthologies and encyclopedias, informal poetry selections, family instruction, and private tutoring. Specific poetry primers for public consumption, however, did not emerge until the Song. This paper focuses on two poetry primers of the time, Poems of Prodigies and Assorted Selection of One Thousand Poems by Worthies of the Tang and Song. Through a comparative study, I look into the connections between the poetry primers and the broader literary, social, political, and institutional trends; more specifically, what propelled the popularization of poetry education in general and what helped shape the two primers in particular. My tentative conclusions are, firstly, while Poems of Prodigies was largely under the impact of special exams for talented children and the regular civil service examination in the Song, Assorted Selection was based more on the practices of elite families in child education and the local milieu. Secondly, although the two primers might not necessarily commit a child to further study or serious engagement in poetry writing, the reading, recitation and appreciation of poetry became an important part of children’s education then and thereafter.