China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The quadripartite division of Tang poetry in Early, High, Middle, and Late periods was first codified in the early Ming with Gao Bing’s Tangshi pinghui and remains standard today. The origin of such periodization is generally acknowledged to trace back to Yan Yu’s Canglang shihua in the late Southern Song.
This paper does not aim to disprove or challenge the heuristic functionality of such periodization. Rather it explores the cultural and literary forces behind the formation of such periodization in the Song. To be more specific, the paper illustrates four points. First, before Yan Yu, Song critics of different tastes and from different time periods often had different referents in using such terms as Tangren (“Tang poets”) and Tangshi (“Tang poetry”). Second, periodization is a form of canonization. The goal of periodization was not so much to divide the development of Tang poetry into coherent temporal segments as to apotheosize a particular period or rather particular poets from that period as an ahistorical and absolute model, from which any deviation would be condemned. Third, the urge to establish such a model grew out of a profound reflection on, and dissatisfaction with, the directions in which Song poetry had been developing. A particularly important factor was the backlash against the dominance of the so-called Jiangxi School of poetry. Lastly, the availability and proliferation of texts with the widespread use of print technology also gave impetus to periodize Tang poetry and to idolize certain poets over others.