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The Making of Early Chinese Classical Poetry

The Making of Early Chinese Classical Poetry

Stephen Owen

ISBN 9780674021365

Publication date: 11/01/2006

Over the centuries, early Chinese classical poetry became embedded in a chronological account with great cultural resonance and came to be transmitted in versions accepted as authoritative. But modern scholarship has questioned components of the account and cast doubt on the accuracy of received texts. The result has destabilized the study of early Chinese poetry.

This study adopts a double approach to the poetry composed between the end of the first century BCE and the third century CE. First, it examines extant material from this period synchronically, as if it were not historically arranged, with some poems attached to authors and some not. By setting aside putative differences of author and genre, Stephen Owen argues, we can see that this was "one poetry," created from a shared poetic repertoire and compositional practices. Second, it considers how the scholars of the late fifth and early sixth centuries selected this material and reshaped it to produce the standard account of classical poetry.

As Owen shows, early poetry comes to us through reproduction—reproduction by those who knew the poem and transmitted it, by musicians who performed it, and by scribes and anthologists—all of whom changed texts to suit their needs.


  • Arguably the most erudite and prolific scholar/translator of English language studies of traditional Chinese poetry and poetics, Owen has published everything from introductory surveys to highly specialized technical studies of classical Chinese verse. The present work—six chapters plus a substantial introduction and seven useful appendixes—presents a detailed and fairly comprehensive treatment of how the standard corpus of "classical Chinese poetry" evolved and gained ever-wider acceptance.

    —J. W. Walls, Choice


  • Stephen Owen is James Bryant Conant University Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard University.

Book Details

  • 370 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center

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