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The Making of Classics: Li Bai and Du Fu’s Poems in Anthologies of Tang Poetry between the Tang and the Ming Dynasties

In: Journal of Chinese Humanities
Author:
Fang Ding Visiting Professor of the School of Chinese Language and Literature, Jiangsu Normal University Xuzhou, Jiangsu China

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Abstract

The canonization of Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry occurred over a period that spanned centuries and dynasties. The treatment of Li Bai and Du Fu’s works differed through the ages. Among anthologies from the Tang and the Five Dynasties that remain to our disposition today, only three contain poems by Li Bai, and only one includes some by Du Fu. Tang compilers had a poor opinion of the two poets. Their criticism contrasts substantially with the praise that was offered by Han Yu and other poets. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, scholars held Li Bai and Du Fu in high regard, yet their poems were often omitted by compilers. The main reason for this exclusion was that both poets’ complete works had long been considered unworthy and set aside. Compilers respected the skills of the two poets, but they did not truly appreciate their work. During the Ming dynasty, anthologies would comment on the two poets as important figures of literary history. Compilers praised their art as being of the highest quality. By then, both poets were highly respected, and their poems had officially already been made into classics. In the process of becoming classics, works of art can be seen as enduring, and as cumulating value through different periods of time. Times keep on changing, yet the significance of Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry became all the more obvious as centuries passed.

In the firmament of Chinese poetry, Li Bai 李白 [701–762] and Du Fu 杜甫 [712–770], shine like the twins of the Gemini constellation. This was not always the case. It took decades for scholars to warm up to Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry, and they only came to be considered classics after centuries of anthologizing Tang poems. It is during the Ming dynasty [1368–1644] that the interest toward Li Bai and Du Fu among compilers was at its highest. This was in perfect accordance with the cultural zeitgeist then, when “prose was to be modeled on the writing of the Qin [221–207 BCE] and the Han [206 BCE–220 CE], and poetry on the works of High Tang [Shengtang 盛唐] poets.”1 Contemporary research on Tang anthologies has provided many valuable insights on the topic. Examples worthy of mention are, among others, Lu Yanxin’s 盧燕新 A Study of the Compilation of Poetry Anthologies during the Tang Dynasty [Tangren bianxuan shiwen zongji yanjiu 唐人編選詩文總集研究], Zhang Zhihua’s 張智華 A Study of the Compilation of Poetry Collections during the Southern Song Dynasty [Nan Song de shiwen xuanben yanjiu 南宋的詩文選本研究], Chen Fei’s 陳斐 The Compilation of Tang Poetry and Poetics during the Southern Song Dynasty [Nan Song Tangshi xuanben yu shixue kaolun 南宋唐詩選本與詩學考論] and Jin Shengkui’s 金生奎 A Study of the Compilation of Tang Poetry during the Ming Dynasty [Mingdai Tangshi xuanben yanjiu 明代唐詩選本研究]. These contributions are all enlightening for the present research. Yet, these authors often mention the canonization of Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry, but do not explore in detail the actual process by which these poems became classics. This has left room for further research, which we present here.

1 From the Tang’s Ignorance to the Yuan’s Superficial Esteem

Based on historical records, more than 170 collections of Tang poems must have been compiled during the Tang dynasty [618–907]. Those extant almost all appear in their block-printed format in Tang Compilers Editing Tang Poetry [Tangren xuan Tangshi xinbian 唐人選唐詩新編], which Fu Xuancong 傅璇琮 [1933–2016], Chen Shangjun 陳尚君 and Xu Jun 徐俊 edited.2 The book contains sixteen collections of Tang poems, some of which do not include poems by Li Bai or Du Fu, for reasons that have to do with the period during which they were put together or the places in which they were, or simply because these poems were not available to the compilers. For instance, the Collection of the Hanlin Academicians [Hanlin xueshi ji 翰林學士集], the Pearls and Blossoms Anthology [Zhu ying ji 珠英集] and the Little Collection of Searching for Jade [Sou yu xiaoji 搜玉小集] contain only works by Early Tang [Chutang 初唐] poets. Similarly, because neither Li Bai nor Du Fu belonged to the area covered by Yin Fan’s 殷璠 [fl. 713–756] Collection from Danyang [Danyang ji 丹陽集], there is no mention of their works to be found in it. As for Rui Tingzhang’s 芮挺章 [fl. 742–756] Collection of the Nation’s Ripened Talents [Guo xiu ji 國秀集], it was published in the third year [744] of the Tianbao 天寶 era [742–756], and hence it could not possibly have kept a record of any of Li Bai or Du Fu’s poems. As for Yuan Jie’s 元結 [715–772] Collection from the Book-Bin [Qie zhong ji 篋中集], it was published during the Qianyuan 乾元 era [758–760]. The book contains twenty-four poems from seven authors, including Chen Qianyun 沈千運 [fl. 715–772] but none again by Li Bai and Du Fu. Li Kangcheng’s 李康成 [fl. 742–756] Another Jade Terrace Collection [Yu tai hou ji 玉臺後集] continues the work of Xu Ling 徐陵 [507–583] in New Songs of the Jade Terrace [Yu tai xin yong 玉臺新詠], citing only poems narrating women’s lives. The originals are no longer extant, but in the text compiled by Chen Shangjun, there are no works by Li Bai and Du Fu. Gao Zhongwu’s 高仲武 [fl.712–805] Collection of the Ministerial Spirit of an Age of Revival [Zhong xing jian qi ji 中興間氣集] was put together not long after the publication of the Collection of the Finest Souls of our Rivers and Alps [Heyue yingling ji 河岳英靈集]. The two anthologies are very close in style and their authors selected almost all the same celebrated Tang poems. The absence of Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry in this specific collection reflects Gao Zhongwu’s narrow artistic views as well as his ignorance. It also illustrates how Li Bai and Du Fu’s works had yet to become classics of poetry. There were clear and precise standards according to which poems could be selected as entries in other collections published during the Middle Tang [Zhongtang 中唐]. Many, hence, did not include any poems by Li Bai and Du Fu. Examples of such collections are Linghu Chu’s 令狐楚 [766–837] Poems for the Emperor’s Inspection [Yulan shi 御覽詩], Chu Cangyan’s 禇藏言 [fl. 860–874] The Dou Family’s String of Pearls Collection [Dou shi lian zhu ji 竇氏聯珠集], Cai Xingfeng’s 蔡省風 [fl. 875–907] New Songs from the Jade Lake [Yaochi xin yong ji 瑤池新詠集] and Yao He’s 姚合 [776–842] Collection of the Superlatively Mysterious [Ji xuan ji 極玄集].

Yin Fan’s Collection of the Finest Souls of our Rivers and Alps is one of the extant anthologies of poetry that has had the most influence on subsequent generations of scholars. It was published in the twelfth year of the Tianbao era of Tang Xuanzong’s 唐玄宗 reign [713–756] and it consists of more than 230 poems by twenty-four High Tang poets. Wang Changling 王昌齡 [d. 756] comes in first place with sixteen poems, while Chang Jian 常建 [708–765] and Wang Wei 王維 [700–761] both have fifteen poems to their names included. There are fourteen poems by Li Qi 李頎 [ca. 690–ca. 754], and Li Bai and Gao Shi 高適 [ca. 700–765] both come in fifth place, with thirteen poems each. Yin Fan’s comment on Li Bai’s poetry reads:

Li Bai loved his liquor and his character made him unable to bear any kind of constraint. He once holed up more than ten years in some forest in the mountains. Hence, there is both an unrestrained quality and flowing elegance to his poems. As for poems such as “The Road to Shu is Steep [Shu dao nan 蜀道難],” they can be described as being of the most surprising and remarkable kind. Since Qu Yuan’s Songs of Chu [Chu ci 楚辭], such style has been quite rare.3

Yin Fan first recognizes that Li Bai writes as if he is free of any constraint. He then describes poems such as “The Road to Shu is Steep” as surprising and remarkable. Such a comment seems to indicate Yin Fan appreciated Li Bai’s poetry. However, he also considered it as peculiar enough to belong to a kind of its own. In fact, Yin Fan did not regard Li Bai’s poetry as part of the canon of Tang poetry. As for Du Fu, he lived and gained fame relatively later. While Yin Fan was selecting works for his collection in Runzhou 潤州, Du Fu was trapped in Chang’an. The two places being far away from each other, and Du Fu’s reputation as a poet having yet to grow, his poems could not possibly make the cut. There are 299 poems still extant from Wei Zhuang’s 韋莊 [ca. 836–910] Collection of the Even More Mysterious [You xuan ji 又玄集], but only seven by Du Fu and four by Li Bai. In this anthology, the selection and omission of poems seem to follow quite a random pattern, as if choices were made based on the compiler’s inclinations only. Wei Hu 韋縠 [ca. 884–ca. 960] compiled his Collection of the Gifted and Talented [Caidiao ji 才調集] at the time of the Later Shu kingdom 后蜀 [934–966], during the period of the Five Dynasties [907–960]. The anthology contains a thousand poems, and in its preface, the compiler appears to hold in high regard both Li Bai and Du Fu. However, no poems by the latter made their entry into the collection, while twenty-eight poems by Li Bai did. This amounts to a fairly low number nonetheless. Moreover, most of these are Yuefu 樂府 verse, i.e., poems written in a folk style. One would describe these poems as charming and elegant, two features that are not representative of Li Bai’s most famous work.

Among the anthologies of Tang poetry compiled during the Tang dynasty that are still extant, only three of them contain poems by Li Bai – and those are never many. As for Du Fu, he is even more ignored by his contemporaries: a mere seven poems appear in the Collection of the Even More Mysterious, while all other compilers ignored the poet’s achievements. When reviewing the work of Tang compilers, it becomes evident that the canonization of Li Bai and Du Fu had not even started at the time. If we are to look at the reasons behind this, one would be that neither Li Bai nor Du Fu ever succeeded in passing the imperial examinations, another would be that they did not belong to wealthy and influential clans and were not descendants of high-ranked officials. In their lifetime, neither Du Fu nor Li Bai enjoyed great reputations as poets. Both men also lived through the difficult times of the An Lushan Rebellion [Anshi zhi luan 安史之亂]. They met plenty of hardships during their existence and were forced to wander from one place to the next. One could hardly keep texts safe in such conditions, and the poems could not possibly have circulated among readers in a rapid fashion. Moreover, the art of printing had yet to develop further. It was not widespread at the time. As a result, it seems par for the course that compilers would not even have been able to set eyes on the works of Li Bai and Du Fu. Nonetheless, the Tang compilers’ indifference contrasts tremendously with the great admiration expressed by poets of the Middle and Late Tang periods in regard to Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry.4 This is revealing of how little acknowledgment the general population granted to the two poets’ verse. Their works remained inaccessible and thus it was impossible for people to recognize their value.

During the Song dynasty [960–1279], the complete works of both poets were block-printed many times and widely circulated among the population. However, in collections of Tang poetry compiled during the Song dynasty, compilers adopt a respectful, yet detached attitude toward the two masters. For instance, Wang Anshi 王安石 [1021–1086] in his Anthology of a Hundred Tang Poets [Tang baijia shi xuan 唐百家詩選],5 for which he selected over 1200 poems by 104 poets, claims that “if one desires to be literate in Tang poetry, this collection only will suffice.”6 Yet, neither Li Bai nor Du Fu appear in it. Hong Mai 洪邁 [1123–1202] selected eighty-three pentasyllabic jueju 絕句, or quatrains, and eighty-five heptasyllabic ones by Li Bai for his Ten Thousand Quatrains from the Tang Dynasty [Wan shou Tangren jueju 萬首唐人絕句], as well as thirty-two pentasyllabic quatrains and 108 heptasyllabic ones by Du Fu. Poems that appear in the collection are only in one form (i.e., quatrains) however, and those that made the cut do not pay tribute to the achievements of the two great poets. Four poems by Li Bai and six by Du Fu are found in Ke Mengde’s 柯夢得 [fl. 1194–1225] collection entitled Quatrains from the Tang Worthies [Tangxian jueju 唐賢絕句]. None though appear in Zhao Shixiu’s 趙師秀 [1170–1217] Anthology of Many Fine Poets [Zhong miao ji 眾妙集] or in Liu Kezhuang’s 劉克莊 [1187–1269] Pentasyllabic and Heptasyllabic Quatrains from the Tang Dynasty [Tang wu qi yan jueju 唐五七言絕句]. Other major anthologies make no mention of either Li Bai nor Du Fu. Such is the case of Zhou Bi’s 周弼 [1194–1255] Tang Poetry in Three Forms [Santi Tangshi 三體唐詩], published at the end of the Song dynasty, and Yuan Haowen’s 元好問 [1190–1257] The Celebration of Tang Poetry, or Fife and Drum Songs of Tang Poetry [Tangshi guchui 唐詩鼓吹], compiled during the Jin dynasty [1115–1234].7

Well-known anthologies of Tang poems compiled during the Yuan dynasty [1279–1368] include Fang Hui’s 方回 [1227–1307] Luminaries of Essential Regulated Verses [Yingkui lüsui 瀛奎律髓], block-printed in the twentieth year of the Zhiyuan 至元 era [1282] and Yang Shihong’s 楊士弘 [fl. 1264–1368] Sounds of Tang [Tang yin 唐音], block-printed in the fourth year of the Zhizheng 至正 era [1344]. More than sixty years had passed between the publication of the two collections, and the difference in treatment of Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry in both reflects the major changes in perspectives that occurred during that span of time.

There are approximately 3000 poems in regulated verse, or lüshi 律诗, written by 385 different poets, from both the Tang and Song dynasties in the Luminaries of Essential Regulated Verses. Fang Hui held in high regard both Du Fu and the Jiangxi school [Jiangxi shipai 江西詩派]. He devoted twenty-nine of its forty-nine fascicles [juan ] to Du Fu’s poetry, for a total of 209 poems. Fang Hui first coined the expression “one ancestor and three masters,” when he wrote, “Among poets from the past up to present days, Du Fu must be regarded as the ancestor, and Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅 [1045–1105], Chen Shidao 陳師道 [1053–1102] and Chen Yuyi 陳與義 [1090–1139] as the great masters that followed. Not many others rival them in talent.”8 Fang Hui’s collection mostly contains poems by Du Fu and other authors of the Middle and Late Tang periods, as well as poems by authors from the Northern Song, such as Huang Tingjian. As Qian Zhongshu 錢鍾書 [1910–1998] pointed out, all were poems that had a “Song ring” to them. Yet, Fang Hui only selected pentasyllabic or heptasyllabic poems in regulated verse, and those alone cannot convey Du Fu’s transcendent talent and versatility in style. The treatment of Li Bai’s poetry is even more unfair, since Yan Hui selected a mere ten poems among all his works. As for Yang Shihong’s Sounds of Tang, it contains 1421 poems from the Tang dynasty.9 Yang selected no work by Li Bai or Du Fu, even though he seems, in his preface, to have a lot of esteem for both men: “Poetry never flourished more than it did during the Tang. Li Bai and Du Fu’s works tower above all those who came before and whoever wants to discuss poetry after them will have to study them.”10

In sum, scholars who compiled anthologies of Tang poetry during the Song and the Yuan dynasties admired Li Bai and Du Fu, but they did not truly appreciate their worth. Their main excuse might have been that anthologies did not circulate a lot yet, but, on the whole, this inability to give Li Bai and Du Fu the attention they deserved seriously impaired the popularity of both poets among the general population, weakening the influence they could have had at the time.

2 The Ming Dynasty: Li Bai and Du Fu Both Inspire Reverence

During the Ming dynasty, scholars emphasized the importance of Tang poetry in literary history. They also considered Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry as nothing less than the zenith of this history.

Gao Bing’s 高棅 [1350–1423] Appraisal and Collection of Tang Poetry, or Graded Compendium of Tang Poetry [Tangshi pin hui 唐詩品匯], published in 1293, remains the most famous anthology of Tang poems published during the Ming dynasty. There are ninety fascicles to the original, on which 5769 poems by 620 authors are recorded. The collection is organized based on the style or form of the poems. Gao Bing carried on, and added to, Yan Yu’s 嚴羽 [1192/1197–ca. 1245] periodization of Tang poetry. In the collection, Tang years are divided into four periods: the Early Tang, the High Tang, the Middle Tang and the Late Tang [Wantang 晚唐]. Gao Bing also identifies nine different standards on which he can grade the works he is citing: proper beginnings [zhengshi 正始], proper pedigree [zhengzong 正宗], great master [dajia 大家], notable master [mingjia 名家], supplementary [yuyi 羽翼], follower [jiewu 接武], resonant with the times [zhengbian 正變], lingering echoes [yuxiang 餘響] and side stream [pangliu 旁流]. The Early Tang poems are naturally regarded as proper beginnings, whereas proper pedigree, great master, notable master and supplementary refer to High Tang poets, because of their following of classical teachings, or as the names of the categories make clear, because of their excellence, notoriety or rather accessory status in history. The Middle Tang poets are presented as followers who emulated the achievements of those who came before them. Finally, the Late Tang poets are described as being resonant with the times, or again as lingering echoes; the former because they strived both to follow the ancient standard and make them evolve, the latter because of their powerful melodies. Finally, some poets fall under the label “side streams,” because they were outsiders, such as Buddhist monks and Daoist priests, or imperial concubines. Li Bai’s poems were mostly considered as belonging to the proper pedigree category, whereas Du Fu’s appeared for the most part under the great master one. In terms of numbers, both men’s poems come in first position among all those recorded by Gao Bing. At this stage, their paramount importance in the history of Tang poetry seems to have been firmly established. In Gao Bing’s system for studying poetry, poems categorized as part of the proper pedigree are the ones that receive the highest praises. Li Bai’s poems are considered proper pedigree in six of the forms in which they are written, while one form is listed as a proper beginning. As for Du Fu, Gao Bing accords him the title of great master. Although Du Fu was then considered one of the foremost poets in literary history, he did not, in the eyes of Gao, qualified as a “proper pedigree” type. This perhaps might be explained by the changes embodied by Du Fu’s poetry, as it straddled the divide between the High and the Middle Tang. Five forms of poems by Du Fu are listed under the “great master” category and two forms are listed under the “supplementary.” Gao Bing selected 408 poems by Li Bai and 297 by Du Fu, which amounts to a total of 705 for both masters. Besides, their most consummate works all appear in the anthology. Gao Bing’s preface to the Appraisal and Collection of Tang Poetry amply confirms Li Bai and Du Fu’s status as major poets:

During the Kaiyuan 開元 and the Tianbao eras of the Tang emperor Xuanzong’s reign, there was the flowing grace of Li Bai’s poems, the pathos of Du Fu’s, the refined style of Meng Haoran’s 孟浩然, the exquisite writing of Wang Wei’s, the superior melodies of Wang Changling’s, the solemn and stirring quality of Gao Shi’s and Cen Shen’s 岑參, and the extraordinary character of Li Qi’s and Chang Jian’s. Those works are the quintessence of the golden age that was the High Tang period.11

Gao Bing carefully selected works already appearing in his Appraisal and Collection of Tang Poetry for the twenty-two fascicles that make up his Proper Music of Tang Poetry [Tangshi zhengsheng 唐詩正聲]. Based on our calculations,12 the Proper Music of Tang Poetry contains a total of 934 poems from the Tang dynasty, including eighty-one by Li Bai and ninety-three by Du Fu. It is obvious then that Gao Bing always had a lot of admiration for both poets. One could in fact say they appear in the collection as towering above others. Some longer pentasyllabic and heptasyllabic old-style poems [gushi 古詩] and songs in old form [gexing 歌行] of theirs were left out, however, possibly because there was not enough room to include them.

One of the Later Seven Masters [houqizi 后七子], Li Panlong 李攀龍 [1514–1570], compiled the Selections of Tang Poetry [Tangshi xuan 唐詩選], a collection in seven fascicles, arranged by forms. It records, in order, pentasyllabic old-style poems, heptasyllabic old-style ones, pentasyllabic regulated verse (or lüshi), pentasyllabic long regulated verse [pailü 排律], heptasyllabic regulated verse, pentasyllabic quatrains (or jueju) and heptasyllabic quatrains, for a total of 460 Tang poems,13 including thirty-four by Li Bai and forty-eight by Du Fu. Both poets come again in first place based on the number of poems cited. In his preface to his Selections of Tang poetry, Li Panlong vouches for Du Fu’s heptasyllabic old-style verse, as well as for Li Bai’s pentasyllabic and heptasyllabic quatrains, but when it comes to heptasyllabic verse, he vouches for Wang Wei and Li Qi. For Li Bai, Li Panlong selected mainly pentasyllabic regulated verses (a total of five poems), pentasyllabic quatrains (five again) and heptasyllabic quatrains (eighteen), and only selected two old-style poems, which is a rather small number. His selection of poems by Du Fu is fairly reasonable, with eight heptasyllabic old-style poems, twelve pentasyllabic regulated verses, seven pentasyllabic long regulated verses, and twelve heptasyllabic regulated verses. The anthology is to some extent a reflection of the poetry of the Early and the Later Seven Masters [qian hou qi zi 前后七子].

Tang Ruxun’s 唐汝詢 [fl. 1573–1644] Tang Poems Interpreted [Tangshi jie 唐詩解], published during the Ming dynasty, is also an anthology worthy of review. Tang Rushun compiled the anthology by editing the works of Gao Bing and Li Panlong discussed above. Based on Wang Zhenhan’s 王振漢 calculations, Tang poems Interpreted contains more than 1500 Tang poems, among which 175 are written by Li Bai and 174 by Du Fu,14 a number as impressive as the number of poems compiled in Proper Music of Tang Poetry. The work is in fact an extended edition of Gao Bing’s collection, with about 500 more poems, in addition to explanatory notes and remarks (or interpretations, as conveyed by the character jie in the title).

From Gao Bing’s first collection to his second, and from Li Panlong’s anthology to Tang Ruxun’s, the reverence for Tang poetry and the importance attached to Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry remain clear constants. These collections from the Ming dynasty clearly helped disseminate the two poets’ works and contributed to their fame.

During the late Ming dynasty, Zhong Xing 鍾惺 [1574–1624] and Tan Yuanchun 譚元春 [1586–1637], both members of the Jingling school [Jingling pai 竟陵派], compiled a collection they entitled Return to Tang Poetry [Tangshi gui 唐詩歸]. At first glance, the selection seems to bear absolutely no resemblance to the ones made by members of the Restoring Antiquity school [Fugu pai 復古派] discussed above. Zhong and Tan not only opposed the emulation of the High Tang poets by the Early and the Later Seven Masters, declaring the style of these poets to be “orotund, overripe, and narrow,” they also stood against the “jarring, vulgar and obscure” methods of the Gong’an school [Gong’an pai 公安派]. Conversely, they advocated an attention to “the quiet and beautiful, to the small details of one’s emotions” (see Zhong’s preface) and to “one’s own personal moods and convictions” (see Tan’s preface). They did not, as the Gong’an school had, vouch for the Middle and Late Tang poets, and they still held the High Tang in high regard. Simply, they differed considerably from the Restoring Antiquity school in the works they elected to present. Zhong and Tan adopted the periodization that Gao Bing had conceived, and Return to Tang Poetry offers thirty-six fascicles of poetry, for a grand total of 2237 poems by 294 authors. Among all anthologies compiled during the Ming dynasty, Return to Tang Poetry comes second in the number of poems it contains, right after the Appraisal and Collection of Tang Poetry by Gao Bing. Yet, the compilers excluded a lot of classical poems that are usually celebrated. Wu Guoping 鄔國平, Sun Chunqing 孫春青 and Sun Xuetang 孫學堂 devoted a lot of attention to this particular issue and analyzed it in minute detail.15

In anthologies compiled by members of the Restoring Antiquity school, Li Bai and Du Fu occupy the center stage. Their poems are the most cited, in roughly equal numbers for both of them. However, in Return to Tang Poetry, Du Fu comes first with 313 poems, Wang Wei second with 113, and Li Bai third with ninety-eight. It is in the specific titles selected by the compilers that the difference is the most striking. Zhong Xing, for instance, only included one of Li Bai’s “Fifty-Nine Old-Style Poems [Gufeng wushijiu shou 古風五十九首]”: “The Phoenix Ascending Nine Thousand Ren [Feng fei jiuqian ren 鳳飛九 千仞]”. Many famous heptasyllabic old-style poems by Li Bai did not make the cut either, such as “The Road to Shu is Steep [Shu dao nan 蜀道難]”, the “Chant of Liangfu [Liangfu yin 梁甫吟]”, “Bring in the Wine [Jiang jin liu 將進酒]”, “A Song of Parting for Dan Qiuzi on Mount Hua’s Cloudy Peak [Xiyue yuntai ge song Dan Qiu zi 西嶽雲台歌送丹丘子]”, “A Song of Lu Mountain to Censor Lu Xuzhou [Lushan yao ji lu shiyu xu zhou 廬山謠寄盧侍御虛舟]”, “A Song of Adieu to the Queen of the Skies, After a Dream Voyage to Her [Mengyou tianmu yin liu bie 夢遊天姥吟留別]” and “Responding to ‘Meditation on a Cold Night While Drinking Alone’ by Wang the Twelfth [Da Wang Shi’er hanye duzhuo youhuai 答王十二寒夜獨酌有懷]”. In “Eight Poems on Autumn Moods [Qiuxing ba shou 秋興八首]” and “Five Poems on Generals [Zhu jiang wu shou 諸將五首]”, Du Fu’s writing is powerful and simply soul-stirring. These poems in heptasyllabic regulated verse stand out as masterpieces in the history of Chinese literature, and there has been widespread consensus among scholars as to the organic whole that Du Fu’s lines create. Zhong and Tan, though, held different opinions. They not only did not appreciate the quality of these poems, but they also cut them down, keeping only one or two of them. Zhong and Tan preferred poems that were quieter and more delicate in style, but this editing has since antagonized most readers. The reality is, their thinking was narrow in scope, and their artistic taste mediocre. They were only able to appreciate sentimentalist descriptions of a poet’s interior life. The complexity and profoundness of Du Fu’s writing eluded them completely. Zhong and Tan also were also unmoved by Li Bai’s heptasyllabic old-style poems, even though Du Fu once wrote of Li Bai’s writing that it could “startle wind and rain,” and make “ghosts and spirits weep.”16

Block-printed in the eleventh year of the Chongzhen Emperor’s 崇禎 reign [1628–1644] and compiled by Zhou Jing 周敬 [fl. 1465–1487] and Zhou Ting 周珽 [1565–1647], the Revised and Annotated Anthology of Tang Poetry [Shanbu Tangshi xuan mai jian shi huitong ping lin 刪補唐詩選脈箋釋會通評林] is one of the most major achievements of the end of the Ming dynasty. Zhou Jing and Zhou Ting offer more than 2400 poems from a wide range of poets, which they all comment on impartially, avoiding the biases displayed by their predecessors, whether they were from the Restoring Antiquity, the Gong’an or the Jingling schools. They put together a remarkable reader of Tang poetry for subsequent generations to refer to. The collection contains a total of 172 poems by Du Fu and 154 by Li Bai, and most of the two poets’ masterpieces. As for the comments provided, they are fairly insightful, as already discussed in depth in another paper of ours.17

3 Generation after Generation, Li Bai and Du Fu’s Fame Keeps Growing

Fortunately, even though compilers did not pay enough attention to Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry during the Tang dynasty, relatively complete collections of their works were preserved. Li Yangbing 李陽冰 [fl. 756–805] compiled poems of Li Bai into The Thatched Cottage Collection [Caotang ji 草堂集], Wei Hao 魏顥 [fl. 756–762] compiled the Li Hanlin Collection [Li Hanlin ji 李翰林集] and Fan Chuanzheng 范傳正 [fl. 806–820] also completed an anthology of Li Bai’s poetry. At the beginning of the Song dynasty, Yue Shi 樂史 [930–1007] completed two anthologies, which he entitled the Li Hanlin Collection [Li Hanlin ji 李翰林集] and Another Li Hanlin Collection [Li Hanlin bie ji 李翰林別集]. Not long after, Song Minqiu 宋敏求 [1019–1079] compiled the records of a multitude of scholars into thirty fascicles entitled An Anthology of the Works of Li Taibai [Li Taibai wen ji 李太白文集]. Zeng Gong 曾鞏 [1019–1083] presented an amended version of the work in the third year of the Yuanfeng 元豐 era [1078–1085]. Shortly before, Su Shunqin 蘇舜欽 [1008–1048], followed by Wang Zhu 王洙 [997–1057], had busied themselves arranging Du Fu’s works, but they did not manage to print the texts they had compiled. In the Jiayou 嘉佑 [1056–1063] era, Wang Qi 王琪 [fl. 1056–1063] continued Wang Zhu’s work and had the collection printed. In the Zhiping 治平 era [1064–1067], Pei Yu 裴煜 [fl. 1041–1067] added nine pieces to it, including Yuan Zhen’s 元稹 [779–831] “Epitaph for Du Fu [Du Fu Muzhiming 杜甫墓誌銘]”, and reprinted and redistributed the edited collection. The work which Wang Zhu initiated, and which his son Wang Qi amended and Pei Yu supplemented, became ultimately known as An Anthology of Vice-Director of the Ministry of Works Du [Du gong bu ji 杜工部集]. Many anthologies in the future would be modeled on this one.18 Yang Qixian 楊齊賢 [fl. 1194–1225], who lived during the Song dynasty, compiled and commented a collection of poems by Li Bai. His work was supplemented by Xiao Shiyun 蕭士贇 [fl. 1249–1333] during the Yuan dynasty, and published under the title A Categorized and Supplemented Collection of Li Taibai’s Poetry [Fenlei buzhu Li Taibai shi 分類補注李太白詩]. This is one example of the commented anthologies of Li Bai’s poetry that circulated at the time. Many collections of comments on Du Fu’s works were published as well. Guo Zhida’s 郭知達 [fl. 1174–1189] Nine Collected and Annotated Commentaries on Du Fu’s Poetry [Jiu jia ji zhu Du shi 九家集注杜詩] is one of them. Other examples also include Zhao Cigong’s 趙次公 [fl. 1105–1180] annotations and Huang Xi’s 黃希 [fl. 1166] and Huang He’s 黃鶴 [fl. 1208–1224] father-and-son anthology, A Thousand Collected and Annotated Commentaries on Du Fu’s Poetry [Qian jia ji zhu Du shi 千家集注杜詩]. Approximately 1050 poems by Li Bai are still available to readers today, and 1450 are by Du Fu. The only poet who supersedes them in number is Bai Juyi 白居易 [772–846]. Yet, Li Bai and Du Fu wandered the kingdom their whole life. Li Bai only spent a couple of years in Chang’an, where he earned the empty title of “Hanlin Academician [Hanlin gongfeng 翰林供奉]”. After the third year of the Tianbao era, Li Bai roamed the whole country. He was imprisoned at the time of the An Lushan Rebellion, and was then sent into exile. As for Du Fu, the ten years he spent trapped in Chang’an, barely got him anywhere in terms of starting a career as an official of the emperor. When war erupted, he too was forced to drift from one place to the next. Both Li Bai and Du Fu spent the rest of their lives in poverty, which explains why it was impossible for the court to be aware of the value of their works. In comparison, Wang Wei, who lived at the same period in history, already enjoyed a great reputation as a poet in his lifetime, and so after his death, the emperor ordered Wang Jin 王縉 [700–781] to submit the works of his older brother to the court.

In the early stage of the Middle Tang, the dominant style in literary circles could be described as careful and neat, flowing and elegant. Thus, Dugu Ji 獨孤及 [725–777], in his preface for an anthology of poems by Huangfu Ran 皇甫冉 [ca. 717–ca. 770] composed during the Dali 大歷 era [766–779], writes, “After Shen Quanqi 沈佺期 and Song Zhiwen 宋之問 passed away, Cui Hao 崔顥 and Wang Wei in the years of the Kaiyuan and Tianbao eras rose to fame. Today, there are only a few poets who have managed to learn from these poets’ crafts. Huangfu Ran is one of them.”19 Dugu Ji’s preface reflects the prevalent style among poets during that period. In the years of the Yuanhe 元和 era [806–820], two important schools of poetry emerged, one led by Han Yu 韓愈 [768–824] and Meng Jiao 孟郊 [751–814], the other by Yuan Zhen and Bai Juyi. Both schools thought highly of the poetry of Li Bai and Du Fu. In the eighth year of the Yuanhe era, Yuan Zhen composed the “Epitaph for Du Fu.” While he praises the talent of both poets, Du Fu is the one who wins his utmost admiration. Yuan Zhen commends Du Fu by criticizing Li Bai for his inability “to narrate and elaborate as he writes and to arrange long verses and rhymes.”20 In the tenth year of the same era, Bai Juyi wrote the “Epistle to Yuan the Ninth [Yu Yuan jiu shu 與元九書]”. In the letter, Bai expounds his views by both complimenting and mocking Li Bai and Du Fu, and by using comparisons and allusive images. Bai Juyi does reaffirm the importance of their works, but also delivers a heavy dose of veiled criticism.21 Toward the end of the Five Dynasties, Liu Xu 劉昫 [888–947] significantly bolstered the reputation of Li Bai and Du Fu among literary circles, by providing a record of their lives in “Bibliographical Notes on Various Scholars [Wenyuan zhuan 文苑傳]”, one of the fascicles of Old Book of the Tang Dynasty [Jiu Tang shu 舊唐書], and by making the following statement: “Among poets of the Tianbao era, Du Fu and Li Bai have equally earned their fame.”22

At the dawn of the Song dynasty, the three most prevalent styles were the Bai style [baiti 白體], the Xikun style [xikunti 西昆體] and the style of late Tang poets [wan Tang ti 晚唐體]. In other words, poets then were quite indifferent to the talent of Li Bai and Du Fu. However, one circle, led by Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 [1007–1072] and with Su Shunqin and Mei Yaochen 梅堯臣 [1002–1060] as followers, still expressed the strong admiration they had for the two poets. Thanks to them, there was a revival of interest toward their works, which were subsequently rearranged and printed many times during the Song dynasty. Ouyang Xiu and his fellow poets’ contribution in promoting Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry was greatly significant. In the four hundred years that the Song and Yuan dynasties spanned, only anthologies of Li Bai, Du Fu, Han Yu and Liu Zongyuan 柳宗元 [773–819] were commented in their entirety, and while Han Yu and Liu Zongyuan were praised for their prose, Li Bai and Du Fu’s gained renown for their poetry.23

All the main poets of the Northern Song, from Ouyang Xiu to Su Shi 蘇軾 [1036–1101] recognized Li Bai and Du Fu as the two most important poets of the Tang dynasty, and most had in fact a slight preference for Li Bai. Ouyang wrote in Remarks on Poetry from the Six-Unit Scholar [Liuyi shihua 六一詩話] that “by the time of the Late Tang, there were no more poets whose style was as powerful and free as Li Bai’s and Du Fu’s had been.”24 On the topic of poetry, Su Shi would often cite Li Bai and Du Fu as examples. In “Rhyme Schemes from Zhang Andao’s Reading of Du’s Poetry [Ciyun Zhang Andao du Du shi 次韻張安道讀杜詩]”, Su Shi wrote: “Everyone knows how brilliant Du Fu’s poetry is. His renown as a poet is equal to Li Bai’s. Li Bai and Du Fu rival each other in talent, like two boats in a regatta.”25 Yet, Su Shi’s style was closer to Li Bai’s.

Su Shi’s student, Huang Tingjian, distinguished himself as an important representative of the Song school of poetry. Huang would often mention his admiration for Du Fu’s poems. In “A Letter to Hong Jufu [Da Hong Jufu shu 答洪駒父書]”, Huang emphasizes that “there is not one character that does not come from another source” in Du Fu’s verse, but also talking about these pieces of writing, that Du Fu would “touch rough stones and turn them into gold,” and that he had the marvelous ability to “use the words of the ancients and transform them.”26 In fact, Huang Tingjian conceptually held both Li Bai and Du Fu in high regard. In his “Postscript on drafts of Li Bai’s poetry [Ti Li Bai shi cao hou 題李白詩草後]”, he writes: “I critique Li Bai’s poems, as the Yellow Emperor in ancient times presenting a recital in the wilderness of the Dongting Lake 洞庭湖. The tunes are in a confusing order, and they ignore convention, in a way that the average scribe today would never be able to imitate.”27

At the end of the Northern Song dynasty, poets of the Jiangxi school turned to Du Fu’s poetry, his experience of the An Lushan rebellion resonating with their own lives after the Jingkang incident [Jinkang zhiluan 靖康之亂]. Chen Yuyi and others then began to emulate Du Fu’s style. However, after Fang Hui identified Du Fu as the ancestor of Huang Tingjian’s, Chen Shidao’s and Chen Yuyi’s style in the expression “one ancestor, three followers” coined in Luminaries of Essential Regulated Verses, Li Bai’s verse became less cited by scholars of poetry. During the middle stage of the Southern Song dynasty, Yan Yu wrote in his Canglang’s Remarks on Poetry [Canglang shihua 滄浪詩話] that he disapproved of “the strange take on poetry writing” of poets such as Huang Tingjian and Chen Shidao, who “wrote poetry as if it was prose, flaunted their erudition and filled their poems with discursive elements.” Instead of referring to this sort of poetry, Yan Yu encourages readers to “keep Li Bai’s and Du Fu’s works next to their pillow instead, to study them in time as people today train themselves in the Confucian classics.”28 Yan Yu also believed that “Li Bai and Du Fu cannot be compared with one another.” He wrote: “There are subtleties in Li Bai’s verses that Du Fu could not have reproduced, and there are some in Du Fu’s that are not found in Li Bai’s writing. Du Fu is incapable of the flowing elegance of Li Bai, but Li Bai is incapable of the pathos that Du Fu’s poems beautifully convey.” In other words, both Li Bai and Du Fu were poets of remarkable style in their own right. Yan Yu also points out that both created masterpieces:

Poems by Li Bai such as “A Song of Adieu to the Queen of the Skies, After a Dream Voyage to Her” and “The Distant Parting [Yuanbie li 遠別離]” are tours de force that Du Fu would have been unable to accomplish; poems by Du Fu such as “The Journey North [Bei zheng 北征]”, “The Ballad of the Army Wagons [Bing che xing 兵車行]” and “Parting as Old Age Nears [Chuilao bie 垂老別]” are conversely beautiful in a way that Li Bai’s poetry could never have been. If we were to have Li Bai and Du Fu represent the norm by which other poems are discussed, that would be the same as trying to have the emperor issue orders to the attention of the feudal lords.29

At the end of the Song dynasty, literati would reject the Jiangxi school. They instead embraced the “Four Excellent Poets of the Yongjia Period” [Yongjia si ling 永嘉四靈] and the Jianghu School of poetry [Jianghu pai 江湖派] as their model for poetry. The trend then was rather to learn from the Late Tang poets, and writers did not attempt to study the styles of Li Bai or Du Fu any more. During the Yuan dynasty, scholars revered the High Tang poets more, and Li Bai and Du Fu came to represent the quintessence of Chinese poetry. They were put on a pedestal by many a poet, including Xin Wenfang 辛文房 [fl. 1266–1323] in his Biographies of the Talented Masters of the Tang Dynasty [Tang cai zi zhuan 唐才子傳], Hao Jing 郝經 [1223–1275] in “A Letter to Han Yanju on Poetry [Yu Han Yanju lun shi shu 與撖彥舉論詩書]”, He Menggui 何夢桂 [1229–1303] in the preface to Poems by Brother Zhang from Lin Xi [Lin Xi zhangxiong shi xu 琳溪張兄詩序], Jie Xisi 揭傒斯 [1274–1344] in the preface to the Anthology of the True [Wei shi ji xu 惟實集序] and Zhang Yining 張以寧 [1301–1370] in the preface to the Anthology of Poems from the Fishing Window [Diaoyu xuan shi ji xu 釣魚軒詩集序].

Following the rise in popularity of Tang poetry during the Ming dynasty, many a scholar reacknowledged the value of Li Bai’s and Du Fu’s works, until the accumulated recognition ultimately cemented their status in the literary firmament. Bei Qiong 貝瓊 [1314–1378], who witnessed the last days of the Yuan dynasty and the first days of the Ming dynasty, wrote in his preface to The Breath of the Cosmos [Qiankun qingqi xu 乾坤清氣序], “Poetry was in full bloom during the Tang dynasty, and Li Bai and Du Fu were the two poets that towered above the others.”30 Both the Early and the Later Seven Masters advocated for a return to classical poetry. As Zhang Tingyu 張廷玉 [1672–1755] later wrote, the proposition was that “prose was to be modeled on the writing of the Qin and the Han, and poetry on the works of High Tang poets.”31 In a similar vein, He Jingming 何景明 [1483–1521] wrote in “A Letter to Li Kongtong on Poetry [Yu Li Kongtong lun shi shu 與李空同論詩書]”: “From Cao Zhi 曹植, Liu Zhen 劉楨, Ruan Yu 阮瑀 and Lu Ji 陸機, to Li Bai and Du Fu, the tunes are different, but the skills are as honed.”32 Xie Zhen 謝榛 [1499–1575] expressed a bit more admiration toward Du Fu, while Yang Shen 楊慎 [1488–1559], for his part, preferred Li Bai’s poetry and had reservations toward Du Fu. Yet, the Early and the Later Seven Masters as well as other scholars of the time all had a high opinion of both Li Bai and Du Fu. That general sentiment is confirmed in relatively clear terms in the following citation from Wang Shizhen 王世貞 [1526–1590], one of the Later Seven Masters:

Li Bai and Du Fu’s verses have shined brightly in the literary firmament for a thousand years. This is a fact known by all…. Whether we discuss pentasyllabic old-style poems, the styles found in The Selections of Refined Literature of the Crown Prince Zhaoming [Zhaoming wenxuan 昭明文選] or heptasyllabic songs in old form, the spirit of Li Bai’s poems is always bold and free, and the poet always advocates a natural style, elegant and unrestrained, resounding and flowing. As for Du Fu, his thoughts are profound, and the poet attaches a lot of importance to originality. His style is as peculiar as it is serene and magnificent.33

The critique is similar in the end to Yan Yu’s remarks on both poets’ talents. As Yan Yu, Wang Shizhen praises fairly objectively Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry, offering simultaneously an analysis of their work and discussing the strong and less strong features of their poems depending on the form in which they were written.

Toward the end of the Ming dynasty, however, the literati from the Gong’an school of poetry, became less satisfied with the poetry of Li Bai and Du Fu, as well as with the High Tang poets in general.34 They did not necessarily have anything against Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry specifically, as much as they had a dislike of those who blindly tried to emulate them, such as members of the Restoring Antiquity school. Perhaps inspired by Gao Bing’s Appraisal and Collection of Tang Poetry, many scholars also decided to publish their own anthologies of Li Bai and Du Fu’s works. Zhang Han 張含 [1479–1565] compiled the pieces of A Compilation of Li and Du’s Poems [Li Du shi xuan 李杜詩選] into eleven fascicles, with comments by Yang Shen, among others. Mei Dingzuo 梅鼎祚 [1549–1615] is another example, with his Commented Collection of Transcribed Poems by the Two Masters Li and Du [Li Du er jia shichao ping lin 李杜二家詩鈔評林]. Such specialized anthologies were a rare sight before the Ming dynasty. They are also a sign of their popularity during that period in history.

4 Last Remarks on the Canonization of Li Bai and Du Fu’s Poetry

The process by which Li Bai and Du Fu’s works were made into classics, through successive anthologies from the Tang dynasty up until the Ming dynasty, was incremental. In the centuries that this period spanned, the two poets were overlooked during the Tang and the Five Dynasties, they were admired but not necessarily loved during the Song and the Yuan and they were revered during the Ming.

Hu Zhenheng 胡震亨 [1569–1645], commenting on the anthologization of Tang poetry during the Tang dynasty, wrote:

As Tang scholars selected the works of their contemporaries, the standards they used to evaluate them varied considerably. Yin Fan was against the restrictions of classical conventions and valued the powerful style of the poets he elected. Gao Zhongwu found fault with the The Finest Blossoms [Yinghua 英華], The Jade Terrace [Yutai 玉臺] and The Pearls and Blossoms [Zhu ying 珠英] anthologies of Tang poetry, and also criticized Yin Fan’s Collection from Danyang for being too narrow in scope. It seemed that Gao Zhongwu had made his picks based merely on how the verses sounded to his own ears.35

In short, as Hu Zhengheng points out, the Tang compilers’ criteria for electing or discarding poems had mostly to do with their personal appreciation of a poet’s style or the mellifluousness of a verse. Put succinctly, standards varied from one scholar to the next. When Song dynasty scholars noticed the interesting phenomenon that many Tang compilations of Tang poets did not include Li Bai and Du Fu, they interpreted this as a sign of respect for the two top poets of their age. Hu Zhenheng refutes the idea that most Tang compilers intentionally excluded Li Bai and Du Fu out of respect. Hu offers rather a historical reading of Li Bai and Du Fu’s burgeoning fame during the Tang. His research demonstrates that, in the making of classics, there is a cumulative factor. The accumulation of favorable mentions is intrinsically connected to how texts are arranged and presented within anthologies and to the comments that accompany them.36 At the time of the Tang dynasty, compilers had not yet realized how remarkable Li Bai and Du Fu’s writings were. Both subjective and objective factors explain why their work was not enough circulated and appreciated, but ultimately, the two poets had to wait before they got to be considered for playing leading roles in the history of Chinese literature. Compilers first had to catch up with the innovative writing of Li Bai and Du Fu. For anthologies of the Early and the High Tang poets, this had mainly to do with the period in which they were published; compilers then had not been able to collect many, if any, works by Li Bai and Du Fu. By the Middle and Late Tang periods, the discarding of their poems had more to do with the aesthetic judgment rendered by compilers. In other words, they seemed to pay attention first to the mellifluousness of a verse, and in most cases, they thought Li Bai’s and Du Fu’s were not worth including in their collection.

From the beginning of the Song dynasty up to the end of the last Yuan emperor’s reign, Li Bai and Du Fu accumulated enough prestige to be eventually regarded as the most talented poets not only of the Tang dynasty, but also of the whole history of poetry. Their status as two of the greatest literary figures of all times was by then firmly established. In the Song dynasty, there were small inconsequential differences in preference among scholars; Ouyang Xiu, for instance, was fonder of Li Bai’s verse, and Wang Anshi admired mostly Du Fu. Yet, there was by then a unanimous verdict among compilers: they all considered Li Bai and Du Fu the most brilliant poets of the Tang dynasty. This consensus is made evident in Su Shi’s postscript for Huang Zisi’s Anthology of Poems: “No one has been able to rival Li Bai and Du Fu’s talents. They outshine all the other poets that came before and after them. The works from ancient to modern times are not worth looking at, in comparison to theirs.”37 At the time Yan Yu composed his Canglang’s remarks on poetry, most people were ready to admit Li Bai’s and Du Fu’s importance as poets. However, while compilers in the Song dynasty erred in offering strained interpretation of Tang poetry,38 in the Yuan, compilers erred in providing readers with a vast disorganized jumble of poems from which to choose from.39 These compilers would elect the works of poets whose names others had already extolled and would not consider Li Bai and Du Fu’s poems. There is a striking contrast between the treatment they received during the Yuan and the brilliant reputation the poets already enjoyed in literary circles at the time.

In anthologies of Tang poetry published during the Ming dynasty, compilers always seem to hold Li Bai and Du Fu in high regard. This has a lot to do with the classical status Tang poetry had acquired by then. The lasting legacy of Tang literature, as well as its enduring character, all contributed to Li Bai and Du Fu’s prestige. After nearly a thousand years in circulation, these works had clearly already stood the test of time. By then, Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry had undeniably become classics of Tang poetry. In terms of the quantity of extant poems written, Li Bai occupies the third position among Tang poets, and Du Fu the second, but in the originality of their thinking and their craft, they by far surpass Bai Juyi (who comes first for the number of poems he wrote). Li Bai and Du Fu both emerged as poets at the same key period in time, when the Tang empire was at the zenith of its prosperity, and just before it started to decline in power. They were eventually hailed as the voices of their generation for their genius. In China, they became known as the two Gemini in the firmament of literature, and after a thousand years, they still shine brightly because of the magnificence of their texts. Their enduring legacy explains why they now rank first among all Tang poets. Ming scholars also considered Li Bai and Du Fu as the two most outstanding poets of the Tang dynasty. Today, when studying the classics, researchers describe this kind of literature as offering an enduring reading experience, as a bottomless source of enlightenment for readers, or again as texts whose meaning can always be interpreted anew. These poems will always evoke a sense of novelty, or foreignness, to readers, and Ming writers would study Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry and would constantly find something new and interesting to comment upon. They would also draw inspiration from these poems when working on their own creations.40

Tang scholars did not recognize the value of Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry. Song and Yuan compilers progressively warmed up to them, but Li Bai and Du Fu did not rise to the status of literary stars before the Ming dynasty. The canonization of Li Bai and Du Fu hence represents a great example of the accretion of value for the classics through time, a principle often referred to in the theories used to research the making into classics of literature. Arrangement and annotation are also two of the major processes and methods by which the accretion of value occurs. Zhan Furui 詹福瑞 already discussed this process of accretion through the organization and annotation of the Classic of Poetry [Shijing 詩經] and the Zhuangzi 莊子, including the arrangements supposedly made by Confucius. Li Bai and Du Fu’s poetry also accumulated value through time thanks to the works of compilers who commented on their writing. A Categorized and Supplemented Collection of Li Taibai’s Poetry, which Yang Qixian collected and Xiao Shiyun edited, was in circulation and read by many during the Ming dynasty. As for the commented editions of Du Fu’s works published by Ming scholars, there were more than thirty at the time, based on public and private catalogues and records from that period such as the General Catalogue for the Complete Collection in Four Treasuries [Siku quanshu zongmu 四庫全書總目], the Catalogue of the Hall of a Thousand Acres [Qian qing tang shumu 千頃堂書目], the Catalogue of the Falling Blossoms House [Hongyu lou shumu 紅雨樓書目] and the Catalogue of the Hall of Treasuring Literature [Bao wen tang shumu 寶文堂書目] (see also the section “An Anthology of Vice-Director of the Ministry of Works Du” in Wan Man’s 萬曼 Tang Anthologies in Order). There were also many block-printed editions of the works of Li Bai and Du Fu by Ming scholars. Two books by Hu Zhenheng, published at the end of the Ming dynasty, had a tremendous influence on subsequent generations: Familiarity with Li’s Poetry [Li shi tong 李詩通] and Familiarity with Du’s Poetry [Du shi tong 杜詩通]. These, with Hu’s other work, A Comprehensive Classification of Tang Poetry [Tang yin tong qian 唐音統簽], have been considered masterpieces in the field of study of Tang poetry. As for the annotations and criticism Hu offers in these books, they are also important examples of how the accretion of value occurs, and how it makes some works into classics.

Ming scholars did not subscribe to the idea that between Li Bai and Du Fu, one had to surpass the other. Rather, their views followed those already expressed by thinkers such as Su Shi and Yan Yu; in other words, they believed that both were worthy of admiration. They also focused on the difference in style between the two poets, and on the forms in which they wrote. For instance, some, like Zhang Yining in his preface to the Anthology of Poems from the Fishing Pavilion, believed that Li Bai’s poems more closely resembled the ballads of the Classic of Poetry [feng ], while Du Fu’s were closer to its festal songs [ya ]. There are also discussions of the poetics as well as the quality or weaknesses of both poets’ works in Hu Yinglin’s 胡應麟 [1551–1602] A Gathering of Poems [Shisou 詩藪], Xu Xueyi’s 許學夷 [1563–1633] The Source of Poetry and Difference in Style [Shi yuan bianti 詩源辯體], Wang Shizhen’s Remarks on the Arts [Yiyuan zhi yan 藝苑卮言], Xie Zhen’s Siming’s Remarks on Poetry [Siming shihua 四溟詩話] and Yang Shen’s Sheng’an Remarks on Poetry [Sheng’an shihua 升庵詩話]. Yet, all of these thinkers revered the High Tang poets, and considered Li Bai and Du Fu as leaders of the literary movements of the High Tang period. As for Wang Wei, Meng Haoran, Gao Shi, Cen Shen, Li Qi, Wang Changling and Cui Hao, Ming compilers almost unanimously labeled them as “supplementary readings.” Looking at the anthologies published at the time, it seems that, by the Ming dynasty, the canonization of Li Bai and Du Fu’s works was more or less complete. Their essential contribution to literary history had been established as fact by then.

In the Qing dynasty, the genius of Li Bai and Du Fu was common knowledge. The famous Qing anthology entitled Discriminating Collection of Tang Poetry [Tang shi biecai ji 唐詩別裁集] contains 1928 poems, more than twenty percent of which are written by Li Bai (140 poems) or Du Fu (252 poems). One of Zhao Yi’s 趙翼 [1727–1814] Five Poems on Poetry [Lun shi wu shou 論詩五首] can be roughly rendered as such: “The poems of Li Bai and Du Fu have been on the lips of millions, and there is nothing new about them today. For each period in time, a person of exceptional literary talent will stand out somewhere in the country, and they will pave the way for excellence for years to come.”41 Zhao Yi mostly insists on the innovative character of both poets, but the remark is also revealing of the unprecedented popularity of Li Bai and Du Fu in the literary circles of the Qing dynasty. This apotheosis was the result of the poets’ works accumulating fame over centuries, from the Tang to the Song to the Yuan, and finally to the Ming, when their canonization finally was complete.

Works Cited

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*

Funded research project: This article is part of a research project submitted to the National Social Sciences Fund of China [國家社會科學基金], following an important call for proposals for researchers of Tang poetry and poetics (12&ZD156).

1

Zhang Tingyu 張廷玉 et al., eds., Ming shi 明史 [Ming History] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974), 286.7348.

2

Fu Xuancong 傅璇琮, Chen Shangjun 陳尚君 and Xu Jun 徐俊, eds., Tangren xuan Tangshi xinbian (zengdingben) 唐人選唐詩新編(增訂本) [Tang Compilers Editing Tang Poetry (revised and enlarged edition)] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2014).

3

Fu Xuancong et al., Tangren xuan Tangshi xinbian (zengdingben), 171. Refer to the same volume for the Collection of the Finest Souls of our Rivers and Alps [Heyue yingling ji 河岳英 靈集] cited later in this article.

4

Famous poets of the Middle and High Tang periods all praised Li Bai and Du Fu relatively equally. See for instance, Han Yu’s 韓愈 poems, “A Recommendation for a Fellow Scholar [Jian shi 薦士]”, “Mocking Zhang Ji [Tiao Zhang Ji 調張籍]”, “A Song for Drum-Shaped Stones [Shigu ge 石鼓歌]” and “For Requiting a Customs officer Lu Yunfu in Early Autumn [Chou simen Lu Sixiong yunfu yuanzhang wangqiu zuo 酬司門盧四兄雲夫院長望秋作]”. See also Bai Juyi’s 白居易 “Reading the Collected Works of Li Bai and Du Fu: A Colophon [Du Li Du shi ji yin ti juan hou 讀李杜詩集因題卷後]”, Du Mu’s 杜牧 [803–852] “A Poem Sent to my Nephew A Yi on the Winter Solstice [Dongzhi ri ji xiaozhi A Yi shi 冬至日寄小侄阿宜詩]” and “Visit Zhao Jia on a Clear Winter Day in his Residence on the Western Street in Three Rhymes [Xue qing fang Zhao Jia jie xi suoju san yun 雪晴訪趙嘏街西所居三韻]”, Li Shangyin’s 李商隱 [ca. 813–ca. 858] “Five Casual Pieces [Man cheng wu zhang 漫成五章]”, Si Kongtu’s 司空圖 [837–907] “Comment on Poems with Wang Jia, a Letter [Yu wangjia ping shi shu 與王駕評詩書]” and Huang Tao’s 黃滔 [840–911] “A Letter to Chen Boyin on Poetry [Da Chen Boyin lun shi shu 答陳磻隱論詩書]”.

5

This book mentions both Wang Anshi and Song Cidao 宋次道 [fl. 1002–1060] as compilers.

6

Wang Anshi 王安石, “Tang baijia shi xuan xu 唐百家詩選序 [A Preface to an Anthology of a Hundred Tang Poets],” in Song wen jian 宋文鑒 [Examples of Song Poetry], ed. Lü Zuqian 呂祖謙 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1992), 87.1247.

7

According to a preface by Zhao Mengfu 趙孟頫 [1254–1322], who lived during the Yuan dynasty, Yuan Haowen 元好問 compiled the works for this collection and his student Hao Tianting 郝天挺 [1247–1313] annotated them. During the Qing dynasty [1616–1911], some scholars objected to this authorship, but such a theory was never confirmed.

8

These statements by Fang Hui are cited in the twenty-sixth fascicle [juan ] of the Luminaries of Essential Regulated Verses in a remark on Chen Yuyi’s 陳與義 poem “Qingming 清明” and in a remark on Chen’s poem “Ascending to a Pavilion in Fengzhou with Daguang [Yu Daguang tong deng Fengzhou xiaoge 與大光同登封州小閣]” in the first fascicle of the Luminaries. See Fang Hui 方回, Yingkui lüsui hui ping 瀛奎律髓匯評 [Collected Commentaries on the Luminaries of Essential Regulated Verses], ed. Li Qingjia 李慶甲 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2005), 1149, 42.

9

This number is mentioned in the introduction of An Annotated Edition of Sounds of Tang. Yang Shihong 楊士弘, Tao Wenpeng 陶文鵬, Wei Zuqin 魏祖欽, eds., Tang yin ping zhu 唐音評注 [An Annotated Edition of Sounds of Tang] (Baoding: Hebei daxue chubanshe, 2006), 17.

10

For Yang Shihong’s preface to Sounds of Tang mentioned in this article, see the section “Tang yin xingshi bing xu ‘唐音’姓氏並序 [Surnames and Preface of Sounds of Tang]” at the beginning of Yang Shihong et al., Tang yin ping zhu, 7.

11

Gao Bing 高棅, ed., Tangshi pin hui 唐詩品匯 [Appraisal and Collection of Tang Poetry] (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1982), 8–9.

12

The numbers here are based on the Notes and Commentaries on Proper Music of Tang Poetry [Tangshi zhengsheng jianzhu 唐詩正聲箋注], published in 1841 during the Tenpō 天保 era in Japan. This version is now part of the Toki special collection at Waseda University.

13

A Selection of Poems from the Old and the Modern [Gu jin shi shan 古今詩刪] includes twelve fascicles of Tang poetry, for a total of 725 poems.

14

See Wang Zhenhan 王振漢 and Fan Haiyu 范海玉, “Tang Ruxun ji qi Tangshi jie 唐汝詢及其《唐詩解》 [Tang Ruxun and Tang Poems Interpreted],” Hebei daxue xuebao 河北大學學報, no. 4 (1999), 14.

15

Wu Guoping 鄔國平, ed., Jingling pai yu Mingdai wenxue piping 竟陵派與明代文學批評 [The Jingling School and Literary Criticism during the Ming Dynasty] (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2004); Sun Chunqing 孫春青, ed., Mingdai Tangshi xue 明代 唐詩學 [Tang Poetics during the Ming Dynasty] (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2006); Sun Xuetang 孫學堂, ed., Mingdai shixue yu Tangshi 明代詩學與唐詩 [Poetics of the Ming Dynasty and Tang Poetry] (Jinan: Qilu shushe, 2012).

16

Owen Stephen, The Poetry of Du Fu (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015), 1:113.

17

Ding Fang 丁放, “Shanbu Tangshi xuan mai jian shi huitong ping lin yu Ming dai Tangshi xue 《刪補唐詩選脈箋釋會通評林》與明代唐詩學 [The Revised and Annotated Anthology of Tang Poetry and Tang Poetics during the Ming Dynasty],” Wenxue pinglun 文學評論, no. 1 (2017): 141–50.

18

We are indebted to Tao Min 陶敏 and Li Yifei 李一飛 for their detailed account of the multiple stages of revision of the drafts of Li Bai’s and Du Fu’s collected work that led to the block-printed editions. See Tao Min 陶敏 and Li Yifei 李一飛, Sui Tang Wudai wenxue shiliaoxue 隋唐五代文學史料學 [The Historical Sources of Literary History in the Sui, the Tang and the Five Dynasties] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1990).

19

Du Guji 獨孤及, “Tang gu zuo buque Anding Huangfu Gong ji xu 唐故左補闕安定皇甫公集序 [A Preface to the Anthology of the Anding Censor Mr. Huangfu],” in Quan Tang wen 全唐文 [The Complete Works of Tang poets], eds. Dong Gao 董誥 et al. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1983), 4:388.5366.

20

Yuan Zhen 元稹, “Tang gu gongbu yuan wai lang Du jun mu xi ming bing xu 唐故工部員外郎杜君墓系銘並序 [Epitaph of Mr. Du, Former Acting Vice-Director in the Ministry of Works of the Tang, with a Preface],” in Quan Tang wen, 7:654.6649.

21

Bai Juyi 白居易, “Yu Yuanjiu shu 與元九書 [Epistle to Yuanjiu],” in Quan Tang wen, 7:675.6889.

22

Liu Xu 劉昫 et al., eds., Jiu Tang shu 舊唐書 [Old Book of the Tang Dynasty] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1975), 190.5055.

23

On the block-printed editions of Li Bai, Du Fu, Han Yu and Liu Zongyuan’s anthologies, see Wan Man 萬曼, ed., Tang ji xulu 唐集敘錄 [Tang Anthologies in Order] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980).

24

Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修, Ouyang Xiu ji biannian jianzhu 歐陽修集編年箋註 [An Annotated Chronicle of Ouyang Xiu’s Works], ed. Li Zhiliang 李之亮 (Chengdu: Bashu shu she, 2007), 7:141.

25

Su Shi 蘇軾, Su Shi shi ji 蘇軾詩集 [The Collected Poems of Su Shi], eds. Wang Wengao 王文誥 and Kong Fanli 孔凡禮 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1982), 6.266.

26

The expression duo tai huan gu [奪胎換骨], rendered here as “to use to words of the ancients and transform them,” can literally be translated “to seize a fetus and change the bones.” It refers to writers who would take some classical poems and rewrite them in a different form. The themes and ideas would be similar, but they would be presented in a new fashion, which made the connection with the former text not so obvious. The expression was used during the Song dynasty by Huihong 惠洪 in Night Talks in a Cold Studio [Leng zhai ye hua 冷齋夜話] when citing Huang Tingjian. Whether the statement was correct or wrong is debated. Yet, we tend to agree with Mo Lifeng, who presents an alternative perspective to Zhou Yukai’s. See both authors’ articles: Mo Lifeng 莫礪鋒, “Zai lun ‘duo tai huan gu’ shuo de shouchang zhe – yu Zhou Yukai xiong shangque 再論‘奪胎換骨’說的首倡者—與周裕鍇兄商榷 [Again on the first to ‘inconspicuously emulate the ancients’ – a discussion with Zhou Yukai],” Wenxue yichan 文學遺產, no. 5 (2003); and Zhou Yukai 周裕鍇, “Huihong yu ‘duo tai huan gu’ fa – yi zhuang wenxue piping shi gong’an de zhongpan 惠洪與‘奪胎換骨’法—一樁文學批評史公案的重判 [Huihong and the inconspicuous emulation of the ancients – a controversial case in the history of literary criticism]” in the same issue of Wenxue yichan.

27

This statement also appears in Chen Shidao’s 陳師道 Houshan’s Remarks on Poetry [Houshan shi hua 後山詩話]. See He Wenhuan 何文煥, Lidai shihua 歷代詩話 [Remarks on Poetry from the Past Dynasties] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1981), 312.

28

Yan Yu 嚴羽, Canglang shihua jiaoshi 滄浪詩話校釋 [The Collated and Annotated Texts of Canglang’s Remarks on Poetry], ed. Guo Shaoyu 郭紹虞 (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1961), 1.

29

Yan Yu, Canglang shihua jiaoshi, 166–68.

30

See the first fascicle of Bei Qiong 貝瓊, “Qing Jiang Bei xiansheng ji 清江貝先生集 [The Collected Works of Qing Jiang Bei],” in Sibu congkan 四部叢刊 [Collectanea of the Four Categories], 53.

31

Zhang Tingyu et al., Ming shi, 286.7348.

32

He Jingming 何景明, “Yu Li Kongtong lun shi shu 與李空同論詩書 [A Letter to Li Kongtong on Poetry],” in Ming Wenhai 明文海 [A Collection of Texts from the Ming Dynasty], ed. Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1987), 151.1514.

33

Wang Shizhen 王世貞, “Yiyuan zhi yan 藝苑卮言 [Remarks on the arts],” in Lidai shihua xubian 歷代詩話續編 [A Sequel to Remarks on Poetry from the Past Dynasties], ed. Ding Fubao 丁福保 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1983), 1005–1006.

34

See Yuan Hongdao 袁宏道, Yuan Zhonglang quan ji 袁中郎全集 [The Complete Works of Yuan Zhonglang], Chongzhen Emperor’s 崇禎 block-printed edition (Ming dynasty), 21.16b–18a.

35

Hu Zhenheng 胡震亨, Tang yin gui qian 唐音癸簽 [The Tenth and Final Section of the Comprehensive Classification of Tang Poetry] (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1981), 31.322.

36

See the chapter “Jingdian de ji lei xing 經典的積累性 [The Classics and the Accretion of Value through Time],” in Zhan Furui 詹福瑞, Lun jingdian 論經典 [On the Classics] (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2015).

37

Su Shi 蘇軾, Su Shi wen ji 蘇軾文集 [The Collected Works of Su Shi], ed. Kong Fanli 孔凡禮 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1982), 67.2124.

38

See Shaoling shige 少陵詩格 [Poetic Style of Shaoling], in vol. 40 of Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要 [Synopsis of the General catalogue for the Complete Collection in Four Treasuries], Minguo shangwu yinshuguan Wanyou wenku paiyinben 民國商務印書館萬有文庫排印本, 197.17.

39

See Tangshi pinhui 唐詩品彙 [Appraisal and Collection of Tang Poetry], in vol. 38 of Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao, 38:189.44.

40

See Zhan Furui’s chapter “Jingdian de nai du xing 經典的耐讀性 [The Enduring Character of the Classics],” in Lun jingdian. We are indebted to Zhan’s brilliant insights on Li Bai’s creativity and the sense of foreignness evoked by his poems.

41

Zhao Yi 趙翼, Oubei ji 甌北集 [Oubei’s Collection], eds. Li Xueying 李學穎 and Cao Guangfu 曹光甫 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1997), 28.630.

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