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Chu Ci

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Chu Ci (Traditional Chinese: 楚辭; Simplified Chinese: 楚辞; Pinyin: chǔ cí), also known as Songs of the South or Songs of Chu, is an anthology of Chinese poems by Qu Yuan and Song Yu from the Warring States period and subsequent imitators of their poetic style. Consisting of fifty-eight short poems and six long poems, Chu Ci is the second oldest collection of Chinese poems in record.


Chu Ci was named after a new form of poetry that sprouted and blossomed in the State of Chu during the Warring States period. As a new literary style, chu ci abandoned the classic four-character verses used in poems of Shi Jing and adopted verses with varying lengths. This gave it more rhythm and latitude in expression. Furthermore, chu ci should be recited using pronunciations of the dialect of Chu, unlike poems of Shi Jing, which were sung using dialects north of the Yellow River.

The collection of poems by Qu Yuan and Song Yu included in Chu Ci, as well as works by other Chu poets, were already popular during the Western Han Dynasty. The Book of Han noted 106 Chu poets with 1,318 compositions. Many established Han poets also imitated the style of chu ci and produced their fair share of notable poems. However, it was only during the reign of Emperor Cheng when Liu Xiang arranged and compiled the poems of Qu Yuan and Song Yu, as well as those of Han poets including Wang Bao (王褒), Jia Yi (賈誼), Yan Ji (嚴忌) and Liu Xiang himself, into Chu Ci as it is known today.

Qu Yuan

Although Chu Ci is an anthology of poems by many poets, Qu Yuan was doubtless its central figure. A minister in the court of King Huai of Chu, Qu Yuan advocated forming an alliance with the other states against the dominance of Qin. However, his advice was not taken and he was ostracized by other officials in court. Seeing the corruption of his colleagues and the inability of his king, Qu Yuan then exiled himself and finally committed suicide in the Miluo River when Qin defeated Chu in 278 BCE. It is in remembrance of the circumstances of his death that the annual Dragon boat races races are held.

During his days of exile, Qu Yuan is thought to have written Li Sao, his magnum opus and the centerpiece of Chu Ci. The authorship, as in many a case of ancient literature, can be neither confirmed nor denied. Written in 373 verses containing 2490 characters, Li Sao is the earliest Chinese long poem and is acclaimed as the literary representative of Qu Yuan's high moral conduct and patriotism.

Jiu Ge ("Nine Songs"), also attributed to Qu Yuan, is the first example of what could be called shamanic literature in China. (See Arthur Waley, The Nine Songs: A Study of Shamanism in Ancient China.)


  1. 離騷 Lí sāo "On Encountering Trouble"
  2. 九歌 Jiǔ gē "Nine Songs"
  3. 天問 Tiān wèn "Heavenly Questions"
  4. 九章 Jiǔ zhāng "Nine Pieces"
  5. 遠遊 Yuǎn yóu "Far-off Journey"
  6. 卜居 Bǔ jū "Divination"
  7. 漁父 Yú fù "The Fisherman"
  8. 九辯 Jiǔ biàn "Nine Changes"
  9. 招魂 Zhāo hún "Summons of the Soul"
  10. 大招 Dà zhāo "The Great Summons"
  11. 惜誓 Xī shì "Sorrow for Troth Betrayed"
  12. 招隱 Zhāo yǐn "Summons for a Recluse"
  13. 七諫 Qī jiàn "Seven Remonstrances"
  14. 哀時命 Āi shí mìng "Alas That My Lot Was Not Cast"
  15. 九懷 Jiǔ huái "Nine Regrets"
  16. 九歎 Jiǔ tàn "Nine Laments"
  17. 九思 Jiǔ sī "Nine Longings"


  • Trans. David Hawkes (1985). The Songs of the South: An Anthology of Ancient Chinese Poems by Qu Yuan and Other Poets. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044375-4. 

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Chu Ci. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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