Chinese Literature: A Historical Introduction

By Ch'ên Shou-Yi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
The Literary Reform

It is an interesting fact that Li Po and Tu Fu were not only contemporaries but close friends. Although Li Po probably did not rate Tu Fu too highly as a poet, Tu Fu had nothing but eulogy for his friend, the drinker-poet. For this, Li Po was not entirely to blame because instead of forming a team, the two great poets of the T'ang Dynasty exemplified two differing literary tendencies and epochs. Li Po was the culmination of the romantic movement in poetry for whom he had no successor, whereas Tu Fu, the exquisite artist baptized in the vicissitudes of life, was the founder of the realistic school of poetry and thus the forerunner and accelerator of a new trend. Whereas the romantic poets, elevated in their imagination and excessively impressive in their diction, had their feet planted in the floating clouds far removed from the solid earth of realities, the realistic poets were immediate, concrete, easy to understand, and compelling in their power to make their readers feel a sense of affectionate camaraderie. Between these two schools at mid-eighth century, there lay a deep abyss: the abyss of an extremely disruptive and destructive civil war.

This civil war caused by the rebellion of An Lu-shall and continued by the rebellion of Shih Ssŭ-ming ( 755-762) had shaken T'ang society from its very foundations with inevitable repercussions in the world of literature and art. Just as the rebellions were not fomented in one day, the new trends engendered and accelerated by the many-faceted disorders of the post-rebellion period were not completed in a short time. In the case of Tu Fu, for example, such poems as "The Song of the War Chariot," "The Song of Beauty," and the poem he wrote on his way from the capital to Fênghsien County, which were all written before the rebellion of An Lu-shall, were forebodings of the catastrophe that was to come and, therefore, distinctly different from those writings of the romantic poets in which only the glories of prosperity, peace, and joy of life were reflected. Besides Tu Fu there were also minor pioneers of the new realistic school who had seen the unhealthy effects of excessive romanticism

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