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Chu Ci ( ), 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 area 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 Rivermarker.

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 BC. It is in remembrance of the circumstances of his death that the annual Dragon boat 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.)


01    離騷 LiSao        On Encountering Trouble
02      九歌 JiuGe        Nine Songs
03      天問 TianWen      Heavenly Questions
04      九章 JiuZhang     Nine Pieces
05      遠遊 YuanYou      Far-off Journey
06      卜居 BuJu Divination
07      漁父 YuFu         The Fisherman
08      九辯 JiuBian      Nine Changes
09      招魂 ZhaoHun      Summons of the Soul
10      大招 DaZhao       The Great Summons
11      惜誓 XiShi        Sorrow for Troth Betrayed
12      招隱 ZhaoYin      Summons for a Recluse
13      七諫 QiJian       Seven Remonstrances
14      哀時AiShi Ming    Alas That My Lot Was Not Cast
15      九懷 JiuHuai      Nine Regrets
16      九歎 JiuTan       Nine Laments
17      九思 JiuSi        Nine Longings


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