The Tong-Guang School of Poetry
The Tong-Guang School of poetry, which first emerged during the reigns of the Tongzhi (1862-1874) and Guangxu (1875-1908) emperors of late Qing, continued to flourish in the early years of the Republic of China early in the 20th century. It was thus named by combining the initial characters of the two emperors’ reign titles. Chen Sanli (1852-1937), Shen Zengzhi (1850-1922), Chen Yan (1856-1937) and Zheng Xiaoxu (1860-1938) were representative figures of this school. They valued Song ci poetry, a kind of lyric classical Chinese poetry using a poetic meter based upon certain patterns of fixed-rhythm formal types. Their aim was to blend “the poetry of a poet” with “the poetry of a scholar,” merging a poet’s aspirations, feelings, academic learning and moral accomplishment into an integral whole. They incorporated commentaries into their poems and carefully weighed their words. Stylistically, they pursued a vigorous brevity and straightforwardness, trying to blaze “a way through desolate wilderness.” Due to regional and stylistic differences, this school of poetic creation is further divided into the Fujian, Zhejiang and Jiangxi branches.
“The Tong-Guang School of poetry” is a jocular term Zheng Xiaoxu and I invented for those since the Tongzhi and Guangxu times who, when writing poems, did not comply with the rules of poetry prevalent in the most prosperous period of the Tang Dynasty. (Chen Yan: A Preface to Collected Poems of Shen Zengzhi)
When I was in the capital, Zheng Xiaoxu once came to see me. He told me that Shen Zengzhi’s poems, like mine, belonged to the Tong-Guang School of poetry. The many works we wrote in salute to each other were like mellow wine, whose color and flavor would never diminish over time. (Chen Yan: Four Pieces Written During Winter for Presentation to Shen Zengzhi)