This concept means appraising someone’s character, ability, conduct and approach, which was a common practice from the late Han through the Jin and Wei dynasties. The practice was considered a good one when it was first introduced, as people were judged by their moral character and ability, not their family background, making it an important means of selecting officials based on their competence. Appraisal of others was a popular conversational topic among the people in the Wei and Jin dynasties. However, such appraisal gradually shifted towards people’s family status, power and influence in the late Wei and early Jin dynasties, which led to the establishment of the ninerank system for selecting and appointing government officials. There was also a shift in making appraisals away from people towards poetry, paintings and calligraphic works. Thus making appraisals played a less important role in selecting officials while assuming a more significant role in the appreciation of art. This influenced literary criticism in the Southern and Northern Dynasties and led to the creation of works of literary critique on poetry, paintings and calligraphy.
Xu Shao and Xu Jing were both celebrities in Runan who liked to comment on their fellow townsmen and changed the subjects they commented on every month. What they did was referred to by the locals as “making monthly appraisals.” (History of the Later Han Dynasty)
Compilations of works of famous authors are meant to bring works together on an extensive basis rather than comparing their literary attainment. “The Critique of Poetry” I have compiled, however, is a selection of five-character regulated verses only. As almost all the poets and their masterpieces are already included in other compilations, mine just includes the works of 120 poets, with comments on the merits and demerits of their works. (Zhong Rong: Preface to “The Critique of Poetry”)