Xuanti Poetry / Poetry in Prince Zhaoming’s Favorite Style
This refers mainly to the five-character-a-line poems of the Han and Wei dynasties in Selections of Refined Literature compiled by Prince Zhaoming of the Liang Dynasty during the Southern Dynasties. Later, this term meant not just a specific type of poetry, but also both the prevailing poetic features of an era and general poetic style. Poems of this style were regarded as in the same rank as yuefu (乐府) poetry, which were folk songs and ballads collected and compiled by the Han government office in charge of musical preservation, or any poetic imitation equally suitable for musical composition, as well as gexing (歌行), which were odes to events or physical objects in free-verse form, and lüjüe (律绝), which were eight-line or five-line poems. To poetic critics in later generations, xuanti (选体) poetry was synonymous with five-character poetry and was a standard way to write poems with five characters per line. In terms of style, it is elegant, richly colorful, and innovative. This type of poetry inherited the poetic tradition all the way from The Book of Songs and Odes of Chu to the Han and Wei dynasties, the Jin Dynasty, and the Song, Qi, and Liang during the Southern Dynasties. From the Tang Dynasty onward, many literary critics used the term “xuanti poetry” as a standard in their comments on poetry. This poetic style was criticized later by some creative-minded poets for its excessive emphasis on following the classical tradition.
Five-character-a-line poems were found occasionally in The Book of Songs. By the Han and Wei dynasties, Su Wu, Li Ling, Cao Cao, and Liu Zhen had written more five-character-a-line poems and established the style. These poems were collected in Selections of Refined Literature and therefore the style is known as the xuanti style. (Liu Kezhuang: Preface to a Poem by Lin Zixian)
Prince Zhaoming selected ancient poems, which people of later generations would call “ancient poems.” They were also known as xuanti poetry or poetry in Prince Zhaoming’s favorite style. The works by Tang-dynasty poets were called Tang xuanti poetry. But now, alas, ancient poetry has become extinct; even the term itself is sadly forgotten. (Zhong Xing: Preface to The Purport of Poetic Creation)