Chinese Rhyme-Prose:
Poems in the Fu Form from the Han and Six Dynasties Periods

Burton Watson (editor)

translated from the Chinese by Burton Watson
New York Review Books 2015 [1971]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2016
The Chinese fu or "rhyme-prose" was a wildly diverse form, mixing prose and poetry, having no size restriction, and taking on changing roles over nearly a millennium.

The thirteen fu translated in Chinese Rhyme-Prose are arranged chronologically, from Sung Yü's "The Wind", probably from some time in the 3rd century BC, to Yü Hsin's "A Small Garden" from the 6th century AD. In size they range from the twenty six page "Sir Fantasy" of Ssu-ma Hsiang-ju, a celebration of statesmanship and state power, to the two pages of Hsiang Hsiu's "Recalling Old Times", a memorial to executed friends. As well as such political topics and reflections on objects and places, there are subjective expressions of personal feelings such as Wang Ts'an's "Climbing the Tower".

The included pieces are all fairly easy to read, and there are endnotes to each explaining the inevitably dense historical and geographical allusions. Burton Watson also includes a twenty page introduction, which traces the history of the fu, looks at some of the evaluations and criticisms of the form, both by modern critics and by its exponents and their contemporaries, and considers its influence on poetry (shih) more broadly. So Chinese Rhyme-Prose offers a perspective on classical Chinese literature, as well as a case study in how literary forms can evolve over time.

Fu are not the most representative or accessible classical Chinese form, however, and something like A Little Primer of Tu Fu — another older classic recently republished in the same Calligrams series by New York Review Books and The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press — might be a better starting place for newcomers to classical Chinese literature.

November 2016

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%T Chinese Rhyme-Prose
%S Poems in the Fu Form from the Han and Six Dynasties Periods
%Y Calligrams
%E Watson, Burton
%M Chinese
%F Watson, Burton
%I New York Review Books
%D 2015 [1971]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9789629965631
%P 151pp