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Persons in Chinese History - Liu Zhen 劉楨

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Liu Zhen 劉楨 (d. 217), courtesy name Gonggan 公幹, was a writer of the late Eastern Han period 東漢 (25-220 CE) and one of the Seven Masters of the Jian'an reign period 建安七子. He hailed from Dongping 東平 (today in Shandong) and was the son of Liu Liang 劉梁, a famous scholar of the times. The warlord Cao Cao 曹操 made him clerk of the Counsellor-in-chief (chengxiang yuan 丞相掾). Liu Zhen was befriended with Cao's sons Cao Pi 曹丕 (Emperor Wen 魏文帝, r. 220-226, of the Wei dynasty 曹魏, 220-265) and Cao Zhi 曹植, who were also known for their proficiency in poetry. On one occasion he was lying on Cao Pi's bed and saw the wife of his host, Mme Zhen 甄氏. Accused of disrespect, he was sentenced to hard labour, but was pardoned and given an appointment as a small local official. He died by an epidemic infect in 217, just as his colleagues Chen Lin 陳琳, Xu Gan 徐幹 and Ying Yang 應瑒.
Liu Zhen was famous for his five-syllable poems (wuyanshi 五言詩) which were highly praised by Cao Pi. His literary merits are mainly seen in the field of five-syllable verse regular poems. The spirit of his poems was running strongly and unimpeded (qishi jidang 氣勢激宕), and the field of his thoughts wide and high (yijing qiaoba 意境峭拔). Even if he did not make use of "well-carved" phrases, his style was of high quality. Liu Zhen was often compared with Wang Can 王粲 (as the couple Liu-Wang 劉王). The Qing period 清 (1644-1911) critic Liu Xizai 劉熙載, author of the book Yigai 藝概, explained that Liu Zhen's spirit was strong, while Wang Can was better in expressing emotions (qing 情). Others compared him with Cao Zhi (as the couple Cao-Liu 曹劉).
Liu's own style is best seen in his three poems entitled Zeng congdi 贈從弟 "Presented to my younger cousin", in which he gives expression to his inner emotions and describes his sad thoughts in an outstanding way by using, for instance, the details of a landscape as metaphers.
Seen from the lexicon, Liu Zhen's poems are not very rich. The critic Zhong Rong 鍾嶸 therefore delivered in his Shipin 詩品 the judgment that Liu's "spirit surpassed the words of his writings, because they were not diligently and smoothly carved". This weakness can best be seen in the rhapsody Dashu fu 大暑賦 "The great heat", which lacks literary quality in contrast to a rhapsody of the same name written by Wang Can.
Liu Zhen's collected writings with a length of 4 juan are lost, along with a commentary he wrote on the "Book of Songs" (Shijing 詩經), Maoshi yiwen 毛詩義問, with a length of 10 juan. The Ming period 明 (1368-1644) collector Zhang Pu 張溥 reconstructed the collected writings on the base of fragments. This is the book Liu Gonggan ji 劉公幹集, which is found in the collectaneum Han Wei Liuchao baisan jia ji 漢魏六朝百三家集.


Source: Xu Gongchi 徐公持 (1986), "Liu Zhen 劉楨", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chuabanshe), Vol. 1, p. 456.

June 8, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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