An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Literature in the Five Dynasties

Mar 19, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

As a new dynastic sequence, the Five Dynasties had the task to compose the official history of their predecessor, the Tang Dynasty 唐. Unfortunately, many documents of the 7th and early 8th century had been lost during the rebellion of An Lushan 安祿山 (703-757). The collection and rediscovering of imperial documents from offial and private sources was therefore an important task of the Five Dynasties historiographers. Liu Xu 劉昫 and Zhang Zhaoyuan 張昭遠 published the History of Tang (Tangshu 唐書) in 945. Missing sources were rediscovered later, and with a portion of political interpretation, the Song period 宋 scholar Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 rewrote the history of Tang as a book called Xin Tangshu 新唐書 "New History of Tang" - in contrast to the Jiu Tangshu 舊唐書 "Old History of Tang" by Liu Xu. But there are also a couple of non-official histories about the Tang period that were written during the Five Dynasties era. Wang Renyu 王仁裕 compiled Kaiyuan Tianbao yishi 開元天寶遺事 "Forgotten matters of the Kaiyuan Tianbao era [of Emperor Tang Xuanzong 唐玄宗]", Yuchi Wo 尉遲偓 wrote the Zhongchao gushi 中朝故事 "Events from the mid-dynasty" , and Liu Chongyuan 劉崇遠 Jinhuazi 金華子 "Master Golden Flower", both about the last decades of the Tang period, while Wang Dingbao 王定保 describes the tribute system in his Tang zhiyan 唐摭言 "Picked accounts from the Tang", and Sun Guangxian who reports life and deeds of literate officials and scholars of the Tang and Five Dynasties period in his book Beimeng suoyan 北夢瑣言 "Jade-chain words from a northern dream". The history of the Ten States of the south is reported in the semi-official Shiguo chunqiu 十國春秋 "Spring and Autumn of the Ten States" by Wu Renchen 吳任臣.
Like during the golden age of the Tang Dynasty, poetry continued to be a very important literary style, the two forms of poetry were the regular shi poems 詩 and the ci poetry 詞 that had just developed during the 9th century. The most important collection of Five Dynasties poetry is the Huajianji 花間集 "Collection among the flowers" by Zhao Chongzuo 趙崇祚, including poems of Wei Zhuang and Ouyang Jiong from Shu, and of the two emperors of Southern Tang (Nantang erzhu 南唐二主): Li Jing 李璟 and Li Yu 李煜. The style of the Five Dynasties poems is very courteous and describes life and thought of the life among the scholar-officials, but Li Yu's poems, especially after his retirement, show deep sentiments and regrets about the sadness of life.