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Chinese Literature
pianwen 駢文, couplet texts


The Four Categories of Literature
Pianwen 駢文 "couplet texts", also called pianliwen 駢儷文, is a literary writings style flourishing during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600). The term itself only appears during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) in Li Zhaoluo's 李兆洛 preface to his anthology Pianti wenchao 駢體文鈔. The pianwen style was gradually displaced by a revival of the "ancient style" (guwen 古文) during the mid- and later Tang period 唐 (618-907). Texts written in couplet style are characterised by a persistant composition in four-character or six-character sentences or phrases only occasionally interrupted by longer phrases. For this reason Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholars termed this style the si-liu wen 四六文 "four-six [syllable] texts". Additionally to this structural phenomenon, sentences are paired in couplets. This is not a thoroughly new phenomenon but a distinct stylistic device in Chinese literature in general. Four-syllable phrases are also known from other periods of time, yet it was only between the 3rd and the 7th centuries that whole prose texts were written in this couplet style. Pianwen texts therefore needed a construction planned in detail to achieve a satisfying result in both shape, taste, sounding and content.

Source: Chu Binjie 褚斌杰 (1986), "Pianwen 駢文", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, p. 611.

May 19, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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