An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Literature in the Jurchen Jin Empire

Jul 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Although the Jurchen have been a belligerent people they soon adopted many cultural aspects of the Chinese, including Chinese literature styles. Members of the nobility and officials wrote shi 詩 and ci 詞 poems imitating the style of famous Song poets like Su Dongpo 蘇東坡 and Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅. Famous Jin Dynasty poets are Yuwen Xuzhong 宇文虛中, Wu Ji 吳激, Cai Songnian 蔡松年, Dang Huaiying 黨懷英, Zhao Feng 趙渢, Zhao Bingwen 趙秉文, Yang Yunyi 楊雲翼, Wanyan Shou 完顏璹, Wang Tingyun 王庭筠. Yuan Haowen 元好問 was a poet of the late Jin time whose writings (collections Zhongzhouji 中州集 and Zhongzhou yuefu 中州樂府) were later taken as masterpieces by Yuan period poets of the He-Fen group 河汾詩派 in modern Shanxi. Writers among the Jurchen aristocracy were Wanyan Yuncheng 完顏允成, Wanyan Xu 完顏勖, and Nouwanwen Dunwudai 耨盌溫敦兀帶.
Except poetry, popular stories were promoted as collection of songs and airs, like Dong Jieyuan's 董解元 Xixiangji zhugongdiao 西廂記諸宮調, a collection of airs that formed the basis of the famous opera Xixiangji 西廂記 "Romance of the Western Chamber". The opera style of the Court Play (yuanben zaju 院本雜劇) that was created during the Jin period, basing on the Northern Song Capital Play (Guanben zaju 官本雜劇), found its perfection during the following Yuan Dynasty and should become the origin of the northern style of the Chinese opera with much activities on the stage - unlike the southern style that preferred less action and more airs. Some of the most famous Yuan play writers were already creative at the end of Jin, like Guan Hanqing 關漢卿, Bai Pu 白朴, Du Renjie 杜仁杰, and Liang Jinzhi 梁進之. A register of yuanben plays is contained in the essay Chuogenglu 輟耕錄 "Records [after retiring to] the countryside" was compiled by the early Ming scholar Tao Zongyi 陶宗儀.
With the Chinese administration and tax system, and along with the use of Chinese language as a literary vehicle, the Jurchen writers and thinkers - along with their Chinese collegues among the officialdom - took over Confucianism as the state doctrine of the Jin empire. The main reason for the adaption of Confucianism was that this doctrine was part of the effective governmental system, and that education and recruitment (keju 科舉) of state officials was undertaken within the boundaries of Confucian state academies. Emperor Jin Xizong erected a Confucius temple in the capital.

Excerpt from a Jurchen memorial, the right columns being the Jurchen text, the left columns a translation into Chinese. The Jurchen original reads:
Alun wei jhinchenhu saha miyee jhejhimei / jhaulamai ahai amin mafa bifume jheche tutimei husun nugur aniya ujhu kankelemei [...]
The Chinese translation reads:
阿倫衛正千戶撒哈連謹 / 奏奴婢父祖在邊出力每年頭叩[/朝貢...]
The text can be translated into English as:
I, Sahaliyan, Battalion Commander of the Alun Guard, respectfully / memorialize concerning the position which, after my father and my grandfather having made efforts at the frontier and, kowtowing, every year [offer tribute to the court...]

The Jurchen script was invented by Wanyan Xiyin 完顏希尹 and Ye Lu 葉魯 on the orders of Emperor Jin Taizu 金太祖 in 1119. The script was based on the Khitan script and Chinese characters. This Larger Jurchen Script was enriched by a Smaller Jurchen Script that was in use from 1145 on. Unfortunately, not many documents written in these two types of script have come upon later generations, and we can only guess the difference between Larger and Smaller Script. But we know that many important Chinese writings were translated into Jurchen, like the Confucian and Daoist classics, the Tang period governmental records Zhenguan zhengyao 貞觀政要, or the history Shiji 史記. The Khitan script was abandoned by the Jin court in 1191. The Jurchen script contains about 720 characters, some logographic (pictures or symbols), some phonetic. Similar to Chinese, the Jurchen characters can be sorted by radicals and stroke number.
Among the Jin period writers and thinkers we find many scholars that interpreted the Confucian classics, like Du Shisheng 杜時升, Ma Jiuchou 麻九畴, Wang Ruoxu 王若虛, and Zhang Bingwen 趙秉文, the last being the greatest representative of Neo-Confucianism among the Jin Dynasty philosophers.
Jin period historiographers wrote down the history of their predecessor state, the Liao Dynasty. Both histories were not finished, but they served as basic material for the official History of Liao Liaoshi 遼史, compiled during the Yuan Dynasty. The official records of the Jurchen's own history are not preserved. Private history was written by many of the known scholars of Jin, but the only preserved book is Guiqianzhi 歸潛志 "Memories in Retirement" by Liu Qi 劉祁.
The official dynastic history of the Jin Empire is the Jinshi 金史, finished in 1344 as a compilation under the guidance of Tuo Tuo 脫脫 (Toqtoha).