An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Tangshi sanbai shou 唐詩三百首

Jul 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Tangshi sanbai shou 唐詩三百首 can be said to be the most popular collection of premodern poetry. It is a selection of 300 regular shi-style 詩 poems written during the Tang period 唐 (618-907) that is seen as the apogee of this style of lyrics. The collection was compiled by Sun Zhu 孫洙 (1711-1778), courtesy name Linxi 臨西, style Hengtang Guishi 蘅塘退士, from Wuxi 無錫, Jiangsu.

The anthology was finished in 1763 and had a length of 8 juan, but there were also editions with 6 fascicles. Sun was inspired by an earlier collection of Tang poetry, Tangshi biecai ji 唐詩別裁集 by Shen Deqian 沈德潛 (1673-1769) from 1717 that includes more than 1900 poems.

Sun Zhu's collection includes the writings of 77 poets (two of which anonymous), but different editions vary concerning the number of poems. Actually, none of them includes exactly 300 poems, but rather somewhat more, ranging from 310 to 317 or even 321. The number 300 was used to underline the importance of the anthology as a successor of the "three hundred" (actually 305) poems of the Confucian Classic Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs".

Because Sun was a deemed a descendent of the famous poet Du Fu 杜甫 (712-770), the number of works of this poet is relatively high, with Wang Wei 王維 (692-761), Li Bai 李白 (701-762) and Li Shangqin 李商隱 (813-c. 858) coming next. The poems are arranged according to formal criteria, namely the length of verses (5 and 7 syllables), style (gushi 古詩, yuefu 樂府, lüshi 律詩) and the length (jueju 絕句). However, music-bureau-style (yuefu) poems are attached to fascicles 6, 7 and 8. The largest group are five-syllable regular poems (wuyan lüshi 五言律詩) which constitute a quarter of the collection.

Table 1. Contents of the Tangshi sanbai shou 唐詩三百首 if the 6- and 8-fascicle versions
1. 1. 五言古詩 Wuyan gushi Five-syllable old poems
2. 五古樂府 (五言樂府) Wugu yuefu (Wuyan yuefu) Five-syllable old poems in music-bureau style
2. 3. 七言古詩 Qiyan gushi Seven-syllable old poems
4. 七古樂府 (七言樂府) Qigu yuefu (Qiyan yuefu) Seven-syllable old poems in music-bureau style
3. 5. 五言律詩 Wuyan lüshi Five-syllable regular poems
4. 6. 七言律詩 Qiyan lüshi Seven-syllable regular poems
七律樂府 Qilü yuefu Seven-syllable regular poems in music-bureau style
5. 7. 五言絕句 Wuyan jueju Five-syllable short poems
五絕樂府 Wujue yuefu Five-syllable short poems in music-bureau style
6. 8. 七言絕句 Qiyan jueju Seven-syllable short poems
七絕樂府 Qijue yuefu Seven-syllable short poems in music-bureau style

The selection of poems is very outstanding, and Sun’s book therefore represents veritable gems of Tang poetry that are not only refined in language, but comprehensible also for less educated persons. This fact contributed to the high popularity of the anthology, and its use as a textbook for primary eduction, just like the anthology Qianjiashi 千家詩. Sun also demonstrated that the gist of Tang poetry was not "necessarily found in the mid-Tang period" (shi bi sheng Tang 詩必盛唐), but that early and late Tang poets were likewise excellent composers.

The most important early prints are from 1852 (Xiaoshi Shanfang Studio 小石山房) and 1870 (Yiwen Studio 藝文堂).

The collection attracted wide attention by scholars, and was often commented, for instance, by Ms Chen Wanjun 陳婉俊 (1844) Tangshi sanbai shou buzhu 唐詩三百首補注 (Siteng Yinshe edition 四藤吟社, republished in 1959 by the Zhonghua Shuju Press 中華書局), Zhang Xie 章燮 (1783—1852) Tangshi sanbai shou zhushu 唐詩三百首注疏 (Wanwei Shanzhuang edition 宛委山莊, repr. by Donghai Wenyi Chubanshe 东海文艺出版社 1957), Li Pangen 李盤根 Zhushi Tangshi sanbai shou 注釋唐詩三百首 (1860), Yu Shouzhen 喻守真 Tangshi sanbai shou xiangxi 唐詩三百首詳析 (1957), Zhu Dake 朱大可 Xinzhu Tangshi sanbai shou 新注唐詩三百首 (1957), Jin Xingyao 金性堯 Tangshi sanbai shou xinzhu 唐詩三百首新注 (1980), Chen Changqu 陳昌渠 et al. Tangshi sanbai shou zhushi 唐詩三百首注釋 (1982), Huang Yongwu 黃永武 and Zhang Gaoping 張高評 Tangshi sanbai shou jianshang 唐詩三百首鑒賞 (1986), Zhao Shanlin 趙山林 Tangshi sanbai shou xinping 唐詩三百首新評 (1992), Zheng Jun 鄭君 Tangshi sanbai shou xinzhu 唐詩三百首新注 (1994), Xie Rixin 謝日新 Tangshi sanbai shou pingxi 唐詩三百首評析 (1995), Tao Jinyan 陶今雁 Tangshi sanbai shou xiangzhu 唐詩三百首詳注 (1995) and Wang Bugao 王步高 Tangshi sanbai shou huiping 唐詩三百首彙評 (1997). Peng Duo 彭鐸 compiled a dictionary on the anthology, Tangshi sanbai shou cidian 唐詩三百首詞典 (1986).

In 1994, Yang Fan 楊帆 and Zhang Da 張達 selected the gist from among those commentaries and published the anthology in the series Gudian shige jinghua jianshang 古典詩歌精華鑒賞. Another commented edition was published in 1995 by Zhou Gang 周剛 and Li Zechun 李澤淳 in the series Xinzhu gudian shiwen shida chuantong xuanben 新注古典詩文十大傳統選本. The Sichuan University Press 四川大學出版社 published in 1996 a commented edition by Naiwei Zhuren 耐葦主人.

There were also new publications presenting alternatives to Sun Zhu’s selection, like Tangshi sanbai shou xinbian 唐詩三百首新編 by Ma Maoyuan 馬茂元 and Zhao Changping 趙昌平 (1985), Tangshi sanbai shou xubian 唐詩三百首續編 by Wu Zhanlei 吳戰壘 (1990), and the enlarged edition by Yu Qingyuan 于慶元, Tangshi sanbai shou xuxuan 唐詩三百首續選 (Liuzhen Hall edition 留真堂).

There is a complete translation by Innes Herdan (Taibei: Far East Book, 1984).

The concept of 300 selected poems inspired scholars to compile similar anthologies for other genres and ages, like Songci sanbai shou 宋詞三百首 and Yuanqu sanbai shou 元曲三百首. While the genre of lyric-metre style poetry (ci 詞) is usually associated with the Song period 宋 (960-1279) and aria-style poetry (qu 曲) with the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368), the three collections Tangshi sanbai shou, Songci sanbai shou, and Yuanqu sanbai shou purport to represent the crown of Chinese poetry. For this reason, He Rui 何銳 published the commented unified edition Tangshi Songci Yuanqu sanbai shou heding zhushi ben 唐詩宋詞元曲三百首合訂注釋本 (Ba-Shu Shushe 巴蜀書社, 2011). With the growing awareness that particular genres were not restricted to certain ages, similar anthologies were published, covering the whole imperial age and the three great poetry genres:

Table 2. Imitations of the Tangshi sanbai shou 唐詩三百首
Songci sanbai shou 宋詞三百首 Zhu Zumou 朱祖謀 1924
Yuanqu sanbai shou 元曲三百首 Ren Ne 任訥 Minzhi Shuju, 1930
Gushi sanbai shou 古詩三百首 Jiang Zhenhua 蔣振華 Xin Shiji Chubanshe, 1996
Han-Wei-Liuchao shi sanbai shou 漢魏六朝詩三百首 Jiang Shuge 姜書閣, Jiang Yibo 姜逸波 Yuelu Shushe, 1994
Songshi sanbai shou 宋詩三百首 Jin Xingyao 金性堯 Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 1993
Song-Yuan-Ming shi sanbai shou 宋元明詩三百首 Zhu Zi 朱梓, Leng Changyan 冷昌言 Shanghai Dadong Shuju, 1926
Liao-Jin-Yuan shi sanbai shou 遼金元詩三百首 Luo Sining 羅斯寧, Huang Tianji 黃天驥 Yuelu Shushe, 1990
Mingshi sanbai shou 明詩三百首 Yang Chunqiu 羊春秋 Yuelu Shushe, 1994
Qingshi sanbai shou 清詩三百首 Qian Zhonglian 錢仲聯, Qian Xuezeng 錢學增 Yuelu Shushe, 1986
Yuan-Ming ci sanbai shou 元明詞三百首 Huang Tianji 黃天驥, Li Hengyi 李恆義 Yuelu Shushe, 1994
Yuan-Ming-Qing sanqu sanbai shou 元明清散曲三百首 Yang Chunqiu 羊春秋 Yuelu Shushe, 1992
Hu Ying 扈英 (1993). "Tangshi sanbai shou 唐詩三百首", in Zhongguo xiaoxue jiaoxue baike quanshu 中國小學小學百科全書, Vol. Yuwen 語文 (Shenyang: Shengyang chubanshe), 91.
Li Bingzhong 李秉忠, Wei Canjin 衛燦金, Lin Conglong 林從龍, eds. (1990). Jianming wenshi zhishi chubanshe 簡明文史知識詞典 (Xi’an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 701.
Lin, Shuen-fu (1986). "T‘ang-shih san-pai shou 唐詩三百首", in William H. Nienhauser, ed. The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press), 755-756.
Qian Zhonglian 錢仲聯 (1986). "Tangshi sanbai shou 唐詩三百首", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 840.
Wang Yuguang 王余光, Xu Yan 徐雁, eds. (1999). Zhongguo dushu da cidian 中國讀書大辭典 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), 1218.
Xibei Shifan Xueyuan Zhongwen Xi Wenyi Lilun Jiaoyanshi 西北師范學院中文系文藝理論教研室, ed. (1985). Jianming wenxue zhishi cidian 簡明文學知識辭典 (Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe), 348.
Xu Yimin 許逸民 (2003). "Tangshi sanbai shou 唐詩三百首", in Zhou Xunchu 周勛初, ed. Tangshi da cidian 唐詩大辭典 (Beijing: Fenghuang chubanshe), 555.
Zhang Zhonggang 張忠綱, ed. (2000). Quantangshi da cidian 全唐詩大辭典 (Beijing: Yuyan chubanshe), 1141.