An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Wenti mingbian 文體明辨

Dec 10, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Wenti mingbian 文體明辨 is a book on literary theory written during the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Xu Shizeng 徐師曾 (1517-1571), courtesy name Bolu 伯魯, style Lu'an 魯庵, from Wujiang 吳江, Jiangsu.

The book of 84 juan length is based on Wu Ne's 吳訥 (1372-1457) Wenzhang bianti 文章辨體, which discerns between 59 literary genres and sub-genres. Xu expanded these genres to no less than 101 in the core part of his book, and a further 26 genres in the appendix (Fulu limu 附錄列目). The high number of sub-genres is the result of a classification into regular styles (zheng 正), alternate styles (bian 變), ancient styles (gu 古), and common or inelegant styles (su 俗).

The listing begins with ancient songs (guge 古歌) from predynastic times, and ancient sayings (yaoci 謠詞). Xu does not discern between originals and imitations, and errs in some attributions, e.g. the inclusion of a poem of Li He 李賀 (790-816). The next section are four-syllable regular poems (siyan shi 四言詩), without discerning between the length of stanzas. Next comes Poetry of the South (Chuci 楚辭), with ancient (elegiac) rhapsodies (gufu 古賦), prose rhapsodies (wenfu 文賦), and imitations (moni Chuci 摹擬楚辭). The genre of classic rhapsodies from the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) and later is divided into old rhapsodies (gufu 古賦), rhapsodies in paired-verse style (paifu 俳賦, also called pianfu 駢賦), prose rhapsodies (wenfu), and poem-style rhapsodies (lüfu 律賦). This section is followed by poetry of the music bureau style (yuefu 樂府). For this part, Xu copied adapted parts of Guo Maoqian's 郭茂倩 book Yuefu shiji 樂府詩集 and the chapters on music (126-142 Yuezhi 樂志) in the official dynastic history Songshi 宋史. The part on regular poetry (shi 詩) follows the structure established in the anthology Wenxuan 文選, with some new sub-genres. Xu omits discussion about regular poetry from after the classical age of the Tang period 唐 (618-907).

With the next section, prose writings begin: Old-style (guti 古體 ) edicts and proclamations (zhao gao 詔誥), and such in common, inelegant style (suti 俗體). In the field of memorials to the throne (shu biao 書表), Xu Shizeng discerns between old-style texts, such in the style of the Tang period (Tangti 唐體), and those written in Song-period 宋 (960-1279) style (Songti 宋體). Concerning stone inscriptions (beiming 碑銘), regular style (zhengti 正體), alternate style (bianti 變體), and others (bieti 別體) can be discerned. Concerning tomb inscriptions (muzhi 墓志), divisions are made according to the length of texts.

All in all, the classification of the book is not very consistent. The book was therefore neglected by later theoreticians and writers. The original print of the Shouhuai Hall 壽檜堂 served as the blueprint for the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書. In 1962 (repr. 1982), the Renmin Wenxue Chubanshe 人民文學出版社 published a modern edition, in which Luo Genze 羅根澤 clarified the 127 typical genres of Xu Shizeng. The edition also includes the book Wenzhang bianti of Wu Ne.

Table 1. Contents of the Wenti mingbian 文體明辨
1 古歌謠辭: 歌, 謠, 謳,誦,詩,辭, (附)諺 Old songs and sayings: Songs, sayings, rh xxx
四言古詩:補亡,勸勵, 簡寄, 懷思, 責讓, 訓誡, 投贈 Old poems with four-syllable verses
1-2 楚辭 Poetry of the South
3-5 賦一:古賦 Rhapsodies: Ancient rhapsodies
5 賦二:排賦, 賦三:文賦, 賦四:律賦 paired-verse style rhapsodies, prose rhapsodies, poem-style rhapsodies
6-7 樂府一: 祭祀樂歌辭 Songs and melodies for sacrifices
7 樂府三: 王禮樂歌辭 Songs and melodies for royal rituals
8 樂府四: 鼓吹歌辭 Drum-and-pipe songs
9 樂府五: 樂舞歌辭 Songs to dances
樂府六: 琴曲歌辭 Songs to the zither
10 樂府七: 相和歌辭 Joint-harmony songs
樂府八:清商曲歌辭 Pure-key songs and melodies
樂府九: 雜曲歌辭 Miscellaneous airs and melodies
樂府十: 新曲歌辭 New airs and melodies
11-12 11五言古詩上:述德, 述懷, 閒適, 遊宴, 登覽, 行旅, 懷古, 12投贈, 酬答, 簡寄, 懷思,報謝, 送別,留別, 扈從, 題詠, 閨情, 哀挽, 雜詩 Old poems with five-syllable verses
13 七言古詩: 述懷, 閒適, 遊宴, 懷古, 酬答, 簡寄, 送別,留別, 扈從,, 題詠, 閨情, 雜詩 Old poems with seven-syllable verses
雜言古詩: 述懷, 簡寄, 送別, 扈從,, 題詠, 閨情, 雜詩; Old poems with heterogeneous verses
近體歌行 New-style songs and verses
14-15 14近體律詩上 : 五言: 述懷, 閒適, 遊宴,登覽,尋訪,行旅,懷古, 投贈, 酬答, 簡寄,壞思,送別,留別,會遇, 扈從,直省, 題詠, 閨情, 哀挽, 雜詩;五言三韻: 遊宴,登覽, 酬答 New-style regular poems with five-syllabe verses and five-syllable verses with three rhymes 15 15近體律詩下:七言: 述懷, 遊宴, 登覽,尋訪,行旅,懷古, 投贈, 酬答,賡和,簡寄, 送別,留別,朝會, 扈從, 題詠, 雜詩 New-style regular poems with seven-syllable verses 15 排律詩: 五言: 詠懷, 遊宴,登覽, 行旅,懷古, 投贈, 酬答, 賡和,簡寄,懷思, 送別,留別, 扈從, 題詠, 雜詩;七言: 懷思, 題詠, 雜詩 Paired-verse regular poems with five- and seven-syllable verses
16 絕句詩: 五言: 述懷, 閒適, 遊宴,登覽, 行旅,懷古, 投贈,懷思, 送別,留別, 題詠, 閨情, 雜詩;七言; 述懷, 閒適, 遊宴,登覽, 尋訪,行旅, 懷古, 投贈, 酬答, 簡寄,懷思, 送別,留別,會遇,慶賀,宮詞, 題詠, 閨情, 哀挽, 雜詩; Short-verse poems with five- and seven-syllable verses 六言詩:律詩: 酬答,送別,三韻: 閒適;絕句: 述懷, 閒適, 簡寄,懷思, 送別,留別, 雜詩; Six-syllable regular poems, and such with three rhymes 和韻詩:五言排律: 覽; 七言排律:雜詩 Poems with harmonious rhymes: Paired-verse poems with five-and seven-syllable verses 聯句詩:三言古詩: 登覽; 五言古詩: 述懷; 七言古詩: 述懷; 五言排律: 簡寄,送別; 集句詩: 四言古詩:勸勵,懷思; 樂府: 述懷; 近體歌行: 送別; 七言絕句: 懷古, 投贈 Poems of joint phrases
17 Imperial orders
諭告 Imperial announcements
18 Imperial instructions
璽書 Letters with imperial seal
Imperial decrees
19 Announcements
20 Letters of investiture
21 批答 Imperial rescripts
御札 Imperial notifications
赦文 Amnesties
鐵券文 Iron certificates
諭祭文 Sacrificial texts by the sovereign
國書 Letters to foreign rulers
Speeches to the army
Instructions, teachings
22-23 上書 Letters to the throne
24 Articles submitted to the throne
24-25 表 (附)笏記 Memorials notes on tablets
26-28 奏疏 Memorials to the throne (incl. answers, memoranda to princes, sealed letters, and accusations)
29 Covenants
Military certificates
Military dispatches
30 露布 Military announcements
公移 Official letters of dispatch
31-33 書記 Notifying letters
33 Agreements
34-37 策問 Examining questions
38-41 Treatises
42 Essays
43 Arguments
問對 Questions and answers
44-45 Introductions, prefaces
45 提拔 Forewords and afterwords
46 Texts
雜著 Miscellaneous writings
Compositions in seven parts
連珠 "Linked pearls"
說書 Arguments
47 Admonitions
48 Eulogies
49 碑文 Sele inscriptions
49-51 Records
51 Notes
紀事 Chronicles
題名 Titles and information
52 字說 Examinations of personal names
行狀 Descriptions of conduct
52-53 墓誌銘二:墓誌銘 Prose and rhymed tomb inscriptions
54 墓誌銘三: 權厝誌(commemorations for the wake/Totenwache臨時置棺待葬), 誌殯,續誌後誌同 after re-burial at a different site,蓋石文 tomb cover stones, 墓磚記墓磚銘同 tomb tiles , 墓版文 tomb boards 墳版文同,壙誌kuang grab,壙銘,槨銘,塔銘 Commemorations for the wake, commemorations for re-burial at a different site, on tomb tiles, on wooden tomb boards, at tombs, in front of coffins, at stupas
55-56 墓碑文 Inscriptions on tomb steles of high-ranking persons
墓碣文 Inscriptions on tomb stones of mid- and low-ranking persons
56 墓表: 墓表,阡表, 殯表,靈表 Funeral texts presented in front of tombs (tomb ways, coffins, spirit tablets)
57 諡議 discourses on posthumous titles
58-60 biographies
60 哀辭 lamentations
61 祭文 sacrificial texts
儷語 antithetical texts
弔文 commemorations
祝文 incantations
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文郁, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 2818.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1987). Jianming Zhongguo guji cidian 簡明中國古籍辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 156.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1994). Zhonghua gu wenxian da cidian 中華古文獻大辭典, Vol. Wenxue 文學卷 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 107.