On Ci as a “Unique Genre” in Classical Novels and Operas

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.11, 2015


On Ci as a “Unique Genre” in Classical Novels and Operas



Ye Ye


The ci in classical Chinese novels and operas can be classified into the two general types: “texts fitting many forms” and “forms fitting many texts.” The differences derive from the literati tradition of composition as against the tradition of operatic performance. The ci, as a newly risen star in the poetic firmament, possessed not only the normal functions of the previous shige (诗歌), but also some unique features unlike those of shige. For example, the yinkuo (檃括) style in the opening scenes of southern opera and chuanqi (传奇) opera, and the qingzhi (情致) verse in Ming novels written in the classical language all inherited and developed the Song ci tradition, vividly demonstrating why the Song called ci “a unique genre.” At the same time, the symbiotic growth of opera and the classical novel enabled such ci traditions as yinkuo and qingzhi to become popular in other narrative forms. We can see a hidden clue to the transformation of classical narrative literature in the development of Yuan and Ming ci in the form of a shift from the ci of performers to the ci of literati in novels and operas of the period. Their inheritance from and reference to the ci of Tang and Song literati, in contrast to the total decline of ci during the Yuan and Ming dynasties, may provide a useful supplement to the history of literati ci after the Southern Song dynasty.