Tang Dynasty

In Chinese literature, the Tang period (618-907) is considered the golden age of Chinese poetry, sculpture, and Buddhism. The Tang capital of Chang’an became a great international metropolis, with traders and embassies from Central Asia, Arabia, Persia, Korea, and Japan. The prosperous Tang dynasty was also an era of development of a highly educated society, synonymous with the birth of famous poems created by individuals such as Li Bai and Du Fu. In the history of Chinese literature, historians usually judge Tang poetry, Yuan Qu-poetry, and Song Ci-poetry as triangular-balanced peaks of literature.

"Selected 300 Tang Dynasty Poems"(唐诗三百首)is the most popular anthology of Chinese classic poetry. It was compiled by the Qing scholar Sun Zhu 孙洙, also called Hengtang Tuishi 衡塘退士 , the "Retired Master of Hengtang", and published in 1764. Sun was not very pleased with the poems of the anthology Qianjiashi 千家诗 , "A thousand master's poems" (late Southern Song), because of its lack of an educational spirit. He wanted poems that cultivated the character of the reader. Today, there exist some new compositions of three hundred Tang poems containing different works because the attitude to poetry in the Qing period, as an educational instrument, is not held so firmly today. Sun Zhu divided his anthology into six different styles, comprising old style poems (gushi, 古詩), regular poems (lüshi 律詩) and short poems (jueju, 絕句), both with five- and seven-syllable verses. Between the particular sections, poems in the style of the old Han Music Bureau (yuefu, 樂府) are inserted that were still in use during the Tang Dynasty but gradually lost their original character and disappeared during the latter half of period.

Sun selected Tang poems for their popularity and their effectiveness in moulding the reader's character. Representing equally well each of the classical poetic forms as well as the best works by the most prominent Tang poets, Sun's collection became a "best seller" soon after its publication. Used for centuries since to teach elementary students to read and write, it is still a classic today, its popularity undiminished. Nearly every Chinese household owns a copy of Tang Shi and poems from it are still included in textbooks and are assigned to be memorized by students.

This selection holds 43 representative Tang poems by major and minor poets. They illustrate seven poetic forms of this dynasty:

  • five-character-ancient-verse
  • five-character-regular-verse
  • five-character-quatrain
  • seven-character-ancient-verse
  • seven-character-regular-verse
  • Seven-character-quatrain
  • folk-song-styled-verse

They have been translated into English by the greatest living translator of Chinese poetry into English, Xu Yuanchong, as a testimony to its compiler's intent: "Learning three hundred Tang poems by heart, you can chant poems though you know not the art."