An Examination of the evolution of formulaic phrases and poetic forms in the excavated Zhou texts and the Book of Odes

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project focuses on the formulaic words concurrently seen in both Shijing and the Western Zhou bronze inscriptions. An examination across these two different types of texts, transmitted and excavated, demonstrates that the shaping of the poetic form, i.e. tetrasyllabic meter and rhyme structure of the bronze inscriptions can be dated to mid-Western Zhou, especially to the reigns of kings Gong and Yi , and the early rhyme poems in the “Ya” and “Song” sections can be dated no earlier than these periods. The current project purports to reexamine every accessible extant Zhou bronzes with inscriptions, to analyze the excavated documents with poetic lines of and similar to the Odes, and to compare these transmitted poems with the Shijing texts, and come to a clearer understanding about how the linguistic features of early poetry developed to be formulaic in expression and increasingly regular in meter. This project, through an examination of some formulaic expressions and structures in both of the Shijing poems and bronze inscriptions, as well as poetic lines on other written objects, such as stone drums, bamboo and wood strips, silk, and etc., attempts to depict a clearer picture of the Chinese poetic tradition during the Zhou dynasty and finds the roots of tetra-syllabic poem in the eulogizing of clan founders in ceremonies conducted by clan leaders and practised repeatedly over generations in the musical activities in sacrifices. The formulaic expression, idiomatic words, phraseological structures, and conceptual patternings, formed in the Shijing poems, especially in the "Ya" 雅 and "Sung" 頌 sections, are those preserved or transformed from sacrificial songs recited by worshippers in religious and ceremonial activities. It is therefore a mistake in modern scholarship to regard identical phrases in bronze inscriptions to be quoted from poetic lines of the Shijing. This study leads to the exactly opposite deduction: these poetic lines are excerpts or recordings of liturgical prayers of which "the intended recipients were the ancestral spirits in heaven." This interdisciplinary research will be significant not only in the field of literary history, but also in other areas, such as paleography, historical linguistics and phonology.
Effective start/end date1/08/1131/07/14


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