The rural world of Chinese 'farmstead poetry' (Tianyuan Shi) : how far is it pastoral?

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)


Critics and historians of classical Chinese literature often use “farmstead poetry” (tianyuan shi田園詩) to describe poems in which rural matters form the main subject. The meaning of the term is usually not clearly defined, but implicitly assumed from compositions by poets like Tao Qian 陶潛 (365-427), Wang Wei 王維 (699-759), Chu Guangxi 儲光羲 (707-c.760) and Fan Chengda范正大 (1126-93). The variety of scope, experience, tone and mood displayed by works commonly considered as “farmstead poetry” certainly points to a broad, flexible tradition to which no conventional formula applies. At the same time, since rural life has always been present in Chinese poetry in reflection of socio-economic realities, not all poems that mention rural matters can be called “farmstead poetry” if the term is to be of any real value. Following two recent attempts to define tianyuan shi, I propose to regard as farmstead poetry that whose main concern is with rural subjects, including all forms and manners of scenes and objects, the work, life and feelings of rustic people (mostly farmers but also herdsmen, woodcutters, fishermen and silkworm laborers) and the poets themselves, whether they write from personal experience or sympathetic observation. While the word “main” still leaves a margin for interpretative argument, I believe this definition will provide a working basis for the discussion below.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-57
Number of pages1
JournalChinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR)
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1993
Externally publishedYes


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