China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Classical Poetry Made Easy: How the Three Hundred Poems of the Tang Manages Information

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Roosevelt Room 5, Exhibit Level

An instant bestseller when it first appeared in 1763, The Three Hundred Poems of the Tang 唐詩三百首has been the standard introduction to classical Chinese poetry for students and general readers ever since. Having reached more readers than any other anthology of premodern verse, it has arguably most shaped modern conceptions of what traditional Chinese poetry is. And yet, with the invisibility of infrastructure, it has mostly remained beneath the scholarly radar. My paper approaches this anthology as a product of the mid-Qing, when the reintroduction of poetry composition into the civil service examinations (in 1756) had generated surging demand for accessible study guides. I compare it with competing anthologies on the market at the time, highlighting how it targets the broadest possible audience by promising to make the very best poetry easy enough for even the dullest pupil. The compiler’s preface advertises, “If you thoroughly read three hundred Tang poems, / even those who can’t recite poetry will be able to recite” 熟讀唐詩三百首,不會吟詩也會吟. The paper examines this preface and those written for the book’s major editions to discover how its early purveyors understood and marketed its distillation of the poetic past. Delving into the contents, structure, and sources of the anthology, I will ask how The Three Hundred Poems of the Tang manages an unwieldy body of literary information through processes of selecting, sorting, and summarizing, and will inquire into the effects, both in terms of functionality and in terms of the picture of Tang poetry it constructs.

Gregory Patterson

University of South Carolina, South Carolina

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