On Shên’s sheet there was written a verdict, apparently in keeping with current usage, detailing why Shên’s poem had been considered inferior to the one submitted by Sung.

Poems like these were necessarily mediocre even though they might have been written by first-class poets. The atmosphere in which this type of literature was born could not but savor heavily of the stuffiness of the court. Among poets of this school Shên Chuan-ch’i (650-713?) and Sung Chih-wên (660?-712) were hailed as the twin masters for flawlessness in observing all the regulations that had been set down. The main targets were rhetorical cadence, accurate symmetry, and appropriateness of antithesis with or without substantial content. The only redeeming grace of sonorous courtly poetry of this type was the occasional presence of a touch of the humorous. We must understand that prior to the rise of Neo-Confucianism in the eleventh century, Chinese society had not acquired the rigidity imposed upon it by that school’s strict moralists. Jesting between monarch and subject was not only not frowned upon but provided general gaiety. Some cautious curtailment was evident, of course, for everyone seemed to know the limit beyond which no venture should be made in making fun of the emperor and his associates. But the general effect was entertainment for all.

For this kind of poems, at first mainly occasional in nature, new patterns were soon set, and it was for their faithful and successful observance of the rules governing these patterns that Shên and Sung sere admired. In fact, they were credited with leadership in crystallizing the new verse forms which had been slowly evolving for nearly two centuries, and which, once universally adopted, were to be continually cultivated by Chinese poets down to contemporary times.

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