It was this kind of uninhibited creative activity that made this reign the golden period of poetry. Poets enthusiastically wrote lyrics for songs. Although they might use old titles they did not feel compelled to adhere to the letters of those titles or to follow the musical pattern of the original composition. Freedom of creation was further extended by the use of themes and cadences of old ballads as well as of current popular songs. It was this forthright experimentation in meter and theme, which had permeated the whole field of poetry writing, that gave the literature of the age of K’ai Yüan and T’ien Pao (713-755) an unusual brilliance.

Not only was high society universally interested in the writing of poetry, but even the common people in sparsely populated villages in frontier regions--“wherever water was drawn from wells”—were eager to convert the handiwork of poets into popular songs. The process of enrichment of T’ang poetry by folk literature might be divided roughly into three stages: the leading poets, aware of the value of folklore, wrote in imitation of popular songs; the poets wrote new compositions, often deviation from the original scores as well as from the original themes; freeing themselves from established themes and patterns, the poets created new songs of their own in conformity with the traditional spirit of folk poetry. In this subtle manner there was a greater extent of interpenetration between the creative writing of the T’ang poets and the literary heritage of the common people.

This age of liberation of the arts was greatly strengthened by the cumulative effect philosophical naturalism from the age of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, on one hand, and by the merging of this naturalism with the spontaneity in Ch’an Buddhism, on the other, Ch’an Buddhism had been introduced from India by Budhidharma (died circa 530) and stressed the importance of contemplation in contrast to dependence on books and ritual. By the middle of the eighth century, Ch’an Buddhism had not only matured but also surprisingly Sinicized. The beginnings of the revolution in Ch’an Buddhism had been set in motion by an illiterate monk from southern china, Hui Nêng (died 713), who had hoisted the banner of rebellion to found the so-called southern sect. One of their shibboleths was “down with the obstructions of letters and rituals.” All that came between the seeker of enlightenment and enlightenment itself was obstructionist in nature and was, therefore, to be completely eliminated. To them, all discipline and procedure purporting to train the prospective convert gradually was regarded as hindrance rather than aid. Even incantations and meditations were regarded as so many shackles because all human beings, according to their belief, were capable of sudden enlightenment and immediate attainment of Buddhahood. This revolutionary movement, which had been started at the turn of the centuries, had amassed such a solid following by the middle of the eighth century that it had come into sharp conflict with the northern orthodoxy and replaced the latter in legal apostolic succession by scoring a universal victory toward the end of the century. This revolutionary movement in Chinese Buddhism was also a great revolutionary in the history of Chinese thought, with its repercussions felt in practically all fields of human activities, art and literature included.

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