The sudden arrival of the catastrophe had awakened only a relatively small group from their dreams of a perfect and orderly society. Many others strained their literary efforts in praise of the reigning dynasty. For those who had stopped dreaming, however, the universe had acquired an appearance of seriousness and their own philosophies of life had become profoundly realistic. This difference in response was naturally traceable to differences in personal temperament. Even a casual look at new literary trends after the rebellion, however, would convince us that they were, by and large, the products of a completely changed age. In Tu Fu’s own words:

憶昔 杜甫

Changes in literature thus reflect the transition to a new age. Literature of the latter half of the eighth century was cast in an entirely different mold from that of its predecessor. This is most clearly seen in the seriousness of attitude and the profundity of vision of the writers. Literature was no longer a pastime or a ladder to the imperial official hierarchy. Moreover, it was no longer a form of entertainment supplying the court musicians with lyrics for the amusement of the aristocracy. Nor did it consist in ventures into the unreal by imagining the toilsome life of military service, or by projecting pictures of an earthly paradise of the immortals. Leaders in literature now began to face life seriously—not imaginary life but real life—the suffering of the masses, problems of social change, challenges of state and government, and the realistic aspirations and fears of actual living.

Traditional historians of T’ang literature have failed to stress this sudden change on the Chinese scene and the incongruities of the reigns of K’ai Yüan and T’ien Pao when they refer to the middle decades of the eighth century as an indivisible unit. Actually the line of division made by the rebellion of 755 cut deep into the century. What had preceded it was a literature singing praises to peace and prosperity with romantic contents creating man-made scenes, whereas what followed it was a literature saturated with pain and suffering reflecting a disintegrating society—a literature deeply characterized by an all-pervasive realism. This new age was no longer the age of lighthearted songs sung to the accompaniment of music. What had been known as yüeh fu, songs written in imitation of the ones sung by the Music Bureau, had done its work as an effective training program in inducing the writers to attempt liberation in technique and in spirit. Instead of subjecting themselves to further discipline, the new poets were now eager to create, hence, we have what was publicly heralded as “the new yüeh fu”—a kind of new poetry to demonstrate the new life under a new age.

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