Chinese Sanqu Poetry
Chinese Sanqu poetry (Chinese: 散曲) or San-ch’ü poetry. Sanqu Dramatic Lyrics were a notable Chinese poetic genre from the Jin-Yuan (1115-1368) to the following Ming period. The Sanqu Dramatic Lyrics were directly related to the Zaju (杂剧) Dramatic Arias heard in period plays. Both were written to fixed musical modes and could contain several aria or lyric song segments in one suite. Sanqu Dramatic Lyrics however could be composed in single discreet sections. During the Jin-Yuan period China was under foreign domination. High government positions were reserved for non Chinese. It is often said that Sanqu Dramatic Lyrics reflect excess energies and resentments of contemporary disenfranchised Chinese literati. Often the poetry could be humorous as is the following anonymous lyric:
WEARING RUINED BOOTS
The seams have come unstitched,
All falling apart, the leather is ruined.
Money wasted several times fixing them.
I haven’t repaid
The money used to buy them.
I dare not swagger,
But only take half-steps;
Fearing stones like wolves’ teeth,
Stairs like turtles’ backs.
Climbing the lookout
I veer left and right.
I dare not use the shoe stretcher;
At best I can hang them out in the sun.
Both Sanqu Dramatic Lyrics and plays enjoyed the same social milieu; indeed, esteemed playwrights like Ma Zhiyuan (马致远) (c. 2170-1330) and Guan Hanqing (关汉卿) (c. 1300) were well-established writers of Sanqu Dramatic Lyrics. This poetry was of course composed in the vernacular or semi-vernacular. Textual problems abound and this has perhaps contributed to the paucity of translations of a truly significant Chinese literary genre that expanded the limits of literary expression. The collection and printing of this poetry is ongoing and only recently has a Ming period collection seen a modern edition.