Other literary forms

(World Poets and Poetry)

Several of the rhyme-prose works—quasi-poetic compositions incorporating rhyme and rhythm—of Ruan Ji (ron jee) are lengthy effusions, extending to many hundreds of lines, and are celebrated for their novel profundity of thought in their treatment of such themes as “The Doves,” “The Monkey,” “Biography of the Great Man,” and “Essay on Music.” Other essays discuss philosophical issues in the Daoist tradition—critical interpretations of Laozi, Zhuangzi, and the Yijing (eighth to third century b.c.e.; English translation, 1876; also known as Book of Changes, 1986).


(World Poets and Poetry)

Together with his senior, Cao Zhi, Ruan Ji stands at the head of a new era in Chinese poetics. His verse provides a link between the earlier epoch of Han and pre-Han forms, and the post-Han tradition of lyric poetry. His diction and imagery often recall the canonic odes (1000-600 b.c.e.), the mid- to late-Zhou (600-221 b.c.e.) philosophical writings, and the rhetoric of the southern Sao anthology; in his hands, the new pentameter form becomes an acceptable and established vehicle for the expression of political and social anguish. Furthermore, in the long tradition in which courtly pomposities too frequently usurped genuine thought, Ruan Ji’s poetry is admired to this day for its complexity of Confucian and Daoist ideals, its passionate concern for contemporaneous worldly ills, and the poet’s own moral dilemmas, all expressed in a deceptively artless diction (characteristics for which the poetry of Tao Qian is also greatly admired). Indeed, so perplexing and perilous was Ruan Ji’s political situation that his necessarily allusive satire became enigmatic, and his contemporaries, as much as later scholars, admitted difficulty in penetrating his precise import. Nevertheless, his quasi-religious mysticism has exerted a perennial fascination upon scholar-poets, and Ruan Ji’s verse is among the most commonly cited and imitated in the Chinese literary heritage.


(World Poets and Poetry)

Cai, Zong-qi. The Matrix of Lyric Transformation: Poetic Modes and Self-Presentation in Early Chinese Pentasyllabic Poetry. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1996. Includes an insightful study of Ruan Ji in the course of lyric genre transformation and poetic expression of the self and cultural identity.

Criddle, Reed Andrew. “Rectifying Lasciviousness Through Mystical Learning: An Exposition and Translation of Ruan Ji’s Essay on Music.” Asian Music 38, no. 2 (Summer, 2007): 44-72. While this article focuses on an essay on music written by Ruan Ji, it also provides background information and a context for understanding Ruan Ji’s poetry.

Holzman, Donald. Chinese Literature in Transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1998. Covers roughly the period from 221 b.c.e. through 960 c.e., placing Ruan Ji in context. Generous bibliographic references.

_______. Immortals, Festivals, and Poetry in Medieval China: Studies in Social and Intellectual History. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1998. Excellent for understanding Ruan Ji’s poetry in context. Includes bibliographical references and index.

_______. Poetry and Politics: The Life and Works of Juan Chi, A.D. 210-263. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976. A full-length critical study of Ruan Ji’s life and literary achievements. An extension of his 1953 publication on Ruan Ji.

Watson, Burton, ed. The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. An excellent anthology. As no special collections of Ruan Ji’s poems in English translation are available, this is a good place to locate his poems in English and discussions of the Chinese poetry of retreat.

Yu, Pauline. “The Poetry of Retreat.” In Masterworks of Asian Literature in Comparative Perspective, edited by Barbara Stoler Miller. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1994. A thoughtful discussion of Ruan Ji in the Chinese poetic tradition of the recluse, along with other poets such as Tao Qian and Xie Lingyun. Includes provocative comments on Ruan Ji’s eighty-two “Poems Singing My Thoughts” and the conflict between his fidelity to Confucian principles of service and his interest in Daoist mysticism.