In China, the “300 Song Ci” is the standard anthology for high school and undergraduate students. This book introduces Scots (and English) speakers to one of the major genres of Chinese lyric verse. This genre appeared in the ninth century, during the late Tang Dynasty, but is generally considered to have reached its full flowering in the following Song Dynasty (960-1279CE).
Among the most elegant and beautiful texts written in any language, these lyrics are of particular interest in that they demonstrate the multum in parvo (less is mair) principle: like Chinese calligraphy or landscape painting, great and subtle effects result from a high artfulness that looks artless. The two main schools of Song Ci are the heroic (haofang) and the delicately restrained (wanyue). They are also technically interesting, each being written to the irregular metrical structure of one of a selection of 800-odd models, each of which was derived from an existing song form, often from Central Asia. The authors include masters such as Fan Zhongyan (989-1052), Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072), Liu Yong (987-1053), and Yan Jidao (1031-1106), as well as lesser-known writers.