The Poetics of Decadence

Chinese Poetry of the Southern Dynasties and Late Tang Periods

By Fusheng Wu

Subjects: Asian Literature
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791437520, 277 pages, April 1998
Hardcover : 9780791437513, 277 pages, April 1998

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Table of contents



1. Defining Decadence in the Chinese Poetic Tradition

2. Xiao Gang and Palace Style Poetry

3. Li He: The Poetry of Beautiful Women and Ghastly Ghosts

4. Wen Tingyun: The Poet Dandy

5. Li Shangyin: Negotiation with Tradition



Selected Bibliography


A reconsideration of Chinese decadent (tuifei) poetry which argues that this poetry is not a marginal trend but rather a vital part of the Chinese literary tradition.


This intertextual study of decadent (tuifei) poetry demystifies it by using tuifei as a critical term and by situating it within a conventional system of signs. The Poetics of Decadence focuses on four major poets during the Southern Dynasties (420-869) and Late Tang Periods (826-904) when decadent poetry was produced in great quantity, namely Xiao Gang, Li He, Wen Tingyun, and Li Shangyin. The author argues that decadent poetry challenged the canonical concept and practice of poetry as established by "The Great Preface" to The Book of Songs and by the poetry of the Han, Wei, and Jin periods. In so doing, decadent poetry formed a poetic genre with a unique, complex, and self-reflexive verbal system.

The rich and complex nature of decadent poetry gives it remarkable resilience in the face of violent condemnation by traditional criticism and allows its successful negotiation with and integration into the canonical tradition. Decadent poetry is not a marginal trend as it has been commonly perceived, but rather a vital part of the Chinese poetic tradition.

Fusheng Wu is Assistant Professor of Languages and Literature at the University of Utah. He is co-translator of Songs of My Heart: The Chinese Lyric Poetry of Ruan Ji.


"Wu has made a major contribution to the field. The poetics of decadence is a neglected subject in the study of classical Chinese poetry. The author's erudition and thoroughness are admirable." — Shuen-fu Lin, The University of Michigan

"Wu's approach is bold and his discussion is insightful. All the Tang poets discussed are major figures. Wu has penetrating things to say about their styles, with ramifications for their works in general. This is a gem of a book. It will surely have far-reaching impact." — Cynthia L. Chennault, University of Florida