I threw out the idea of having a joint Classical Chinese poetry composition (詩會, 시회) on a post few weeks ago. Fortunately, three people responded, meaning that with myself included that would be four, and one of the most common Classical Chinese poetic form are quartets. All of us were Asian diaspora: a Cantonese speaking Chinese-American, Mandarin speaking Chinese-Canadian, Vietnamese-American, and Korean-American. As for our educational background, three of us including myself are from a technical background and the remaining one from the humanities and music. We chose to write a quartet (絶句, 절구) as the poetic form (詩體, 시체) with 陽(양) as the riming character (韻, 운). The theme (主題, 주제) picked was hopes for the new year, since the Lunar New Year was approaching and is today. We each took turns composing each line and then afterward commented and (heavily) revised upon it. This was a truly delightful experience.


Hopes for the New Year

羈中朔月少知光 (歸源)
寒盡紅梅掩故鄉 (羅氏)
萬里南圖心未已 (峭庵)
卸繮騏驥馭神羊 (孟昭)

In foreign lands, few know the significance of the new moon’s light. (Kuiwon)
As winter departs, red plum blossoms obscure the homeland. (Jeff Loh)
A ten thousand mile journey planned towards south, my heart ceases not thinking. (Tiễu Am)
Let go of the reins of the thoroughbred horse and straddle the divine ram. (Mengzhao)


Strange land • middle • first day • moon • few • to know • light
Cold • to exhaust • red • plums • to cover • old • village
Ten thousand • li • south • to plan • mind • not yet • to cease
To untie • reins • horse • horse • to drive • divine • ram


  • Heptasyllabic quartet (七言絶句). Riming character (韻) is 陽.
  • 南圖 – Literally means “to plan southward.” Refers to great aspirations.
  • 騏驥 – Refers to a horse that can gallop very quickly.
  • 神羊 – Literally “divine ram.” Can refer to Xiezhi (獬豸) or Haetae (海陀), a legendary lion-like beast in Chinese and Korean mythology. Statues of the beast can be found at the gates of many old homes and palaces.
  • Last year was the year of the horse (甲午). This year it is the year of the ram (乙未). Last line alludes to transitions from the year of the horse to the year of the ram.


신년소망 shin nyeon so mang
기중삭월소지광 gi jung sak weol so ji gwang
한진홍매엄고향 han jin hong mae eom go hyang
만리남도심미기 man ri nam do shim mi gi
사강기기어신양 sa gang gi gi eo shin yang

san1 nin4 so2 mong6
gei1 zung1 sok3 jyut6 siu2 zi1 gwong1
hon4 zeon6 gung1 mui4 am2 gu3 hoeng1
maan6 lei5 naam4 tou4 sam1 mei6 ji5
se3 goeng1 kei4 kei3 jyu6 san1 joeng4

Tân niên sở vọng
Ky trung sóc nguyệt thiểu tri quang
Hàn tận hồng mai yểm cố hương
Vạn lý nam đồ tâm vị dĩ
Tá cương kỳ ký ngự thần dương

xīn nián suǒ wàng
jī zhōng shuò yuè shǎo zhī guāng
hán jìn hōng méi yǎn gù xiāng
wàn lǐ nán tú xīn wèi yǐ
xiè jiāng qí jì yù shén yáng


Mount Emei (峨嵋山, 아미산) in Sichuan Province (四川省, 사천성) (Source)

Cui Tu (崔塗, 최도, 854-?) was a poet and late Tang dynasty (唐, 당, 618-907) bureaucrat. He was born in Jiangnan (江南, 강남); his courtesy name was Lishan (禮山, 예산). In 888, he passed the civil service examination and attained a bureaucratic position, but not much is known about his time in government. During the latter years of his life, he wandered about various regions across China and composed poetry about his travels and hardships. Cui Tu’s poems were renowned and two of his poems were selected for the anthology, Three Hundred Tang Poems (唐詩三百首, 당시삼백수), one of the most popular historical anthologies of Classical Chinese poetry. One of these two records his thoughts just before the Lunar New Year, which falls on February 19 this year.

除夜有懷 제야유회

Thoughts on New Year’s Eve

迢遞三巴路 초체삼파로
羈危萬里身 기위만리신
亂山殘雪夜 란산잔설야
孤獨異鄕人 고독이향인
漸與骨肉遠 점여골육원
轉於僮僕親 전어동복친
那堪止漂泊 나감지표박
明日歲華新 명일세화신

Steep and winding are the trails of Sanba (三巴, 삼파);
Strange and perilous it is to the body that has traveled ten thousand Li (里, 리).
Amid the rumpled mountains covered by snow, during nightfall,
An isolated and lonely man of a different hometown.
Gradually, he becomes distant from his bone and flesh;
Repeatedly, he is close with his attendants and servants.
How can one endure to putting an end to his wandering and lodging?
Tomorrow, the year shall be new.


Steep • winding • three • Ba state • road
Visitor • dangerous • ten thousand • Li • body
Disorderly • mountains • to remain • snow • night
Isolated • alone • different • village • man
Gradually • with • bone • flesh • distant
Repeatedly • to • servant • servant • close
How • endure • to stop • to float • to lodge
Next •  day •  year •  bright •  new


  • Heptasyllabic octet (七言律詩, 칠언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 眞(진).
  • 三巴(삼파) – An old name for the region around modern day Chongqing (重慶, 중경) in Sichuan Province. It refers to the old Ba state (巴, 파, ?-316BC) that ruled the area during the Warring States Period (戰國時代, 전국시대).
  • 里(리) – A natural unit of measuring distances. One li was originally 360 paces (步, 보). During the Tang Dynasty period, one Li was approximately 323 meters.
  • Korean translations available here.
Shigyeong - Gukpung

Classic of Poetry (詩經, 시경) – Airs of States (國風, 국풍) (Source)


Since most of the posts on this blog are translations of Classical Chinese poetry (漢詩, 한시), I thought it would be beneficial to briefly outline forms and the tonal meters. Most of what is written in this post I gathered from a book I reviewed awhile ago and on various Korean blogs. For the sake of brevity, I will be glossing over some of the minute details. There are tomes written about this subject.

Overview of Poetic Forms

Classical Chinese Poetic Forms

Classical Chinese poetic form (詩體, 시체) can be generally broken down into two categories: (1) archaic style poetry (古體詩, 고체시) and (2) recent style poetry (近體詩, 근체시). These categories have their own characteristics and can be further broken down into subcategories.

1. Archaic Style Poetry (古體詩, 고체시)

The most tale-telling indicator of archaic style poetry is the lack of strict adherence to form or rime. The term “archaic” in archaic style poetry is a bit of a misnomer, as there were plenty of archaic style poems written after recent style poetry was developed. Archaic style poems can have a varying number of lines and number of syllables per line (雜言, 잡언). To the extent an archaic style poem follows even a riming scheme, it uses near rimes (通韻, 통운) and may use oblique tones as rimes (仄韻, 측운). Other miscellaneous characteristics include the repetition of same character often throughout the poem, a trait not seen too often in recent style poetry.

2. Recent Style Poetry (近體詩, 근체시)

Recent style poetry first developed during the Southern and Northern Dynasties Period (南北朝時代, 남북조시대, 420-589) and fully formed during the middle period of the Tang Dynasty in the 8th and 9th centuries. In contrast to archaic style poetry, recent style poetry is marked by strict adherence to form. They are typically either quartets (絶句, 절구) or octets (律詩, 율시). Some are “extended regulation” poems (排律, 배율), which are extended versions of either quartets or octets and are typically 12 lines. For each line, recent style poems are either pentasyllabic (五言, 오언) or heptasyllabic (七言, 칠언). There is also a strict tonal meter of plain and oblique tones, and a riming scheme. With quartets and octets, there are additional rules regarding how the content should progress within the poem. The rest of this post will focus on the rules of recent style poetry.

Tonal Meter in Recent Style Poetry (平仄原則, 평측원칙)

For the purposes of this explanation, I will use the following, widely used notation. The basic rules are stated in terms of heptasyllablic poems, but can be generalized to pentasyllabic poems.

○ Plain tone (平聲, 평성)
● Oblique tone (仄聲, 측성)
◐ Preferably oblique tone, plain tone allowed
◑ Preferably plain tone, oblique tone allowed
◎ Rime (押韻, 압운)

1. Second and Sixth Syllables Should Be the Same; Second and Fourth Should Be Different (二六對, 이륙대; 二四不同, 이사불동)

The second, fourth, and sixth syllables of a heptasyllabic poem set the rhythm (節奏點, 절주점) in each line. In fact, a heptasyllabic line is meant to be read and interpreted in 2-2-3. (Rarely is it 3-2-2.) Under this rule, the second and sixth syllable should be of the same tone. In contrast, the second and fourth characters should be of different tones. For example, if the second syllable is of a plain tone (○), the fourth syllable should be oblique (●) and the sixth syllable should be again plain (○).  The first phrase in this rule is sometimes called 二六同(이륙동).

2. Over First, Third, and Fifth Syllables, Do Not Argue; Second, Fourth, and Sixth Syllables Must Be Certain (一三五不論, 일삼오불론; 二四六分明, 이사륙분명)

As for the other syllables, typically the first, third, and fifth syllables of each line follow the tone as the syllable respectively after each. They are, however, not strictly restricted in terms of which tone they have to be. Hence, “do not argue” (不論, 불론). On the other hand, the second, fourth, and sixth syllables cannot be changed. An exemplary line that complies with this rule is  雪花遣霰作前鋒(설화견산작전봉) (●○●●●○◎). In this example, the first syllable is an oblique tone, even though the second syllable is a plain tone.

3. Unaccompanied Plain Tones and Unaccompanied Oblique Tones Should Be Avoided (避孤平孤仄, 피고평고측)

A plain tone syllable that follows and comes before oblique tone syllables is called an unaccompanied plain tone (孤平, 고평). An oblique tone syllable that follows and comes before plain tone syllables is called an unaccompanied oblique tone (孤仄, 고측). Generally, unaccompanied plain and oblique tones should be avoided for the second, fourth, and sixth syllables in each line, because it is considered to break the rhythm and flow of the poem. This rule is not strictly followed, however, as it is not uncommon to see unaccompanied oblique tones in Classical Chinese poems. With Korean Classical Chinese poets, the rule was more strictly followed for the second syllable in a heptasyllabic poem and the fourth syllable in a pentasyllablic poem.

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Gang Jeongildang (姜靜一堂, 강정일당, 1772-1832) was a late Chosun dynasty poetess and Neo-Confucian scholar. She was of the Jinju Gang Clan (晉州姜氏, 진주강씨); her childhood name (兒名, 아명) was Jideok (至德, 지덕); and her pen name (號, 호) was Jeong’ildang (靜一堂, 정일당). She was born into an gentry, but poor Yangban (兩班, 양반) family that had not seen anyone rise to a bureaucratic position for a number of generations. As a child, Gang Jeongildang followed her mother and learned weaving. At the age of 20, she was married to Yun Gwangyeon (尹光演, 윤광연, 1778-1838), but only moved in three years later because the husband’s family was too poor to support her. After moving in, Gang Jeongildang started learning Confucian classics along with her husband to help him study for the civil service examinations (科擧, 과거). Despite his studying, Yun Gwangyeon failed the civil service examination. At the advice of Gang Jeongildang, he abandoned his aspirations for bureaucracy and opened a Confucian school (書堂, 서당) to teach Chinese classics to children in the area. Gang Jeongildang bore Yun Gwangyeon five sons and four daughters, but all of them unfortunately died before reaching the age of one. Her legacy, however, was carried on by her written works. Even during her lifetime, she became rather known for her poetry, calligraphy, and writings on Confucian tenets. After she passed away at the age of 61, her husband compiled all her works and published them in the Jeongildang Yugo (靜一堂遺稿, 정일당유고).

春夢 춘몽

Spring Dreams

水晶簾外日將闌 수정렴외일장란
垂柳深沈覆碧欄 수류심침복벽란
枝上黃鶯啼不妨 지상황앵제불방
尋君夢已到長安 심군몽이도장안

Outside my crystal blinds, the sun will soon fall;
But the weeping willows in deep sleep cover the blue rails.
Above the branches, nightingales chirp without interruption.
Finding you, my dear, in my dreams, I have already arrived at Jang’an (長安, 장안).


Water • crystal • shades • outside • sun • will • to decline
To hang • willows • deep • asleep • to cover • blue • handrails
Branches • above • yellow • nightingale • to chirp • not • to obstruct
To find • you • dreams • already • to arrive • long • peace


  • Heptasyllabic truncated version (七言絶句, 칠언절구). Riming character (韻, 운) is 寒(한).
  • 垂柳(수류) – Literally, “hanging willow trees.” Refers to weeping willows.
  • 長安(장안) – Jang’an, or in Mandarin Chang’an, was the capital of many Chinese dynasties and is now modern day Xi’an (西安, 서안). Chosun era poets referred to Seoul (서울) by this name.
  • Korean translation available here.


I have had a few subscribers asking whether I have written any Classical Chinese poetry (漢詩, 한시). The answer is I have composed a handful of poems, but I consider none of them that good (佳作, 가작). It took me a very long time for me to compose each of them, because I cannot recall most characters’ tones off the top of my head. Further, I do not know many of the minute details of the rules, and thus had to closely follow a book I have on composing Classical Chinese poetry, for which I wrote a review on the book on this blog. (I am aware that there are other Korean blogs whose authors occasionally post their own compositions. A search for “자작 한시” online will bring up plenty of such poems.)

More interestingly, a few of those who have asked have said they write Classical Chinese poems. This gave me an idea. I have been always curious at how back in the day poets would gather to compose poetry together (詩會, 시회). I propose that those that can compose partake in a joint composition, corresponding via email. We can pick a rime (韻, 운), type of poem (詩體, 시체), and theme. Each of us can then write one line, and have the others comment and suggest revisions. Afterward, I could post the finished product here on this blog. It should be an insightful and informative experience into the not too distant past. If you are interested in partaking in the joint Classical Chinese poetry composition, please email me at kuiwonblog@gmail.com or leave a comment. If there is enough interest, perhaps we can make this happen.

Li Bai (李白, 이백, 705-762) is probably the most acclaimed poet in Chinese history, quite famous for writing poems while drunk. The poet now appears prominently on the face of a hangover remedy drink made by a Korean beverage company, Haitai Beverages (獬豸飮料, 해태음료), called Yi Taebaek’s Secret Method for Hangovers (李太白- 宿醉秘策, 이태백의 숙취비책). (In Korea, Li Bai is better known by his courtesy name (字, 자) Taibai (太白, 태백), which in Korean is pronounced Taebaek.) The product has been out since June, but the commercial above was released on December 23 and has gained popularity on Korean social media. In the commercial, Li Bai informs a stooped over drunken passerby that he will instruct him on proper techniques for drinking during New Year celebrations. The poet then makes a prominent entrance into a restaurant, and sits with a group of people at a table. He then instructs them on his three tips to prevent hangovers:

  1. Novice level: Hold the alcohol in your mouth and while pretending to drink the water spit out the alcohol.
  2. Intermediate level: Concentrate energy upon the glass and pour some of the alcohol into the other’s glass while clanking glasses.
  3. Expert level:  Place a necktie into the glass to absorb the alcohol and then squeeze out the alcohol beneath the table.

Finally, Li Bai introduces to the guests his new product. (I do not know whether it actually works, and am well aware that hangover remedies often are not effective. At any rate, I hope everyone had a happy — and hangover-free — New Year’s!)



Every year, countries in the Sinosphere (漢字文化圈, 한자문화권) that still regularly use Chinese characters (漢字, 한자) pick a Chinese character that represent the theme of the year. In China, the character 法(법) meaning “law” was picked to reflect the Chinese Communist Party’s initiatives to reign in corrupt officials. In Taiwan, the character 黑(흑) meaning “black” was selected to represent the scandals within the food industry where some restaurants used gutter oil as cooking oil. In Singapore, the character 亂(란) meaning “chaos” was chosen in response to many conflicts across the globe. In Japan, the character 稅(세) meaning “taxes” was tabbed to signify the Abe government’s move to raise the consumption tax rate from 5% to 8%.

Korea does not have a “character of the year” as the other countries listed. Instead, the Korean Professors’ Newspaper (敎授新聞, 교수신문) picks a four character idiom (四字成語, 사자성어) for the year. This year, out of 724 professors polled, 201 of them (27.8%) voted for the idiom 指鹿爲馬(지록위마) meaning “To call a deer a horse” (or more literally “To point at a deer and deem it a horse”). It refers to turning falsehoods into truths, and vice-versa, to deceive others, especially those in power. The idiom is a reflection of the many tragedies that occurred this year. It was chosen also to criticize how President Park Geunhye (朴槿惠, 박근혜, 1952-) and government officials mismanaged in reacting to these events. The idiom is in reference to an incident towards the end of the Qin dynasty (秦, 진, 9th century-221 BC) as recorded in the Annals of the Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇本紀, 진시황본기) of the Records of the Grand Historian (史記, 사기), which was written by Sima Qian (司馬遷, 사마천, 145 or 135-86BC):

八月己亥, 趙高欲爲亂, 恐群臣不聽, 乃先設驗, 持鹿獻於二世, 曰: “馬也.”
팔월기해, 조고욕위란, 공군신불청, 내선설험, 지록헌어이세, 왈: “마야.”

On the Jihai day (己亥, 기해) of the eighth month, Zhao Gao (趙高, 조고, ?-207BC) wanted to start a revolt, but feared that his ministers would not listen. Therefore, he first tried to test them, and took a deer as an offering to the Qin dynasty’s second generation emperor saying, “This is a horse.”

  • Zhao Gao (趙高, 조고, ?-207BC) – A corrupt and greedy prime minister and eunuch (宦官, 환관) in the Qin dynasty royal court, he played a pivotal role in bringing down the Qin dynasty and is vilified in Chinese history for his treachery.

二世笑曰: 丞相誤邪? 謂鹿爲馬.
이세소왈: 승상오아? 위록위마.

The second generation emperor laughed saying, “Prime minister, are you mistaken? You called a deer a horse.”

問左右, 左右或默, 或言馬以阿順趙高.
문좌우, 좌우혹묵, 혹언마이아순조고.

The emperor asked ministers on his left and right. Out of the ministers, some were quiet. Others stated that it was a horse in order to flatter and follow Zhao Gao.

或言鹿, 高因陰中諸言鹿者以法.
혹언록, 고인음중제언록자이법.

Some said it was a deer. Zhao Gao thus in secret had all those who said it was a deer ensnared.


Thereafter, all the ministers feared Zhao Gao.

As for the other choices in the poll, the idiom 削足適履(삭족적리) meaning “To cut off the feet and match to shoes” came second, 至痛在心(지통재심) meaning “Extreme pain exists in the heart” came third, 慘不忍睹(참불인도) meaning “So horrendous that no one can bare to watch” came fourth, and 四分五裂(사분오열) meaning “To divide into four and cut into five” came fifth. Last year’s choice was 倒行逆施(도행역시) meaning “To act contrary to reason,” another idiom based on the Records of the Grand Historian. 



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