In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ming Poetry 1522–1644: New Literary Traditions

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Wang Yangming's 王阳明Philosophy of Mind and Xingling 性灵Poetics
  • The Eight Talents of Jiajing (Jiajing ba caizi 嘉靖八才子)
  • Late-16th-Century Poetry and Popular Literature: Xu Wei 徐渭, Li Zhi 李贽, and Tang Xianzu 汤显祖
  • Chen Zilong 陈子龙: The Last Return to Archaist Movement in the Final Decades of the Ming Empire

Chinese Studies Ming Poetry 1522–1644: New Literary Traditions
Tsung-Cheng Lin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0204


From the foundation of the Ming dynasty until the early sixteenth century, archaism, and its emphasis on the supremacy of Tang poetry, dominated poetic thought. As time passed, however, literati were increasingly confronted by the question of how to modernize Ming literature. While the literati strived toward contemporaneity, Wang Yangming’s 王阳明 (b. 1472–d. 1529) xinxue 心学 (Philosophy of Mind) emerged as the leading mode of thought in opposition to archaism. Xinxue, stressing the importance of “mind” over “learning” and emphasizing the importance of contemporaneity and spontaneity, strongly resonated with the literati’s concerns. Due to its consistency with xinxue thought, xingling 性灵 (native sensibility) poetics began to attract special attention in literary circles. The early sixteenth century was an important age for Chinese vernacular literature. During this period, public literacy reached a new historic high and was accompanied by significant development in the publishing industries. Consequently, vernacular literature, particularly drama and fiction, grew in popularity, drawing a large readership and attracting a considerable number of poets to the two genres. In response to the flourishing vernacular literature, Ming poets began to adopt popular literary devices and subjects as part of their project of modernization. By incorporating the devices of popular literature into poetry, Ming poets promoted considerable dialogue between poetry and other literary genres, which significantly influenced the poetic transition following 1522. Just as xinxue and xingling poetics were prevailing among literati circles, the archaist Later Seven Masters became the leading school of poetics. Shortly after their archaism became mainstream, however, a robust anti-archaist movement commenced. This literary movement was initiated by Xu Wei 徐渭 (b. 1521–d. 1593), Li Zhi 李贽 (b. 1527–d. 1602), and Tang Xianzu 汤显祖 (b. 1550–d. 1616), who were succeeded by the Gongan 公安and Jingling 竟陵 schools. During this stage, xingling poetics developed substantially and laid the foundation for further literary development in later centuries. During the final two decades of the Ming dynasty, after xingling poetics had prevailed in literati circles for some time, a new popular archaist movement headed by Chen Zilong 陈子龙 (b. 1608–d. 1647) rose to preeminence. This final rise of archaism not only opposed xingling poetics, but also asserted the urgency of promoting traditional cultural identity. Restating the importance of the past allowed poets to sustain their cultural identity in the face of distressing political crises, particularly the imminent Manchu military invasion, and the cultural threat that these entailed.

General Overviews

The xingling poets, Xu Wei, Li Zhi, Tang Xianzu, and the major poets of the Gongan and Jingling schools have attracted special attention from both Chinese-language and English-language scholars. Additionally, the archaist movement led by Chen Zilong has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention. Chang and Owen 2010 provides an outstanding study of poetic and literary production during the Ming dynasty. In particular, it examines the dynamic and varied interactions between poets, branches of poetic thought, literary trends, publishing industries, and readers. Chang 1990 is the most influential study of Chen Zilong’s poetry in English-language scholarship, examining the transformation of Chen’s early love poetry into his later patriotic poetry during the demise of the Ming; Zhou 1988 provides a thorough treatment of the Gongan literary theory advocated by Yuan Hongdao 袁宏道and his two brothers; and Zuo, et al. 2012 provides a general study of poems written by Xu Wei, Li Zhi and Tang Xianzu. In addition to Chen Zilong and xingling poets, Chinese-language studies such as Chen 2013, Li 2019, Shao 2005, Zheng 1995, Zheng 2015, and Zuo 2013 pay special attention to topics such as Wang Yangming’s xinxue, the Eight Talents of Jiajing 嘉靖八才子 and the Later Seven Masters, and, more specifically, how their archaist poetics differ from those of the Earlier Seven Masters. These scholars have also focused on the extent to which xinxue promoted the poetic transition following 1522, how xinxue fostered the development and popularity of xingling poetics, how and to what extent the popularity of vernacular literature impacted poetic production, and how the rapid growth of the publishing industries fostered interaction between poets, publishers, editors, and readers.

  • Chang, Kang-i Sun. The Late-Ming Poet Ch’en Tzu-lung: Crises of Love and Loyalty. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

    This is an important English-language study of Chen Zilong’s poetry. It examines the role of love and loyalty in Chen’s shi and ci poetry before the downfall of the Ming empire. It also examines Chen’s poetry alongside his lover Liu Rushi’s 柳如是 responsorial poetry. This study thoughtfully examines the transformation of Chen’s early love poetry into his later patriotic poetry, produced during the final years of the Ming.

  • Chang, Kang-i Sun, and Stephen Owen, eds. The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature. Vol. 2, From 1375. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    This volume contains two outstanding essays on Ming literati life, poetic exchange, publishing, reader reception, and literary forms and genres. The first, “Literature of the Early Ming to Mid-Ming (1375–1572)” (pp. 1–62) by Kang-i Sun Chang, particularly emphasizes the paucity of scholarship on Early Ming literary history, while the second, “The Literary Culture of the Late Ming (1573–1644)” (pp. 63–151) by Tina Lu, provides an insightful overview of Late Ming authors and literary production.

  • Chen Shulu 陈书录. Ming Qing ya su wenxue chuangzuo yu lilun piping (明清雅俗文学创作与理论批评). Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2013.

    This monograph provides a useful reference on how classical literature, that is, poetry and prose, and vernacular literature interact during the Ming and the Qing Dynasties. Chapter Eight investigates how the popularity of vernacular literature led Wang Shizhen 王世贞 to shift his poetic allegiance from archaism to xingling poetics. Chapter Nine examines how Tang Xianzu’s 汤显祖 relations with merchants and publishers impacted his literary thought.

  • Li Shenghua 李圣华. Wan Ming shige yanjiu (晚明诗歌研究). Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2019.

    An outstanding study of Late Ming poetry that examines the Later Seven Masters and their archaist movement; the leading xingling poets—Xu Wei, Tang Xianzu, and Li Zhi; the Gongan and Jingling schools; regional schools and their poetics during the late Ming period; Chen Zilong and archaist societies during the final two decades of the Ming dynasty; and women poets and their works.

  • Shao Yiping 邵毅平. Zhongguo wenxue zhong de shangren shijie (中国文学中的商人世界). Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, 2005.

    This study, particularly chapter 4, examines how publishing industries and merchants exercised defining influence on Ming literature, particularly poetry, fiction, and drama.

  • Zheng Lihua 郑利华. Mingdai zhongqi wenxue yanjin yu chengshi xingtai (明代中期文学演进与城市形态). Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, 1995.

    This work makes an important contribution to the study of how social changes impacted the literary currents of the late Ming period. It investigates how the literary transitions of the late fifteenth to early seventeenth centuries are related to urban growth and development, the increased literati demographic, economic growth, and the significant development of publishing industries.

  • Zheng Lihua 郑利华. Qian-Hou Qizi yanjiu (前后七子研究). Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2015.

    This volume is probably the most extensive treatment of the Earlier and Later Seven Masters. Chapters 7–10 (pp. 326–656) discuss the Later Seven Masters’ archaist movement, insightfully examining the evolution of literary culture between the 1520s and the 1570s; the Later Seven Masters’ lives, poetic production, and literary thought; and the differences between the Earlier and Later Seven Masters’ poetic philosophies.

  • Zhou, Zhiping. Yüan Hung-Tao and the Kung-an School. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    This monograph provides a thorough treatment of the Gongan literary theory advocated by Yuan Hongdao and his two brothers. It closely examines Yuan’s poetry and prose works and compares his writings with his theories. It also explores the rise and fall of the Gongan School, its historical influence, and its contribution to the modern Chinese literary movement.

  • Zuo Dongling 左东岭, Zhao Minli 赵敏俐, Wu Sijing 吴思敬, et al. Zhongguo shige tongshi, Mingdai juan (中国诗歌通史). Vol. 7, 明代卷. Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2012.

    Pages 578 to 680 provide a concise and useful study on the poetics of three major poets, namely, Xu Wei, Li Zhi, and Tang Xianzu, and their contributions to the later significant development of xingling literary thought in late Ming period.

  • Zuo Dongling 左东岭. Mingdai wenxue sixiang yanjiu (明代文学思想研究). Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 2013.

    This is a major examination of how xinxue impacted Ming poetics following the mid-sixteenth century. It provides a detailed analysis on important topics such as Wang Yangming’s xinxue and his poetic thought; how xinxue fostered the popularity of xingling poetics; and how xinxue inspired Li Zhi’s “on the child-like heart-mind,” Tang Xianzu’s “supremacy of feeling,” and Feng Menglong’s 冯梦龙 (b. 1574–d. 1646) “theory of feeling.”

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