Story Traditions with James

with D.J. James

As I am committed to learning other cultures through literature, I will survey Chinese Literature this semester, with emphasis on classical literature from the Zhou Dynasty to the Teng Dynasty. Discussions will feature historical events that may have molded the content of the Chinese verse and fundamental philosophies. At the end of the semester, I will discuss the role of China and foreign policy as it pertains to the African Diaspora.


This week’s episode continued the discussion of the Fu. As pointed out during the last show, the Fu is considered to be the gray area between poetry and prose. The poetic aspect provides the Fu with the metaphors, similes and allegories that give a poem its symbolic, rhythmic and meaningful nature. The prose aspect is an attribute that contributes to the Fu’s length. A Fu can be as long as a novel or as short as a few words. A champion of the Fu was Ssu-ma Ch’ien (145-86 BC). Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s most notable and lasting work is called Historical Records, which encompasses chronicles of political events of China, ranging from earliest prehistoric times to the author’s. This body of work has been compared to the works of Herodotus and Plutarch, only to exceed in complexity and depth. This week I read “Principle Annal of Hsiang Yü”, found in Historical Records. Enjoy.

This week’s episode introduced Chinese literature during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – A.D 221) with a brief discussion on the role played by Emperor Wu. Wu’s contribution to the development of Chinese literature can’t be exaggerated. His devotion to both Confucianism and Daoism allowed for not only cross fertilization of the two, but a creation of a new verse form, one that permits the retelling of the peasants lives by the peasants. Emperor Wu embraced the peasants telling their stories in poetic form accompanied by music, or as it is known today – folksongs. A more complex development of poetry is seen in the 5-word poem, which captures the compactness of the Chinese language. Because the Chinese language is devoid of articles, prepositions and pronouns, it becomes difficult to present this in English in an understandable fashion. Here is an attempt. The italicized words are the 5 words per line that would be found in the original Chinese version:

Green, green, the grass by the river bank;
Thick, thick, the willows in the garden.
Fair, fair the lady in the upper chamber;
Graceful, graceful, she faces the window lattice.
Lovely, lovely, her toilet of rouge and powder;
Slender, slender, she shows her white hands.
Once she was a girl of the singsong house;
Now she is a wandering man’s wife.
The wandering man has left and not returned;
It is hard alone to keep an empty bed.

Next week I will continue to discuss the 5-word poem. Keep it locked!

Last week’s episode was a continuation of a discussion on the development of Chinese prose. It’s seeding can be found in Chinese philosophical writings, which sought a means to articulate and indoctrinate morals within early Chinese civilization. The bland, commonplace, and monotonous language used in early philosophical writings began developing into writings that consisted of metaphors and allegories used to convey a similar message. As these writings began to incorporate more poetic motifs and figures, they noticeably moved towards poetry and the narrative. By fusing these approaches to message conveyance, writers such as Mencius and Mao-Tzu developed the prose. In the early stages of prose development, it was very difficult to demarcate the prose form philosophical writings. The paradigm shift came with new authors as they pushed the paradigm from prose/philosophy to prose/poetry. This new gray area is called the fu, a mixture of prose and poetry. More on this genre during my next show. Next week I will be off-air like most of the other djs, so be sure to check me out in 2 weeks. Keep it locked!

When Is It On?

This show is not currently scheduled. Check back next semester or during signups!