The Three Levels of Ching-Chieh
In his Jen-chien tz'u-hua Wang Kuo-wei uses the crucial term ching-chieh in three distinct ways: as a term referring to the "setting" or "content" of a poem, as a critical term applicable to poetry generally, and as a critical term applying uniquely to tz'u . In its first and most obvious use, the phrase refers to the setting presented in the poem, as when Wang writes, "There is the scene [ching-chieh ] as perceived by the poet, and then there is the scene perceived by the ordinary man"; as an example
I wish to acknowledge here the help of Professor James R. Hightower in preparing the English-language version of this essay. I should also like to express my gratitude to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for giving me a grant to go to Cambridge to conduct my work on it.
of a scene borrowed from an earlier poet for incorporation into one's own poem, he then cites a couplet by Chia Tao (793–865),
The autumn wind blows across the Wei River,
falling leaves fill Ch'ang-an,
and comments that by adapting this passage in their songs, Chou Pang-yen (1056–1121) and Pai P'u (1226–?) had "borrowed the setting [ching-chieh ] from an older poet and made it their own." Chou Pang-yen's song reads:
Over the Wei River, the west wind,
in Ch'ang-an, flying leaves—
in vain I remember.
And Pai P'u wrote:
I hear the falling leaves in the west wind over the Wei River.
And again in an aria:
Desolate for my native land—
the west wind on the Wei River,
the setting sun over Ch'ang-an.
The autumnal scene, the same in all these verses, is what the later poets borrowed: the Wei River, Ch'ang-an, and the west wind.
On the next level Wang expands the meaning of ching-chieh as "scene" to include the feeling the scene conveys, its emotional coloration—and thereby injects a value judgment into its use, making of it a critical
term: it is no longer a neutral but a particular kind of scene that is deserving of the label ching-chieh . He writes: "Ching-chieh refers not only to external scenes; the emotions—joy, anger, grief, pleasure—are also a ching-chieh of the human heart. So it can be said of someone who can portray true scenes and true feelings that he achieves ching-chieh ." The condition demanded here, that the scenes be true scenes and the feelings true feelings, makes the achievement of ching-chieh the prerogative of the poet; simply borrowing another poet's scene is not enough: "If you don't have ching-chieh yourself, the old poets will be of no use to you." Nor, furthermore, can the mere scenes of the external world—birdsong, running water, the blossoming of flowers, the movement of the clouds—of themselves be termed ching-chieh before they have been encompassed by the poet's sensitivity or capacity for feeling.
Wang Kuo-wei applied ching-chieh in this sense of a particular, desirable quality of scene in judging shih poetry as well as tz'u . He writes, "There are settings [ching-chieh ] on differing scales, but the scale of a setting does not determine its value," and provides some examples:
With fine rain the little fish appear,
swallows dip in the gentle breeze.
This is in no way inferior to
The setting sun lights up the great banner,
horses neigh in the soughing wind.
The costly curtain hangs limp from the little silver hook.
And it is just as good as
Mist hides the storied tower,
In the moonlight we fail to find the ferry.
Since Wang uses lines of shih poetry by Tu Fu and verses from Ch'in Kuan's songs, it follows that ching-chieh as setting can apply equally to shih and tz'u , as well as functioning as a criterion for a value judgment.
Furthermore, among possible scenes he also distinguishes "invented scene" (tsao-ching ) from "described scene" (hsieh-ching ); scenes involving the poet (yu wo ) and scenes from which the poet remains detached (wu wo ); "ideal scenes" (li-hsiang ) and "real scenes" (hsieh-shih ). "Described scenes" and "invented scenes" refer to the provenance of the poet's material. Scenes "involving the poet" or "from which he remains detached" refer to the relation of the poet's persona to the episode in the poem. "Ideal scene" and "real scene" are simply refinements of invented scene and described scene. Although what a described scene portrays belongs to an actual situation, once written in a poem it is no longer subject to the limitations of reality; and although an invented scene is not an actual situation, still its structure and the materials of which it is put together must accord with reality. Thus, Wang could write in the context of his use of those terms, "The scenes created by a great poet are all in accord with the natural, and the scenes he describes also approach the ideal."
A third level of ching-chieh that is even more vital to a deeper understanding of his art is discussed in the following statements from Wang's Jen-chien tz'u-hua :
The essence of tz'u is in a subtle and refined beauty [yao-miao i-hsiu ] that makes it possible to say what cannot be said in shih and yet keeps tz'u from being able to say everything shih can say. The realm of shih is wide; the language of tz'u is far-reaching.
Whether tz'u is refined or vulgar depends on the spirit, not what appears on the surface. The songs of Ou-yang Hsiu and Ch'in Kuan may contain erotic language, but they remain decent.
The contrast between "refined" (ya ) and "vulgar" (Cheng ) refers to Confucius' characterization of a section of the Shih-ching (Book of songs)—"The songs of Cheng . . . are licentious"—and means that qualification of a love song as "refined" depends on whether it can be read as something more than what it seems to be. This third level moves from emphasis on a standard of genuine feeling and scene to the profoundly subtle and refined beauty achieved through suggestion and association beyond the surface of the things and feelings directly portrayed. This evocative beauty is a special characteristic of the song lyric.
In its three aspects, then, Wang Kuo-wei's ching-chieh applies to the feelings aroused by the song lyric, but it cannot be said that these are deliberately or even consciously invoked by the poet; rather, they are a product of the rich suggestive power created in the poem. Most of the erotic songs of the Five Dynasties lack this power, and these Wang Kuo-wei simply disregards. It is precisely this quality of latent suggestive power, I believe, that he is referring to when he writes, "The best songs have ching-chieh . A song with ching-chieh automatically belongs to the highest category and will have memorable lines as a matter of course."