The Six Basic Elements
The six basic elements were drawn from The Book of Songs by scholars of the Han Dynasty to promote the state’s governance, social enlightenment, and education. The six are: feng (ballad), which offers an insight into the influence of a sage’s thinking on ordinary folk customs; fu (narrative), which directly states the goodness or evilness of court politics; bi (analogy), which criticizes mildly the inadequacies of court politics by comparing one thing with another; xing (association), which extols a virtue by making an indirect reference to some other laudable thing; ya (court hymn), which shows the proper way of acquitting oneself as a norm for posterity to follow; and song (eulogy), which praises and promotes virtue. All the six elements were originally used by Confucian scholars to expound on the creative techniques in The Book of Songs. Later, they were used to emphasize creative styles of all works of poetry. They also served as essential principles of literary criticism.
A ballad tells how to run the country via the customs and folkways that have survived through the ages. A narrative flatly states the positive and negative things in state affairs. An analogy is made when one sees a vice in court politics but dares not directly point it out; it hints at the vice by describing something similar to it. An association, in view of the clean and honest governance of the time, voices its appreciation and support through borrowing from some other commendable thing, in order to avoid arousing suspicions of unscrupulous flattery. A court hymn is related to propriety, describing something rightly done and setting norms for people of later generations to observe. A eulogy praises and promotes a reigning monarch’s virtues by admiring his elegant, upright manner. (Zheng Xuan: Annotations on The Rites of Zhou)