Jiàn’ān fēnɡɡǔ 建安风骨
The Jian’an Literary Style
The Jian’an literary style, also known as the Han–Wei literary style, refers to the literary style from the Jian’an era (196–220) of the Han Dynasty to the early Northern Wei Dynasty, featuring powerful expression of passion, anxiety, and indignation. The final years of the Han Dynasty saw political turmoil, incessant wars, and displacement of people. Leading literary figures like Cao Cao, Cao Pi, and Cao Zhi, and the “Seven Masters,” i.e., Kong Rong, Chen Lin, Wang Can, Xu Gan, Ruan Yu, Ying Yang, and Liu Zhen, as well as female poet Cai Yan, inherited the realistic tradition of the folksongs of the Han Dynasty. In their writings, they dealt with subjects such as social upheaval, the suffering of the people, and the aspiration of individuals, expressing their creative spirit and resolve to pursue a noble cause. Their works demonstrate strength, courage and determination to overcome great odds. With a melancholy and powerful style that was magnificent, unique, and distinctive of its age, Jian’an literature emerged as a unique genre and came to be viewed by later generations as an outstanding literary style, with Jian’an poetry particularly highly regarded.
In the early Jian’an era, the writing of poems in five-word lines gained unprecedented popularity, with Cao Pi (Emperor Wen of Wei) and Cao Zhi (Prince Si of Chen) dominating the literary scene. Other leading poets at the time include Wang Can, Xu Gan, Ying Yang, and Liu Zhen. They enjoyed beautiful scenery, particularly lakes and gardens as well as feasting and drinking; and they wrote about their sentiments and ambition in poems with passion and grace. (Liu Xie: The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)