Extolment and Commendation
Essays of extolment and commendation were written to pay tribute to laudable persons, things, merits and virtues, thus promoting their positive influence. The purpose of both an extolment and a commendation is to exalt good persons and things. Such essays are short, neatly patterned and rhymed. Liu Xie (465?-520) of the Southern Dynasties valued the intellectual and educational value of extolment and commendation essays. He found that the objects of extolment had extended from gods, emperors and kings to ordinary people and the scope of extolment was no longer limited to state affairs; it had been extended to cover all beautiful things. To him, an essay of commendation also functions as an evaluation and a positive evaluation enhances the significance of commendation. In Chinese literature, writings of extolment or commendation are not only essays in their own right; they are sometimes attached to various literary works or even news reports. These works, through extolment and positive evaluation, promote the traditional Chinese thought and culture.
The “Ballads from the States,” “Minor Court Hymns,” “Major Court Hymns,” and “Hymns of Extolment” trace the rise and decline of the kingly way, and they represent the loftiest realm of poetry. Of all these, the “Hymns of Extolment” are of the greatest poetic significance. Song (颂) originally means demeanor; it then goes on to mean “extolment of great virtues through a depiction of demeanor.” (Liu Xie: The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)
By definition, an essay of extolment should be refined and proper in content and refreshing and elegant in style. Its narration should resemble rhapsodic prose but should not indulge in verbosity. Its solemn and prudent style should resemble that of an epigraph but should not contain admonition. An essay of extolment is written to pay homage to the goodness of a person or a thing, focusing on major accomplishments to highlight its significance. (Liu Xie: The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)
By definition, commendation means praise or admiration. Since ancient times, essays of commendation have been brief, with poetic lines of only four characters each, and the whole essay contains no more than a few rhymed stanzas. It sets out the facts succinctly and ends on a clear-cut and forceful note. These are the essential rules for writing an essay of commendation. (Liu Xie: The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)