The term pianwen 駢文 (parallel prose) comes from the main characteristic of the genre, while its other name—literally, “four-six prose” in Chinese—comes from its form. Theoretically, the aesthetic of the four-six configuration for Chinese writers is rooted in the Chinese language, but why is it that prose is formed with lines of four and six syllables? Why is the four-six form favored in essays rather than in poems? And what is the aesthetic principle behind four-six prose? These are the questions that this essay attempts to answer. It is argued that poetic prosody (four syllables per line) and prosaic prosody (six syllables per line) combine in parallel prose to form a syntax free of spatiotemporal markers, which in turn opens up an array of creative possibilities for the reader based on his or her individual subjectivity. The text used to demonstrate this point is the “Wucheng fu” 蕪城賦 (Rhapsody on the City Overgrown with Weeds) by Bao Zhao 鮑照 (417–450).

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