While few would contest the importance of phonology and aural considerations in the study of classical Chinese poetry, the musicality of guwen (ancient-style prose essays) writing has attracted little attention thus far. This article redresses this imbalance by examining the critical discourse of the Tongcheng 桐城 guwen writers of the Qing dynasty 清 (1644–1911). Liu Dakui 劉大櫆 (1698–1779), Yao Nai 姚鼐 (1731–1815), Mei Zengliang 梅曾亮 (1786–1856), Fang Dongshu 方東樹 (1772–1851), Zhang Yuzhao 張裕釗 (1823–1894), Zeng Guofan 曾國藩 (1811–1872), and Yao Yongpu 姚永樸 (?–1939) all were deeply concerned with, and actively reflected on, the role of sound in guwen writing: both its effect on the reader and its significance in the training of the writer. For them, sensitivity to sound would not only ensure the perfect, empathic comprehension of a given essay but also would support the composition of essays capable of producing a perfectly empathic response in a reader. Furthermore, in a demonstration that this was not an unprecedented development in the history of Chinese literature, the authors trace the relationship between musical and poetic aesthetics from the Shijing up to the Qing dynasty. In doing so, they point to several key moments when these two sets of concerns were sharply distinct, and others when they cross-pollinate to significant effect.

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