[Feature Article] On Xing: A Tale of the Chinese Language

Vol. 50 No. 2  6/2020



On Xing: A Tale of the Chinese Language


Xiao Chi











Key words

xing, topic-comment syntax, Classic of Poetry, regulated verse, affection-scene poetics


This article reduces xing, a unique rhetorical mode that appears exclusively in traditional Chinese poetry, to a fundamental Chinese linguistic phenomenon, the repeated use of topic-comment sentences which are connected by the nature of the discourse but disconnected due to their cross-referential content. Using topic-comment syntax, the author explains the various aesthetic features of xing, i.e., that the immediate presentness of xing is based on the definiteness of the topic; that the ambiguity of xing embodies the loose and indefinite link between a topic and a comment; that the parallel between a natural phenomenon and human affection is on the basis of the topic noun phrase being generic. The second section of this article turns to discuss how this rhetorical mode was confronted with a changed literary function after the rise of Chuci楚辭 and five-syllable-line poetry in order to highlight the fact that xing is not compatible with subject-predicate syntax. Xing, however, came back to life through the regulating process of Chinese poetry concomitantly with the rise of landscape writing and antithetic parallelism in verse. In conclusion, the article contends that both affection-scene theory in poetics and correlative thinking in philosophy grew out of the same Chinese linguistic roots and both illustrate an ancient Chinese interpretation of the universe.


Author: Xiao Chi
Genre: Article