AccScience Publishing / AC / Volume 2 / Issue 1 / DOI: 10.36922/ac.1825
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Chinese esthetics through language in poetry: A comparative study of the Chinese wényán and modern báihuà

Zhe Feng1* Weiyi Wang2 Gerald Cupchik2
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1 Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
2 Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Submitted: 13 September 2023 | Accepted: 28 November 2023 | Published: 15 February 2024
© 2024 by the Author(s). This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution -Noncommercial 4.0 International License (CC-by the license) ( )

China was greatly transformed in its encounters with the imperial West in the 19th and 20th centuries, where its ways and traditions that were authoritative for thousands of years were challenged and pushed to evolve toward modernity. Among things that were made to change, the classical written Chinese – wényán – was replaced by the modern báihuà, prioritizing efficient information transformation over the expression of semantic and esthetic depth. However, classical Chinese esthetics continued to inspire modern Chinese literati, in their exploration and discovery of means to express their Chineseness in a modern reality. Through examining the literary form of poetry, this study investigated the differential characteristics of the classical and modern Chinese esthetics through the appreciation of classical and contemporary Chinese poems, as mediated by the written languages: wényán and modern báihuà. Presented with four comparable pairs of classical and contemporary poems, 48 participants indicated their preference and rated their poem-reading experience based on language esthetics, imaginativeness, precision, complexity of imageries, profundity of meaning, and the intensity of emotions and resonance elicited. Compared to contemporary poems, classical poems were perceived as significantly more beautiful in their language, more imaginative, more precise, more complex in their imagery, more profound in their meanings, and more effective in eliciting emotions and resonance. Reasons for poem type preference suggested that classical and contemporary poems were both appreciated for their differential expressions of the highest Chinese esthetic standard – the White (贲), through effortless precision or purity.

Chinese poetry
Poetry appreciation
Chinese language
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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Arts & Communication, Electronic ISSN: 2972-4090 Published by AccScience Publishing