When examining songs in Chinese literature, we can distinguish among literary, musical, and communal aspects of their circulation. Sanqu songs became popular in the form of musical texts in the Yuan and Ming dynasties, but the ci song lyrics, by the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279) if not earlier, had already become a form of communal text in a broad sense. While relying on musical and literary aspects in the early stages of circulation, such ci song lyrics also became increasingly meaningful as social artifacts characterized by diverse forms of usage and participation, and they have been widely appreciated as a “literary-cultural phenomenon” unrelated to music per se. Standard histories of Chinese literature typically interpret the interaction between Song dynasty ci song lyrics and Yuan dynasty sanqu songs and song-drama as a natural evolution of literary forms. To be sure, these histories address the vitality of the musicality and popular nature of such songs while also paying attention to the artistic styles, inherent characters, and originality of sanqu song composition (tige xingfen 體格性分). From such an analysis, however, we know very little about the textual forms and mechanisms of transmission of Yuan-Ming sanqu songs beyond the realm of music and songwriters. In this regard, this article explores whether it was possible for the ci song lyrics, as a literary genre of greater maturity and higher status, albeit divorced from music, to transfer its literary experience to sanqu songs. Such a line of inquiry is also relevant to the study of the survival of various forms of Chinese musical literature beyond their original environments. It also helps us think about the complex relationships between the musical and communal functions of ci song lyrics and sanqu songs.

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