The philosophical reflections on literary art produced in traditional China cannot be accurately described as literary criticism or literary theory. A scholar or writer set forth his ideas about the nature of literature in general, the value and function of imaginative writing in different genres, or the merits and flaws of specific works, but did not really criticize literature in the sense we do today, to evaluate it for those not trained to judge it. He did not claim such authority, and seldom supported his opinions with solid proofs or reasoned arguments, as literary critics are now expected to do. Having read through Ts'ao Chih's poetry, for example, Chung Hung could judge that it originated in the Kuo-feng, a class of Shih Ching poetry, and exclaim: “Alas, the status of Ts'ao Chih in literature is comparable to that of the Duke of Chou and Confucius in ethics!” but he could not expect his audience to agree with him automatically. He expressed his knowledge and taste, in other words, and the way of expressing them was so uniquely his own, so difficult for others to share, that it was what we may call a private revelation of his ideas. Chung Hung was, therefore, not offering any critical or theoretical defense of Ts'ao Chih's poetry, which does not need any promotion among the learned and does not mean anything to the uncultured. He expressed his personal enthusiasm for Ts'ao Chih's poetry, and so defined his taste and knowledge. He had added another dimension to his own personality, the dimension reflected in Ts'ao Chih's great poetry. He had, in other words, moved a step further toward the definition of his philosophy of life, which he could express in his comments and judgments on nature, on political and ethical institutions, and on literature as artistic rendition of life. What Chung Hung formulated was a private philosophy of literature; it was not literary criticism or theory in the modern sense.

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