Literary Writing : A Discourse On Literature

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In “Letter in Reply to Li Yi,” Han Yu reflects on the nature of literary writing, while Cao Pi discusses his literary theory in “A Discourse on Literature.” Both Han and Cao emphasize the vital energy of writers and the cultural immortality of literary writing, but their definitions of literature differ in their arguments about the purpose of writing and their criteria for the content. The synthesis based on their theories may provide some uniquely Chinese insight into the definition of literature.
Both Han Yu and Cao Pi point out that literature is culturally immortal and is associated with the vital energy or the nature of writers. First, both Han and Cao argue that the vital force of writers is an important factor contributing to literature. In “Letter in Reply to Li Yi,” Han Yu argues, “If there is an abundance of vital energy then one’s words will be fitting (141).” Similarly, in “A Discourse on Literature,” Cao Pi points out, “Qi, ‘vital force’ or ‘breath,’ is the most important factor in literature.” He further compares qi with flute music and demonstrates how “inequality in drawing on a reserve of qi or breath” could differentiate “a skillful player from a clumsy one (361).” Although Han Yu and Cao Pi might conceptualize vital force differently, their definitions of literature are similar in a way that Han and Cao consider writers’ nature or qi as an important factor manifested by literature. Second, both Han and Cao define literature as written work that is
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