Ci (詞)

Ci is a form of Chinese poetry or an art form of ballad.

As it flourished in the Song Dynasty, it is called Soshi (Songci in Chinese). It was also called Kyoku, Zakkyoku, or Kyokushi Ci in the Tang Dynasty and the Five Dynasties Period. As contrasted with Kanshi (Chinese poems), it is called Shiyo as well; it is also known as Chotanku because it consisted of lines of irregular lengths, short and long. Since Ci was originally composed in accordance with music, it is sometimes called Ten Ci, meaning "filling the music with verses," and also Isei, meaning "to the tune of the music." Since it has the same sound as the Japanese word "Kanshi (Shi)"(Chinese poems), it is also pronounced "Tsu" taken from the Chinese pronunciation to be distinguished from each other.

In later years, Ci was composed not to the music but to the tones of previous works, so it became regarded as a kind of recited verses like Chinese poems.

Ci is composed according to each tune that had the different form; for example, in "Okukonan (Recalling the south of the Chang Jiang River) " the number of characters in each line is determined as 3,5,7,7, and 5 characters, and the 2nd, 4th, and 5th lines should be rhymed.


A particular title called Ci-hai (label) is given to each tune. Ci-hai used for the title of Ci has nothing to do with the contents unlike poems. Instead, a commentary indicating the contents was listed under Ci-hai, or a short preface was added. However, in later years, the title was given according to the contents.

The number of Ci-hai

According to "Ci-fu 詞譜" compiled by the Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty, the number of Ci-hai amounts to 826 tunes, and it comes to as many as 2,306 including those with "the same tune but a different form." Chief among Ci-hai are roughly estimated at 100 tunes. The shortest Ci-hai named "Chikushi (Bamboo Branch Song)" consists of 14 characters, and the longest one named "Oteijo 鶯啼序," 240 characters.


When a new music (Kogaku) was introduced from the Western Regions in the Tang period, the conventional musical system greatly changed. Verses thus composed in accordance with music were the origin of Ci. Ci is considered to have various origins, from Engaku (Chinese court music) to popular music.

In later years, after the tradition of those music and scores were lost, Ci was composed based on the tones or the form of each line.

Classification of Ci

There are several ways to classify Ci.
When classified by the number of characters, it goes as follows:

a short piece within 60 characters
a short piece within 61 characters
a long piece more than the above
The majority were Shorei until the early Sung period.
In later years:

within 58 characters
from 59 to 90 characters
more than 91 characters
This classification has no specific basis, but is used only as a guide.

When classified by the number of stanza, it goes as follows:
undivided Shorei
e.g.: "Gyokashi," "Torenshi," "Choshorei," and "Jomurei"

with two stanzas
Shorei, Chucho, and Chocho are in this category.
e.g.: "Bosatsuban," "Seikogetsu," "Mankoku 満江紅," and "Chorenka"

with three stanzas
e.g.: "Ranryo-o"

with four stanzas
e.g.: "Oteijo"