Matching Couplets



You should not look lightly upon the lore of matching couplets. Matched couplets express the wisdom of the human race. They are a hallmark of the loftiness of Chinese culture.

In China, when people compose matched couplets, they pay attention to the tones of the characters. However, since most of the Westerns here don’t understand Chinese phonology, I won’t ask too much as we begin learning how to write matched couplets. I will teach you one step at a time. Let’s first lay a good foundation; then later on, we can devote more attention to the tones.

The study of matching couplets is no longer being taught to young people. Nowadays most educated people have either forgotten how to match couplets, or have simply never learned. Actually, matched couplets express the wisdom of the human race. They are a hallmark of the loftiness of Chinese culture, and Western cultures can never hope to match this form of poetry. Matched couplets have evolved based on the principles of yin and yang, heaven and earth, male and female, and so on. Subtly refined and richly profuse in meaning, to match couplets is an inspiring pursuit.

Chinese people have always appreciated the art of matching couplets. For example, Ji Xiaolan of the Qing Dynasty was a master at matching couplets. In recent years, Chinese scholars have favored a more colloquial style, and the classical literature has been forgotten.

Now all of you are studying the exemplary styles of ancient Chinese literature. Some of you have written excellent matches, while others aren’t very proficient yet. In correcting your lines, I only correct the wrong characters while trying to keep the original meaning. You should not look lightly upon this branch of learning, for its state is boundless and inexhaustible!

A talk given on November 5, 1983