Four-, five- and seven-character poetry are the most common forms of Chinese traditional poetries.
Of the three forms, four-character poetry came to being at the earliest time.Feng(The Book of Songs) andYa(Odes and Epics) ofShijing(Book of Poetry) are basically four-character poetries. A lot of four-character poetries were also found in some other ancient books and records before the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) such asThe Records of the Great HistorianandZuo's Commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals. Therefore, it is obvious that four-character poetry was the prevailing from of poems both for entertainment and sacrifice in the whole society from the Western Zhou Dynasty (11thcentury BC-711BC) to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC).
Four-character poetry gradually declined after the Spring and Autumn Period, but a lot of people still wrote in this form, such as Cao Cao and his sons as well as Ji Kang in the Three Kingdoms Periods (220-280), Lu Ji, Lu Yun and Tao Yuanming in the Jin Dynasty (265-420). Among theoir works, some excellent ones are still popular today.
Five-character poetry also has an early origin. InShijing(Book of Poetry), there were some five-character poems, but their formal rise was in the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). Compared with four-character poetry, the five-character poetry has an additional rhyme, and thus has a bigger capacity for expressions and more space for the variations in the line.
There was significant development both in folklores and literary works in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220). Ban Gu was the first intellectual that engaged himself in writing five-character poetry, which marked the beginning for literati to learn new forms from folk art. Later, five-character poetry attained a very high level with the emergence of abundant poems. In the reign of Jian'an in the Three Kingdoms Period, five-character poetry entered its booming period and overwhelmed four-character poetry.
Seven-character poetry also originated inShijing(Book of Poetry),Sichou Shiby Zhang Heng in the Eastern Han Dynasty was the earliest work of seven-character poetry by intellectuals, andYangexing(Sumptuous Feasting Song)by Cao Pi is generally considered the first mature work of seven-character poetry. In the Wei and Jin dynasties (220-420), this form of poetry was not considered as important as five-character poetry. In the early Tang Dynasty (618-907), seven-character poetry began to prevail and some excellent works appeared.
This form has more characters than four- and five-character poetry, and can express more complicated and complete ideas with a longer and slower intonation. After the Tang Dynasty, five-character and seven-character became the principal forms of traditional poetry and four-character poetry was on the decline as time went by.