Abstract：The Song Dynasty was an important period for the development and full formation of the Chinese epistolary genre. Its main categories included correspondence (书), calligraphic letter (帖), courtesy letter (启), private letter written to one's superior (状), short letter (简), official letter submitted to one's superior (劄子) and informal letter (尺牍). Among them, correspondence (书) was still the chief category of the epistolary genre. Calligraphic letters (帖) were greatly favored, with many of them handed down from ancient times. Official letters to the emperor or the royal family members (笺) no longer belonged to the epistolary genre. Courtesy letters (启) and private letters written to one's superior (状), which were initiated from the Tang Dynasty, continued to develop in the Song Dynasty. Courtesy letters (启) were frequently used for the purpose of social intercourse and ceremoniousness. They were also closely related to the atmosphere in which literati and officials of the Song Dynasty liked to make study tours and make friends. The epistolary genre of the Song Dynasty had the following changes: Short letters (简) were separated from the category of correspondence (书); Informal letters (尺牍) became an independent category; Official letters submitted to one's superior (劄子) were transformed from official documents into the epistolary genre; and there arose “folded short letters”(叠幅小简) and “folded official letters”(叠幅劄子). As people in the present-day society are not clear about the distinctions of various categories of the epistolary genre in the Song Dynasty, they are liable to make mistakes in sorting out the letters left over from the Song Dynasty. Taking a general view of the two periods of the Song Dynasty, we find that in the Northern Song, development and full formation were made in the epistolary genre on the basis of the achievement made in its previous dynasties, while in the Southern Song, a great deal of transformation and innovation were made in the epistolary genre. The correspondence of the Song Dynasty won widely admiration in later centuries, became the epistolary paragons, and also promoted the occurrence and development of modern Chinese literature.
Li Gui,Zhang Linghui. On the Rise and Fall of the Categories of the Epistolary Genre With its Innovation in the Song Dynasty[J]. Journal of Peking University(Philosophy and Social Sciences), 2022, 59(5): 96-106.