Shen Yue (traditional Chinese: 沈約; simplified Chinese: 沈约; 441[1]–1 May 513[2]), courtesy name Xiuwen (休文), was a Chinese historian, music theorist, poet, and politician born in Huzhou, Zhejiang. He served emperors under the Liu Song dynasty, the Southern Qi dynasty (see Yongming poetry), and the Liang dynasty.

Shen Yue
Traditional Chinese沈約
Simplified Chinese沈约

He was a prominent scholar of the Liang dynasty and the author of the Book of Song, an historical work covering the history of the previous Liu Song dynasty. He is probably best known as the originator of the first deliberately applied rules of tonal euphony (so called "four tones and eight defects" 四聲八病) in the history of Chinese prosody. He was also the leading scholar on the musical practices of his time and author of the essays on qilin and omenology.[3]


Shen Yue was known for his love of poetry. For example, he wrote a set of poems, called by Burton Watson the Six Poems on Remembering, describing his beloved during six times of the day.[4] The Six Poems on Remembering get fairly close to being specifically erotic, which is rather unusual for Classical Chinese verse (at least as it has been handed down). The verse on remembering her when she sleeps includes the lines:

undoing her sheer gown without waiting to be urged,
resting on the pillow till caresses find her.
Fearful that the one by her side is watching,
she blushes under the candle's glow.[5]

Contributions to literary theoryEdit

Shen Yue was one of the most import writers in terms of contributing to the ideas behind much of later Classical Chinese poetry.

Contributions to Regular Verse tonality theoryEdit

Shen Yue apparently was the initial developer of the theoretical basis for the development of tonality in relationship to regulated verse.[6][7] This would become crucial to certain forms especially associated with poetry of the Tang dynasty, such as the lüshi (poetry).


Shen Yue is also credited with being the first to apply the term Yuefu in a generic sense to the Han dynasty ballad style poetry, as opposed to the earlier meaning of referring to the Yuefu, or the Han imperial Music Bureau[8]

Book of SongEdit

Shen Yue was largely responsible for writing and compiling the Book of Song, a history of the Liu Song dynasty. One of the most important sections of the Book is his Treatise on Music (volumes 19 to 22). However, historian Pei Ziye managed to distill the work into a more succinct version, Summary of Song (《宋略》); after reading Summary of Song, Shen was recorded to have said, "This is a standard which I cannot reach."[9]

Role in Xiao Baorong's deathEdit

After Xiao Yan ascended the throne as Emperor Wu of Liang on 30 April 502, he initially wanted to treat Xiao Baorong (the deposed Emperor He of Qi) well, by making Xiao Baorong Prince of Baling and then assigning him Nanhai Commandery as his fiefdom. However, Shen Yue advised, "Cao Cao once said: 'Do not endure genuine disaster in the pursuit of ethereal reputation.'"[10] Upon hearing this, Emperor Wu ordered Xiao Baorong to be killed. Just before his death, Shen Yue fell gravely ill, and dreamt that Xiao Baorong used a sword to cut off his tongue. Shen consulted a shaman on the dream, and the shaman affirmed his dream. Shen then summoned priests to do rituals to inform Xiao Baorong's spirit that it was not his idea to persuade Xiao to relinquish the throne.[11]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ According to Shen Yue's biography in Book of Liang, he was 73 (by East Asian reckoning) when he died. ([天监]十二年,卒官,时年七十三) Liang Shu, vol.13. Thus by calculation, his birth year should be 441.
  2. ^ According to Xiao Yan's biography in Book of Liang, Shen Yue died on the yichou day of the leap month of the 12th year of the Tianjian era of his reign. This corresponds to 1 May 513 in the Julian calendar. [(天监十二年)闰月乙丑,特进、中军将军沈约卒。] Liang Shu, vol.02
  3. ^ Kern, Martin. "Religious anxiety and political interest in Western Han omen interpretation", p.1
  4. ^ Watson, 99
  5. ^ translation by Watson, 99
  6. ^ Watson, 110
  7. ^ Davis, lxvi
  8. ^ Birrell, 7
  9. ^ (子野更删撰为《宋略》二十卷。其叙事评论多善,约见而叹曰:“吾弗逮也。”) Liang Shu, vol.30
  10. ^ (时上欲以南海郡为巴陵国,徙王居之。沈约曰:“古今殊事,魏武所云‘不可慕虚名而受实祸’。) Zizhi Tongjian, vol.145.
  11. ^ (因病,梦齐和帝以剑断其舌。召巫视之,巫言如梦。乃呼道士奏赤章于天,称禅代之事,不由己出。) Liang Shu, vol.13


  • Birrell, Anne (1988). Popular Songs and Ballads of Han China. (London: Unwin Hyman). ISBN 0-04-440037-3.
  • Davis, A. R. (Albert Richard), Editor and Introduction,(1970), The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse. (Baltimore: Penguin Books).
  • Mather, Richard B. (1988). The Poet Shen Yüeh (441–513): The Reticent Marquis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • ——— (2003). The Age of Eternal Brilliance: Three Lyric Poets of the Yung-ming Era (483–493). Leiden: Brill.
  • Shen, Yucheng. "Shen Yue". Encyclopedia of China, 1st ed.
  • Watson, Burton (1971). CHINESE LYRICISM: Shih Poetry from the Second to the Twelfth Century. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-03464-4.