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I have looked at the wikipedia article "Couplet (Chinese Poetry)", but I think it poses more questions than answers.

So a 对联 (duì lián) is a "Chinese couplet".

  1. it is composed of two lines
  2. each line must have the same number of characters
  3. the characters on each line must have a correspondance with each other
  4. the characters on each line must have opposite "tone pattern" (平 vs 仄)

If a 平 tone is a "first tone", and all other tones are 仄, then the wikipedia example doesnt make sense (qín wéi is 平?)

And I'm unclear as to whether each "character" must be related, or each "word"?

e.g. 很贵 and 便宜 have opposite meaning as words, but not as characters.

As an example, is this a 对联?

猪扒便宜 Zhū pá piányi
鸡腿很贵 Jītuǐ hěn guì

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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted
  1. 平仄 can not be understood by a Chinese who only speaks Mandarin or some dialects, as I mentioned in my answer to the previous question "Different kinds of writing in Chinese". In mandarin, in many cases, 平 refers to the 1st and 2nd tone.

  2. The pattern of 对联 derives from the classic poems, a word-match is enough.

  3. Nowadays, we usually write a 对联 at a celebrating time, e.g. the spring festival, or on the day when you get married, etc., and paste it besides the gate of your house to celebrate the event. As it is written to celebrate something, the content usually refers to good things like "be fortunate, be lucky, be happy, be healthy, etc.", so I think your example would not be considered as a 对联. Of course, you can use it in a humorous way, but I think you won't paste it.

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I'm thinking about it more as a creative device (rather than something to post on our doors). The same as haiku or limerick. So I'm more concerned about the constraints of writing one. Do you think the 平仄 constraint is important? –  Matthew Rudy 马泰 Jan 5 '12 at 15:19
    
@MatthewRudy马泰 I am not sure. I can't tell 平仄 before looking the character up in some special reference books, so I am not sure if this is important nowadays(I can't write one,sorry). Also, I think, when you write a 对联,you should express the meanings in a literal way, so I don't think your example is a good one. –  Huang Jan 5 '12 at 15:27
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  1. 平仄 is not strictly required in modern 对联 but it is in poems some time in history such as Tang Dynasty.

  2. If possible, character to character match is preferred. In your example 很 is an adverb for 贵, but 便宜 in total is an adjective. So it's not a good match in characters.

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Thank you. I am most interested in the modern form. Glad I don't have to worry about 平仄. –  Matthew Rudy 马泰 Jan 7 '12 at 16:52
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