Parallelism in the Hanvueng: A Zhuang Verse Epic from West-Central Guangxi in Southern China

Zhuang is a Tai-Kadai language spoken in southern China. Parallelism is ubiquitous in Zhuang poetry and song,in ritual texts, and in a range of oral genres. Curiously, this salient fact has generally escaped the notice of scholars writing on the subject of Zhuang poetics. This article looks specifically at the phenomenon of parallelism in one particular Zhuang ritual text from west-central Guangxi. This is the Hanvueng, a long verse narrative that is recited at rituals intended to deal with cases of unnatural death and serious family quarrels, especially feuding between brothers. I provide a general description of the role of song and parallel verse in Zhuang oral culture. I next present a typology of poetic lines and passages exhibiting strict parallelism and quasi-parallelism, and also look at the rhetorical and rhythmical uses of non-parallel lines. As a second step in this investigation, I re-analyse these typological categories in terms of the recitation soundscape as it unfolds in real time and in ritual performance. This second step brings us back from an objectivist account to a variety of emic perspectives, and allows us to see more clearly the rhetorical and emotive power generated by the ongoing narration – and its artistry – for a range of participants within the ritual space.