Yi Fa / Guidelines for Writing Good Prose
Yi fa refers to the guidelines and criteria for prose writing advocated by Fang Bao (1668-1749) of the Qing Dynasty, which concerns content, structure, and editing. He held up the structural composition of the historical texts The Spring and Autumn Annals and Records of the Historian as examples of fine prose, and popularized them. Yi (义) refers to content and meaningfulness, with an emphasis on substance and logic; fa (法) refers to structure and writing techniques, with an emphasis on appropriate language and sequence. Yi is primary and fa adjusts accordingly to express the content in a flexible and varied way, so as to ensure that the author’s opinion is clearly stated and the argument is powerful. The concept of yi fa is the cornerstone for the prose-writing theory of the Tongcheng School of the Qing Dynasty.
- 孔子明王道，干（gān）七十余君，莫能用，故西观周室，论史记旧闻，兴于鲁而次于《春秋》。上记隐，下至哀之获麟，约其辞文，去其烦重，以制义法。 （司马迁《史记•十二诸侯年表》） （孔子懂得以仁政治理天下，他用王道学说拜谒了七十多个君主，但都不被采用。因此，他西行去观览周王室的的典藏，详列、评论历史记载及过去的传闻，按鲁国历史顺序依次编排《春秋》。上起鲁隐公元年，下至鲁哀公捕获麒麟之年，简省《春秋》的文辞，删除其中繁琐重复的地方，以此制定了史书编撰的义理和规范。）
Confucius understood the need to rule with benevolence, and took this message to over seventy different rulers, but no one heeded him. So he went westward to the Court of Zhou to consult its archives. There he carefully went through the documents and compiled the historical accounts and ancient stories of the State of Lu into the The Spring and Autumn Annals in chronological order. He started from the first year of the reign of Duke Yin of Lu, and finished with the year in which Duke Ai of Lu caught a qilin, a legendary animal. He condensed the texts, eliminated repetitions and redundancies, and thus laid out the guidelines for writing historical annals. (Sima Qian: Records of the Historian)
- 《春秋》之制义法，自太史公发之，而后之深于文者亦具焉。义即《易》之所谓“言有物”也，法即《易》之所谓“言有序”也。义以为经而法纬之，然后为成体之文。 （方苞《又书货殖传后》） （《春秋》所制定的义理和规范，自从司马迁加以阐发以来，后代擅长写文章的人也都具备了“义法”。“义”就是《周易》所说的“文章或言论得有内容”，“法”就是《易》所说的“文章或言论得有条理和次序”。以内容为经，以条理和次序为纬，然后就能写成体式完整的文章。）
The example set by The Spring and Autumn Annals was later commented on by Sima Qian, and since then, all who wrote good prose have followed these guidelines. Yi is described in The Book of Changes as “texts and speech should be meaningful,” and fa, “texts and speeches should be logical and orderly.” These are like woof and web, and only then can a good text be written. (Fang Bao: On Rereading “Profit from Trade” in Records of the Historian)