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Kishōtenketsu (起承転結) describes the structure and development of classic Chinese, Korean and Japanese narratives. The structure originated in China and was called qǐchéngzhuǎnhé (起承轉合) and used in Chinese poetry as a four-line composition, such as Qijue. From there, it moved to Korea where it is called giseungjeongyeol (Hangul: 기승전결; Hanja: 起承轉結). Finally, the art style came to Japan, where it is referred to as kishōtengō (起承転合), from which the English word derives. Kishōtenketsu is sometimes described as a narrative structure devoid of conflict, particularly in opposition to Western narrative styles.[citation needed]

In a study of this story structure in Taiwanese students versus a five-paragraph essay, researchers found that the students familiar with this story structure were better able to pick out the main points of the essay, and the inverse was also true—US students could better pick out the main points of the essay when it was restructured to a five-paragraph essay, but not in qichengzhuanhe form. They hypothesized that the structure of the essay also organizes cognitive thought.[1]


The origin of qichengzhuanhe is said to be maybe Li Bai from the Tang Dynasty, but this is refuted because this predates the time period from the first mention of this form.[2] This view is backed by Wu Yingtian who cites a four-structure poetry type which included chin (hanbi), neck (Jingbi), belly (fubi) and behind (houbi) attributing it to Yang Zai.[2]

However, it was firmly described by Fan Heng (1272–1330) as methods of doing poetry, divided into four styles: qi, cheng, zhuan, and he. Qi was described as straight.[2] Cheng was described as a mortar, zhuan is change and he is supposed to be like a deep pond or overflowing river which helps one reflect on the meaning.[2]

This means that the rhetorical style started out as poetry. This later influenced pianwen and guwento eventually create the baguwen aka the eight-legged essay.[2]

However, after the baguwen lost favor with the fall of the Qing Dynasty, and due to its difficulty, a revival of the qichengzhuanhe form came back in popular education, relabeled now as kaiduan-fazhan-gaochao-jieju (beginning, development, climax, conclusion).[2] Contrary to thought, the structure is not the same as the popular US and European-derived three-act structure.[2]

For example, transitions can be anything from a sentence to a full paragraph which contrasts heavily to the five-paragraph essay where one sentence is encouraged for all transitions, rather than a full paragraph. One also can set up a call back to the beginning of the essay. The conclusion is said to need to be quick and one should not linger long on that part of the essay.[2]

This form also was often used in both classical literature and contemporary plays such as Waves Washing the Sand.[3]

Regional variations[edit]

There are variations of this dramatic structure based on region due to differences in how the Chinese characters are interpreted per the country and culture.


  1. : start or introduction, usually meaning the reason a thing begins
  2. : meant handling, process, or hardships
  3. : turn, turning point, crescendo
  4. : result.
Original Chinese English Translation
送 別

王 維

山 中 相 送 罷 ,

日 暮 掩 柴 扉 。

春 草 明 年 綠 ,

王 孫 歸 不 歸 。


by Wang Wei (699–759)

qi: After a farewell in the mountain,

cheng: Dusk falls, and I shut my firewood-made gate.

zhuan: When the spring grass is green next year,

he: I wonder if my friend will return.


  1. : raising issues and introducing characters
  2. : the beginning of the action (but not to solve a problem, necessarily, but usually for self-realization)
  3. : a reversal or change in direction
  4. : the matter is concluded and any lessons are gained through the process or results
Original Korean English Translation

정지상의 송인(送人)



비 갠 긴 강둑에 풀빛 파릇한데,



남포에서 임 보내며 구슬픈 노래 부르네.



대동강의 물은 언제 마르리오?



이별 눈물이 해마다 푸른 물결에 보태지네.

Escort by Jeong Ji Sang


Multicolored green grass on the banks of a long river.


He's singing a sad song in Nampo.


When is the water of Daedong dry?


Every year, farewell tears add to the blue waves.


고구려 유리왕



펄펄 나는 저 꾀꼬리



암수 서로 정답구나.



외로워라 이 내 몸은



뉘와 함께 돌아갈고.

Hwangjo (Yellow Tide)

By King Yuri of Goryeo


Fluttering Yellow Birds


male and female depend on each other


Lonesome self


Who will go home with me?


Kishotenketsu Story Structure--the height of the bumps leading to the twist can change per story.
The height of the bumps leading to the twist can change per story.[4]
  1. kiku (起句) is 'ki ()': introduction, where 起 can mean rouse, wake up, get up
  2. shōku (承句) is 'sho ()': development, where 承 can also mean acquiesce, hear, listen to, be informed, receive
  3. tenku (転句) is 'ten ()': twist, where 転 can mean revolve, turn around, change
  4. kekku (結句) is 'ketsu ()': conclusion, though 結 can also mean result, consequence, outcome, effect, coming to fruition, bearing fruit, etc.

In a story, the following might happen:

  1. Introduction (ki): an introduction to the characters, era, and other information required to understand the plot.
  2. Development (shō): follows leads towards the twist in the story. No major changes so far.
  3. Twist (ten): the story turns toward an unexpected development. This is the crux of the story, the yama (ヤマ) or climax. If the narrative takes several turns, this is the biggest one.
  4. Conclusion (ketsu), also called ochi (落ち) or ending, wraps up the story.

The same pattern is used for arguments. For example, a discussion about the usage of photocopying machines could be analyzed as follows:[5]

  • Introduction (ki): Once, it was mandatory to copy information by hand. Mistakes were made that way.
  • Development (shō): The invention of copying machines made it possible to make copies more quickly and accurately.
  • Twist (ten): In a similar way, cars facilitate saving time when traveling, with the drawback of not being able to take in the local beauty. On the other hand, walking makes it easier to appreciate nature.
  • Conclusion (ketsu): Although photocopying is easier, copying by hand can sometimes be better when it aids in retaining the information to use it later.

This structure can be used in yonkoma manga, and even for documents, dissertations, and music. Kishōtenketsu can apply to sentences, and even clauses, to chapter as well.

Original Japanese English Translation






Sanyō Rai


Daughters of Itoya, in the Honmachi of Osaka.


The elder daughter is sixteen and the younger one is fourteen.


Throughout history, daimyō killed the enemy with bows and arrows.


The daughters of Itoya kill with their eyes.[6]

The concept has also been used in game design, particularly in Nintendo's video games, most notably Super Mario games such as Super Mario Galaxy (2007) and Super Mario 3D World (2013); their designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Koichi Hayashida are known to utilize this concept for their game designs.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hsi-Chin Janet Chu, Janet Swaffar and Davida H. Charney (2017-06-10). "Cultural Representations of Rhetorical Conventions: The Effects on Reading Recalls". TESOL Quarterly. 36 (4): 511–541. doi:10.2307/3588239. JSTOR 3588239. Retrieved January 28, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Kirkpatrick, Andy (September 1997). "Traditional Chinese text structures and their influence on the writing in Chinese and English of contemporary mainland Chinese students". Journal of Second Language Writing. 6 (3): Pages 223–244. doi:10.1016/S1060-3743(97)90013-8. Retrieved 19 December 2023.
  3. ^ Vorontzov, Dimitri. "Qi Cheng Zhuan Jie (起承轉結): The Chinese Four-Act Screenplay Structure, Part 2". scriptmag.com/. Script Mag. Retrieved 19 December 2023.
  4. ^ ""Ki-sho-Ten-ketsu" is "KA-ME-HA-ME-HAA!" 4 part construction practicals - Japanese Manga 101". Youtube: SMAC! - THE SILENT MANGA AUDITION® COMMUNITY!. Retrieved 31 August 2023.
  5. ^ Lucy K. Spence, Yuriko Kite (2017-06-10). "Beliefs and practices of writing instruction in Japanese elementary schools". Language, Culture and Curriculum. 31: 56–69. doi:10.1080/07908318.2017.1338296. S2CID 148667094. Retrieved January 28, 2021.
  6. ^ Maynard, S. K. (1997). Japanese communication: Language and thought in context. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i Press, 159-162.
  7. ^ Tom Phillips (2015-03-17). "Nintendo's "kishōtenketsu" Mario level design philosophy explained". Eurogamer.net. Retrieved September 16, 2016.