CLASSIC CHINESE LITERATURE: FOLK STORIES, TANG POETS AND CONFUCIUS

CLASSIC CHINESE LITERATURE

20080301-storyteller bucklin.jpg
Storyteller
China has a great tradition of literature and poetry but unfortunately much of it is difficult to translate into Western languages. Classical Chinese literature is made up of Confucian texts and vernacular Chinese literature consisted largely of grand prose epics that were regarded as low-class by classical scholars when they were written and popularized.

The Chinese have a saying: "use the past to criticize the present." One Chinese intellectual told the writer Paul Theroux, "That is a Chinese preoccupation. There was a mayor who wrote a play about an obscure figure during the Ming period. People were shocked. 'You are criticizing Mao!' they said. That mayor was removed very soon after. And he disappeared." A similar incident triggered the Cultural Revolution.

China has a wealth of classical literature, both poetry and prose, dating from the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-221 B.C.) and including the Classics attributed to Confucius. The oldest known Chinese literature are poetry and folk songs that date back to the 8th century B.C. Fiction developed relatively late with the oldest known stories written in the vernacular dating back to the Tang period (A.D. 690-907). .

In the old days “news singers” were fixtures of Chinese teahouses. The fact that so little Chinese literature makes its way to the West is worrisome. As of 2005 there was only one serious translator of Chinese literature into English, Howard Goldblatt, the founding editor of Modern Chinese Literature and a professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Good Websites and Sources: Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) mclc.osu.edu ; Library of Congress loc.gov : Myths Oriental Stylewww.ourorient.com ; Monkey Spirit Story at Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) mclc.osu.edu ; Folk Tales pitt.edu : Stories China Page chinapage.org ; University of North Carolina unc.edu/~rwilkers ; Ballad of Mulan China Page : Classics Chinese Text Project ; China Page chinapage.org ; Side by Side Translations zhongwen.com; Book: Anthology of Chinese Literature from the Earliest Times to the Fourteenth Century edited by Cyril Birch.

Poetry China Vista chinavista.com ; Classical Poems chinapage.org ; Poetry Reading chinapage.org ; Moon Poems chinapage.org ; Love Poems chinapage.org : Li Bai Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; China Page chinapage.com Classic Novels China Page chinapage.org : Journey to the West School Lesson einaudi.cornell.edu ; Journey to the West site vbtutor.net ; English Translation PDF File chine-informations.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Pearl Buck University of Pennsylvania english.upenn.edu Links in this Website: CONFUCIANISM AND CONFUCIUS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TAOISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; MODERN CHINESE LITERATURE Factsanddetails.com/China ; MODERN CHINESE WRITERS Factsanddetails.com/China

Chinese Culture: Cultural China (site with nice photos cultural-china.com ; China Culture.org chinaculture.org ; China Culture Online chinesecultureonline.com ;Chinatown Connection chinatownconnection.com ; Transnational China Culture Project ruf.rice.edu China Research Paper Search china-research-papers.com ; Book: Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Sabina Knight (Oxford University Press, 2012) ; The Culture and Civilization, a massive multi-volume series on Chinese culture (Yale University Press).

Early Chinese Literature

In a review of Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Sabrina Knight, Li-hua Ying of Bard College wrote in the MCLC Resource Center Publication: The first chapter, a well-argued treatment of classics, begins with the famous fish parable in Zhuangzi, which advocates the acquisition of a broader perspective, a concept "shared by all the major schools of Chinese thought". To illustrate this point, Knight goes into an explication of the Chinese writing system, and Confucian and Daoist classics, highlighting the role of the literati in transmitting and transforming Chinese culture, since "China's survival over three thousand years may owe more to its literary history than to its political history" The second chapter, packed with many insights and a forcefully articulated point of view, focuses on classical poetry, which, according to Knight, "offered ways to find meaning amid time's transience, regulate bodily energies, and cultivate benevolence." [Source: Li-hua Ying, MCLC Resource Center Publication, October 2012]

The third chapter deals with a wide variety of prose writings, including historical narratives and belles lettres (essays and jottings), as well as short stories of "strange" and fantastic nature. By including historical narratives as wenxue (lit., "the study of writing" or literature), Knight makes an important point in keeping with Chinese practice prior to the late nineteenth century. She underscores the function of early narratives as record keeping and moral teaching, and her extensive list includes historical narratives such as Zuo's Commentary (a.k.a., The Chronicle of Zuo or The Commentary of Tso) and The Historical Records (a.k.a., Records of the Grand Historian); supernatural or marvelous tales found in Classics of Mountains and Seas (a.k.a.,The Classic of Mountains and Seas), In Search of Spirits (a.k.a., In Search of the Supernatural), and Strange Tales from a Leisure Studio (a.k.a., Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio); and tales of the mundane, such as those collected in New Accounts of the Tales of the World. These texts are wildly diverse in theme and style.

Confucian Classics

20080301-book six writing of Mater Kong, Sung tapei.jpg
Song-era Book Six of
the Confucian Classics
The are five Confucian classics: 1) Book of History, a collection of documents ascribed to ancient Emperors and officials; 2) Book of Songs (“Shijing”), an anthology of early poems also known as Book of Poem ; 3) Book of Changes (“I Ching”), a manual of divination and philosophical appendices; 4) Rites (“Li Chi”), a compendium of rituals; and 5) The Spring, Autumn Annals, a chronicle of the state of Lu; and the attached Zuo Commentary.

Among the most important classics in Chinese literature is the "Yijing" (Book of Changes), a manual of divination based on eight trigrams attributed to the mythical emperor Fu Xi. (By Confucius' time these eight trigrams had been multiplied to sixty-four hexagrams.) The "Yijing" is still used by adherents of folk religion. [Source: Library of Congress]

The "Shijing" (Classic of Poetry) is made up of 305 poems divided into 160 folk songs; 74 minor festal songs, traditionally sung at court festivities; 31 major festal songs, sung at more solemn court ceremonies; and 40 hymns and eulogies, sung at sacrifices to gods and ancestral spirits of the royal house. The "Shujing" (Classic of Documents) is a collection of documents and speeches alleged to have been written by rulers and officials of the early Zhou period and before. It contains the best examples of early Chinese prose. [Ibid]

The "Liji" (Record of Rites), a restoration of the original "Lijing" (Classic of Rites), lost in the third century B.C., describes ancient rites and court ceremonies. The "Chun Qiu" (Spring and Autumn) is a historical record of the principality of Lu, Confucius' native state, from 722 to 479 B.C. It is a log of concise entries probably compiled by Confucius himself. The "Lunyu" (Analects) is a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his disciples.

In Confucius’s time there was an additional classic, Music, but it has been lost. The oldest versions of the I-Ching and Confucius' Discourse on the Book of Poetry are on chop-stick-like bamboo slips in the Shanghai Museum. They are believed to be more than 2,200 years old.

The Four Books---The Analects, (“Conversations,” or "Classics"), The Doctrine of the Mean, The Great Learning and Mencius---form the basis of Confucian education and training for imperial officials. The Analects has been described as "the most influential book in the history of the human race" and a "modern book" with "the oldest intellectual and spiritual portrait of a man." One Confucian told the New York Times, "All human knowledge is contained in this book. If you read this book carefully, you don't need another."

Confucius reportedly compiled the sayings, aphorism, maxims and episodes that make up The Analects during his retirement. But this seems unlikely. The 20 chapters and 497 verses of The Analects were unknown until 300 years after his death. More likely they were compiled by his disciples and written down by other people. Confucius himself once said he merely "transmitted" what was taught to him "without making anything up" on his own. The first half of The Analects is stylistically and thematically very different from the second half. University of Southern California historian John Wills Jr. told Atlantic Monthly, "We have known for a long time that some of the later parts of the book are suspect. After Chapter Ten or Twelve you get a lot of fishy Taoist stuff."

Discovery of an Ancient Record of the Classics

Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times, In July 2008, “a precious cargo of muddy bamboo strips arrived at the Old Library at Tsinghua University in Beijing, donated by a graduate who had acquired them in the Hong Kong art market. “When we opened the box it had a bad smell. Moldy. Many were broken,” said Li Xueqin, an eminent historian and paleographer at the university. Underneath the hard, impacted mud was something stunning: ancient literary texts, written on the bamboo strips in pure, stable ink. For three months, Mr. Li’s team cleaned the slender strips, a difficult job because the very cells of the bamboo were saturated with water, making them as soft as cooked noodles. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, July 10, 2013 |+|]

“Inscribed with some of the earliest known texts of the Chinese classics and believed to have been illegally excavated from the tomb of a historian who lived in the state of Chu during the Warring States period, around 300 B.C., the bamboo strips are revolutionizing our understanding of ancient thought and raising issues rooted in the past that feel stunningly contemporary: Is there such a thing as fixed meaning? Is what we think of as truth actually true? Exhortations to cleave to orthodoxy — “Love the Communist Party” and “Study the Classics” — are common in China and often linked, but what, in fact, are the classics? |+|

“In a gauge of the excitement in scholarly and cultural circles, Francesco Sisci, a Beijing-based Italian journalist and classically trained scholar, compared the discovery of the manuscripts, and two other similar finds here since 1993, to the rediscovery in Europe of the pre-Christian cultures and values of Greece and Rome. It was this embrace of the classical world that prompted “the fire of Enlightenment” and “helped to free European minds from the fetters of dogmatism, justified by a superficial reading of the Bible, and launched Europe on the path to developing the modern world,” Mr. Sisci wrote.|+|

“ It’s simply extraordinary in its implications, said Mr. Li. “It would be like finding the original Bible or the ‘original’ classics,” he said in an interview at Tsinghua, as the inscribed bamboo strips lay in boxes of distilled water in a cool room on a floor above us. “It enables us to look at the classics before they were turned into ‘classics.’ The questions now include, what were they in the beginning, and how did they become what they became?” he asked. It’s important to know that about 100 years after the texts were buried, the first Qin emperor conducted a “literary holocaust” in China...He ordered books burned and banned private libraries, shaping the intellectual tradition for thousands of years by standardizing the written Chinese language. That required all texts to be rewritten, during which unwelcome theories were discarded. |+|

“Could the strips be fakes? The complex way in which the content connects to existing texts, the historical detail and physical condition rule that out, according to experts who include some of China’s leading paleographers and intellectual historians. Mr. Li’s team at Tsinghua carbon-dated them to 305 B.C., plus or minus 30 years. “They were so saturated with water, to 400 percent, when we got them,” said Liu Guozhong, a member of the Tsinghua team. Offering a homely analogy, he said, “It’s like boiling noodles. You can’t make over-boiled noodles without spending the time boiling them.”|+|

Contents of the Tsinghua Texts—the Ancient Record of the Classics

The Tsinghua texts — as the discovered classic texts are now called—total about 2,500 bamboo strips, including fragments, which are up to 46 centimeters, or 18 inches, long. Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times, “The Tsinghua manuscripts and the two other collections, also dated from around 300 B.C. (one excavated from the historical Chu state area of Hubei Province, while the other was bought on the Hong Kong art market), together include: The earliest known copy of the “I Ching,” the ancient book of divination; hitherto unknown poems from “The Book of Songs”; texts attributed to Confucius that are not found in later renditions of “The Analects”; the oldest version of Laozi’s “Dao De Jing,” or “The Taoist Book of the Way” (with many differences from later editions); and previously unknown chapters of “The Book of Documents,” the Confucian history classic of speeches about good governance by model kings, which carried great political significance. This work would become a target for destruction by later rulers. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, July 10, 2013 |+|]

Sarah Allan, a scholar of ancient China at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, told the New York Times the Tsinghua texts challenge Chinese culture as the country seeks to present itself as different from the West. “These manuscripts provide much entirely new information about the formative period of Chinese thought just at a time of renewed interest in what it means to be Chinese,” she wrote. By predating that censorship, the bamboo strips show us the true core of China’s philosophical, literary and historical thought, Ms. Allan said. |+|

“The particular significance of these three groups of manuscripts lies in the date at which they were buried,” she wrote. “300 B.C. was the height of China’s Axial Age, that is, it was in the middle of the period in which the core ideas of the Chinese intellectual tradition took form,” she wrote. “These manuscripts speak directly to the core issues of the Chinese intellectual tradition and were recorded at the height of the formative period.” They include a description of a popular, alternative political system to the dynastic rule that dominated for thousands of years — the “abdication of the good to the good as the best means of political succession,” Ms. Allan wrote. A ruler would retire from office and hand power to a deserving person, who could in theory be anyone. “This idea of abdication as a means of political succession was too threatening to later dynasties to survive,” she wrote.

Longest and Oldest Books

20080301-Yongle_Dadian_Encyclopedia_1403 wiki.jpg
Yongle Dadian Encyclopedia
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest publication and largest encyclopedia ever was the Yongle Dadian (an 11,095 volume work with 22,937 chapters produced by 2,000 Chinese scholar between 1403 and 1408). Only three copies were made.

The Chinese are credited with inventing wood block printing in the 3rd century A.D., and printing presses in the 11th century. Before giving China full credit for inventing printing it must pointed out the wood-block printing invented by the Chinese was very different from the movable type printing used by Gutenberg to print his famous Bible. Chinese printing with wooden movable type, has been proposed for UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status.

The world's oldest surviving book, The Diamond Sutra, was printed with wooden blocks in China in A.D. 868. It consisted of Buddhist scriptures printed on seven 2½-foot-long, one-foot-wide sheets of paper pasted together in one 16-foot-long scroll. Part of The Perfection of Wisdom text, a Mahayanist sermon preached by Buddha, it was found in cave in the Gansu Province in 1907 by the British explorer Aurel Stein, who also found well-preserved 9th century silk and linen paintings.

In Imperial times, the Chinese preferred handwritten calligraphy over printing for important texts. Printing was used by those who could not afford anything better. In 932 a Chinese prime minister wrote: "We have seen... men from Wu and Shu who sold books that were printed from blocks of wood. There were many different texts, but there were among them no orthodox Classics [of Confucianism]. If the Classics could be revised and thus cut in wood and published, it would be a very great boon to the study of literature."

Handscrolls and Literature

Until the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 690-906), most books and documents were kept as handscrolls that were around a foot and half wide and varied in length from a few inches to several hundred feet. The proper way to look at hand scroll is to hold it vertically, unroll it from the left and roll it from the right, examining a section at a time.

Ancient books and documents were put on handschrolls. The first handscrolls, dating back to the Spring and Autumn period (770-481 B.C.), were made mostly from bamboo or wood strips bound together with chord. Ones from the eastern Han Period (25-220 A.D.) used silk and early paper.

Old Chinese Stories

20080301-handscroll columbia U edu.jpg
Handschroll
In imperial times until the 20th century, people flocked to tea houses and public squares to listen to storytellers, who often told multi-part stories that kept audiences coming back for more. Popular literature was absorbed by the masses more in this way than through the reading of books.

Famous old stories include The Good-Luck Horse by Chih-yi Chan, a story about a boy and his miraculous pony; Give Brother, an old folk tale; Shen of the Sea; and The Treasure of Li-Po. Some scholars believe that the Cinderella story had its origins in China. Some classic stories have been rewritten so many times, with so many variations and differences, it is difficult to ascertain what the original story was.

There are also old stories about a silkworm, a beautiful lady with a white hare, the first firecrackers, the origin of rice, demons, warriors, ghosts, mandarins, and peasants. Famous stories explain why human sacrifices are necessary to makes bells and how the willow pattern on blue-and-white porcelain evolved. Biographies of Model Women is a 2000-year-old text from the Han Dynasty with some rather juicy descriptions of sexually liberated women.

The love story between Xiang Yu, the ruler of the 2,200-year-old kingdom of Chu, and Lady Yu, is well known in China. The inspiration for the film Farewell My Concubine, it described how Xiang Yu challenged but ultimately lost to the first Han dynasty ruler and ends with Xiang Yu and Lady Lu in tent surrounded by Han forces. Rather than surrender they commit suicide. Lady Yi kills herself first after performing a sword dance and vowing to love Xiang forever, even in death.

Old Chinese stories often featured magic mirrors. In the tale of Yin Zhongwen a man is executed shortly after he looks into a mirror and doesn't see his reflection. There is another famous short tale about a woman who is unimpressed by a painting of woman said to be very beautiful. The punch line is when the woman realizes she is starting not at a painting but a mirror.

Many popular stories were performed as Chinese opera. One of China’s most famous stories, The Peony Pavillion , written more than 400 years ago by the Ming dynasty playwright Tang Xiazu, is a love story that takes place within a dream: a woman falls asleep by a peony pavilion and dreams of a handsome scholar she has never met. Unable to find him in the real world she dies of a broken heart and ends up in the Underworld, where the strength of her desire convince the Infernal Judge to release her ghost back into the land of the living to marry the man of her dreams. Fei Bo, a Chinese choreographer, told The Times: “The story “tells you universal emotions and passions. People can understand how strongly the heroine fights to find love. Drama and novels developed from the same story-telling tradition in which the use of vernacular language is a prominent feature. The Peach Blossom Fan and the popular short stories collected in Lasting Words to Awaken the World and Pounding the Table in Amazement are other works that grew from this tradition. See Chinese Opera Stories, Opera and Theater.

Folk Stories, Tales and Songs from China’s Ethnic Groups

20080301-liyerary garden southern tang u wash333.jpg
Tang-era literary garden party
The book The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature (2011), edited by Victor H. Mair and Mark Bender, two of the world's leading sinologists, presents works drawn from the large body of oral literature of many of China's recognized ethnic groups---including the Han, Yi, Miao,Tu, Daur, Tibetan, Uyghur, and Kazak---and the selections include a variety of genres.

Chapters cover folk stories, songs, rituals, and drama, as well as epic traditions and professional storytelling, and feature both familiar and little-known texts, from the story of the woman warrior Hua Mulan to the love stories of urban storytellers in the Yangtze delta, the shaman rituals of the Manchu, and a trickster tale of the Daur people from the forests of the northeast. The Cannibal Grandmother of the Yi and other strange creatures and characters unsettle accepted notions of Chinese fable and literary form.

Readers are introduced to antiphonal songs of the Zhuang and the Dong, who live among the fantastic limestone hills of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region; work and matchmaking songs of the mountain-dwelling She of Fujian province; and saltwater songs of the Cantonese-speaking boat people of Hong Kong. The editors feature the Mongolian epic poems of Geser Khan and Jangar; the sad tale of the Qeo family girl, from the Tu people of Gansu and Qinghai provinces; and local plays known as "rice sprouts" from Hebei province. These fascinating juxtapositions invite comparisons among cultures, styles, and genres, and expert translations preserve the individual character of each thrillingly imaginative work.

Classic Chinese Poetry

20080301-Poetry of Wan Cheih by Yang Wei-cehn Yuan tapei.jpg
Poetry by Wan Cheih
Among the earliest and most influential poetic anthologies was the Chuci (Songs of Chu), made up primarily of poems ascribed to the semilegendary Qu Yuan (ca. 340-278 B.C.) and his follower Song Yu (fourth century B.C.). The songs in this collection are more lyrical and romantic and represent a different tradition from the earlier Shijing. During the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), this form evolved into the fu, a poem usually in rhymed verse except for introductory and concluding passages that are in prose, often in the form of questions and answers. The era of disunity that followed the Han period saw the rise of romantic nature poetry heavily influenced by Taoism. [Source: Library of Congress]

Classical poetry reached its zenith during the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907). The early Tang period was best known for its lushi (regulated verse), an eight-line poem with five or seven words in each line; zi (verse following strict rules of prosody); and jueju (truncated verse), a four-line poem with five or seven words in each line.

Subsequent writers of classical poetry lived under the shadow of their great Tang predecessors, and although there were many fine poets in subsequent dynasties, none reached the level of this period. As the classical style of poetry became more stultified, a more flexible poetic medium, the ci, arrived on the scene. The ci, a poetic form based on the tunes of popular songs, some of Central Asian origin, was developed to its fullest by the poets of the Song dynasty (960-1279). As the ci gradually became more literary and artificial after Song times, the san qu, a freer form, based on new popular songs, developed. The use of san qu songs in drama marked an important step in the development of vernacular literature. [Ibid]

Chinese poets have traditionally given themselves pen names like The Wanderer and participated in groups with names like the Crescent Moon Society.

Qu Yuan (340-277 B.C.) is regarded by some as the father of Chinese poetry, One of his most famous lines goes: “Long did I sigh to hold back tears, saddened I am by the grief of my people.” He is still admired today. See, Festivals, Dragon Boat Racing

Chinese Painting, Calligraphy and Poetry

20080301-clligraphy poetry by Wang To 222 qing, tapei.jpg
Poem by Wang To Qing
Poetry is much more fully integrated into painting and calligraphy in Chinese art than it is into painting and writing in Western art. There are two words used to describe what a painter does: Hua hua means "to paint a picture" and xie hua means "to write a picture." Many artists prefer the latter.

Poetry, painting and calligraphy were known as the "Three Perfections." Poems are often the subjects of painting. Painters were often inspired by poetry and tried to create works with a poetic, lyrical quality.

Recalling a series of twelve poems by Su Shih (1036-1101) that inspired him, the great master painter Shih T'ao (1641-1717) wrote: "This album had been on my desk for a year and never once did I touch it. One day, when a snow storm was blowing outside, I thought of Tung-p'o's poems describing twelve scenes and became so inspired that I took up my brush and started painting each of the scenes in the poems. At the top of each picture I copied the original poem. When I chant them the spirit that gave them life emerges spontaneously from paintings." [Source: "The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

When a painting did not fully convey the artist feelings, the artist sometimes turned to calligraphy to convey his feelings more deeply. Describing the link between writing and painting, the artist-poet Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322) wrote:
Do the rocks in flying-white, the trees in ancient seal script
And render bamboo as if writing in clerical characters:
Only if one is truly able to comprehend this, will he realize
That calligraphy and painting are essentially the same.

Other times the message of the calligraphy was more mundane. An inscription on the side of Sheep and Goat by Zhao Mengfu read: "I have painted horses before, but have never painted sheep, so when Zhongxin requested a painting, I playfully drew these for him from life. Though I can not get close to the ancient masters, I have managed somewhat to capture their essential spirit”.

Tang Dynasty Poetry

left Chinese poetry reached its zenith in the Tang dynasty. Poets often sat beneath the moon and drank wine from cups floated on rivers and composed poems like: "The sun beyond the mountain glows/ The Yellow River seaward flows/ But if you desire a grander sight/ The you must scale a greater height." Poets sometimes played a game in which a cup was placed in a stream and a poet had to compose a poem before the cup floated by. If he failed he had to consume a glass of wine.

Famous Tang dynasty poets include Tu Fu (Du Fu, 712-70), Li Po (701-62,) Wang Wei (701-761), Li Bai (701-762), Bo Juyi, Li You and Huang Tingjian. Tu Fu poems inspired many Chinese painters. Xue Tao was a famous female poet. Wang Wei was a poet-painter who said "there are paintings in his poems and poems in his paintings." See Literature

The two best-known poets of the period were Li Bai and Du Fu. Li Bai was known for the romanticism of his poetry; Du Fu was seen as a Confucian moralist with a strict sense of duty toward society. His poems inspired many Chinese painters. Later Tang poets developed greater realism and social criticism and refined the art of narration. One of the best known of the later Tang poets was Bai Juyi (772-846), whose poems were an inspired and critical comment on the society of his time. Other famous Tang dynasty poets include Wang Wei, Li You and Huang Tingjian. Xue Tao was a famous female poet. Wang Wei (701-761) was a poet-painter who said "there are paintings in his poems and poems in his paintings."

Li Bai

The famous Tang dynasty poet Li Bai (A.D. 701-762) is one of the most quoted Chinese poets in the West.In China Li is regarded as a "banished immortal"---“an immortal who misbehaved in heaven and was banished to earth"---and is considered wild, eccentric and possessing special powers.

Li Bai does not seem to have been very likable as a person. He has been described as "tiresome sort of bohemian, vain and untrustworthy, an irresponsible citizen, a careless friend, an indifferent husband and a terrible drunk." Other than a short stint "polishing" Imperial documents, Li never had a job and didn't seem to make much money from his poetry. He appeared to have survived by sponging off relatives.

Li once referred to himself as the “god of imbibing..” It was said he was capable of “producing 100 poems after drinking a whole dou of wine.” A dour is equal to about 10 liters.. One of Li’s most famous poems, Amidst Flowers with a Jug of Wine goes:

right Amidst flowers with a jug of wine
I pour alone lacking companionship
With a raised cup I invite the Moon
To toast my shadow, the three of us.

Li Bai wrote the following poem about the famous Huangshan mountains:
Huangshan is hundreds of thousands of feet high
With numerous soaring peaks lotus-like
Rock pillars shooting up to kiss empyrean roses
Like so many lilies grown amid a sea of gold.

Near Jiuhuashan in the Huangshan mountains, Li Bai wrote:
Looking far ahead from Jiujang,
I saw the peaks of Mount Jiuhia
Emerging from the Heavenly River
Like nine beautiful lotus flowers.

Image Sources: 1) Storyteller, Bukliin archives http://www.bucklinchinaarchive.com/ ; 2) Book, Calligraphy, Palace Museum Taipei ; 3) Encyclopedia, Li Bao, wikipedia; 4) Handscroll, Columbia University; 5) Tang party, University of Washington ; 6) Red Chamber TV, Hongloumeng; 7) Bei Dao, Poets.org 8) Pearl Buck, Pearl Buck website

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Page Top

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.