Li Bai, Du Fu, Wang Wei and Bai Juyi

Era Information
Time: 618-907
Location of Capital: Chang an, in Today's Xi'an City, Shanxi Province
Emperors: Li Yuan, Li Shimin, Sui Yangdi
Replaced by: Song Dynasty

Tang dynasty's officialsThe Tang Dynasty was the golden age of Chinese poetry. In the number of poems and variety of poetic forms, the beauty of imagery and broadness of themes, Tang poetry surpassed all that had preceded it. The Complete Anthology of Tang Poetry, edited during the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), contains over 50,000 poems written by some two thousand poets. The collection provides a magnificent insight into all aspects of the social life of the period.

Tang poets are held in high regard and among the most notable are Li Bai, Du Fu and Bai Juyi.

Li Bai(712-770)

Li Bai in Tang Dynasty the Immortal Poet, living during the peak of the Tang period, wrote as many as nine hundred poems. He was probably the greatest of the ancient Chinese poets. It is generally agreed that between them, Li Bai and Du Fu elevated the poetic form to a level of power and expression that remains unsurpassed by poets of subsequent generations.

His work is characterized by its imaginative and unrestrained expression of feeling. Rated as a romantic poet, his writings are endowed with a deep appreciation of people and their lives. The magnificent scenery he saw and enjoyed as well as the profound expression of his own desires and sorrows are subjects of his work.

Du Fu(712-770)

Du Fu in Tang dynasty The Sage of Poets, lived in a period of change when the prosperity of the Tang began to decline. Having suffered obstacles in his official career, he began to travel around the country and to write poetry.

Living as a refugee during the Rebellion of An and Shi gave him a personal empathy with the sufferings of the poor. His work shows a great depth of feeling for the plight of the common people. In 759, Du Fu went to live in Chengdu and it is here that his former residence the Thatched Cottage is open for viewing by visitors.

Recording as they do both the military and political situations pertaining at this time, Du Fu's poems are referred to as "the mirror of his time". He is regarded as providing a typical representation of realism in poetry. The most popular of his poems are the Three Officials and Three Leaves.

Wang Wei(772-846)

Wang Wei in Tang dynastyA government system supported by a large class of Confucian literati selected through civil service examinations was perfected under Tang rule. This competitive procedure was designed to draw the best talents into government.

 But perhaps an even greater consideration for the Tang rulers, aware that imperial dependence on powerful aristocratic families and warlords would have destabilizing consequences, was to create a body of career officials having no autonomous territorial or functional power base.

As it turned out, these scholar-officials acquired status in their local communities, family ties, and shared values that connected them to the imperial court. From Tang times until the closing days of the Qing empire in 1911, scholar-officials functioned often as intermediaries between the grass-roots level and the government.

Bai Juyi(772-846)

Bai Juyi in Tang dynasty Bai Juyi was the son of an official. As a young man, he wandered about to escape from the wars and hence suffered from poverty and hunger. Later, after having succeeded in the civil service examinations, he served for fifteen years as an official.

He was disliked and ostracized by his noble colleagues and was sent away from the capital to work in remote cities.Bai Juyi wrote almost three thousand poems, his output exceeding that of the other Tang poets.

With their themes centring on the important social and political problems, Bai Juyi used plain and simple language that proved enlightening even for those who had not received even the poorest education. He also wrote many lyrics expressing his personal feelings.

His long narrative poem The Song of the Pipa Player is among the best known. (A pipa is a musical instrument).