Li Qingzhao and Her Ci-poems

By Catherine Harris,2014-07-04 12:29
9 views 0
Li Qingzhao and Her Ci-poems


    Li Qingzhao and Her Ci-poems

     2010 6 29



    The essay is about Li Qingzhao and Her Ci-poems. Li qingzhao is the most famous woman writer of Ci (a kind of poetrywritten to certain tunes with strict tonal patterns and rhyrneschemes ,and in fixed numbers of lines and words) in ancient China. She is also the most popular and beloved woman writer throughout the

    Chinese history of thousands of years.

    Li Qingzhao, Ci-poems, Chinese female poet


    Li Qingzhao's seventy-eight extant song lyrics, or tz'u, have earned her a reputation as a master of lyric poetry and she is considered one of the most important

    literary figures of the Sung period. Her poetry uses simple, often colloquial language,

    and original, delicate images, metaphors, and similes, often to depict her intense

    emotionshappiness, longing, love, despair, and desolation. Her poems also reveal

    her interest in nature as well as her satirical outlook on politics. In addition to being a poet, Li Qingzhao was a painter, calligrapher, collector of art, and an accomplished

    prose stylist. Her prose works include a number of essays on literary subjects, editions

    of other writers' works, and a preface to her husband's posthumously published A

    Collection of Epigraphy (1134). Li Qingzhao's personal life encompassed great

    happiness and terrible tragedy, both of which are reflected in her work. Her social

    standing suffered after the downfall of the Sung dynasty in Northern China, but she

    continued to write and her delicate handling of the t'zu form has had a profound

    impact on the genre as well as on subsequent generations of Chinese poets.

    Biographical Information

    Li Qingzhao was born in Ji'nan, in Shangdong province, around 108184, the

    height of the Sung dynasty, into a literary family. Her father, Li Gefei, was a scholar

    and prose writer and her mother was well educated and an accomplished literary

    stylist. Li Qingzhao grew up in a lively literary atmosphere and received an excellent

    education, particularly for a girl living in her times. Her childhood, according to her

    poems, was filled with gaiety, and included regular parties and poetry-writing sessions.

    She was said to be unconventional and frank, read voraciously, and her talent as a

    writer of poetry and prose was evident early on. When she was around seventeen, she

    married Chao Min-ch'eng (also Zhao Mincheng), a student at the Imperial Academy

    and the son of a prominent family. Although it was an arranged marriage, their union

    was happy and intense. They shared a love of books and of collecting antiques. Their


collection of books filled over a dozen rooms and they are said to have spent hours

    cataloguing, annotating, and studying the background of each object d'art they

    acquired. One of their favorite activities was to quiz each other on the facts about each

    item in their collection.

    In 1127 the Tartars invaded China, signaling the fall of the Northern Sung dynasty. Among the acts of aggression they committed was the burning of Li

    Qingzhao's beloved library. She and her husband fled south, and shortly after that her

    husband died. Her family was also ruined. Rumors surfaced that Li Qingzhao and her

    husband had offered a valuable jade pot to the enemy to show their loyalty to them;

    although she tried to refute the accusations, her reputation suffered and she became

    seriously ill and depressed. Thereafter she wandered alone from place to place in

    southeast China, homeless and impoverished. There is some evidence that when she

    was around forty-nine years old Li Qingzhao remarried, a shameful thing for a widow

    to do in her era. But she soon discovered her husband's involvement in some corrupt

    dealings and she informed against himan act that involved mandatory imprisonment

    for her. She was subjected to social stigmatization and a great deal of ridicule due to

    these events until and even after her death. In her later years Li Qingzhao made her

    home south of the Yangtze River, and although she continued to write and study

    ancient art, she was not the same carefree person of her youth. The exact year and

    circumstances of her death are unknown, but she is thought to have died around


    The Ci-poems of Li Qingzhao

    Seventy-eight of Li Qingzhao's poems are extant, although scholars surmise that she produced hundreds of verses. The title of her poetry collection was Shuyu Ji (

    玉词)and her complete works were issued as Li Yi'an's Works. Neither of these volumes survives. Most of her remaining work consists of verses in the subdued,

    lyrical t'zu style, which conforms to the line-length and notation of popular tunes,


although she also wrote in the more serious shi style. The poems that have been

    preserved use a simple, natural voice, yet involve complex metrical structures. They

    can be divided into two phases, corresponding to her life before and after her

    husband's death and the downfall of the Northern Sung dynasty.

    Li Qingzhao's early verses reflect her carefree, happy childhood, her intense romantic and intellectual relationship with her husband, and her love of books and art.

    Her later poems are infused with anger and bitterness. Li Qingzhao's best-known

    work is ―Sheng sheng man‖(声声慢), a poem written in colloquial language using

    images of fallen flowers and light drizzle to depict her personal desolation. As is

    typical of her poetry, Li Qingzhao uses images, ideas, metaphors, and similes to

    portray her feelings and state of mind. Her lyrics are known for their sensitivity, keen

    observation, love of nature, simplicity, and delicacy.

    Li Qingzhao was also an accomplished prose writer. She composed numerous literary essays, including one of the earliest theoretical writings on the t'zu genre. In

    1134, she edited her husband's posthumous work, A Collection of Epigraphy, and

    wrote a preface for the book in which she offers insights into art as well as personal

    recollections from her thirty-four-year marriage.

    Critical Reception

    Li Qingzhao is now acknowledged as one of the greatest Chinese female poets of all time, but her reputation before and after her death has been uncertain. Up until her

    mid-forties, before the invasion of her homeland by the Tartars, Li Qingzhao had

    established herself as an immense talent, a woman who was ranked with and

    compared to the male poets of her time. She enjoyed the company of the literati and

    was renowned for her poetic brilliance and her literary and aesthetic taste. In her later

    years, she established herself as a literary presence in her community, although she

    did not have the social acceptance she enjoyed in her younger days. In the official

    history of the Sung dynasty, Li Qingzhao barely merits a mention, even though her


    father, a minor literary figure, is discussed. For the most part, the reception of Li Qingzhao's writing by critics over the centuries has been favorable, but she has also been regarded merely as a writer of the lesser form of t'zu poetry and thus not an important literary figure. Her lack of social standing also contributed to her relative neglect. In the twentieth century, Li Qingzhao's mastery of the t'zu is acknowledged as sufficient reason to count her among the greatest and most original voices of China. Combined with her talent for other forms of poetry, her prose writing, her painting and calligraphy, and her knowledge of art, she is now regarded as one of the most versatile female artists in Chinese history.

    English-language criticism of Li Qingzhao's work began with Kai-Yu Hsu's

    influential 1962 essay on her poetry. C. H. Kwock and Vincent McHugh's English translation of the poet's works also appeared in that year. Interest in Li Qingzhao's verse continued to grow and in 1979 a translation of her poems by Ling Chung and the distinguished American poet and scholar Kenneth Rexroth appeared. Book-length studies and articles sought to introduce her delicate and lyrical style to readers. Since then scholars have also written about Li Qingzhao's life, her place in Chinese literary history, and her status as a female poet. Scholars have explored distinctively feminine aspects to her writing, studied translations of her work, and considered the affinities between Li Qingzhao and Rexroth. They have also demonstrated how her work has contributed to the genre of Chinese lyrical poetry and influenced later generations of mostly male poets.



    [2] The Complete Ci-poems of Li Qingzhao: A New English Translation, by Jiaosheng

    Wang ,1989.


Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email