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
emotions—happiness, 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.
Li Qingzhao was born in Ji'nan, in Shangdong province, around 1081–84, 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 him—an 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 (漱
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.
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.
 The Complete Ci-poems of Li Qingzhao: A New English Translation, by Jiaosheng