Bai Juyi – Medieval Chinese poetry

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A stone niche and stone steps in a garden: The tomb of Bai Juyi

The tomb of Bai Juyi

Who was Bai Juyi?

Bai Juyi was born in China during the T’ang Dynasty, in 772 AD, just at the end of the great rebellion of An Lushan and not long after Xue Tao was born. Juyi’s father worked for the government – he was educated, not a farmer – but he was not very powerful. Like many people in China at this time, Bai Juyi was a Buddhist. Soldiers were still fighting, and when Juyi was ten years old a war came to where he was, and his parents sent him away to live with relatives where it was safer.

Governor of Hangzhou

Because Bai Juyi was a boy, he could go to school, unlike Xue Tao. Bai Juyi did very well in school and passed his examinations, so he got a job in the government too. In 821, when he was almost fifty years old, he became the governor of Hangzhou, where he got a big dam built that helped the farmers irrigate their farmland.

Popular poetry

But while he was a governor Bai Juyi also wrote poetry. He wanted to write poetry that everyone could understand, in simple words. Because his poems were easy to read, and because he wrote about how government officials were mean to farmers, his poems were very popular. Bai Juyi’s most famous poem is the Song of Everlasting Sorrow. Bai Juyi also wrote poems called “The Grain Tax” and “The Philosopher” (about Lao Tsu) – and many other poems.

Retirement to a Buddhist monastery

When Bai Juyi was about 60 years old, he retired to a Buddhist monastery and lived there, still writing poetry. He lived to see the beginning of Emperor Wuzong’s great persecution of Buddhists in 840, and died at the age of 74 in 846 AD.

Learn by Doing – Write a Poem

More about Bai Juyi
Song of Everlasting Sorrow
The Grain-Tax (a poem)
The Philosopher (another poem)
Chinese Literature
Medieval China home

To read more of Bai Juyi’s poetry:

Chinese literature
Medieval China home

By |2018-04-18T09:53:38+00:00June 6th, 2017|China, Literature|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Bai Juyi – Medieval Chinese poetry. Study Guides, June 6, 2017. Web. January 24, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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