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Meeting Gui-nian Li 1 South of the Yangtze River 2, 3

Du, Fu (712 A.D.-770 A.D.)

I used to see you frequently at the mansion of King Qi 4.
I also heard you singing in the reception room of Ju Cui 5.
The land south of the Yangtze River is just at the peak of its beauty.
In this flower-falling season 6 I meet you again.




1 Li was a famous singer at the peak of the Tang dynasty. His success symbolized the prosperous period of the Tang dynasty. Later, a rebellion occurred and the entire nation fell into chaos. Li was stranded south of the Yangtze River by poverty. At a scenic spot on a nice day, he would sing a few songs to entertain the public. When the audience heard him sing, they were all moved and wept silently.

2 In 770 A.D., Fu Du met Li at Chang-Sha City. South of the Yangtze River currently refers to Jiangsu and Anhui Provinces. However, in Du's time, Chinese also called Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces "south of the Yangtze River" because the river was very long.

3 The theme of this poem is that the change between the present and the past causes Du to express his lament about the government and himself. When Du was fifteen, he met Gui-nian Li for the first time. When he was fifty-nine, he meet Gui-nian Li again. During the forty-four years in between, both China and Du suffered greatly. As for China, Prime Minister Lin-fu Li employed cruel officials to kill and imprison people. After Guo-zhong Yang became the prime minister, he assumed dictatorial powers and made arbitrary decisions. Once he sent a large army to attack the southern kingdom of Zhao. It turned out that the entire Chinese army was annihilated. In 755 A.D., General Lu-shan An rebelled at Fan-yang City. Soon he captured the capital, Chang-an City, and declared himself the Emperor of Great Yan. Emperor Xuan escaped to western Shu. On his way, he was forced to kill his favorite concubine, Tai-zhen Yang, to pacify his troops. After his son, Su, declared himself emperor, Eunuch Fu-guo Li held absolute power. In 758 A.D., Si-ming Shi declared himself the Emperor of Great Yan and called his reign Obeying the Order of Heaven. (In ancient China, an emperor started his reign with a new calendar. For example, they would refer to 1 Obeying the Order of Heaven of the new reign rather than 758 A.D.) The price of rice skyrocketed. In the beginning of the Tang dynasty, it cost only three or four cents per pound. During the war the price went up to seventy dollars per pound. People ate each other. In 764 A,D., the troops of Hui-he captured Lo-yang City and looted everything. Then Tibetans invaded China: they swept up west of the Yellow River and Long Mountain, and captured Chang-an City. General Zheng-ji Li occupied Shandong Province. The political powers in northern China gradually fell into the hands of warlords. In Sichuan Province, warlords rebelled against the central government. Due to the political chaos, Chinese people suffered greatly.
    Next, we discuss Du's suffering. Du attended the Advanced Exam of which Prime Minister Lin-fu Li was in charge. Li failed every examinee. Afterwards Du had lived in poverty in the capital for ten years. Sometimes, he relied on financial help from his friends. He even tried to sell medicine to make a living. After Rebel General An captured Chang-an City, Du left for Ling-wu City where Emperor Xuan's son, Su, declared himself the new emperor. On his way he was captured by the rebel troops and sent back to the capital. He lost his freedom there. Later, he became Emperor Su’s advisor. During that time, he wrote a letter to plead for mercy for Guan Fang. The letter irritated the emperor so much that he almost sentenced Du to death. This incident caused Du to be demoted to the level of state councilor. Due to wide spread starvation and despair for the government, Du gave up his position and went to Shu. In one year, he traveled long distances four times. Sometimes, he did not even have food and warm clothes. Because of the rebellion fomented by local warlords, Du had to leave Cheng-du City. He took a boat and drifted down the Yangtze River. After passing through the Three River Gorges, he was stranded in Jing-ling, Gong-an, Yue-yang, and Tan Cities by poverty. After he arrived at Tan City, the local warlords also staged a rebellion. Du suffered hardships all his life. His wife had to board at the house of his elder brother for a long time. Fu Du's youngest died from starvation.

4 King Qi was Emperor Xuan's younger brother. He had a mansion in the Village Upholding Virtue. When Du was fourteen, his writings were outstanding. King Qi appreciated his talent, so Du was frequently invited to his mansion. Du's poem, "The Magnificent Tour", says,
"At the age of fourteen or fifteen,
I went on a tour of the fields of literature and calligraphy.
Writers Cui and Wei considered me as talented as Ban and Yang.
… … …
I missed the opportunity to make friends with others of my age.
All my friends were the old and gray."

5 Ju Cui was the younger brother of the Supervisor of the Palace. Ju was a close friend of Emperor Xuan.

6 The flower-falling season implies that the good times in Du's recollection, like fallen flowers drifting with the river, have never recurred in the real world.