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Tang poetry ( ) refers to poetry written in or about Chinamarker's Tang dynasty, (June 18, 618 - June 4, 907, including the 690-705 reign of Wu Zetian) and/or follows a certain style, often considered as the Golden Age of Chinese poetry. According to a compilation, the Quantangshi, created under the Kangxi emperor of the Qing Dynastymarker, there were almost 50,000 Tang poems written by over 2,200 authors. During the Tang Dynasty, poetry continued to be an important part of social life at all levels of society. Scholars were required to master poetry for the civil service examinations, but the art was theoretically available to everyone. This led to a large record of poetry and poets, a partial record of which survives today. Two of the most famous poets of the period were Du Fu and Li Bai.

The Importance of Tang Poetry

The poetry of the Tang Dynasty is important for several reasons. It is important in the field of Chinese literature and Chinese poetry, within which it has had especial note. Tang poetry has had an on-going influence on world literature and modern and quasi-modern poetry. Furthermore, because of the prevalence of rhymed and parallel structures within Tang poetry, it has a role in linguistics studies and the study of the development of Modern Chinese, in its various forms.

The Pre-Tang Poetic Tradition

The poetic tradition inherited by the Tang poets was immense and diverse. By the time of the Tang Dynasty, there was already a continuous Chinese body of poetry dating back for over a thousand years. Indeed, Chinese poetry may well embody more material and recognize a longer tradition than any other type of world literature . Such works as the Chu Ci and Shijing were by no means the only major influences on Tang poetry.

History of Tang Poetry

The Tang Dynasty was long-lasting and covers a time period of many major social and probably linguistic upheavals. Thus, the genre may be divided into several major more-or-less chronological divisions, based on developmental stages or stylistic groupings (sometimes even on personal friendships between poets). It should be remembered that poets may be somewhat arbitrarily assigned to these based on their presumed biographical dates (not always known); furthermore that the lifetimes of poets towards the beginning or end of this period may overlap with the preceding Sui Dynasty or the succeeding Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. The chronology of Tang poetry may be divided into four parts: Beginning Tang, Flourishing Tang, Middle Tang, and Late Tang.

Beginning Tang

In Beginning Tang (初唐), the earliest poets to develop the foundation what is now considered to be the Tang style of poetry inherited a rich and deep literary and poetic tradition, or several traditions. The Beginning Tang poetry is subdivided into early, middle and late phases.
  • Some of the initial poets who began to develop what is considered to be the Tang Dynasty style of poetry were heavily influenced by the Court Style of the Southern Dynasties (南朝宫), referring to the Southern Dynasties of the Southern and Northern Dynasties time period (420-589 CE) that preceded the short-lived Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE). The Southern Dynasty Court (or Palace) poems tended towards an ornate and flowery style and particular vocabulary, partly passed on through continuity of certain governmental individuals who were also poets, during the transition from Sui to Tang. This group includes the emperor Li Shimin, the calligrapher Yu Shinan, Zhe Liang (禇亮), Li Baiyao, the governmental official Shangguan Yi, and his granddaughter, the governmental official and later imperial consort Shangguan Wan'er. Indeed, there were many others, as this was a culture that placed a great emphasis on literature and poetry, at least for persons in official capacity and their social intimates.
  • Representative of the middle phase of early Tang were the so-called "Four Literary Friends:" poets Li Jiao, Su Weidao, Cui Rong (崔融, 653-706), and Du Shenyan (杜审言, from about 645-708). This represents a transitional phase.
  • In the late phase the poetic style becomes more typical of what is considered as Tang poetry. A major influence was Wang Ji (585-644) upon the "Four Heroes of Early Tang (初唐四杰):" the poets Wang Bo, Yang Jiong (杨炯, 650-692), Lu Zhaolin (卢照邻, 632-695), and Luo Binwang. They each preferred to dispense with literary pretensions in favor of authenticity.
  • Chen Zi'ang (陈子昂, 661-702) is credited with being the great poet who finally brought an end to the Beginning Tang period, casting away the ornate Court style in favor of a hard-hitting, authentic poetry which included political and social commentary (at great risk to himself), and thus leading the way to the greatness that was to come.

Flourishing Tang

In Flourishing Tang (盛唐), sometimes known as High Tang, first appear the poets which would come to mind as Tang poets, at least in the United States and Europe. Flourishing Tang poetry had numerous schools of thought:
  • The beginning part of this era, or style-period, include Zhang Jiuling (张九龄, 678—740), Wang Han (王翰), and Wang Wan (王湾). There were also the so-called Four Friends of Wuzhong (吴中四友): He Zhizhang (贺知章, 659-744), Bao Rong (包融), Zhang Xu, (張旭, 658-747, also famous as a calligrapher), and Liu Shenxu --or Shenqu-- (刘昚虚).
  • The "Fields and Gardens Poets Group" (田园诗派) include Meng Haoran (孟浩然, 689 or 691-740), the famous poet and painter Wang Wei (王维, 701-761), Chu Guangxi, (儲光羲, 707-760), Chang Jian (常建), Zu Yong (祖咏), Pei Di (裴迪), Qi Wu Qian (綦毋潜), Qiu Wei (丘为), and others.
  • The "Borders and Frontier Fortress Poets Group" (边塞诗派) includes Gao Gua (or Shi or Kuo) (高适, 706-765), Cen Can (岑参, 715-770), Wang Changling (王昌龄, 698—756), Wang Zhihuan, (王之渙, 688-742) Cui Hao (崔颢, about 704-754) and Li Qi (李颀, 690-751).
  • This is also the period to which are assigned probably the most famous of the Tang poets: Li Bai (李白, 701-762) and Du Fu (杜甫, 712-770). Li Bai and Du Fu both lived to see the Tang Empire reel in the catastrophic events of the An Shi Rebellion (755-763). This had a tremendous impact on their poetry, and indeed signified the end of an era. Li Bai and Du Fu would never be forgotten, or cease to be in style. They would both be looked upon as major exemplars, especially Du Fu, by the Song Dynasty Poets, but the "golden age" was over.

Middle Tang

The poets of the Middle Tang (中唐) period also include many of the best known names, and they wrote some very famous poems. This was a time of rebuilding and recovery, but also high taxes, official corruption, and lesser greatness. Li Bo's bold seizing of the old forms and turning them to new and contemporary purposes and Du Fu's development of the formal style of poetry, though hard to equal, and perhaps impossible to surpass, nevertheless provided a firm edifice on which the Middle Tang poets could build.
  • In the early phase of the Middle Tang period Du Fu's Yue fu poetry was extended by poets such as Dai Shulun (戴叔伦, 732-789) who used the opportunity to admonish governmental officials as to their duties toward the suffering common folk.
  • Others concentrated on developing the Landscape Style Poem (山水诗), such as Liu Changqing (刘长卿, 709-780) and Wei Yingwu (韦应物, 737-792).
  • The Frontier Fortress Style had its continued advocates, representative of whom are Li Yi (李益) and Lu Lun (卢纶, 739-799).
  • The traditional association between poetry and scholarship was shown by the existence of a group of ten poets (大历十才子), who tended to ignore the woes of the people, preferring to sing and chant their poems in praise of peace, beautiful landscapes and the commendability of seclusion. They are: Qian Qi (錢起, 710-782), Lu Lun is also a part of this group, Ji Zhongfu (吉中孚), Han Yi (韩翊), Si Kong Shu (司空曙, 720-790), Miao Fa --or Miao Bo -- (苗發/苗发), Cui Tong (崔峒), Geng Hui (耿諱/耿讳), Xia Hou Shen (夏侯审), and the poet Li Duan (李端, 743-782).
  • One of the greatest Tang poets was Bai Juyi (白居易, 772-846), considered the leader of the somewhat angry, bitter, speaking-truth-to-power New Yue Fu Movement (新樂府運動). Among the other poets considered to be part of this movement are Yuan Zhen (元稹, 779-831), Zhang Ji (张籍, 767-830), and Wang Jian (王建).
  • Several Tang poets stand out as being to individualistic to really be considered a group, yet sharing a common interest in experimental exploration of the relationship of poetry to words, and pushing the limits thereof; including: Han Yu (韩愈, 768-824), Meng Jiao (孟郊, 751-814), Jia Dao (賈島/贾岛, 779-843), and Lu Tong (盧仝/卢仝, 795-835).
  • Two notable poets were Liu Yuxi (刘禹锡, 772-842) and Liu Zongyuan (柳宗元, 773-819).
  • Another notable poet, who has received a modern revival in attention is Li He (李贺, 790-816).

Late Tang

In Late Tang (晚唐), as at the full flourishing of Tang poetry, there was the pair Li Bo and Du Fu, known, by a combination of their names, as Li-Du (李杜), so in the twilight of the Late Tang there was a Little Li-Du (小李杜): Du Mu (杜牧803-852) and Li Shangyin (李商隱/李商隐, 812 or 813-858). These two typified the two divergent poetic streams of the times.
  • The Late Tang poetry of Du Mu's type tended toward a clear, robust style, often looking back upon the past with sadness, perhaps reflecting the times. The Tang Dynasty was falling apart, it was still in existence, but obviously in a state of decline.
  • The poetry of Li Shangyin's type tended towards the sensuously abstract, dense, allusive, and difficult. Other poets of this style were Wen (or Yun) Tingyun (温庭筠, 812-870) and Duan Cheng Shi (段成式, about 803-863). These poets have been attracting gaining interest in modern times.
  • There were also other poets belonging to one or the other of two major schools of the Late Tang. in one school were Luo Yin (羅隱/罗隐, 833-909), Nie --or Zhe or She or Ye-- Yizhong (聶夷中/聂夷中, 887-884), Du Xunhe (杜荀鹤), Pi Rixiu (皮日休, approximately 834/840—883), Lu Guimeng (陸龜蒙/陆龟蒙 ?-881), and others. In the other group, were Wei Zhuang (韦庄, 836-910), Sikong Tu (司空图, 837-908), Zheng Gu (鄭谷, 849-911), Han Wo (韓偓,844-?), and others. During the final twilight of Tang, both schools were prone to a melancholic angst; they varied by whether they tended towards metaphor and allusiveness or a more clear and direct expression.

Tang Poetry After the Fall of the Tang Dynasty

Surviving the turbulent decades of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms era, Tang poetry was perhaps the major influence on the poetry of the Song Dynasty, for example seeing such major poets as Su Shi creating new works based upon matching lines of Du Fu's. This matching style is known from the Late Tang. Pi Rixiu and Lu Guimeng, sometimes known as Pi-Lu, were well known for it: one would write a poem with a certain style and rhyme scheme, then the other would reply with a different poem, but matching the style and with the same rhymes. This allows for subtleties which can only be grasped by matching the poems together.

Succeeding eras have seen the popularity of various Tang poets wax and wane. The Qing Dynasty saw the publication of the massive compilation of the collected Tang poems, the Quantangshi, as well as the less-scholarly (for example, no textual variants are given), but more popular, Three Hundred Tang Poems. In China, some of the poets, such as Li Bo and Du Fu have never fallen into obscurity; others, such as Li Shangyin, have had modern revivals. Outside of China, and cultural neighborhood, recent centuries have seen major influence upon poetry around the world, including through translations or through some sort of general impression of Tang poetry.

English Translators of Tang Poetry

English Translators of Tang poetry include Herbert Giles, L. Cranmer-Byng, Amy Lowell, Arthur Waley, A. C. Graham, Shigeyoshi Obata, Burton Watson, Gary Snyder, David Hinton, Wai-lim Yip, and Red Pine : all considered more-or-less fair translations. In the Nineteenth Century, Ernest Fenollosa, wrote up some notes toward translating Chinese poetry, indirectly through the Japanese, including some Li Bo poems, which were later adapted by Ezra Pound and published in his book Cathay: the results, although of some influence on poetry, do not meet the minimum criteria of a translation, in terms of fidelity to the original text (an interesting anecdote in this respect is that Robert Graves says, "I once asked Arthur Waley how much Chinese Pound knew; Waley shook his head despondently.").

Characteristics of Tang Poetry

Tang poetry has certain characteristics. Contextually, the fact that that the poems were generally intended to be recited in more-or-less contemporary spoken Chinese (now a dead language known as Classical Chinese; or, sometimes, as Literary Chinese, in post-Han Dynasty cases) and that the poems were written in Chinese characters are certainly important. Also important are the use of certain typical poetic forms, various common themes, and the surrounding social and natural milieu.

Buddha, Tao, and Confucius in Relationship to Tang Poetry

The Tang dynasty time was one of religious ferment, which was reflected in the poetry. Many of the poets were religiously devout. Also, at that time religion tended to have an intimate relation with poetry.

Gender Studies and Tang Poetry

There has been some interest in Tang poetry in the field of gender studies. Although most of the poets were men, there were several significant women. Also, many of the men wrote from the viewpoint of a woman, or lovingly of other men. Historically and geographically localized in Tang Dynasty China, this is an area which has not escaped interest from the perspective of historical gender roles.


  1. Chey, 139, accessed July 17, 2008
  2. Jing, 256, accessed July 20, 2008
  3. Hoyt, 27, accessed July 20, 2008
  4. Hinton, xix
  5. zh.wikipedia "唐诗" (most of this section is adapted from there, along with dates from the linked articles on individual poets)
  6. zh.wikipedia "唐诗" (most of this section is adapted from there, along with dates from the linked articles on individual poets)
  7. zh.wikipedia "唐诗" (most of this section is adapted from there, along with dates from the linked articles on individual poets)
  8. zh.wikipedia "唐诗" (most of this section is adapted from there, along with dates from the linked articles on individual poets)
  9. Murck, passim
  10. Graves, from "These Be Your Gods, O Israel," (138-139)


  1. Chey, 139, accessed July 17, 2008
  2. Jing, 256, accessed July 20, 2008
  3. Hoyt, 27, accessed July 20, 2008
  4. Hinton, xix
  5. zh.wikipedia "唐诗" (most of this section is adapted from there, along with dates from the linked articles on individual poets)
  6. zh.wikipedia "唐诗" (most of this section is adapted from there, along with dates from the linked articles on individual poets)
  7. zh.wikipedia "唐诗" (most of this section is adapted from there, along with dates from the linked articles on individual poets)
  8. zh.wikipedia "唐诗" (most of this section is adapted from there, along with dates from the linked articles on individual poets)
  9. Murck, passim
  10. Graves, from "These Be Your Gods, O Israel," (138-139)
  • Chey, Ong Siew (2005). China Condensed: 5000 Years of History & Culture. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 139. ISBN 9812610677.
  • Graves, Robert (1969). ON POETRY: Collected Talks and Essays. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
  • Hinton, David (2008). Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. ISBN 0374105367 / ISBN 9780374105365.
  • Hoyt, Ed; Vanessa Lide Whitcomb, Michael Benson (2002). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Modern China. Alpha Books. pp. 27. ISBN 0028643860.
  • Jing-Schmidt, Zhuo (2005). Dramatized discourse: the Mandarin Chinese ba-construction. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 256. ISBN 9027215650.
  • >, accessed 15 July 2009.
  • Murck, Alfreda (2000). Poetry and Painting in Song China: The Subtle Art of Dissent. Cambridge (Massachusetts) and London: Harvard University Asia Center for the Harvard-Yenching Institute. ISBN 06740007824.

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