Bai Juyi

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  • Born: 772
  • Died: 846
  • Other Names: 楽天 (C: Letian / J: Rakuten)
  • Chinese / Japanese: 白居易 (Bai Juyi, Bo Juyi / Haku Kyoi)

Bai Juyi, along with Du Fu, Li Bai, and Wang Wei, is considered one of the greatest Chinese poets in history. He is perhaps best known for authoring the "Song of Everlasting Sorrow" (C: Changhen ge, J: Chôgonka), a lengthy poem which tells the story of Imperial concubine Yang Guifei.

He was originally from Taiyuan in Shanxi province, and later led a successful career as a scholar-bureaucrat at the Imperial Court. Bai's father, an assistant governor, died in 794, and so for a time, Bai, his mother, and his two brothers, moved around the country, living with relatively alternately in Suzhou, Hangzhou, and outside the capital. He passed the local civil service examinations in 799, and the national exams the following year, after which he composed a collection of one hundred statements on government & society, which he had published. Among these was an argument against the ban on members of the merchant & artisan classes sitting for the exams; the ban was eased shortly afterwards.

Bai was a staunch defender of Confucianism and critic of Imperial excess and ostentation; his poetry has been described as clear and intelligible, being written in a plain, accessible style.


  • Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 230.
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