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The Greatest Social Realist Poet of the Tang Dynasty: Du Fu

Art is power. It takes account of the intentions, motivations, and reasons for human action. The compelling power of art is beyond aesthetics.

Politics and arts were always intertwined. It is perhaps one of the aptest mediums for political criticism. It transformed from merely a mimetic tool into a corrective instrument that challenges the incompetency of people in power.

Consequently, intellectuals will always utilize such a powerful tool. After all, swords and stones may break the bones. However, pen and paper can utterly change the world. Among the people who employed such power is Du Fu; undoubtedly, one of the best realist poets of the Tang Dynasty.

chinese poet Du Fu
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1. Who is Du Fu?

Du Fu 杜甫 (Dù Fǔ) was born on February 12, 712 during the cusp of the seasons.  Growing up, he lived a stable life. However, his eyes eventually opened to the world. That is perhaps one of the reasons why he is one of the great realist poets of the Tang Dynasty. The longing for social reform was fossilized in his genes.

Du Fu 杜甫 (Dù Fǔ) was born in Gongxian 巩县 (Gǒng xiàn) county. He later moved Henan 河南 (Hé nán) province. However, his roots were originally from Xiangyang 襄阳 (Xiāng yang), Hubei 湖北 (Hú běi) Province. Du Fu often went by many names. They sometimes call him Zimei 子美 (Zǐ měi) and styled him Shaoling Yelao 少陵野老 (Shǎolíng Yělǎo).

Du Fu was a troubled genius. He wanted to change the world. And he did, through art. Today, we will delve into the life of a prominent literary artist who harnessed the power of pen and paper like no other. Let’s explore the life of Du Fu.

2. Du Fu’s Life Experience 

Du fu’s childhood was relatively harmless. He was born in an affluent family that gave him security and stability. His life was prosperous. Consequently, he was able to enjoy a free and pleasant life. At a young age, he was already academic. He was studious and could write poetry before he was an adolescent. 

After quite some time, Du Fu traveled to Wu Yue 吴越 (Wú Yuè) and Qi Zhao 齐赵 (QíZhào). During this travel, he wrote one of his masterpieces entitled “Looking at Yue.” The poem also revealed one of his best lines “be ling extremely, see the mountains small, and reveal the poet boyhood extraordinary ambition.” Du Fu was ecstatic during this period. 

When Du Fu entered middle life, he decided to take a political position. Consequently, he went to Chang’an to take the examination. Unfortunately, he failed. During this period, corruption and nepotism exacerbated the growing poverty in China. Du Fu was later slapped with this truth when he presented to the emperor and the nobles. He saw the difference between the rich and the poor. He was indignant. After all, while the aristocrats enjoy their lavish lifestyle, many peasants are dying due to starvation. One of these people is Du Fu’s son. Using his grief and anger, Du Fu wrote From Beijing to Fengxian 奉先 (Fèng xiān) County wing 500 Words” as a political protest. 

During this time, the imperial government is receiving many criticisms and protests from the people. There is growing unrest among the people. They want social reform. Consequently, In the 14th year of Tianbao 天宝 (Tiānbǎo) (755), the An Shi 安史 (Ān Shǐ) Rebellion broke out. The rebels seized Tongguan 潼关 (Tóng guān), and Du Fu 杜甫 (Dù Fǔ) passed many places successively. As he observed how the situation escalated, he thought of ways to suppress the rebel group, An Shi. However, he was reluctant. That is because he agrees that the current system requires change. An shi does not want fame or power. They want a social reform that will reduce the burden on the poor. Du Fu stan the strong patriotic fervor

In April of 757, Guo Ziyi’s army arrived north of Chang ‘an. Du Fu 杜甫 (Dù Fǔ) ventured out of Chang ‘an through the Golden Gate in the west of the city and crossed the two opposing armies from Fengxiang to defect Su Zong. Later, the emperor promoted Du Fu into a Zuo Shiyi. However, he incurred the emperor’s wrath by rescuing Fang Guan. Hence, they demoted Du Fu into Huzhou.

In the second year of the Reign of Emperor Qianyuan (759), Du Fu abandoned his official position and went to Sichuan. He was nearing retirement age. He merely wanted peace. He led a stable, secure, and peaceful life in the outskirts. However, he still stayed in touch with the current affairs. His official reign and position may be over, but his love for the people and his country will never be. 

Five years into retirement, Du Fu died due to an illness. At the age of fifty-nine, he rewrites history with his name in it as one of the greatest realist poets in the Tang Dynasty. His superb mastery of prosody and literary genres remains unequaled to this day. His refined poetry rooted in superb classicism revolutionized classical Chinese poetry forever. 

3. Du Fu’s Works 

Collating over 500 astounding pieces in different genres and themes, it is not shocking for Du Fu to be one of the greatest. His mastery of poems is truly astounding. Incredibly so, people across history recognize his literary genius. 

It is not an overstatement to say that all his works are masterpieces. However, there are still works that stand above the rest. These works are Ascending the Heights 登高 (Dēng gāo), Spring Outlook 春望 (Chūn wàng) and The North March 北征 (Běi Zhēng), as well as Three Officials 三吏 (Sān Lì), Three Lefting 三别 (Sān Bié). About 1,500 poems of Du Fu 杜甫 (Dù Fǔ) have been preserved, most of which are collected in the Collection of Du Gongbu 杜工部 (Dù Gōngbù).

4. Du Fu’s Philosophy

Du Fu was a simple man with a simple dream. He wanted a benevolent government that was inclusive to everyone regardless of their social status. 

Consequently, he had a grand ambition of “sending the emperor Yao and Shun, then making the customs of Chun.” 致君尧舜上,再使风俗淳 (zhì jūn yáo shùn shàng, zài shǐ fēng sú chún.)

5. Du Fu’s Characters 

Du Fu was a man of values. He sees the world in a different light. He is calm and serious most of the time. However, he does express his jolly side. He loves making friends and hanging out with people. He has a deep concern for the people, especially the poor, and the preservation of the truth. He is also a man of integrity. He never gave in to the pressure of money or fame. He only sought the truth. 

6. Explain the knowledge

诗圣 (shī shèng): be poet of high attainments

贬谪 (biǎn zhé): relegation


Shī shèng shì zhǐ shī rén zhōng de shèng rén 。

诗  圣   是 指 诗 人  中   的  圣   人。

A poet sage is a saint among poets.

Wǒ guó Táng cháo shí qī de wěi dà shī rén Dù Fǔ bèi hòu shì chēng wéi shī shèng 。

我  国  唐  朝  时 期的 伟 大 诗 人 杜 甫 被 后  世  称   为 诗  圣  。

Du Fu, the great poet of tang Dynasty, was called the sage of poetry by later generations.

Sū Shì céng jīng bèi biǎn zhé dào Huì zhōu 。

苏 轼 曾  经  被  贬  谪 到  惠  州 。

Su Shi was relegated to Huizhou.

Bái Jūyì bèi biǎn zhé shí nèi xīn shì shí fēn tòng kǔ de 。

白 居易 被 贬  谪 时 内 心 是 十 分  痛  苦 的。

When Bai Juyi was relegated, his heart was very painful.


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