Du Fu 杜甫

The sage of Chinese poetry


Chinese Name: 杜甫

English Name: Du Fu

Other Names: Du Shaoling 杜少陵, Du Gongbu 杜工部, Du Shiyi 杜拾遗, Du Caotang 杜草

Born: February 12, 712

Died: 770


A great realistic writer in the Tang Dynasty 唐代伟大的现实主义文学作家

A master of the thought and art of Tang Poetry 唐诗思想艺术的集大成者

Main Works:

Wangyue 望岳

Denggao 登高

Three officials 三吏

Three farewell 三别

Du Fu 杜甫
Du Fu 杜甫

Brief Biography of Du Fu

Du Fu is a great realist poet in the Tang Dynasty 唐朝. He and Li Bai are called “Li Du 李杜”. In order to distinguish from the other two poets Li Shangyin 李商隐 and Du Mu 杜牧, namely “Xiao Li Du 小李杜”, he and Li Bai are also called “big Li Du 大李杜”, and Du Fu is often called “old Du 老杜”.

Du Fu (February 12, 712~ 770), courtesy name of Zimei 子美, was born in Gongxian County 巩县, Henan Province 河南省, and was originally from Xiangyang 襄阳, Hubei Province 湖北省. In his youth, he visited Wu Yue 吴越 and Qi Zhao 齐赵 successively, during which he went to Luoyang 洛阳 and failed the examination.

Du Fu 杜甫
The statue of Du Fu 杜甫塑像

After age 35, he first took the exam in Chang’an 长安 and failed; Later, he offered gifts to the emperor and the nobles. He went through the failure of officialdom and witnessed the extravagance and social crisis of the upper class in the Tang Dynasty. In the 14th year of Tianbao 天宝 (755), the Anshi rebellion 安史之乱 broke out, Tongguan 潼关 was lost, and Du Fu moved to many places.

In the second year of the reign of emperor Qianyuan乾元 (759), he abandoned his official post and entered Sichuan 四川. Although he avoided the war and lived a relatively stable life, he still cared about ordinary people and was mindful of state affairs.

Du Fu created famous works such as climbing high 登高, spring hope 春望, Northern Expedition 北征, three officials 三吏, and three farewells 三别. Although he is a realistic poet, he also has a wild and unrestrained side. It is not difficult to see Du Fu’s heroic spirit in his famous work the Eight Immortals in drinking 饮中八仙歌.

In the winter of the 5th year of Dali 大历 (770), he died of illness at the age of 59. Du Fu’s influence on Chinese classical poetry is very profound, and he is honored as “the sage of poetry 诗圣” by later generations. His poems are called “the history of poetry 诗史”. Later generations called him Du Shiyi 杜拾遗 and Du Gongbu 杜工部, and also called him Du Shaoling 杜少陵 and Du Caotang 杜草堂.

Personal Life and Major Contributions

Travel in his youth

In the 19th year of Kaiyuan 开元 (731), the 19-year-old Du Fu went on a trip to Fuxia 郇瑕 (now Linyi 临猗, Shanxi 山西). At the age of 20, he roamed Wu and Yue for several years. In the 23rd year of Kaiyuan (735), he returned to his hometown to participate in the “township tribute 乡贡”. In the 24th year of Kaiyuan (736), Du Fu took the entrance examination in Luoyang and failed. His father was the commander-in-chief of Yanzhou 兖州 at that time. Du Fu then went to Yanzhou to visit his relatives.

Together with Su Yuanming 苏源明 and others, he went to the Qi Zhao plain for the second time. Probably at this time, his father was working as a Sima 司马 in Yanzhou. He lived a “happy” life in the Qi and Zhao dynasties for four or five years, and also left some of the earliest extant poems.

Du Fu 杜甫
Li Bai 李白

In April of the third year of Tianbao (744), Du Fu met Li Bai 李白, who was released by Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty 唐玄宗 (618 – 907), in Luoyang. They agreed to travel together in the Liang 梁 and Song 宋 (now Kaifeng and Shangqiu in Henan Province) and met with the poet Gao Shi 高适, and this is the third travel. After that, Du Fu went to Qizhou 齐洲 (now Jinan 济南, Shandong Province 山东省).

War and chaos

In November of the 14th year of Tianbao 天宝 (755), the Anshi rebellion 安史之乱 broke out. In June of the following year, Tongguan lost, and Xuanzong fled in panic. In July, Prince Li Heng 李亨 ascended the throne in Lingwu 灵武 (now Lingwu City 灵武市, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region 宁夏回族自治区), and he was the Suzong of the Tang Dynasty 唐肃宗.

Du Fu 杜甫
Anshi rebellion 安史之乱

At this time, Du Fu had moved his family to Qiang village 羌村 in Fuzhou 鄜州 (now Fu County 富县, Shanxi Province 陕西省) to seek refuge. He heard that Suzong had ascended the throne, and went north alone in August to Lingwu. Unfortunately, he was captured by the rebels on the way and was taken to Chang’an. Wang Wei 王维, who was also captured, was strictly guarded. Du Fu was not imprisoned because he was a small official. Despite his personal misfortunes, Du Fu was always worried about the country and the people.

Die in a boat

In the 3rd year of Dali (768), Du Fu was homesick. He took a boat out of the gorge, first to Jiangling 江陵, and then to the Gongan 公安. At the end of the year, in the winter, he drifted to Yueyang 岳阳, Hunan 湖南, and moored under the Yueyang Tower 岳阳楼.

When he ascended the Yueyang Tower, which he has been fascinated by for a long time, he looked away from the porch and faced the vast and boundless Dongting Lake 洞庭湖. He thought of his wandering in his old age and the country’s many disasters. He was filled with emotion, so he wrote: “ascend the Yueyang Tower 登岳阳楼”.

Du Fu 杜甫
Yueyang Tower 岳阳楼

In the 5th year of Dali (770), Zang Yu 臧玠 made a riot in Tanzhou 潭州, and Du Fu fled to Hengzhou 衡州. Originally, he intended to go to Chenzhou 郴州 to seek refuge with his uncle Cui Yu 崔湋. However, when he came to Leiyang 耒阳, he had to stop at Fangtian post 方田驿 when the river rose sharply. He didn’t eat anything for five days. Fortunately, the county magistrate Nie sent someone to send wine and meat to save him.

Later, Du Fu had to travel more than 100 kilometers upstream from Leiyang to Chenzhou. At this time, the flood did not subside. Du Fu was determined to return to the north. At this time, he changed his plan and went down the river to return to Tanzhou. In the winter of the 5th year of Dali (770), Du Fu died on a boat from Tanzhou to Yueyang when he was 59 years old.

Video: The Sage of Poetry Du Fu Part I

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