Li Bai — Great Poet and Mysterious Swordsman
Li Bai (701 — 762), courtesy name Taibai, art name Qing Lian Ju Shi, respected as the God of Poetry in Chinese culture, has been the representative of romantic, brilliant, carefree, and legendary.
His poems ranked first, while his fencing skill ranked second in Tang, according to many folklores.
Great Poet Li Bai of the Tang Dynasty, Painted by Artist Gu Bingxin.
After the eight-year-long, destructive An-Shi Rebellion outburst, he also fought on the battlefield, witnessed countless cruel fights and separations, got imprisoned, and was betrayed by his good friends.
Li Bai used his extraordinary poems, recorded and presented us with many sides of the epoch that he lived in: a great reign, fantastic sceneries, brilliant people, chaotic wars, and so on and so forth.
After having seen and experienced everything, he still had never lost his heroic and romantic spirit.
Nowadays, every Chinese could recite a few of his extraordinary poems, about love, friendship, family, ambition, scenery, emotion, vision, and the glorious epoch of the Tang Dynasty.
Calligraphy of Li Bai "Shang Yang Tai Tie" — Palace Museum
Mysterious Origin of Li Bai
Among countless poems and articles that Li Bai left in the world, he rarely mentioned his family.
Some documents say that he was a descendant of a royal family from a perished kingdom, while others say that he was a descendant of Prince Li Jiancheng or Prince Li Yuanji, who had competed for the throne with Emperor Tang Taizong but failed.
Anyway, his family was very rich.
He was educated well and spent most of his early years reading and studying in a beautiful fancy garden with amazing natural views in Sichuan province.
Meanwhile, he studied fencing and Taoism Religion from some brilliant masters.
Golden Dragons (Zou Long) that Were Used as Ritual Implements of Taoism Religion Ceremony in Tang — Shaanxi History Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Carefree Travels Around the Nation
After he grew up, the handsome, wealthy Li Bai with extraordinary fencing skills, started his journey traveling around many places in China, where he left many amazing poems.
After having seen his extraordinary appearance, elegant behavior, and brilliant poems, many ministers and poets considered him the reincarnation of an immortal.
During his traveling period, he also spent some time practicing Taoism, got married and had kids, and befriended many people, including other intelligent poets, officials, royal Taoists, princesses, etc.
Meanwhile, when he was paying a visit to a friend, he saved a young soldier from being executed. He believed that this young man was brave and smart, and would achieve something wonderful in the future.
It turned out that this was quite a brilliant decision.
This young soldier Guo Ziyi, a few decades later, became the most exceptional marshal that saved the Tang Dynasty several times.
Brocade Embroidery of Tang — Datang Xishi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Serving in Royal Palace
When he and his poems were getting more and more great reputations, the current emperor Li Longji the Emperor Xuanzong of Tang was also impressed by his talent.
Soon, under the recommendation of a princess and a famous official, the emperor finally met him and awarded him a political position.
The emperor highly appreciated him and respected Li Bai as one of the greatest poets of the Tang empire.
During his serving period in the royal palace, he was awarded a large amount of treasure and treated as the most honorable guest.
Building Complex of Daming Palace, the Royal Palace of the Tang Dynasty, Based on Architectural Historian Yang Hongxun's Restored Model.
Leaving the Royals and Setting Out the Journey
Three years later, Li Bai found that serving the royal family was not what he liked.
He didn't want to only write poems about fabulous imperial banquets, the beautiful imperial consort Yang Gui Fei, and to please incapable officials.
Hence, he decided to leave the capital city.
The emperor felt pity but still rewarded him with a great deal of money.
Li Bai then continued his travels and adventures, when he became a professional Taoist priest and tried to visit immortals in many places.
In some famous mountains that are believed to have mysterious immortals living in, there are many of his poems, inscriptions, or legends spread.
The first part of his life was quite ideal: talented, famous, rich, and carefree.
Wandering in War, Prison, and Exile
In the year 755, the An-Shi Rebellion outburst.
This large-scale, destructive rebel war that was initiated by two generals garrisoning in the northern borders lasted for eight years and took away millions of lives, which was the turning point of the Tang Dynasty.
In the beginning, Li Bai was forced to move frequently because of the war.
Soon, he realized that this war was much more serious than he had expected, so he joined an army that was led by a prince of Tang to fight and defend the empire.
Calligraphy Draft Written by Yan Zhenqing (709 — 784) to Memorize His Heroically Sacrificed Nephew, in Which Recorded Brave Soldiers of Tang and the Intense Fights in the An-Shi Rebellion — Taipei Museum
Two years later, however, the prince rebelled and lost.
Li Bai, one of the prince’s important officials, was also imprisoned and sentenced to death.
He wrote and asked for help from some good friends, who were powerful officials or generals at that time, but no one answered.
Only the brave young soldier Guo Ziyi whom he had saved before, now the chief commander of the Tang’s army, tried everything to save his life.
In the end, Li Bai got banished instead of being executed.
Two years later, he was finally set free, and started his wandering journey along the Yangtze River area.
Wu Gorge or Wuxia of Yangtze River, Photo from CNG.
When Li Bai was released, he was already 58 years old, and his financial situation was not good.
Three years later, he left the world.
Some said that Li Bai passed away because of sickness when he was trying to rejoin the army of Tang and continue to fight against the rebellions.
Others said that he died because of over-drink, or he fell off his boat and drowned when he was drinking wine and tried to embrace the reflection of the moon in the lake.
The most welcomed saying was that he was originally a banished immortal, one night when he was boating, he and his boat vanished into the horizon where water meets sky and left the world forever.
Perhaps, a brilliant genius with large numbers of masterpieces and beautiful legends deserves a dreamy and mysterious ending.
Li Bai had two sons and one daughter. His daughter passed away young, and one of his sons went traveling and left the public view after he had grown up.
His other son lived as a common person, whose two daughters married ordinary peasants.
Some politicians who admired him suggested his two granddaughters remarry some nobles that were big fans of Li Bai, but they refused to do so.
Afterward, his family disappeared from the public forever.
What he left in the world are large numbers of splendid poems describing the era that he had lived in, and the beautiful views that he had seen.
Some Famous Verses from Li Bai's Poems
A time will come to ride the wind and cleave the waves, I'll set my cloud-white sail and cross the sea which raves. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)
Heaven has made our talents, we're not made in vain; a thousand gold coins spent, more will turn up again. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)
We see the ancient moon no more, but it has shone on men of yore. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)
Floating clouds are like parting travelers, lingering sunset is like longing for friends.
Joy in the world is also the same, everything in the past flew away as water run east.
The palace was once filled with ladies of flowery, now lingered by partridges on ruins of dreary.
With an ambitious desire to fly up high, and pluck the moon from the sky.
Riding a white horse wearing a shining silver saddle, galloping dashingly like a meteor.
Mythical bird Peng will take off with the wind someday, soaring tens of thousands of miles away.
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