Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Li Bai — Great Poet and Mysterious Swordsman

Li Bai (701 — 762), courtesy name as Taibai, art name as Qing Lian Ju Shi, respected as 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 the Tang Dynasty

As a glorious super star, Li Bai had travelled to many places in China, met with the emperor, and experienced one of the most flourishing eras in Chinese history. 

After the eight year long, destructive An-Shi Rebellion happened, he also had fought on battlefields, witnessed many cruel sides of the world, got imprisoned, and betrayed by his good friends. 

Li Bai use his extraordinary poems recorded and presented us many sides of the epoch that he lived, a great reign, fantastic sceneries, brilliant people, chaotic wars, so on and so forth. 

After having seen and experienced everything, Li Bai 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 about his family.

Some documents say that he was a descendant of a royal family from a perished kingdom, others say that he was a descendant of princes Li Jiancheng or Li Yuanji, who had competed the throne with Emperor Tang Tai Zong but failed. 

Anyway, Li Bai’s family was very rich. He was educated well, and spent many of his early years reading and studying in a beautiful fancy garden with amazing natural views. 

Meanwhile, he studied fencing and Taoism Religion from some brilliant masters. 

After he grew up, the handsome, wealthy Li Bai with extraordinary poetry and fencing skills, started his journey traveling around many places in China, where he left many amazing poems.

After having seen Li Bai’s extraordinary appearance, elegant behavior and great poems, many ministers and poets considered him as the reincarnation of a brilliant immortal.

Li Bai's Carefree Travels and His Serve in Royal Palace

During Li Bai’s traveling period, he also spent some time practicing Taoism, got married and had kids, and befriended with many people, include other intelligent poets, officials, royal Taoist, princess, etc. 

Meanwhile, when Li Bai was paying a visit to a friend, he saved a young soldier from being executed. Li Bai believed that this young man was brave and smart, and would achieve something wonderful in the future. 

It turned out that Li Bai was quite correct. This young soldier Guo Ziyi, a few decades later, became the most exceptional marshal that saved the Tang Dynasty for several times.

When Li Bai and his poems were getting more and more famous, 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 Li Bai, and nominated him to a political position.  

The emperor highly appreciated Li Bai, and showed his with great respect. 

During his serving period in the royal palace, Li Bai was awarded with a large amount of treasure, and treated as the most honorable guest. 

Restoration Picture of the Royal Daming Palace of the Tang Dynasty

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, love of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang and his favorite consort Yang Gui Fei, and to please some incapable officials. 

Hence, Li Bai decided to leave the capital city. The emperor felt pity, but still rewarded him a great deal of money.

Li Bai then continued his travelings and adventures, during when he became a professional Taoist priest and tried to visit immortals in many places. 

In some famous mountains that believed to have mysterious immortals living in, there are many of Li Bai's poems, inscriptions, or legends spreading.

The first part of Li Bai’s life was quite ideal: talented, famous, rich, and carefree. 

Li Bai's Inscription "Magnificent" (Zhuang Guan) in Mount Heng in Shanxi Province

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 northern borders had lasted for eight years, took away millions of lives, and 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 in an army that was led by a prince of Tang. 

Two years later, however, his prince rebelled, and lost. Li Bai, as one of the prince’s important officials, was also imprisoned and sentenced to death. 

Li Bai 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 solider Guo Ziyi that Li Bai had saved before, now was the chief commander of the Tang’s army, tried everything to save his life.

In the end, Li Bai got banished instead, and was set free two years later. 

Li Bai's Mysterious Depart 

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 way 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 drunk and tried to pick the moon up from the lake.

The most welcomed saying was that one night he went boating, and then vanished from 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 an ordinary person, whose two daughters married to ordinary peasants.

Some politicians who admired Li Bai suggested his two granddaughters to remarry to some nobles that were big fans of Li Bai, but they refused to do so. 

Afterwards, Li Bai's 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 beautiful views that he had seen.