Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC) was a Chinese poet and minister
who lived during the
Warring States period
Warring States period of ancient China. He is
known for his patriotism and contributions to classical poetry and
verses, especially through the poems of the
Chu Ci anthology (also
known as The Songs of the South or Songs of Chu): a volume of poems
attributed to or considered to be inspired by his verse writing.
Together with the Shi Jing, the
Chu Ci is one of the two greatest
collections of ancient Chinese verse. He is also remembered as the
supposed origin of the Dragon Boat Festival.
Historical details about Qu Yuan's life are few, and his authorship of
Chu Ci poems has been questioned at length. However, he is
widely accepted to have written Li Sao, the most well-known of the Chu
Ci poems. The first known reference to
Qu Yuan appears in a poem
written in 174 BC by Jia Yi, an official from
Luoyang who was
slandered by jealous officials and banished to
Changsha by Emperor Wen
of Han. While traveling, he wrote a poem describing the similar fate
of a previous "Qu Yuan." Eighty years later, the first known
biography of Qu Yuan's life appeared in
Han Dynasty historian Sima
Qian's Records of the Grand Historian, though it contains a number of
2.1 Chu Ci
2.4 Dragon Boat Festival
3 See also
5 Further reading
6 External links
Sima Qian's biography of
Qu Yuan in the Records of the Grand Historian
(Shiji), though circumstantial and probably influenced greatly by
Sima's own identification with Qu, is the only source of
information on Qu's life. Sima wrote that Qu was a member of the
Chu royal clan and served as an official under King Huai of Chu
(reigned 328–299 BC).
During the early days of King Huai's reign,
Qu Yuan was serving the
State of Chu as its Left Minister. However, King Huai exiled Qu
Yuan to the region north of the Han River, because corrupt ministers
slandered him and influenced the king. Eventually,
Qu Yuan was
reinstated and sent on a diplomatic mission to the State of Qi. He
tried to resume relations between Chu and Qi, which King Huai had
broken under the false pretense of
King Hui of Qin to cede territory
During King Qingxiang's reign, Prime Minister Zilan slandered Qu
Yuan. This caused Qu Yuan's exile to the regions south of the
Yangtze River. It is said that
Qu Yuan returned first to his home
town. In his exile, he spent much of this time collecting legends and
rearranging folk odes while traveling the countryside. Furthermore, he
wrote some of the greatest poetry in
Chinese literature and expressed
deep concerns about his state. According to legend, his anxiety
brought him to an increasingly troubled state of health. During his
depression, he would often take walks near a certain well to look upon
his thin and gaunt reflection in the water. This well became known as
the "Face Reflection Well." On a hillside in Xiangluping (at
present-day Zigui County,
Hubei Province), there is a well that is
considered to be the original well from the time of Qu Yuan.[citation
In 278 BC, learning of the capture of his country's capital, Ying, by
Bai Qi of the state of Qin,
Qu Yuan is said to have collected
folktales and written the lengthy poem of lamentation called "Lament
for Ying". Eventually, he committed suicide by wading into the Miluo
River in today's
Hunan Province while holding a rock. The reason why
he took his life remained controversial and was argued by Chinese
scholars for centuries.Typical explanations including martyrdom for
his deeply beloved but falling motherland, which was suggested by the
Zhu Xi of Song Dynasty, or feeling extreme despair to the
situation of the politics in Chu while his lifelong political dream
would never be realized. But according to Yu Fu, widely considered to
be written by Qu himself or at least, a person who was very familiar
with Qu, his suicide was an ultimate way to protect his innocence and
life principles.
Qu Yuan as depicted in the Nine Songs, imprint of presumably the 14th
Qu Yuan is regarded as the first author of verse in
China to have his
name associated to his work, since prior to that time, poetic works
were not attributed to any specific authors. He is considered to have
initiated the so-called sao style of verse, which is named after his
work Li Sao, in which he abandoned the classic four-character verses
used in poems of
Shi Jing and adopted verses with varying lengths.
This resulted in poems with more rhythm and latitude in expression. Qu
Yuan is also regarded as one of the most prominent figures of
Romanticism in Chinese classical literature, and his masterpieces
influenced some of the greatest Romanticist poets in Tang Dynasty such
as Li Bai. During the Han Dynasty,
Qu Yuan became established as a
heroic example of how a scholar and official who was denied public
recognition suitable to their worth should behave.
Main article: Chu Ci
Chu was located in what is now the
Yangzi River area of central China.
At this time, Chu represented the southern fringe of the Chinese
cultural area, having for a time been part of both the Shang Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty empires; however, the Chu culture also retained
certain characteristics of local traditions such as shamanism, the
influence of which can be seen in the Chu Ci.
Chu Ci was compiled and annotated by Wang Yi (died AD 158), which
is the source of transmission of these poems and any reliable
information about them to subsequent times; thus, the role which Qu
Yuan had in the authoring, editing, or retouching of these works
remains unclear. The
Chu Ci poems are important as being direct
precursors of the fu style of
Han Dynasty literature. The Chu Ci,
as a preservation of early literature, has provided invaluable data
for linguistic research into the history of the Chinese language, from
Chen Di on.
Following his suicide,
Qu Yuan was sometimes revered as a water god,
including by Taiwanese Taoists, who number him among the Kings of the
See also: Chinese nationalism
Qu Yuan began to be treated in a nationalist way as "China's first
patriotic poet" during World War II. Wen Yiduo—a socialist poet
and scholar later executed by the KMT—wrote in his Mythology &
Poetry that, "although
Qu Yuan did not write about the life of the
people or voice their sufferings, he may truthfully be said to have
acted as the leader of a people's revolution and to have struck a blow
to avenge them.
Qu Yuan is the only person in the whole of Chinese
history who is fully entitled to be called 'the people's poet'."
Guo Moruo's 1942 play Qu Yuan gave him similar treatment, drawing
Hamlet and King Lear. Their view of Qu's social
idealism and unbending patriotism became canonical under the People's
China after the 1949 Communist victory in the Chinese
Civil War. For example, one high-school Chinese textbook from
1957 began with the sentence "
Qu Yuan was the first great patriotic
poet in the history of our country's literature". This cult status
increased Qu Yuan's position within China's literary canon, seeing him
placed on postage stamps since the 1950s and the
Dragon Boat Festival
Dragon Boat Festival elevated to a national holiday in 2005. It has,
however, come at the expense of more the critical scholarly appraisals
of Qu Yuan's historicity and alleged body of work that had developed
during the late Qing and early Republic.
Dragon Boat Festival
Qu Yuan on a dragon boat, on display for the Dragon Boat
Festival, in Singapore
Main article: Dragon Boat Festival
Popular legend has it that villagers carried their dumplings and boats
to the middle of the river and desperately tried to save
Qu Yuan after
he immersed himself in the Miluo but were too late to do so. However,
in order to keep fish and evil spirits away from his body, they beat
drums and splashed the water with their paddles, and they also threw
rice into the water both as a food offering to Qu Yuan's spirit and
also to distract the fish away from his body. However, the legend
continues, that late one night, the spirit of
Qu Yuan appeared before
his friends and told them that he died because he had taken himself
under the river. Then, he asked his friends to wrap their rice into
three-cornered silk packages to ward off the dragon.
These packages became a traditional food known as zongzi, although the
lumps of rice are now wrapped in leaves instead of silk. The act of
racing to search for his body in boats gradually became the cultural
tradition of dragon boat racing, held on the anniversary of his death
every year. Today, people still eat zongzi and participate in dragon
boat races to commemorate Qu Yuan's sacrifice on the fifth day of the
fifth month of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. The
countries around China, such as Vietnam and Korea, also celebrate
variations of this
Dragon Boat Festival
Dragon Boat Festival as part of their shared
cultural heritage.
Classical Chinese poetry
^ a b c CUHK (2007), p. 205.
^ Knechtges (2010), p. 745.
^ Kern (2010), p. 76.
^ Zhao Kuifu 趙逵夫, "Riben xin de
Qu Yuan fouding lun Chansheng de
Lishi Beijing yu Sixiang Genyuan Chutan" 日本新的
“屈原否定論” 產生的歷史背景與思想根源初探, in
Fuyin Baokan Ziliao, Zhongguo Gudai Jindai Wenxue Yanjiu
複印報刊資料，中國古代近代文學研究, (1995: 10):
^ Quoted in Ban Gu's Book of Han biography of Jia Yi
《漢書·賈誼傳》, also appears in Wenxuan, "Diào Qū Yuán
^ Hawkes (1959), p. 52.
^ Hawkes (1959), 53-54.
^ Hartman (1986), p. 352.
^ a b c d CUHK (2007), p. 206
^ CUHK (2007), p. 205–6
^ a b Davis, xlvii
^ Hinton, 80
^ Yip, 54
^ Davis, xlviii
^ "Shuexian Deities", Official site, Tainan: Grand Matsu Temple,
^ a b c d Hawkes (1974), p. 42.
^ Wen (1956).
^ Guo (1952).
^ Zhang (1957).
"Qu Yuan", China: Five Thousand Years of History and Civilization,
Kowloon: City University of Hong Kong Press, 2007, pp. 205–6,
Davis, Albert Richard, ed. (1970), The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse,
London: Penguin Books .
Guo Moruo (1952), 《屈原》 [Qu Yuan], Beijing: Renmin Wenxue
Chubanshe . (in Chinese)
Hartman, Charles (1986). "Ch'ü Yüan 屈原". The Indiana Companion
to Traditional Chinese Literature, Volume 1. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press. p. 352. ISBN 0-253-32983-3.
Hawkes, David (1959), Ch'u Tz'u: The Songs of the South, an Ancient
Chinese Anthology, Oxford: Clarendon Press .
Hawkes, David (1974), "The Quest of the Goddess", Studies in Chinese
Literary Genres, Berkeley: University of California Press,
pp. 42–68, ISBN 0-520-02037-5 .
Hinton, David (2008), Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology, New
York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, ISBN 978-0-374-10536-5 .
Kern, Martin (2010). "Early Chinese literature, Beginnings through
Western Han". The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Volume 1:
To 1375. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–115.
Knechtges, David R. (2010). "
Qu Yuan 屈原". Ancient and Early
Medieval Chinese Literature: A Reference Guide, Part One. Leiden:
Brill. pp. 745–749. ISBN 978-90-04-19127-3.
Wen Yiduo (1956), "人民的詩人一屈原 [Rénmín de
Shīrén—Qū Yuán, Qu Yuan: The People's Poet]", 《神話與詩》
[Shénhuà yú Shī, Mythology & Poetry], Guji Chubanshe .
Yip Wai-lim (1997), Chinese Poetry: An Anthology of Major Modes and
Genres, Durham: Duke University Press, ISBN 0-8223-1946-2 .
Zhang Zongyi (1957), 《屈原舆楚辭》 [Qū Yuán yú Chǔcí, Qu
Yuan and the Songs of Chu], Changchun: Jilin Renmin Chubanshe .
Schneider, Laurence A. (1980). A Madman of Ch'u: The Chinese Myth of
Loyalty and Dissent. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Watson, Burton, trans. (1993).
Records of the Grand Historian
Records of the Grand Historian (Rev.
ed.). New York: Columbia Univ. Press. ISBN 0-231-08164-2.
Waley, Arthur (1973). The Nine Songs; a Study of
Shamanism in Ancient
China. San Francisco: City Lights Books.
Watson, Burton (1962). Early Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia
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