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Li Po

Li Po (Wade-Giles), or Li Bo or Li Bai (李白 pinyin li3 bo2), also known as Li Taibo (pinyin) or Li T'ai-po (Wade-Giles) because his zi is 太白 (tai4 bo2) (701-762), was a Chinese poet.

He was considered the greatest romantic poet of the Tang dynasty. Renowned as the Poet Immortal (詩仙 pinyin shi1 xian1), he was among the most well-respected poets in China's literary history. Approximately 1,100 poems of his remain today. The western world was introduced to Li Po's works through the very liberal translations of Japanese versions of his poems made by Ezra Pound. Li Bo is best known for the extravagant imagination and striking Taoist imagery in his poetry, as well as for his great love of drink. He is said to have drowned in the Yangtze river, having fallen from his boat while drunkenly trying to embrace the moon.


Li Po was born the son of a rich merchant in today Sichuan province. He was influenced as a child by Confucian and Taoist as a child, but ultimately his family heritage did not provide him with much opportunity in the aristrocratic Tang dynasty. Though he expressed the wish to become an official, he did not sit for the Chinese civil service examination. Instead, beginning at age 25 he travelled around China, affecting a wild and free persona very much contrary to the prevailing ideas of a proper Confucian gentleman. This portrayal fascinated the aristocrats and common people alike and he was introduced to the Emperor Xuan Zong (玄宗, pinyin xuan2 zong1) around 742.

He was given a post at the Hanlin (翰林, pinyin han4 lin2) academy which served to provide a source of scholarly expertise for the emperor. Li Po passed less than two years as a poet in the Emperor's service, before he was exiled for slander. He fled south and was involved in the An Lushan Rebellion against the Tang dynasty. The failure of the rebellion resulted in Li Bai being exiled a second time, to Yelang. He was pardoned before the exile journey was complete and spent the remainder of his life wandering China.

Li Po died in Dangtu in modern day Anhui. Despite what legend would have, scholars believe his death was the result of mercury poisoning due to a long history of imbuing Taoist longevity elixirs.


One of Li Po's most famous poems is "Drinking Alone under the Moon" (月下獨酌, pinyin yue4 xia4 du2 zhuo2), which is a good example of some of the most famous aspects of his poetry --- a very spontaneous poem, full of natural imagery and anthropomorphism.

See also: Classical Chinese poetry, List of Chinese language poets

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