Saturday, September 20, 2008

Yu Xuanji

Yu Xuanji , courtesy names Youwei and Huilan , was a born in Chang'an during the Tang Dynasty. She is distinctive for being the first Chinese poet to break the conventional passive voice of women in poetry and lyrics. She is the first Chinese feminist poet.

Yu was married as a concubine to Li Yi at 16, and after separating three years later she became a courtesan and a Daoist nun. She was a fellow of Wen Tingyun, to whom she addressed a number of poems. She died early, at the age of 26.

In her lifetime, her poems were published as a collection called ''Fragments of a Northern Dreamland'', which has been lost. The forty-nine surviving poems were collected in the Song Dynasty mainly for their freak value in an anthology that also included poems from ghosts and foreigners. Apart from names and dates in her poems, the tabloid-style Little Tablet from the Three Rivers gives the only facts about her life, although these are selacious in detail: that she had an affair with Wen Tingyun, lived a scandalously promiscuous life, and was executed for beating her maid to death.

In the 2000s, her work was translated by Stephen Owen, Justin Hill and David Young.

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