Cai Yan Composes Poetry About Her Capture by Nomads (Great Events from History: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)
Article abstract: Cai Yan, a Chinese woman, wrote poems about her capture by the nomadic Xiongnu, her subsequent ransom, and the heartache she felt at leaving two sons behind.
Summary of Event
The story of the life of the Chinese poet Cai Yan (or Cai Wenji, lady of refinement) is the locus of an important moment in both history and literature. Cai Yan’s experience has served until this day as an avatar of narratives about the tensions between cultures and peoples. The daughter of Cai Yong (Ts’ai Yong), an influential Han Dynasty (206 b.c.e.-220 c.e.) Chinese administrator and poet, Cai Yan was born in Yu of Chenliu. She was well educated and possessed a keen ear for both music and poetry, which she studied formally. She is believed to have used these talents in later life, to record her troubles in poetry and music. Cai Yong found a husband for Cai Yan, but he died after only a few years of marriage. This event was the first of many steps by which the young aristocratic lady became ever more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the world around her. Indeed, she seemed surrounded by threats; the prestige of her family within the Han ruling class was threatened by civil uprisings that would eventually supplant the Han Dynasty, Chinese tradition left little opportunity for a widow to remarry, and her father had no male heirs. When her father, a political prisoner in the wake of the uprising led by Dong Zhou (Tung Chou),...
(The entire section is 1216 words.)
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