Meng Haoran was born in 689 during the Tang Dynasty. His birthplace was his parent’s family estate, South Garden, just outside the Chinese city of Xianyang in what is now Hubei province. His parents were small landowners, and he had two or three younger brothers and a sister. Meng’s family claimed to be the descendants of the fourth century b.c.e. philosopher Mencius (also known as Mengzi or Meng-tzu), and his parents named the boy Haoran, meaning vast, boundless, or great, after a famous passage written by Mencius.
As landowners, Meng’s parents could afford a classical education, stressing philosophy and literature, for the boy. This gave Meng the tools to create his poetry. In the fashion of the day, Meng exchanged his poems with fellow literate men. Meng married and had at least two sons.
At around the age of thirty, Meng started to write poetry to Tang Dynasty officials asking for an official appointment, as was usual for a young educated man. A surviving poem of that time makes reference to Meng’s aging mother, for whom the son cannot provide enough food. Scholars doubt that Meng’s mother really suffered from hunger and view this passage as a conventional way to justify Meng’s request for a job out of filial duty.
At this time, Meng started to travel. First, he visited Luoyang, the eastern capital of the Tang Dynasty, where he made many literary friends but failed to gain employment. His many further travels in China inspired Meng to write poems to his appreciative friends about his impressions of the natural sights he encountered. At the age of thirty-nine, in 728, Meng finally tried to pass the jinshi exam for an imperial appointment. He failed.
Returning to Xianyang, Meng fashioned himself as a poet recluse who renounced the bustle of the world, and he took up temporary residence at famous Lumen Shan (Deer...
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