Li Bo Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in China, the ability to compose poetry became a part of the official examination system, through which candidates obtained government appointments and entered the upper echelons of society. Somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty thousand poems were composed by twenty-three hundred poets. The age became a golden one for poetry, particularly during the period extending from 713 to 765, which scholars have designated the High Tang, when the poetic genius of the time reached its pinnacle. Li Bo (lee boh), also known as Li Po, along with Du Fu (Tu Fu) and Wang Wei, is one of the three major poets of this period. He is one of China’s, and the world’s, best-loved poets.{$S[A]Li Po;Li Bo}

Because Li Bo was born in Turkestan and was known to be able to compose poetry in “another language,” people have often conjectured that he might have been Turkish in origin. It seems, however, that he was the descendant of a Chinese nobleman named Li Gao (related distantly to the founder of the Tang Dynasty, Li Yuan), who got into trouble in China and fled with his family to Turkestan. Li Ge, Li Bo’s father, moved the family back to the Chinese city of Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, when Li Bo was four years old.

As a young man, Li Bo’s inclinations lay in the direction not only of poetry but also of what might be called “natural science” and what his contemporaries considered Daoist magic; for example, he is said to have learned the art of taming wild birds. He was also an accomplished swordsman, a kind of Chinese knight-errant who took to heart the injustice of the world and righted the wrongs inflicted upon others. By the age of twenty, he had fought and won several duels.

By the time he was twenty-four, Li Bo had left home to make a name for himself and to initiate what would become a lifetime of wandering. He sailed east down the Yangtze River as far as Nanjing and Yangzhou, then returned upstream to Yumen in Hebei Province, where he married the granddaughter of a retired prime minister. He next appeared in Shanxi, where his testimony helped save a soldier named Guo Ziyi from court-martial.

Because of the extent to which poetry and government service were linked in traditional Chinese...

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(World Poets and Poetry)

Li Bo lived at the height of one of China’s richest eras of cultural and political greatness. The Tang Empire stretched in some places beyond the borders of China today, and trade flourished, ranging to India, Japan, the Middle East, and even Greece. The poets of Li Bo’s generation rode the crests of twin waves of innovation and the consolidation of earlier achievements. Despite the political instability that marred the final period of Li Bo’s life, he lived for forty-four of his sixty-odd years under an emperor whose reign is rightly called a golden age.

It is difficult to pin down the facts of Li Bo’s life. So colorful a figure naturally has inspired a number of legends. The poet evidently encouraged such...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Though legends about Li Bo (lee boh)—also known as Li Bai, Li Po, or Li Pai—abound, relatively little reliable biographical information about him has been preserved. Despite claiming an illustrious background, he, in fact, was born to an obscure family (the origins of which are impossible to trace, though it is variously thought to have been from Iran, Turkey, or Afghanistan) in 701, in Xinjiang Uygur, China (now in Chinese Turkistan). Wherever his birthplace, early in his life his family moved to Szechwan, a mountainous province in southwest China known for its sizable foreign merchant community; perhaps in that fact lies a clue to his family’s occupation. His undistinguished origins meant that in the capital, where...

(The entire section is 1011 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Contemporary readers often want a poet to enable them to see the familiar world afresh, but Li Bo’s readers expected his work to reveal knowledge of ancient poetic traditions. He gave them what they wanted—and more. To the old familiar subjects and themes, he brought a fresh vision that charged his poetry with spontaneity. His unrestrained vitality gives a scattered, exuberant energy to many of his poems. The inebriation that is so often associated with the man and his work could serve as poetic metaphor; life and nature in his poetry come across as intoxicating.