Li Qingzhao Analysis

Other literary forms

Li Qingzhao (lee chihng-JOW) was a serious scholar of antiquities and objets d’art and compiled book annotations and catalogs of antiques with her husband Zhao Mingcheng. An essay appended to one of the catalogs, Jinshilu houxi (c. 1135; epilogue to a catalog of inscriptions on bronze and stone), is a major source of biographical information. She also wrote a brief critical essay on ci poetry. A number of other prose pieces were collected posthumously, but nearly all of them are now lost.


Li Qingzhao’s gender has certainly affected critical response to her work and has given her the mixed blessing of being regarded as “China’s greatest poetess,” but the high quality of her work is beyond question. It is impossible to know to what extent the preservation and transmission of those of her texts that have survived were influenced by traditional ideas of what kinds of poems were appropriate for women to write. Clearly, she understood and used the voices and the literary gestures of China’s rich heritage of female persona poetry. Equally clearly, she could and did write on themes—politics and mysticism among them—outside the range found in the extant work of most Chinese literary women before the modern era.

One strength of Li Qingzhao’s work, then, is its emotional variety. There are love poems ranging from the melancholy to the erotic. There are poems of despair at old age or at the defeat of the Northern Song Dynasty. Some poems exhort those in power to moral rectitude; others suggest with transcendental imagery the glories of spiritual transport to a world beyond this one.

Equally important are Li Qingzhao’s contributions to the ci verse form. Her critical comments on the work of other ci poets suggest the seriousness with which she approached her art, as well as her capacity for innovation. At a time when the shi form—which had dominated Chinese poetry for nearly a millennium—was...

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Chang, Kang-i Sun, and Haun Saussy, eds. Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999. Part 1 of this anthology contains the poets’ works, divided by dynasty, and part 2 contains criticism. Biographies of the poets, including Li Qingzhao, are included. Bibliography and index.

Djao, Wei. A Blossom like No Other: Li Qingzhao. Toronto, Ont.: Ginger Post, 2010. A biography of the Chinese poet, with analysis of her works.

Hansen, Valerie. “Li Qingzhao.” Calliope 13, no. 4 (December, 2002): 24. A brief profile of the poet and her works.

Hu, P’ing-ch’ing. Li Ch’ing-chao. New York: Twayne, 1966. This critical study on Li Qingzhao treats both her life and her works in great detail and provides one with a clear sense of her achievements. Most of her famous poems are translated in a lucid, though sometimes prosaic, style.

Idema, W. L., and Beata Grant. The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, Harvard University Press, 2004. This work on women writers in China includes a chapter on Li Qingzhao and her writing. Other chapters shed light on the culture in which she wrote.

Li Qingzhao. The Complete Ci-Poems of Li Qingzhao. Translated by Jizosheng Wang. Philadelphia: Department of Oriental Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 1989. A translation that strives to be accurate to the Chinese texts. Bilingual text.

_______. Li Ch’ing-chao: Complete Poems. Translated and edited by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung. New York: New Directions, 1979. A collection of Li Qingzhao’s poetry, with critical notes and a biography.

Rexroth, Kenneth, and Ling Chung, eds. Women Poets of China. Rev. ed. New York: New Directions, 1990. This collection of works by women poets of China, which first was published in 1972, contains works by Li Qingzhao and other notable poets.

Yang, Vincent. “Vision of Reconciliation: A Textual Reading of Some Lines of Li Qing-zhao.” Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association 19 (1984): 10-32. This essay is a close reading of four representative poems by Li Qingzhao. Focusing on the imagery and structure of the poems, the author attempts to show the poet’s art of lyricism. At the end, the particular nature of her imagination is illustrated through her use of poetic techniques. The analysis is an application of Western literary criticism to Chinese poetry.