Sima Xiangru Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Sima Xiangru (soo-MAH shee-AHNG-zhew) was a fencer, lute player, but primarily a fu poet of Western Han (206 b.c.e.-23 c.e.). His versatility won him a unique love, court positions, and a reputation as a great fu maker. Fu, a descriptive metered verse with rhyme interspersed with prose, became the preferred court genre during the Han period. For Prince Xiao of Liang, Sima wrote his famous Zixu Fu (second century b.c.e.; Sir Fantasy, 1971), in which three speakers describe their pleasure at hunting. He later eloped with Zuo Wenjun, a widow and a lute player, to Chengdu, but poverty drove them back to Wenjun’s home, where the couple ran a tavern for survival, winning historical fame as true lovers. Wenjun’s wealthy father finally agreed to the marriage and gave the couple money.

Emperor Wudi called Sima to join the court, where he wrote Shanglin Fu (second century b.c.e.; “imperial park”), an ode to the emperor. He then pleaded illness and left the court. Provided for by his wife’s fortune, Sima continued writing until his death. About thirty of his fu poems have survived, including the great Nanshu Fulao (second century b.c.e.; “refutation to the Sichuan elders”), which addresses taxation corruption and popular complaints. Most of his fu poems describe court prosperity but end with implicit satirical touches and remonstrations.


Sima’s works helped establish the genre of fu poetry, which has been imitated by many subsequent Chinese poets.

Further Reading:


(The entire section is 680 words.)