Tao Qian Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Born into a declining bureaucrat-scholar family when the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420 c.e.) was in its death throes, young Tao Qian (TAH-oh CHEE-ahn) aspired to stabilize the political turbulence. However, he grew disillusioned after serving as an adviser to two warlords for about ten years and experiencing their separatism and constant warfare. Assigned a magistracy, he served for only about eighty days, then resigned to live in seclusion as a poet and farmer. He never returned to office and died in poverty.

While living in seclusion, he took the pseudonym Tao Qian (Tao the Hermit) and wrote poetry, often about the joys of nature, human harmony with farming, and pleasant man-nature interactions. Modern critics judge him to be one of the greatest pastoral poets. His famous pieces Guiqulai Ci (fifth century c.e.; Homeward Bound, 1983) and Gui Yuantian Ju (fifth century c.e.; Living on Native Land, 1983) describe his immeasurable joy at shaking off the yoke of officialdom, his unsullied desire to live a simple, honest life, and his appreciation of lovely rural scenery. His masterpiece Taohuayuan Ji (fifth century c.e.; Notes on the Land of Peach Blossoms, 1983) depicts a lost utopia that contrasts with the political unrest of his day. His more than 130 poems and prose writings have all survived.


Tao Qian’s creative writing, which explored multiple genres, including fu (verse with interspersed prose) and in particular lyric poetry, is held in high regard by modern scholars.

Further Reading:

Barnhart, Richard M. Peach Blossom Spring: Gardens and Flowers in Chinese Paintings. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983. Treats of Peach Blossom Spring as a pastoral utopia in paintings.

Cotterell, Yong Yap, and Arthur Cotterell. The Early Civilization of China. London: Weidenfeld and...

(The entire section is 808 words.)