Xie Lingyun

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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Xie Lingyun (SHEE-EH LIHNG-yewn) was born into one of the most powerful aristocratic families of the Six Dynasties, one that was at the center of cultural and literary movements. The Xie family moved from Henan to Zhejiang province. His great wealth gave him all the leisure he needed. His book collection made him one of the most learned poets of his time, and he was famous as a calligrapher and painter. He was an eccentric and had a special love for nature. Xie spent much time wandering around the country looking at celebrated landscapes.

His poems were a blending of sentiment, reason, and beauty of nature with Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucian philosophy. Xie edited the southern version of the Mahaparinirvana-sutra, wrote a “discussion of essentials,” and identified the combination of Nirvana and Samsara with the doctrine of Void. These were tasks well suited to a mind accustomed to the Daoist teachings of the Dao De Jing (possibly sixth century b.c.e., probably compiled late third century b.c.e.; The Speculations on Metaphysics, Polity, and Morality of “the Old Philosopher, Lau-Tsze,” 1868; better known as the Dao De Jing) and the Zhuangzi (traditionally c. 300 b.c.e., compiled c. 285-160 b.c.e.; The Divine Classic of Nan-hua, 1881; also known as The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 1968; commonly known as Zhuangzi, 1991).


Xie was regarded as the first of the nature poets and the founder of the school of mountains and waters poetry (shanju fu). His editions and commentary on Buddhism popularized this religion with educated Chinese scholars.

Further Reading:

Bingham, Woodbridge. The Founding of the T’ang Dynasty. New York: Octagon Press, 1970. Good background on the fall of the Sui Dynasty and early Tang, with observations on contributions of the Song. Lacks critical balance, but is accessible and gives the reader an accurate sense of the importance of the period. Limited bibliography; useful appendices.

Chang, Kang-I Sun. Six Dynasties Poetry. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986. The second chapter provides a scholarly discussion of Xie Lingyun’s life and poems.

Frodsham, J. D. The Murmuring Stream: The Life and Works of the Chinese Nature Poet Hsieh Ling-yun (385-433), Duke of K’ang-Lo. 2 vols. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1967. Definitive scholarly study; eminently readable. Volume 1 is largely biographical; volume 2 translates and examines Lingyun’s poetry extensively. Helpful footnotes throughout. Adequate appendices and index.

Fung Yu-Lan. A History of Chinese Philosophy. Translated by Derk Bodde. 2 vols. 1973. Reprint. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983. Chapter 7 of the second volume of this excellent scholarly work carefully examines various aspects of Buddhism and Xie Lingyun’s role and influence in its interpretations. Splendid comparative chronological tables of the period of classical learning; informative notes throughout; superb bibliography; fine index.

Hargett, James M. “The Poetry of Xie Lingyun.” In Great Literature of the Eastern World , edited by Ian P. McGreal. New...

(The entire section is 719 words.)