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Chen Ziang - the Greatest Poet in Early Tang Dynasty


Chen Ziang was a Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. He was important in helping to bring into being the type of poetry which is considered to be characteristically "Tang". Dissatisfied with the current state of the affairs of poetry at the time, almost paradoxically, by keeping his eye on the remote antiquity he helped usher in a new age of Chinese poetry (see quote below).He would soon be followed by such poets of the golden age of Tang poetry as Wang Wei, Li Bai, and Du Fu.

A native of Shehong county, (射洪) in what is today Suining, Sichuan, Chen Zi'ang was the son of a rich man, and did not travel to the capital to take his exams until he was in his twenties. He completed the Jinshi level of the Imperial Examination at age twenty-four.

Having arrived in the capital metropolis, Chen suddenly called attention to his poetry, by expensive and elaborate means: startling the spectators in the marketplace, he paid the asking price of a million cash for a Tartar musical instrument. Responding to the onlookers consequent intense curiosity, he claimed to be an expert at playing that particular musical instrument, and invited everyone to see him do a performance the next day. Then, when the curious crowds showed up, he had prepared a lavish feast. However rather than performing any music, he got up, and introducing himself as a writer of essays and a poet, he preceded to smash to bits the musical instrument for which he had paid so much, and handed out copies of his works, including his Thirty-Eight Lyrics.

As an important advisor to the Empress Wu Zetian, Chen was a firm advocate of poetry reflecting real life, and thus with his active interest in politics, much of his work has undertones of social commentary. Some have suggested that it was his work that was the reason he suffered persecution at the hands of Wu Sansi; he died in 702 having been in and out of prison.

Chen Zi'ang is well known for his collection of thirty-eight poems "Ganyu" (感遇), written in a simpler vocabulary than typified the poetry of that time and which were heavily influenced by Daoism. He has one poem in the Three Hundred Tang Poems, translated by Witter Bynner as "On a Gate-tower at Yuzhou".

Editor: MetalAllen