By Li Qingzhao
Be man of men while you’re alive;
Be soul of souls if you were dead!
Think of Xiang Yu who’d not survive
His men whose blood for him was shed!
Literally, this poem encourages people to foster high ideals and get great achievements instead of leading a mediocre and aimless life. In the face of death, one should remain dignified and righteous instead of dragging out an ignoble existence. In fact, the purpose of the poet was to lash out at the cowardly actions of the rulers of the Southern Song Dynasty, who compromised with and surrendered themselves to the aggressors. They endured humiliation in order to drag out an ignoble existence and lost large stretches of land of the country without feeling ashamed. The poem expressed the poet’s deep love for her country, and her strong desire to recover lost territory and unify the country, and her great reverence for the heroes who risked their lives to fight bravely and faced death unflinchingly.
It is really admirable for a woman poet who had experienced so many hardships throughout her life to write such rhythmic, forceful and beautiful lines. Hence, the poem, especially its first two lines, is often used to arouse the fighting spirit of the people when they encounter difficulties or face death. It also teaches people not to be afraid of death, to Iive a dauntless life and die a martyr’s and admirable death.
Li Qingzhao (1084-1155), woman ci writer of the Song Dynasty, styled herself the Hermit of Yi’an. She was a native of Zhangqiu in Jinan (today’s Shandong Province). Born into a well-educated family, she liked poetry and was versed in the ancient China. She had a deep love for her husband. They shared the same interests, engaged in scholarship together and collected original works by famous calligraphers and painters, antiques, lost poems and unofficial history. They studied these antiquities and compiled a book named Collection of Epigraphy, which was of great academic importance. In A.D.1127, when the Jin troops launched a large-scale intrusion and the imperial court of the Song Dynasty was forced to move the capital to the south, Li Qingzhao experienced the turning point in her life. From then on she began to lead a life of exile from place to place, wandering about in a wretched plight. The death of her husband in 1129 brought her more disasters. Her poems and ci were written in beautiful languages with very high artistic quality, and the works composed during her later days particularly show her deep patriotic feelings by concerning herself with the destiny of the state. Her works, therefore, hold a special position in the history of the Chinese literature.