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Tao Qian’s and LI Qingzhao’s Poems Comparison Essay

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Updated: Aug 6th, 2020


Chinese ancient literature is admired by many historians because of its diversity and ability to portray the social situations experienced by people in different dynasties. Tao Qian wrote great poems and masterpieces during his time (Rydholm 8). Most of his works are known to have influenced future generations across the globe. In Li Qingzhao’s works, different styles and imageries are used to portray the experiences of many Chinese people during the Song Dynasty. This discussion examines the differences in subject matter, style, and imageries between the works of Li Qingzhao and Tao Qian. The essay goes further to describe how such differences illustrate the situations in the respective societies.

Thesis Statement: The use of song lyric and art collection in Li Qingzhao’s work portrays the disillusionment associated with the Song Dynasty while Tao Qian’s dianyuan style depicts the disunion and desire for freedom during the poet’s era.

Styles, Subject Matters, and Imageries

Tao Qian embraced different styles and subject matters in most of his masterpieces. Tao Qian is “revered by many readers because of his ability to pursue personal integrity” (Puchner 1000). Qian decided to quit his government job and returned home to become self-sufficient through farming (Puchner 1001). This was an effort aimed at promoting his inclinations. He also popularized the 5-world line style to poetry.

During Qian’s time, China was characterized by nonunion and turmoil. Many people of the time focused on simple lifestyles. The poet was against any form of worldly ambition. His concept of simplicity was emulated by many members of the Tang Dynasty. He was an “extraordinary man who followed his natural impulses and was content with his choices” (Puchner 1003).

Tao Qian’s literary works focused on the pastoral (also called dianyuan) style. Most of his works “disdained empty embellishments” (Rydholm 9). This style promoted the best standards and connections with nature. The other notable aspect is the subject matter portrayed in Tao Qian’s poems. In the work “The Peach Blossom Spring”, the poet argues that “the clothes they wore were like those of ordinary people” (Puchner 1003). He goes further to describe how all boys and men were free. This kind of portrayal is critical towards outlining the subject matter embraced by the writer. In his works, Qian used true personality to portray emotion. This fact explains why Tao Qian remained unpretentious. He was always happy and ready to pursue his natural goals. Poverty and hunger seemed not to affect his life. Additionally, most of his works were inspired by different natural or pastoral scenes (Puchner 1002).

The work gives labor a true meaning and artistic value. He popularized the five-world line prose for his poems. This style would later be embraced by many poets and prose writers. Through the depiction of nature and labor in his works, Tao Qian evokes the best memories. The use of fresh imagery is evident in most of Qian’s works. The portrayal of nature is something that expresses the most desirable emotions and feelings. Imagery is therefore used to evoke the most desirable moods (Egan 87).

On the other hand, Li Qingzhao used the song lyric style to compose her poems. The song lyric form was “common during the Song Dynasty” (Puchner 1062). The form portrayed the connection between poetry and song. This approach explains why such poems answered people’s musical expectations. The poet also described the connection between human beings and possessions. She also examined how possessions dictated human relations.

In the work “Note After Note”, Qingzhao uses language to express whatever occurs in the heart and mind. “Southern Song” is another masterpiece that depicts the process of aging (Puchner 1064). Some scholars argue that the work symbolized Qingzhao’s aging. The poet’s work shows how people can use words to express their feelings and emotions.

The Tang Dynasty was characterized by a new genre of music. This included stanza-like melodies with musical lines of unequal length” (1063). The book shows how Li Qingzhao embraced various subject matters relevant to the period. For instance, society was struggling with disillusionment and destiny. In the work The Records on Metal and Stone, Qingzhao writes: whenever there is possession, there will always be loss of possession (Egan 48). In the poem “Note After Note”, Qingzhao uses repetition as a method of emphasizing the issues affecting more people in society. She begins the poem with the words “searching and searching, seeking and seeking” (Puchner 1071).

At the age of 50, Li Qingzhao had become disillusioned with the concept of the art collection. The death of her husband is also symbolic because it portrays the dark side of the war. The same form of symbolism presents the disillusionment associated with the art collection. Through the practice of art collection, Li Qingzhao tries to explain how society finds spiritual significance in the practice (Mote 76). For instance, the practice appears to be a unique source of relief, hope, and comfort. The works of the author show how the views of many people during the period were portrayed through poems, colophons, and biographies.

In most of his literary works, Qingzhao combines the traditionalist reading of imagery with different genres to express her sincere emotions to the reader. Imagery is connected with emotions to portray the stereotypes of femininity and masculinity in Chinese society. The other notable issue is the style used by the poet. She used rhythm and informal languages throughout most of her works. For example, the poem “Note After Note” contains the words “so chill, so clear” (Puchner 1071). Patriotism is notable in most of the works by Li Qingzhao.

Different Situations in the Two Societies

These two poets have used different styles to produce their works. Additionally, the subject matters, styles, and imageries employed by the two great Chinese poets can be used to analyze the situations experienced during the time. To begin with, Tao Qian uses the 5-world line style to compose his idylls. This style can be used to portray the social immobility experienced during the period (Egan 19).

The poet’s life and experiences show how different people wanted to escape the challenges affecting them. The use of artistic change and natural sceneries became a source of consolation for more people. This is true because of the uncertainty and unrest encountered in China before the Tang Dynasty. The imagery used by Tao Qian plays a critical role in depicting the aspirations of more people in Qian’s society (Cai 16).

Tao Qian describes how he was born in poverty. This form of imagery depicts the challenges encountered by many people during the period. However, Qian’s decision to focus on his personal goals depicts the paths taken by more people in this society (Cai 19). The concept of philosophy is supported in society in an attempt to bring the most desirable changes.

Things appear to be different during Li Li Qingzhao’s era. The Song Dynasty was characterized by tranquility and appreciation of art. This fact explains why Qingzhao embraced the use of song lyrics. The popularity of the style depicts the importance of emotions and literature during the time. The use of natural sceneries and imageries by the poet indicates that more people wanted to pursue their personal goals during the time (Puchner 1067).

As mentioned earlier, Li Qingzhao uses patriotic lines in an attempt to show her love for the country. The approach shows clearly that many people were happy with the dynasty and its achievements. The imageries used by the poet also say a lot about the aspects of society. For instance, the concept of art collection shows clearly that more people had developed new beliefs, aesthetic values, and awareness. The society began to embrace a new literati culture (Li 33).

The availability of literary works during the Song Dynasty describes how society was ready to preserve various ideas and pass them on to every future generation. The art of book collection exposes the issue of disillusionment. Qingzhou’s experiences such as her husband’s sudden death portray the instabilities that affected the survival of different Chinese dynasties (Li 98). Although members of this society are empowered to pursue their goals, forces of femininity and masculinity dictate their welfare.


In conclusion, the use of song lyric and art collection in Li Qingzhao’s work portrays the disillusionment associated with the Song Dynasty. On the other hand, Tao Qian’s dianyuan style depicts the disunion and desire for freedom before the first Chinese dynasty (Puchner 1004). The styles and subject matters embraced by the poets play a significant role in portraying their expectations and the challenges encountered in different communities.

Works Cited

Cai, Zongqi. Chinese Aesthetics, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005. Print.

Egan, Ronald. The Problem of Beauty: Aesthetic Thought and Pursuits in Northern Song Dynasty China, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006. Print.

Li, Zehou. The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2010. Print.

Mote, Frederick. Imperial China 900-1800, New York: Harvard University Press, 2012. Print.

Puchner, Martin. The Norton Anthology World Literature, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. Print.

Rydholm, Lena. “The Imagery in Li Qingzhao’s Song Lyrics.” Uppsala University Publications 1.1 (2015): 1-12. Print.

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