Sima Xiangru

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Sima Xiangru
Traditional Chinese 司馬相如
Simplified Chinese 司马相如

Sima Xiangru (Chinese: 司馬相如; Wade–Giles: Ssu-ma Hsiang-ju; 179–127 BC) was a Chinese poet, musician, and author of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 9 CE). Sima's importance in Classical Chinese poetry consists both in his surviving works, several of which are especially famous, but also in his contribution to innovation in form and style. His poetry includes his invention or at least development of the fu form,[1] applying new metrical rhythms to the lines of poetry, which he mixed with lines of prose, and provided with several of what would in ensuing centuries become among a group of common set topics for this genre. He was also versatile enough to write in the Chu Ci-style, while it was enjoying a brief renaissance, and he also wrote lyrics in what would become known as the yuefu formal style. Musically, Sima Xiangru is known for mastery of the guqin.

Sima Xiangru's life is a topic of biographical interest, and is featured in what enthusiasts like to refer to as the Records of the Grand Historian, but more prosaically is called the Shiji. Much is known about Sima Xiangru through Sima Qian's biography of him, in Shij ji 117.[2] Sima Xiangru not only lived the good life as a member of two royal courts at different times of his life, but also experienced periods of financial and political difficulty: once he was disappointed in love, being forbidden marriage to the daughter of a wealthy man, but then eloped with his lover, in a famous scandal, where the couple supported themselves by opening and running a small tavern.


Sima Xiangru was interested in poetry and swordplay from his youth, and changed his name to Xiangru after Lin Xiangru, famed chancellor of the State of Zhao whom he admired.


Sima's Sichuan sweetheart, Zhuo Wenjun, his "love at first sight", according to an illustration published in 1772.

Sima Xiangru was born in the area of modern Sichuan,[3] which was then known as Shu. He is known for his elopement and marriage to the widowed Zhuo Wenjun, the millionaire's daughter, when he then temporarily supported himself by running a bistro: however, he is best known as a poet.


Sima Xiangru served in the Western Han governance structure as an official during the reigns of the Emperors Jing and Wu. Although his brother Liu Wu was a noted patron of the form, Emperor Jing did not appreciate the fu form and Sima remained relatively obscure at court during that period.


Sima Xiangru attained fame while still at the Liang court, with his "Zixu fu", translated by Burton Watson as "Sir Fantasy".[4] One of Sima's most famous poems is the "Chang Men Fu" (literally "Ode of the Wide Gate"), produced under commission from Empress Chen Jiao, the first empress of Emperor Wu of Han. He is also known for his fu on the royal hunt in Shanglin park, commemorated by the Ming dynasty painter Qiu Ying.


Shanglin Park, a painting inspired by Sima Xiangru's famous rhapsody "Fu on Shanglin Park". Attributed to Qiu Ying (ca. 1494-1552), Ming dynasty, Handscroll, ink and colors on silk, 53.5 x 1183.9 cm. The scroll is meant to read right to left.

Besides being an important poet of the Han Dynasty, Sima Xiangru has also influenced later art and artists.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hawkes, 193
  2. ^ Sima Qian. "Shi ji 117: Biography of Sima Xiangru." Pp. 259-306 in Vol 2 of Records of the Grand Historian. Han Dynasty. Burton Watson, trans. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
  3. ^ Hawkes, 192
  4. ^ Hawkes, 192


  • Hawkes, David, translation, introduction, and notes (2011 [1985]). Qu Yuan et al., The Songs of the South: An Ancient Chinese Anthology of Poems by Qu Yuan and Other Poets. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-044375-2
  • Loewe, Michael. (1986). "The Former Han Dynasty," in The Cambridge History of The Cambridge History: Volume I: the Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 B.C. – A.D. 220, 103–222. Edited by Denis Twitchett and Michael Loewe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-24327-0.