Xue Tao

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Xue Tao's portrait by Qiu Ying
Xuetao's Well in Wang Jianglou Park, Chengdu

Xue Tao (simplified Chinese: 薛涛; traditional Chinese: 薛濤; pinyin: Xuē Tāo; Wade–Giles: Hsüeh T'ao, 768–831), courtesy name Hongdu (洪度/宏度) was a well-known female Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, ranked with two other of the most famous women poets of Tang poetry, Yu Xuanji and Li Ye (李冶).

Life[edit]

Xue Tao was the daughter of a minor government official in Chang'an, which was the Chinese capital during the Tang Dynasty. Her father, Xue Yun (薛郧) was transferred to Chengdu, when she was still little, or possibly before her birth. Her father died while she was young, but it's possible that she had some literary education from him; her adult career also offered her the opportunity to learn from practicing poets.

Since the girl's mother did not return to Chang'an, it is possible that they were too poor to do so. Xue was registered with the guild of courtesans and entertainers in Chengdu and in time became well known for her wit and her poetic talent.

Her poetry attracted the attention of Wei Gao, the military governor of Xichuan Circuit (西川, headquartered in modern Chengdu, Sichuan) and she was made his official hostess. In this position she met poets like Yuan Zhen, to whom she was said to have become close; at the very least, this story indicates the charisma of both figures. Certainly, she exchanged poems with Yuan and many other well-known writers of the day, and continued as hostess after Wei's death.

In later years, Xue was able to live independently in a site outside the city associated with the great poet of an earlier generation, Du Fu. Some sources record that she supported herself as a maker of artisanal paper used for writing poems. A contemporary wrote that she took on the garments of a Daoist adept, signaling a relatively autonomous status within Tang society.

Some 450 poems by Xue were gathered in The Brocade River Collection that survived until the 14th century. About 100 of her poems are known nowadays, which is more than of any other Tang dynasty woman. They range widely in tone and topic, giving evidence of a lively intelligence and more than passing acquaintance with the great tradition of earlier Chinese poetry.

Hsueh T'ao, a Venusian crater is named after her.

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