Chen Zi'ang

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Chen Zi'ang
Tang dynasty poet Chen Zi'ang.jpg
Chen Zi'ang, painted by Kanō Tsunenobu in the 18th century.
Born661 or 656
Died702 (aged 40–41)
702 (aged 45–46)
Shehong County, Sichuan, China
OccupationPoet, politician
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Courtesy name

Chen Zi'ang (Chinese: 陳子昂, 661 (or 656[1])–702), courtesy name Boyu (伯玉), 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).[2] 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 in modern Sichuan province, 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.[3] 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.[4]

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[5] 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.

Poetry and Works[edit]

This quote, from Chen to a friend, shows his attitude as a formative poet of the Early Period of Tang poetry:

The art of letters has been declining for five hundred years....In my leisure hours, I have looked into the poems of the Ch'i and Liang Dynasties, and I could not help sighing when I found all genuine feeling and insight were smothered by meaningless figures of speech and squeamish refinement of words. So much rhetoric and so little sentiment! When will the grand tradition of Shih Ching revive?[6]

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,[7] translated by Witter Bynner as "On a Gate-tower at Yuzhou"


  1. ^ Wu, 43
  2. ^ Wu, 44
  3. ^ Wu, 43
  4. ^ Wu, 43
  5. ^ Zhu Xiaoyin, The Reason for Chen Zi'ang's Death (关于陈子昂的死因) 1983
  6. ^ Wu, 44. Translation by Wu.
  7. ^ Tangshi III. 1. (46)


  • Wu, John C. H. (1972). The Four Seasons of Tang Poetry. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle. ISBN 978-0-8048-0197-3
  • Zhu Xiaoyin, The Reason for Chen Zi'ang's Death (关于陈子昂的死因) 1983