Li Qingzhao was born 1084 in Zhangqiu (modern Shandong province) into a family of scholar-officials; her father was a student of Su Shi. Since she was born in a scholarly family, her father had a large amount collection of books so that she was able to be educated during her childhood. Li was unusually outgoing and knowledgeable for a woman of noble birth.
Before she got married, her poetry was already well known within elite circles. In 1101 she married Zhao Mingcheng, with whom she shared interests in art collection and epigraphy. They lived in present-day Shandong. After he started his official career, her husband was often absent. Although they were not that rich. However, they had the same taste of collecting some inscriptions and calligraphy. This hobby made their daily life count. They lived happily together. This inspired some of the love poems that she wrote. Both she and her husband collected many books. Her husband and she shared a love of poetry and often wrote poems for each other. They also wrote about bronze artifacts of the Shang and Zhou dynasties.
The Northern Song capital of Kaifeng fell in 1127 to the Jurchens during the Jin–Song wars. Fighting took place in Shandong and their house was burned. The couple brought many of their possessions when they fled to Nanjing, where they lived for a year. Zhao died in 1129 en route to an official post. The death of her husband was a cruel stroke from which she never recovered. It was then up to Li to keep safe what was left of their collection. Li described her married life and the turmoil of her flight in an Afterword to her husband's posthumously published work, Jin shi lu. Her earlier poetry portrays her carefree days as a woman of high society, and is marked by its elegance.
Li subsequently settled in Hangzhou, where the Song government became the new capital after the war against Jurchens. During that period, she continued writing poetry. She also keep working on completing the book Jin shi lu, which was a book originally written by Zhao Mingcheng. The book was mainly about the calligraphy on the bronze and stones. Jin shi lu also mentioned the documents Li and Zhao collected and viewed during the early period. According to some contemporary accounts, she was briefly married to a man named Zhang Ruzhou (張汝舟) who treated her badly, and she divorced him within months. She survived the criticism of her marriage.
Only around a hundred of her poems are known to survive, mostly in the ci form and tracing her varying fortunes in life. Also a few poems in the shi form have survived, the Afterword and a study of the ci form of poetry. Since her life was full of twists and turns. Her poems can be divided into two main parts. The dividing line was her moving to the south. During the early period, most of her poems were related to her feelings as a maiden. They were more like love poems. However, for those poems created after her moving to the south, they were closely linked with her hatred of the war against the Juechens and her patriotism. She is credited with the first detailed critique of the metrics of Chinese poetry. She was regarded as a master of wanyue pai "the delicate restraint".
- Chang, Kang-i Sun; Saussy, Haun; Kwong, Charles Yim-tze (1999). Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-3231-4.
- Rexroth, Kenneth; Chung, Ling (1979). Li Ch'ing-chao: Complete Poems. New York: New Directions.
- Zhen Kang's Comments on Li Qingzhao, Zhonghua Book Company, 2007–11, ISBN 9787101059489
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Li Qingzhao.|
- Li Qinzhao's ci poetry
- Li Qingzhao's poetry
- Selection of her poetry from Famous Poets & Poems
- Entry on Li Qingzhao from Other Women's Voices
- Works by Li Qingzhao at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)