Li Yannian (musician)

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Li Yannian (Chinese: 李延年; pinyin: Lǐ Yánnián; died 90 BC) was a Chinese musician during the Han Dynasty. He became a court musician during Emperor Wu's reign, but was eventually executed for treason.

His wrote the song Jiaren Qu (literally: The Beauty Song), describing a lady with exceptional beauty. Upon hearing this song, the Emperor did not believe there could be such a woman on earth, but his sister Princess Pingyang mentioned Li has a younger sister who could match the description, so Emperor Wu took Li's sister Li Furen as a concubine. Li Yannian himself allegedly was homosexual. When Emperor re-established the Imperial Music Bureau, Li Yannian was appointed a musician in the court. Li Yannian's brother Li Guangli also became a general in the Han armies.


Jiarenqu (佳人曲, The Beauty Song) Book of the Later Han 67:34[1]

北方有佳人, From the north comes a ravishing maiden,
絕世而獨立. Whose beauty stands alone.
一顧傾人城, One look at her, cities fall,
再顧傾人國. On the second glance, empires collapse.
寧不知傾城與傾國. Care not whether cities fall or empires collapse,
佳人難再得. Such beauty never comes around twice.

Death, execution, and treason[edit]

After the death of his sister, Yannian's family began to lose Wu's favour. In 90 BC, much of the Li family was executed on multiple charges, including treason. According to one source, Li was executed in 90 BC during a struggle between the Li family and Empress Wei's family.[2]



  • Rexroth, Kenneth (1970). Love and the Turning Year: One Hundred More Poems from the Chinese. New York: New Directions.
  • D. Twitchett & M. Loewe, The Cambridge History of China, 176