Yu Xuanji

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Yu Xuanji

Yu Xuanji (simplified Chinese: 鱼玄机; traditional Chinese: 魚玄機; pinyin: Yú Xuánjī; Wade–Giles: Yü Hsüan-chi, approximate dates c844–c871),[1] courtesy names Youwei (Chinese: 幼微; pinyin: Yòuwēi) and Huilan (simplified Chinese: 蕙兰; traditional Chinese: 蕙蘭; pinyin: Huìlán), was a Chinese poet and courtesan of the late Tang dynasty, from Chang'an. She was one of the most famous women poets of Tang, along with Xue Tao, her fellow courtesan.[2]

Biography[edit]

Little trustworthy information is known about the relatively short life of Yu Xuanji.[1] She was born or grew up in Tang capital Chang'an,[3] which was the terminus of the Silk Road and one of the most sophisticated cities of its time. Yu was married as a concubine, or lesser wife, to an official named Li Yi (simplified Chinese: 李亿; traditional Chinese: 李億; pinyin: Lǐ Yì) at 16, separating three years later because of Li's primary wife's dislike of Yu.[4] She became a courtesan and then took her vows and became a Daoist nun at the Xian Yi Temple.[1] Daoist nuns were at the time known for their sexual freedom.[5] She was a fellow of Wen Tingyun, to whom she addressed a number of poems. Apart from names and dates in her poems, the tabloid-style Little Tablet from the Three Rivers, (三水小牘), gives the only purported facts about her life. These are however salacious in detail : it reports she had an affair with Wen Tingyun, lived a scandalously promiscuous life, and was executed by decapitation[4] at the age of 28[1] for allegedly strangling her maid, Luqiao, to death.[4] This account is considered semi-legendary, and may be a reflection of the traditional distrust of women who were strong-willed and sexually independent.[2]

Poetry[edit]

Yu Xuanji is distinctive for the quality of her poems, including many written in what seems to be a remarkably frank and direct autobiographical style; that is, using her own voice rather than speaking through a persona. In her lifetime, her poems were published as a collection called Fragments of a Northern Dreamland, which has been lost. The forty-nine surviving poems were collected in the Quan Tangshi,[4] mainly for their freak value in an anthology that also included poems from ghosts and foreigners.[6]

English translations[edit]

Published in 1998, her work was translated by the team of David Young and Jiann I. Lin.[7] In the 2000s, her work was translated by Stephen Owen and Justin Hill.

Name[edit]

Her family name, Yu, is relatively rare. Her given name, Xuanji, means something like "Profound Theory" or "Mysterious Principle," and is a technical term in Daoism and Buddhism. "Yòuwēi" means something like "Young and Tiny;" and, Huìlán refers to a species of fragrant orchid.[1]

Media[edit]

In 1984 the Shaw Brothers Studio in Hong Kong made a film about her life entitled Tangchao haofang nü (A Wild Woman of the Tang Dynasty).[4]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Young & Lin 1998, p. ix.
  2. ^ a b 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. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-0-8047-3231-4.
  3. ^ Young & Lin 1998, p. ix, citing the Guoyu Cidian..
  4. ^ a b c d e Kohn & Roth 2002, p. 102.
  5. ^ Olivia Bullock (艾文婷) (21 October 2014). "Badass Ladies of Chinese History : Yu Xuanji". The World of Chinese. Retrieved 20 December 2018..
  6. ^ Young & Lin 1998, p. x.
  7. ^ Young & Lin 1998, p. iii.

References[edit]

External links[edit]