Chinese Poetry & a Visit to Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage

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In the West we have Greek philosophy, Roman law, Renaissance art, and Italian opera. In China poetry is the most striking cultural element of Chinese civilization.

Poetry was one of the earliest forms of written expression in China, with the Shijing 诗经 shījīng or The Book of Songs dating back to the 7th Century BC. It became the highest form of creative expression throughout Chinese civilization and was promoted by the government and pursued as a vehicle for personal pleasure and communication.  For most of China’s history, poetry was an integral part of daily life for the educated class. In the Tang Dynasty (618-908) alone more poetry was composed than in all the rest of the world combined until the 18th Century. One anthology, the Complete Tang Poems (全唐诗 quán táng shī), which is considered incomplete, contains 48,900 poems by 2,200 poets. People in the Chinese speaking world today still read and compose classical poems in the styles developed during the Tang Dynasty.

杜甫草堂 Dù Fǔ cǎo táng Du Fu Thatched Cottage

杜甫草堂 Dù Fǔ cǎo táng
Du Fu Thatched Cottage

When I visited Chengdu earlier this year, one of the first places I wanted to visit was the  thatched hut of perhaps China’s most famous poet, Du Fu. What I wasn’t quite expecting was the carnival-like atmosphere at this very popular cultural site. It was swarming with Chinese tourists and was a reaffirmation to me of the importance of poetry in Chinese culture, history, and civilization. Not only does the site pay homage to Du Fu, but it also celebrates all of Chinese poetry and the great poets throughout history.

Statue of Du Fu

Statue of Du Fu

Du Fu (712-770, sometimes written Tu Fu) was a scholar-official during the Tang Dynasty. His career varied from government official to full-time poet at various times during his life. Du Fu was an innovator in language and structure and wrote about public and private life. His poems are accessible, intimate at times, and offer a glimpse into life in China during this period. He spent about five years in Sichuan Province where he built a comfortable thatched cottage on the outskirts of Chengdu. He wrote prolifically during this period, and though he suffered financial hardship during this time, it was a kind of hermitage for him and it was a happy and peaceful time. The Du Fu Thatched Cottage attraction is now in the center of Chengdu. Archeological excavations done on the site have unearthed buildings and pavilions that fit the time period when Du Fu lived there and are very similar to structures he describes in his poems.

The whole complex is in a beautiful park with bamboo groves, flowers, trees, and ponds. At the entrance to the park is a long paved “walkway of the stars.” This consists of a timeline of Chinese poetry with each poet having a star on the pavement. Statues of the major poets line the pathway as well.

The long pathway of the star Chinese poets

The long pathway of the star Chinese poets

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Li Bai's star

Li Bai’s star

Su Shi of the Northern Song Dynasty

Su Shi of the Northern Song Dynasty

Balloon vendor along the Chinese stars path

Balloon vendor along the Chinese stars path

The Tang poet Bai Juyi

The Tang poet Bai Juyi

The Tang poet, Han Yu

The Tang poet, Han Yu

Du Fu and Li Bai with Qu Yuan in the background

Du Fu and Li Bai with Qu Yuan in the background

This gentleman was practicing calligraphy on the sidewalk using water for ink. He was writing poetry of course.

This gentleman was practicing calligraphy on the sidewalk using water for ink. He was writing poetry of course.

Ponds with fish to feed for the children

Ponds with fish to feed for the children

One of many pavillions

One of many pavilions

Pond and walkway

Pond and walkway

The complex also had several buildings with statues, paintings, calligraphy, and some excavation sites.

The Tang Dynasty Poet, Wang Wei, one of my personal favorites

The Tang Dynasty Poet, Wang Wei, one of my personal favorites

Tao Yuanming (365-427)

Tao Yuanming (365-427)

The actual Thatched Cottage was a replication of course. But it was interesting nonetheless.

Replication of Du Fu's Thatched Cottage

Replication of Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage

And a few shots of what it probably looked like on the inside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was an enjoyable few hours we spent at this park. It was  refreshing that the Chinese still care about their heritage and that poetry is still an important part of their past, and hopefully their future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “Chinese Poetry & a Visit to Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage

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  2. It’s cool to see that the Chinese have a reverence for poetry and culture in an open way. When I typically think of Chinese cultures it’s always more of an implicit set of ideas, but to explicitly show appreciation for some of these instances helps to define a part of the culture more clearly for outsiders.

  3. Thank you for the many wonderful pictures! The history and culture that can be reflected from a single site continues to amaze me. It is also good to remember the value of poetry, and what can be learned and said through symbolism.

  4. In the past or even now, Chinese communicated with one another through poems and I believe this is why poetry in China has been incredibly developed.

  5. This was so informative and it made me want to visit this particular tourist attraction, especially because a lot of Chinese tourists were there too. I thought it was very interesting that “poetry was one of the earliest forms of written expression in China”. I didn’t know that. Looked like a very beautiful experience!

  6. I have always found Ancient Chinese history to be fascinating and the idea that the Chinese people have so much history to look back on is comforting. I enjoy looking back on family history, but unfortunately it is cut off after a relatively recent point in history. Ancient Chinese poems such as those written by Du Fu provide great insight into what was important to the people at the time.

  7. I thought the cultural difference here was really interesting and admirable because it’s really uncommon in the US to find a place that has an outdoor statue-garden area dedicated to poets and poetry. The art form of poetry is clearly more esteemed in China than in any art exhibit I’ve been to.

  8. For me, it was fascinating reading this passage because I am a big fan of poetry. I had no idea that so much poetry was created in the Tang dynasty. The book called the Complete Tang Poems that has over 48,000 poems, and is still not complete must be one of the best books in the world, because it has so many beautiful poems in it. Chengdu looks like such a beautiful and informative place to visit. The statue of Du Fu and Li Bai was amazing, and so was all the nature in the park. The park looks like a very cool place to visit.

  9. I really appreciate your inclusion of historical accounts in your blog posts. It is really informative and deeply interesting! These posts make me want to study Chinese culture more and more. It is really cool to see that poetry is of such cultural significance to China. It is very different from many other cultures, and very beautiful in that way.

  10. I know form a Chinese Civilization class that I took before that poetry is a big part of Chinese history and culture. I remember Du Fu being a big poet within history as well. It is nice to see how this part of Chinese history is integrated into Chinese society today, with monuments and parks dedicated to the poetry and the historical authors themselves. It is a nice way to keep the history and heritage alive.

  11. I like how this park in particular pays homage to Chinese poets in the same way we idolize American celebrities. The star walk is very similar and the “carnival-like” atmosphere you mentioned can be compared to the same atmosphere that’s felt at the American star walk. It’s inspirational seeing how a culture continues to appreciate its art history.

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