FS 101’30: Chinese Classics, Literature and Arts
6 October 2014
Qu Yuan is listed as one of the most famous individuals of culture in the world and revered as the father of Chinese Poetry. He is accredited with being the main contributor of the Songs of Chu- a collection of poems with a unique style that represented the diverse culture of Southern China. Unfortunately, like most revered poets in literature, he was largely unsuccessful during his time and only rose to fame after his death.
Qu was born in 340 BC in the Kingdom of Chu during the Warring States period in China’s history. The Kingdom of Chu was different from the other six states in the sense that it was the hub of a shamanistic religion. It is quite possible that living amidst such spirituality inspired Qu to write his poetry. Qu Yuan was a noble in the court of the king. He tried to win the king’s favor in maintaining the state’s independence against another, much more aggressive state, Qin. His popularity among the court and the common people resulted in jealousy among his fellow ministers, who eventually managed to turn the king against him, leading to his dismissal from court. Qu’s dismissal was a foreshadowing of things to come for Chu. Its capital was sacked in 278 BC and it lost its independence to Qin in 223 BC.
Most of Qu’s poetry was inspired by the hapless political state of the country. They expressed his grief and often criticized the monarch. In his depression from being constantly exiled from his home and the fate of Chu, he penned beautiful, patriotic poetry, such as “Jiu Zhang” (Nine Songs) and “Wen Tian”. Both of which are now highly regarded as legendary works in Chinese literature.
One of Qu’s more highly regarded works is the “Heavenly Questions”, in which he asks around 170 questions about the universe, the gods, and spirituality. In 278 BC Qu wrote his final poem, a reflection upon the occupancy of his Chu by the Qin