Du Fu

Picture of Author Du Fu
An artist's impression of Du Fu. No portraits survive.

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About the author

Du Fu (Tu Fu in the Wade-Giles transliteration) was one of the two great poets of China's Tang Dynasty—the other being Li Bai (Li Po in the Wade-Giles system). He was born in AD 712 near Luoyang, Henan. He was brought up by an aunt following the early death of his mother. Although he trained for entry into the Civil Service, he failed the entrance exam on two occasions, the second being when all candidates were failed, presumably for reasons other than competence.

He married in 762 and had five children, one of whom died in infancy. the family had to move often owing to floods, and civil unrest. In 755 he received a minor court appointment, after several petitions to the Emperor. THis was followed by other such appointments, but Du Fu tended to get himself into trouble with authority, and was demoted and sent away from the capital more than once. In 760 he arrived in Sichuan province and stayed there in a thatched hut for some five years, in a state of some penury.

In his later years, with his health and eyesight failing, he stayed in Kuizhou, by the Three Gorges, supported by the local Governor. He died in 770.

An innovative and difficult poet, Du Fu gradually acquired the status of one of the titans of Chinese literature after his death, and his position in the pantheon is unassailable, being akin to the position enjoyed by Shakespeare in the English-speaking world or Goethe in German-speaking countries.

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