Legitimation Process of Female Poetry During the Tang Dynasty (618–907)



the Tang dynasty, female poetry, shi, Li Ye, Xue Tao, Liu Caichun, Yu Xuanji


This paper investigates the legitimation process of female poetry in Chinese culture during the Tang dynasty. My argument is that this process has three interrelated elements covering macro, meso and micro levels. The first level deals with the political, social and cultural conditions under which the poetry writing was very prolific and thriving for poets at that time. The second level deals with gender dimensions when after the An Lu-shan rebellion a changed gender balance of power weakened the gender barriers. As a result, the social composition of female poets changed significantly. A great number of shi poems were written by women with low social status and in many ways this practice set the stage for ci poetry with its controversial reputation because of its association with entertainment quarters and female singers. The third level deals with the poetic skills of four female poets: Li Ye (李冶, 732?–784), Xue Tao (薛濤, 768–832), Liu Caichun (劉采春, 9th century) and Yu Xuanji (魚玄機, 844–871). Having analyzed 167 extant poems I revealed the innovations allowing to distinguish them from other mediocre female shi. The final stage of the legitimation process is seen as appreciation of their poetry by male poets borrowing their lines, images and rhymes during the following centuries and their recognition as “Four Greatest Female Shi Poets of the Tang Dynasty” (“唐代四大女詩人”).


Blanchard, L. (2018). Song dynasty figures of longing and desire: gender and interiority in Chinese painting and poetry. Leiden, Boston: Brill.

Birrell, A. (1982). New songs from a jade terrace. An anthology of early Chinese love poetry. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Bossler, B. (2012). Vocabularies of Pleasure: Categorizing Female Entertainers in the Late Tang Dynasty. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 72(1), 71–99. doi:10.1353/jas.2012.0013.

Cahill Suzanne (2002). Material Culture and the Dao: Textiles, Boats, and Zithers in the Poetry of Yu Xuanji (844–868). In L.Kohn & H.Roth (Eds.), Daoist Identity History, Lineage, and Ritual (pp. 102–126). Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Cai, Z. (2008). Recent-Style Shi Poetry: Pentasyllabic Regulated Verse (Wuyan Lüshi). In Zong-qi Cai (Ed.), How to read Chinese poetry: a guided anthology (pp.161–180). New York: Columbia University Press.

Chang, K. (1980). The evolution of Chinese tz’u poetry from late T’ang to Northern Sung. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chen Wenhua 陈文华 (1984). 唐女诗人集三种 [Collection of Shi by Three Tang Female Poets]. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe.

Gao Shiyu高世瑜 (2011). 唐代妇女 [Women during the Tang Dynasty]. Xi’an: Sanqin chubanshe.

Graham, Jr.,W.T. (1979). Mi Heng’s “Rhapsody on a Parrot”. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 39 (1), 39–54.

Hinsch, B. (2020). Women in Tang China. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Hsieh, D. (1996). The Evolution of Jueju Verse. New York: Peter Lang.

Idema, W. & Grant, B. (2004). The red brush: writing women of imperial China. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center.

Idema, W. & Haft, L. (1997). A guide to Chinese literature. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan.

Jia, J. (2014). The Identity of Tang Daoist Priestesses. In Jinhua Jia, Xiaofei Kang, and Ping Yao (Eds.), Gendering Chinese Religion: subject, identity, and body (pp.103–132). Albany: SUNY Press.

Jia, J. (2018). Gender, power, and talent: the journey of Daoist priestesses in Tang China. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ko, D. (1994). Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-Century China. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Kroll, P. (2001). Poetry of the T’ang Dynasty. In V.Mair (Ed.), The Columbia History of Chinese Literature (pp. 274–313). New York: Columbia University Press.

Laing, E. (1990). Chinese Palace-Style Poetry and the Depiction of a Palace Beauty. The Art Bulletin, 72(2), 284–295. https://doi.org/10.2307/3045734

Larsen, J. (1983). The Chinese poet Xue Tao: the life and works of a mid-Tang woman. Ph.D. thesis. The University of Iowa.

Larsen, J. (1987). Brocade River Poems: Selected Works of the Tang Dynasty Courtesan Xue Tao. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Li, X. (2012). Women’s poetry of late imperial China: transforming the inner chambers. Seattle, London: University of Washington Press.

Liu, J. (1962). The art of Chinese poetry. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Luo Zongtao 羅宗濤 (2004). 唐代女詩人作品中的花 [Flowers in Female Poetry of the Tang Dynasty]. In Fu Xuancong 傅璇琮, Luo Liantian 羅聯添 (Eds.), 唐代文学研究论著集成 [Collection of Research Works on Tang Literature]. Vol.8.1. (pр.80–83). Xi’an: Sanqin chubanshe.

Lyotard, J. (1984). The postmodern condition: a report on knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

McMullen, D. (1988). State and scholars in T’ang China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Peng Zhixian, Zhang Yi 彭志宪,张燚 (1995). 唐代女诗人:鱼玄机诗编年译注 [The Tang Female Poet: Yu Xuanji’s poetry collection with commentaries]. Wulumuqi: Xinjiang daxue chubanshe.

Qian Zhixi, Liu Qinghai 钱志熙, 刘青海 (2016). 诗词写作常识 [General Knowledge about Writing Shi and Ci]. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju.

Rouzer, P. (1993). Writing Another’s Dream: the poetry of Wen Tingyun. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Rouzer, P. (2017a). Chinese poetry. In W.Deneke, Wai-yee Li, Xiaofei Tian (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (1000 BCE–900 CE) (pp.241–257). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rouzer, P. (2017b). Defenses of Literature / Literary Thought / Poetics. In W.Deneke, Wai-yee Li, Xiaofei Tian (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (1000 BCE–900 CE) (pp. 347–359). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sargent, S. (2001). Tz’u. In V.Mair (Ed.), The Columbia History of Chinese Literature (pp.314–336). New York: Columbia University Press.

Sou yun 搜韵–诗词门户网站: https://sou-yun.cn/PoemIndex.aspx [accessed 19 February 2022].

Wu Zhou 武舟 (2006). 中国妓女文化史 [Cultural History of Chinese Prostitutes]. Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin.

Wang Shunu王书奴 (2004). 中国娼妓史 [History of Chinese Prostitutes]. Beijing: Tuanjie chubanshe.

Xin Wenfang 辛文房 (1994). 唐才子傳全譯 [Biographies of Brilliant Writers of the Tang Dynasty. Completed Translation]. Guiyang: Guizhou renmin.

Xu Jun, Yang Hai 徐君, 杨海 (1995). 妓女史 [The History of Prostitutes]. Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe.

Xu Muyun 徐慕云 (2014).中国戏剧史 [History of Chinese Drama]. Changsha: Hunan daxue chubanshe.

Xu Peijun 徐培均 (2009). 李清照集笺注 [Li Qingzhao’s Collection with Commentaries]. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe.

Yang, L. (2011). Imagery of female daoists in Tang and Song poetry. PhD thesis. The University of British Columbia.

Yang, X. (2012). Transference as Narcissistic or Traumatic Experience: Contemporary Chinese Poets (Mis-)Translated from Their Western Predecessors. In J.André, Hsiao-yen Peng (Eds.), China and Its Others: Knowledge Transfer through Translation, 1829–2010 (pp.213–244). Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi.

Yao, P. (2002). The Status of Pleasure: Courtesan and Literati Connections in T’ang China (618–907). Journal of Women’s History 14(2), 26–53. doi:10.1353/jowh.2002.0060.

Yao, P. (2022). Women, Gender, and Sexuality in China: a brief history. London&New York: Routledge.




How to Cite

Dashchenko, H. (2022). Legitimation Process of Female Poetry During the Tang Dynasty (618–907). Journal of Narrative and Language Studies, 10(19), 109–125. Retrieved from https://nalans.com/index.php/nalans/article/view/551