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Chinese women in history - soldiers, pirates, scholars, sages and rulers

Li Qingzhao - radical lyricist

Li Qingzhao (1084-1155) was an exceptionally versatile writer, accomplished as poet, essayist and lyricist.1 She was the daughter of the famous scholar Li Gefei. When she was 18, she married Zhao Mingcheng, the Prime Minister's son. The couple wrote and sang ballads together. They also shared the hobby of collecting art and calligraphy.2 The happiness of Li Qingzhao's early life was quite evident in the works produced in the first part of her career. Her lyric poems were mainly romantic compositions with leisure themes.3 Li established herself as an authority on the genre of lyrical poetry. She wrote the treatise "Discussing Lyricism", arguing that lyric poetry should be treated as a literary genre apart from verse not written for music.4

In 1126, the Song emperor retreated south to escape the invasion of the Jin Dynasty. As the Northern Song era ended, many northerners fled south with the emperor to establish the Southern Song Dynasty. Li and her family were among the refugees. Not long later, Li's husband Zhao fell ill and passed away.5 It was said that this combination of personal and national tragedy changed Li's artistic style beyond recognition. The widowed refugee's personal loneliness and fear for her country's fate became central themes in her new work.6 When late-Song era lyricist Liu Chengweng read Li Qingzhao's "Joy of an Eternal Meeting", he was moved to tears. Li's great achievement lay in taking the emotional and philosophical content of traditional lyrical poetry to a level where no one had gone before.7


  1. Li Qingzhao on (Chinese article)
  2. Li Qingzhao on (Chinese article)
  3. Li Qingzhao's Lyric Poetry (Chinese article)
  4. Li Qingzhao on (Chinese article)
  5. Li Qingzhao on (Chinese article)
  6. Li Qingzhao's Lyric Poetry (Chinese article)