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Qu Yuan (34O-278 BC) is generally recognized as the first great Chinese patriotic poet in the history of Chinese literature. He initiated the style of Sao, which is named after his work Li Sao, in which he abandoned the classic four-character verses used in poems of Shi Jing and adopted verses with varying lengths, which gives the poem more rhythm and latitude in expression. Qu Yuan is also regarded as one of the most prominent figures of Romanticism in Chinese literature, and his masterpieces influenced some of the greatest Romanticist poets in Tang Dynasty such as Li Bai and Du Fu.

Other than his literary influence, Qu Yuan is also held as the earliest patriotic poet in China history. His political idealism and unbendable patriotism have served as the model for Chinese intellectuals until today.


Scholars have debated the authenticity of several of Qu Yuan's works since the Western Han dynasty (202 BCE - 9). The most authoritative historical record, Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian (Shi Ji) mentions five of Qu Yuan's works:

  • Li Sao (Sorrow after Departure, including 25 poems)
  • Tian Wen (Asking Hedven)
  • Zhao Hun
  • Ai Ying ("Lament for Ying")
  • Huai Sha

According to Wang Yi of the Eastern Han dynasty (ca. 25 CE - 220 CE), a total of 25 works can be attributed to Qu Yuan:

  • Li Sao (Sorrow after Departure, including 25 poems)
  • Jiu Ge (The Nine Songs, consisting of 11 pieces)
  •  Tian Wen (Asking Hedven)
  • Jiu Zhang (The Nine Elegies, consisting of 9 pieces)
  • Yuan You
  • Pu Ju
  • Yu Fu (The Fisherman)

Wang Yi chose to attribute Zhao Hun to a poet of the Western Han dynasty, Song Yu; most modern scholars, however, consider Zhao Hun to be Qu Yuan's original work, whereas Yuan You, Pu Ju, and Yu Fu are believed to have been composed by others.

Sorrow afrer Departure is Qu Yuan's classic work, which is also the earliest long lyric poem in China. The poem resolutely uncloaks the repulsiveness of the ruling class by deploying a series of metaphors, and at the same time portrays some upstanding models who adhere to justice, are unafraid of persecution and very devoted to their country and people.

Sorrow after Departure is a romantic lyric poem with a measured realism. The poet utilizes a great deal of exaggeration in portraying characters and describing objects. The assemblage of fairy tales further enhances the poem's romantic flavor Metaphors are lavishly laid out in Sorrow after Departure, for example, a fragrant plant is compared to people's uplifting qualities, the love between an man and woman is likened to the relationship between an emperor and his subjects, and the reins of a horse akin to the management of a country. The form of Sorrow after Departure comes from its origins in local oral traditions, and its very concise language echoes the many dialects of the Chu Kingdom.


Qu Yuan (Simplified Chinese: 屈原; Traditional Chinese: 屈原; Pinyin: qū yúan) (c.340 BC - 278 BC) was a Chinese patriotic poet from southern Chu during the Warring States Period. His works are mostly found in an anthology of poetry known as Chu Ci. His death is commemorated on Duan Wu or Tuen Ng Festival (端午节/端午節), commonly known as the Dragon Boat Festival.

Qu Yuan was a minister in the government of the state of Chu, descended of nobility and a champion of political loyalty and truth eager to maintain the Chu state's sovereignty. Qu Yuan advocated a policy of alliance with the other kingdoms of the period against the hegemonic state of Qin, which threatened to dominate them all. The Chu king, however, fell under the influence of other corrupt, jealous ministers who slandered Qu Yuan, and banished his most loyal counselor. It is said that Qu Yuan returned first to his family's home town. In his exile, he spent much of this time collecting legends and rearranging folk odes while travelling the countryside, producing some of the greatest poetry in Chinese literature while expressing his fervent love for his state and his deepest concern for its future.

According to legend, his anxiety brought him to an increasingly troubled state of health; during his depression, he would often take walks near a certain well, during which he would look upon his reflection in the water and be his own person, thin and gaunt. In the legend, this well became known as the "Face Reflection Well." Today on a hillside in Xiangluping in Hubei province's Zigui, there is a well which is considered to be the original well from the time of Qu Yuan.

In 278 BC, learning of the capture of his country's capital, Ying, by General Bai Qi of the state of Qin, Qu Yuan is said to have written the lengthy poem of lamentation called "Lament for Ying" and later to have waded into the Miluo river in today's Hunan Province holding a great rock in order to commit ritual suicide as a form of protest against the corruption of the era.

Relative Link: Duanwu Festival

The Duanwu Festival (Duanwu jíe), also as known the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival has the longest history of any of the festivals celebrated in China. Dragon boat races are held to the sounds of thunderous drumbeats. Racing teams row vigorously, sprinting forward to reach the finish line.

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