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Soldiers and Chariots 1

Du, Fu (712-770 CE)
The chariots rumble,
The horses neigh,
The soldiers march forward with their bows and arrows hanging at their waists.
Their wives and parents rush to see them off.
The dust obscures the Xian-yang Bridge.
Relatives clutch at the clothes of the soldiers,
Stamp their feet in anger, and cry, blocking the road.
The sad cries shoot skyward and pierce the clouds.
A passerby asks the members of the procession what is happening.
They hurriedly reply that the government drafts soldiers too often.
Some soldiers have been stationed north of the Yellow River since the age of fifteen.
After they reach forty,
They will be sent to the western border to cultivate wasteland.
When they left their hometown,
The head of the village helped them wrap their hair with handkerchiefs 2.
Even after they return home white-haired,
They still cannot avoid being sent back to defend the frontiers.
The border has become a sea of blood,
But the emperor's desire to expand China's territory is insatiable.
Of the two hundred towns east of Hua Mountain,
Thousands of fields are abandoned to weeds and briers.
The grain grows disorderly in the field
Even though there are sturdy women able to hoe and plow.
The soldiers stationed at the Middle Wall 3 can bear hardship and endure toil.
They are driven abusively like dogs or chickens.
Even if one inquires about their welfare with concern,
How dare these slave soldiers complain?
For instance,
This winter there is still no relief for the soldiers stationed at the West Wall 4.
Mayors urgently press for payment of taxes.
From what resources can a family pay its taxes? 5
People feel doomed when they have sons.
Parents prefer to have daughters instead
Because after they marry, they can still be neighbors.
A son will be killed on the battlefield and later buried in weeds.
Look at the shore along Lake Qing-hai 6.
Since ancient times, the white bones of soldiers have not been buried.
The new ghosts cry out and the old ghosts weep.
The howl of ghosts is intermittently heard on cloudy, rainy days.

1 This poem, written in 751 CE, was Du's first that addressed contemporary social problems. Later generations honored this type of poem by referring to them as poetic history. After 741 CE, in order to expand China's territory toward the west, the emperors of the Tang dynasty started many wars. However, it turned out that China lost almost every war and 20,000 Chinese soldiers were killed. To replace the dead soldiers, Prime Minister Guo-zhong Yang ordered governors to arbitrarily arrest people on the streets, shackle them, and then send them to army camps. This was the reason people protested the emperor's tyranny. Du blamed the government's aggression for the people's great suffering. His strong concern about the country's social problems demonstrates that his poetic style of realism had reached maturity.

2 This was because they were too young.

3 The Middle Wall is the short name for the middle part of the Great Wall.

4 The West Wall is the short name for the western part of the Great Wall.

5 A family cannot pay its tax because there are no men to tend the fields.

6 Lake Qing-hai (green sea) is an inland sea in Qinghai Province.