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A Large Pearl 1

Li, Yu 2 (937-978 CE)

    Just after applying her evening makeup, she lightly sprays sandalwood perfume around her boudoir. Turning toward me, she slightly reveals the tip of her fragrant tongue. One refreshing song leads to the breaking of a cherry 3. Her tall glass is soon filled with mellow wine. Her silk sleeves, stained by wine, are red and lovely. Reclining on her embroidered bed, she is charming and coquettish. Nibbling the red velvet trim, her pink tongue casts it out as she smiles at Mr. Tan 4.

1 This poem was written for Elder Queen Zhou, whose first name was E-huang. She was one year older than King Li and married him when she was nineteen. She was beautiful, talented, and good at singing and dancing. Indeed, she was a versatile artist. Once she asked for paper and immediately composed the melody "Come, Intoxication, Let Us Dance to Exhaustion!". She died at the age of twenty-nine.

2 Cong-jia was Last King Li's original first name. After he inherited the throne, he changed his first name to Yu. He also used Chong-guang as his first name. He had a noble face, broad brow, and plump cheeks. Two of his front teeth were joined. One of his eyes had two pupils. He loved calligraphy, painting, and poetry. He published many books. Music was his expertise. In 960 CE, he was established as the crown prince. Soon after he inherited the throne at Jin-ling City (present day Nanjing). He became king at the age of twenty-five. At that time his kingdom, Southern Tang, switched to the calendar of the Song dynasty. Last King Li frequently sent envoys to pay tribute to Emperor Tai-zu of the Song dynasty so that his kingdom could survive for a short while. In 970 CE, Emperor Tai-zu destroyed the Kingdom of Southern Han. Last King Li started to worry that his kingdom would be the next to be destroyed. In 974 CE, Emperor Tai-zu summoned Li to the capital twice. Both times Li excused himself by claiming that he was sick. Consequently, Emperor Tai-zu ordered General Bin Cao and General Mei Pan to lead troops in attack on Jin-ling City by land and by water. Because Li's general, Ruo-shan Fan, betrayed Li, Jin-ling City was captured by Song's troops the following year. Last King Li bared his back to accept punishment and surrendered at the enemy's camp. Emperor Tai-zu ordered Li to wear white clothes and a crepe hat (a mourning costume), to stand beneath Ming-de (brighten virtue) Tower, and to wait for his punishment. Li was given the title "the Disobeying Marquis". After Emperor Tai-zu's son, Tai-zong, became emperor, he gave Li the title "the Duke of the State of Long". The officials of the Song dynasty constantly harassed him with freezing irony and burning satire. Li's life was made miserable. He once wrote to his previous staff in Jin-ling City, "I wash my face with tears day and night." His longing for his home country made his poems more and more elaborate and profound. Many of his poems were highly praised by later generations. In 978 CE, on July 7th, his birthday, Last King Li held a party in his mansion and ordered his previous courtesans to entertain. The noise of the party could be heard from far away. After Emperor Tai-zong read Li's line, "It is unbearable to recall my old kingdom under this bright moon", he suspected that Li planned to restore his kingdom. In addition, he was angry at Li's exuberance. Therefore, he ordered the King of the State of Chu, Yuan-zuo, to bring wine to Li's mansion to cerebrate. After the wine was finished, Li died from poison. When the news of his death reached the area south of the Yangtze River, many of the elders wept on the streets.

3 A cherry is used to convey that a woman's mouth is small, pretty, red, and moist.

4 Mr. Tan refers to An Pan, a famous poet in the Jin dynasty. Tan-nu was his alternate first name. He was handsome. Women of later generations called their lovers Mr. Tan. Here Mr. Tan refers to the king, Yu Li.