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A River in Snow 1

Liu, Zong-yuan 2 (773-819 CE)

Not a single bird can be seen flying near the high mountain range.
No human traces are found on any of the countless paths.
In a solitary canoe on a cold river,
An old man wearing a bamboo hat and a straw cape
Fishes alone in the snow.


1 After a political power struggle, Liu's reformist party lost. Consequently, Liu was demoted from Counsel on the Board of Rites to mayor of a primitive border city in China. This poem shows his courage to fight against evil and hardship.
    Zong-yuan Liu wrote to Hui-zhi Yang, "When I was seventeen, I resolved to pass the Advanced Exam. It took me four years to pass the exam. When I was twenty-four, I aimed for the position of Great Scholar in the Royal Academy. It took me two years to accomplish my goal. Then I became a lieutenant at Lan-tian City. I visited powerful officials to seek advancement. Rather than being impressed by my conversation and manners, they thought I was no indistinguishable from a common soldier. Then I studied Taoism and mastered its bibles. However, Scholars of Confucius considered my study frivolous. Later, I was promoted to Censor and Counsel on the Board of Rites. I thought I might have the opportunity to fulfill my political dreams. Unexpectedly, within a few months Emperor Shun-zong became ill and our party lost in a power struggle. Unavoidably, I was sent into exile."

2 Zi-hou was Zong-yuan Liu's alternate first name. His ancestral home was in Xie-xian City (in present day Shanxi Province) of He-dong County. He was born in Chang-an City, the capital of the Tang dynasty. His father, Qing, was the Assistant Censor. When Zong-yuan was four, his mother, Lu, taught him poetry. When he was twenty-one, he passed the Advanced Exam and then became a Great Scholar at the Royal Academy. Liu mastered Chinese classics and history. His opinions were majestic and outstanding. He was appointed to Editor of the Ji-xian (elites) Palace. Later, he was transferred to Lieutenant at Lan-tian City. In 803 CE, he was promoted to Censor. In 805 CE, Shu-wen Wang and Zhi-yi Wei assumed power. In order to reduce the influence of eunuchs and reform politics, they employed talented people by bypassing the conventional rules. Liu was appointed to Counsel on the Board of Rites. A few months later, Emperor Shun-zong was struck down with an illness. He abdicated the throne to Xian-zong. The political climate changed drastically. Wang and Wei lost power in the political struggle. In September of that year, Liu was demoted to Mayor of Shao-zhou City as a result of his association with Wang and Wei. On the way to Shao-zhou City, Liu was demoted again to Si-ma (a position in charge of the city痴 military affairs) of Yong-zhou City. Yong-zhou City is now called Ling-ling City and is located in Hunan Province. At Liu痴 time Yong-zhou City was bleak and desolate. He did not have many things to do, so he toured all over the countryside and recorded many travel notes. In Winter 814 CE, he was summoned back to the capital. In Spring of the next year, Liu was transferred to Mayor of Liu-zhou City (present day Liu-cheng-xian City in Guangxi Province), a more remote and primitive region. Even so, Liu still devoted himself to the city government and accomplished meritorious services. The people in Liu-zhou City built a temple in Lo-chi (east of Ma-ping-xian City in Guangxi Province) to honor him. Yu Han wrote an inscription about him on the tablet of the temple.