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Li Po : a biographical study Shih, Feng-yu


This dissertation is a critical study on the life of the great T'ang poet Li Po (701-62). First, I investigate the controversy about the poet's background and reconstruct a chronology of his life. Then, in the light of the historical reality of his times, I examine the two most important aspects of the poet's life, namely, his political pursuits and his life as a Taoist recluse. On Li Po's background, I endeavor to demonstrate that the poet was in all probability from obscure origins in modern Szechwan. He may have claimed membership in the Lung-hsi Li clan to promote his social status, and have fabricated the story of his family's long exile in Central Asia to explain why he failed to support, ”his" claim with an authoritative pedigree. The chronology presents a general picture of Li Po's life. Besides adopting or revising the findings of previous scholars, I also make special efforts to illuminate some obscure parts of the poet's life, notably the period 727-40. During that period, the poet kept his family at An-chou and then at Nan-yang, but travelled extensively himself to seek his fortune, including visiting Lo-yang and Ch'ang-an. A romantic dream predominated in Li Po's political life. Seeing himself as a born savior and a lofty recluse, the poet wished to fulfill his obligation to the empire with a quick political success and then to live in seclusion. He tried almost all avenues available to become prominent. However, he was not endowed with practical wisdom. His two short periods of political involvement both ended in failure. Li Po's life as a recluse partly resulted from the current idea that the loftiness of the recluse was prized both by society and by the government and, therefore, would lead to eminence. Indeed, romantic as he was, the poet also fervently loved the colorfulness and mysticism of the life of the recluse, which by his time was much blended with the Taoist quest for immortality. When frustrated in his political pursuits, he would turn to Taoist activities for consolation. But he never became a strict Taoist.

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