Su Shi

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Su Shi
Su shi.jpg
Posthumous Yuan dynasty portrait of Su Shi by Zhao Mengfu
Born8 January 1037 [1]
Died24 August 1101(1101-08-24) (aged 64) [2]
Occupation(s) Calligrapher, essayist, gastronomer, pharmacologist, poet, politician, travel writer
Notable work Former and Latter Odes on the Red Cliffs ( 前赤壁賦 )
The Cold Food Observance ( 寒食帖 )
Parent Su Xun (father)
Relatives Su Zhe (brother)
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
A depiction of Su Shi from 1743 Su Shi.jpg
A depiction of Su Shi from 1743

Su Shi had three wives. His first wife was Wang Fu (王弗, 1039–1065), an astute, quiet lady from Sichuan who married him at the age of sixteen. She died 13 years later in 1065, on the second day of the fifth Chinese lunar month (Gregorian calendar 14 June), after bearing him a son, Su Mai (蘇邁). Heartbroken, Su Shi wrote a memorial for her (亡妻王氏墓志銘), stating that Wang Fu was not just a virtuous wife but also advised him frequently on the integrity of his acquaintances when he was an official.

Ten years after the death of his first wife, Su Shi composed a () poem after dreaming of the deceased Wang Fu in the night at Mi Prefecture. The poem, "To the tune of 'Of Jinling'" (江城子), remains one of the most famous poems Su Shi wrote. [14] [15] [ failed verification ]

In 1068, two years after Wang Fu's death, Su Shi married Wang Runzhi (王閏之, 1048–93), cousin of his first wife, and 11 years his junior. Wang Runzhi spent the next 15 years accompanying Su Shi through his ups and downs in officialdom and political exile. Su Shi praised Runzhi for being an understanding wife who treated his three sons equally (his eldest, Su Mai (苏迈/蘇邁), was born by Wang Fu). Once, Su Shi was angry with his young son for not understanding his unhappiness during his political exile. Wang Runzhi chided Su Shi for his silliness, prompting Su Shi to write the domestic poem "Young Son" (小兒).

Wang Runzhi died in 1093, at forty-six, after bearing two sons, Su Dai (苏迨/蘇迨) and Su Guo (苏过/蘇過). Overcome with grief, Su Shi expressed his wish to be buried with her in her memorial (祭亡妻同安郡君文). On his second wife's second birthday after her death, Su Shi wrote another poem, "To the tune of 'Butterflies going after Flowers'" (蝶戀花), for her.

Su's third wife, Wang Zhaoyun (王朝雲, 1062–1095) was his handmaiden who was a former Qiantang singing artist. Wang was only about ten (eleven sui) when she became his personal servant. [16] She taught herself to read, having formerly been illiterate. Wang Zhaoyun was probably the most famous of Su's companions. Su's friend Qin Guan wrote a poem, "A Gift for Dongpo's concubine Zhaoyun" (贈東坡妾朝雲), praising her beauty and lovely voice. Su Shi himself dedicated a number of his poems to Zhaoyun, including "To the Tune of 'Song of the South'"(南歌子), "Verses for Zhaoyun" (朝雲詩), "To the Tune of 'The Beauty Who Asks One To Stay'" (殢人嬌·贈朝雲), and "To the Tune of 'The Moon at Western Stream'" (西江月). Zhaoyun remained a faithful companion to Su Shi after Runzhi's death, but died of illness on 13 August 1095 (紹聖三年七月五日) at Huizhou. [17] Zhaoyun bore Su Shi a son, Su Dun (蘇遁), on 15 November 1083, who died in infancy. After Zhaoyun's death, Su Shi never married again.

Being a government official in a family of officials, Su Shi was often separated from his loved ones depending on his posting. In 1078, he was serving as prefect of Suzhou. His beloved younger brother was able to join him for the mid-autumn festival, which inspired the poem "Mid-Autumn Moon" reflecting on the preciousness of time with family. It was written to be sung to the tune of "Yang Pass." [6]

As evening clouds withdraw a clear cool air floods in
the jade wheel passes silently across the Silver River
this life this night has rarely been kind
where will we see this moon next year
(translation by Red Pine)

Su Shi had three sons who survived to adulthood: the eldest, Su Mai (蘇邁), who would also become a government official by 1084.; [18] the second, Su Dai (蘇迨); and the third, Su Guo (蘇過). When Su Shi died in 1101, his younger brother Su Zhe (蘇轍) buried him alongside second wife Wang Runzhi according to his wishes.



Calligraphy by Su Shi: A detail of The Cold Food Observance (Han Shi Tie 
) Su shi-calligraphy.jpg
Calligraphy by Su Shi: A detail of The Cold Food Observance (寒食帖)

Around 2,700 of Su Shi's poems have survived, along with 800 written letters. [7] Su Shi excelled in the shi , ci and fu forms of poetry, as well as prose, calligraphy and painting. Some of his notable works include the First and Second Chibifu (赤壁賦The Red Cliffs, written during his first exile), Nian Nu Jiao: Chibi Huai Gu (念奴嬌·赤壁懷古Remembering Chibi, to the tune of Nian Nu Jiao) and Shui diao ge tou (水調歌頭Remembering Su Zhe on the Mid-Autumn Festival , 中秋節). The two former poems were inspired by the Battle of Chibi, a naval battle of the Three Kingdoms era that occurred in the year 208. The bulk of his poems are in the shi style, but his poetic fame rests largely on his 350 ci style poems. Su Shi also founded the haofang school, which cultivated an attitude of heroic abandon. In both his written works and his visual art, he combined spontaneity, objectivity and vivid descriptions of natural phenomena. Su Shi wrote essays as well, many of which are on politics and governance, including his Liuhoulun (留侯論). His popular politically charged poetry was often the reason for the wrath of Wang Anshi's supporters towards him, culminating with the Crow Terrace Poetry Trial of 1079. He also wrote poems on Buddhist topics, including a poem later extensively commented on by Eihei Dōgen, the founder of the Japanese Sōtō school of Zen, in a chapter of his work Shōbōgenzō entitled The Sounds of Valley Streams, the Forms of Mountains . [19]

Travel record literature

The Su Dongpo Memorial of Huizhou. Dongpo-memorial.JPG
The Su Dongpo Memorial of Huizhou.

Su Shi also wrote of his travel experiences in 'daytrip essays', [20] which belonged in part to the popular Song era literary category of 'travel record literature' (youji wenxue) that employed the use of narrative, diary, and prose styles of writing. [21] Although other works in Chinese travel literature contained a wealth of cultural, geographical, topographical, and technical information, the central purpose of the daytrip essay was to use a setting and event in order to convey a philosophical or moral argument, which often employed persuasive writing. [20] For example, Su Shi's daytrip essay known as Record of Stone Bell Mountain investigates and then judges whether or not ancient texts on 'stone bells' were factually accurate. [22]

A memorial concerning the iron industry

An illustration of a blast furnace smelting cast iron, with bellows operated by a waterwheel and mechanical device, from the Nong Shu, by Wang Zhen, 1313 CE Yuan Dynasty - waterwheels and smelting.png
An illustration of a blast furnace smelting cast iron, with bellows operated by a waterwheel and mechanical device, from the Nong Shu, by Wang Zhen, 1313 CE

While acting as Governor of Xuzhou, Su Shi in 1078 CE wrote a memorial to the imperial court about problems faced in the Liguo Industrial Prefecture which was under his watch and administration. In an interesting and revealing passage about the Chinese iron industry during the latter half of the 11th century, Su Shi wrote about the enormous size of the workforce employed in the iron industry, competing provinces that had rival iron manufacturers seeking favor from the central government, as well as the danger of rising local strongmen who had the capability of raiding the industry and threatening the government with effectively armed rebellion. It also becomes clear in reading the text that prefectural government officials in Su's time often had to negotiate with the central government in order to meet the demands of local conditions. [23]

Technical issues of hydraulic engineering

During the ancient Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE) of China, the sluice gate and canal lock of the flash lock had been known. [24] By the 10th century the latter design was improved upon in China with the invention of the canal pound lock, allowing different adjusted levels of water along separated and gated segments of a canal. [25] This innovation allowed for larger transport barges to pass safely without danger of wrecking upon the embankments, and was an innovation praised by those such as Shen Kuo (1031–1095). [26] Shen also wrote in his Dream Pool Essays of the year 1088 that, if properly used, sluice gates positioned along irrigation canals were most effective in depositing silt for fertilization. [27] Writing earlier in his Dongpo Zhilin of 1060, Su Shi came to a different conclusion, writing that the Chinese of a few centuries past had perfected this method and noted that it was ineffective in use by his own time. [28]

Although Su Shi made no note of it in his writing, the root of this problem was merely the needs of agriculture and transportation conflicting with one another. [28]


Dongpo pork Dongpo pork by superturtle.jpg
Dongpo pork

Su is called one of the four classical gastronomes. The other three are Ni Zan (1301–74), Xu Wei (1521–93), and Yuan Mei (1716–97). [29] There is a legend, for which there is no evidence, that by accident he invented Dongpo pork, a famous dish in later centuries. Lin Hsiang Ju and Lin Tsuifeng in their scholarly Chinese Gastronomy give a recipe, "The Fragrance of Pork: Tungpo Pork", and remark that the "square of fat is named after Su Dongpo, the poet, for unknown reasons. Perhaps it is just because he would have liked it." [30] A story runs that once Su Shi had decided to make stewed pork. Then an old friend visited him in the middle of the cooking and challenged him to a game of Chinese chess. Su Shi had totally forgotten the stew, which in the meantime had now become extremely thick-cooked, until its very fragrant smell reminded him of it.[ citation needed ] Some legends point to the contrary, however, where other villagers simply named the pork dish after him to honour his death, although no concrete evidence points to any conclusion.

Su, to explain his vegetarian inclinations, said that he never had been comfortable with killing animals for his dinner table, but had a craving for certain foods, such as clams, so he could not desist. When he was imprisoned his views changed: "Since my imprisonment I have not killed a single thing... having experienced such worry and danger myself, when I felt just like a fowl waiting in the kitchen, I can no longer bear to cause any living creature to suffer immeasurable fright and pain simply to please my palate." [31]

See also

Wood and Rock Su Shi-Vieil arbre et rocher etrange.jpg
Wood and Rock


  1. Su Shi wrote in his short essay Xian Qu Qiu Shi that his birthday was on the 19th day of the 12th month. Also, his biography in History of Song indicated that he was 66 (by East Asian reckoning) when he died in the 1st year of the Jian'zhong Jing'guo era of Emperor Huizong's reign (1101 in the Julian calendar) (《献曲求诗》:元丰五年十二月十九日东坡生日,置酒赤壁矶下,踞高峰,酒酣,笛声起于江上。客有郭、尤二生,颇知音,谓坡曰:"笛声有新意,非俗工也。”使人问之,则进士李委闻坡生日,作南曲目《鹤南飞》以献。呼之使前,则青巾紫裘腰笛而已。既奏新曲,又快作数弄,嘹然有穿云石之声,坐客皆引满醉倒。委袖出嘉纸注一幅曰:"吾无求于公,得一绝句足矣。”坡笑而从之。)
  2. According to Su Zhe's epitaph for his elder brother, Su Shi died on the dinghai day of the 7th month of the 1st year of the Jian'zhong Jing'guo era of Emperor Huizong's reign. This corresponds to 24 Aug 1101 in the Julian calendar.
  3. Whitfield, Roderick (2003). "Su Shi" . Grove Art Online . Bibliography updated by Henning von Mirbach. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T082440. ISBN   978-1-884446-05-4.(subscription or UK public library membership required)
  4. Murck (2000), p. 31.
  5. Wilkinson 2018, p. 510.
  6. 1 2 Red Pine, Poems of the Masters, Copper Canyon Press, 2003.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Ebrey, Cambridge Illustrated History of China, 140.
  8. 1 2 3 Hymes, 61.
  9. Wagner, 178
  10. Hegel, 13
  11. 1 2 Ebrey, East Asia, 164.
  12. 1 2 Hegel, 14
  13. 1 2 Hartman, 22.
  14. Dreaming of My Deceased Wife on the Night of the 20th Day of the First Month
  15. "Su Shi's poetry at". Archived from the original on 28 July 2012. Retrieved 9 August 2007.
  16. "Error" (PDF).
  17. See 悼朝雲詩
  18. Hargett, 75.
  19. Bielefeldt, Carl (2013), "Sound of the Stream, Form of the Mountain: Keisei Sanshoku" (PDF), Dharma Eye, Sotoshu Shumucho (31): 21–29
  20. 1 2 Hargett, 74.
  21. Hargett, 67-73.
  22. Hargett, 7476
  23. Wagner, 178179
  24. Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 344-350.
  25. Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 350-351.
  26. Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 351-352.
  27. Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 230-231.
  28. 1 2 Needham Volume 4, Part 3, 230.
  29. Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History: A Manual (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, Rev. and enl., 2000): 634.
  30. Hsiang-Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin, with a Foreword and Introduction by Lin Yutang, Chinese Gastronomy. New York,: Hastings House, 1969 ISBN   0-8038-1131-4. Various reprints, p 55.
  31. Egan, Word, Image, and Deed, p. 52-53.
  32. "Christie's | Wood and Rock by Su Shi | Fine Chinese Classical Paintings | Christie's".



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