This is the second of Li Shen’s poems on the dire conditions of Chinese farmers during the Tang dynasty.
Li Shen served as a chancellor during the reign of Emperor Wuzong, and the question has been asked, why he did not do more to alleviate conditions for the peasants. Rebellion, floods, famine, and bad governance all played a part in the eventual dissolution of the Tang dynasty which occurred roughly 50 years after Li Shen’s death in 846.
Take pity on the farmer
In Spring, a single grain of millet sown
Come Autumn, a million off-spring makes
In all China, not a field lies fallow
So why do farmers starve to death
Li Shen’s other poem has more resonance.
Pity the Peasant
Hoeing cereal in the midday sun
His sweat drops and nourishes the grain and the earth
But few people know his supper
Is nothing but hard work