In his three score and fourteen years, Bai Juyi, 白居易 (772 – 846) served many roles. Royal tutor but also, importantly, governor of three different provinces, a capacity in which he served the citizens well.
Bai Juyi appears on the scene a decade after the end of the devastating An Lushan Rebellion (755-763). He was born in Xinzheng, Henan province, in China’s central Yellow River Valley. Bai is the surname, meaning “white”. The personal name Juyi (居易) means “living easy”. He was given a courtesy name 樂天, Lètiān, which means optimistic.
Bai described himself as a self-made man, one who studied hard to pass the imperial exams, gave honor to his parents, served the imperial family dutifully, and deeply loved his wife and child.
During his long career, he was the governor of three Chinese provinces. His postings included governor of Zhongzhou (818), Hangzhou (822), and, later, Suzhou. In 829 he was appointed mayor of Luoyang, the eastern capital, retiring in 842.
Bai Juyi was born a scant six years after the end of the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763). He did, as a consequence, have to deal with the aftermath of the devastation, and tasked himself with correcting the problems of corruption and famine in the provinces he governed.
Bai Juyi wrote more than 2,600 poems over his long career. Many of these poems were sensual, that is they expressed simple, honest emotions. For this reason, they were popular with the ordinary Chinese citizen.
His insightful observations include this one: “If a Fleeting World is but a long, long dream, it matters not whether one is old or young.”
Song of Everlasting Sorrow
His most famous poem is Song of Everlasting Sorrow, which retells the events surrounding the death of the Lady Yang Guifei during the An Lushan Rebellion. Another well known poem is Song of the Pipa Girl.