Chen Zi’ang, 陳子昂

Chen Zi’ang, 陳子昂, (661 or 656 – 702), was given the courtesy name, Boyu (伯玉), but is generally known by his birth name, as his courtesy name can be translated as Rich Uncle, literally Jade Uncle. Coming from a wealthy family from Sichuan, he traveled to the capital, Chang’an, where he took and passed the Imperial examination, jinshi. By hard work and study, he “climbed the corporate ladder,” and became an advisor to the Empress Wu Zetian.

Chen Zi’ang, 陳子昂, painted by Kanō Tsunenobu,18th century, Wikepedia

There is a popular story about how he made a name for himself. Showing up in the central marketplace, he paid an exhorbitant asking price of a million silver coins for a Huquin, 胡琴 (a stringed instrument like a violin). He professed to the astonished crowd that he was an expert musician, and invited everyone to a performance the next day. When the crowds showed up, they were greeted with a lavish feast. Chen then introduced himself as a poet. Next, he smashed to bits the instrument before the astonished eyes of the crowd, and handed out copies of 38 poems, collectively called Gan-yu, 感遇 (Feelings, or My Perceptions).

In 696, the Empress sent an army north against the Khitan tribes (in today’s Mongolia). This expedition did not fare well and as Chen Zi’ang had some official part in the expedition. Perhaps, because of this or because of his social commentary, Chen Zi’ang fell out of favor with the Empress. He was in and out of prison and died in 702 after returning home.

One poem, Ascending Houzhou Terrace is included in the Anthology of 300 Tang Poems.

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