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Du Fu and Li Bai - The Poets

Episode 4 of 10

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 11 October 2012

China's two favourite poets were born 1,300 years ago, at the beginning of the 8th Century. The language has changed so little that they remain easy for modern Chinese people to read, and their themes are still relevant today - from friendship, love and landscape to the stench of political corruption.

Kaiser Kuo, a founder of China's first heavy-metal band, is probably one of the very few rock musicians, in any country, who draws inspiration from a poet born in 701AD.

"He was quite a drunkard... and writing some of his best poetry apparently, while completely inebriated. You know, he's wild and associated with a kind of unbridled revelry, and yeah that's part of why I love him," says Kuo.

He is talking about Li Bai, a poet born in Central Asia, who became a wandering superstar poet in China, known as "the fallen immortal" or "the immortal of wine".

Li Bai was a huge celebrity, showered with honours because of his genius. Du Fu, on the other hand, aspired to a career as a civil servant, but he failed the exam and was too prickly to network his way into a good post. In his later years, Du Fu was so poor that one of his children died of starvation.

Today, every Chinese person learns poems by Li Bai, and the country's other favourite poet, Du Fu, from childhood and their work is considered as important in Chinese literary history as Shakespeare is to people in Britain.

Presenter: Carrie Gracie
Producer: Neal Razzell.


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