Xue Tao (薛涛) II
Hey! Look! Xue Tao playing music!
Anyway, the last time we left Xue Tao, she had returned to Sichuan, and all was going well for her, right?
The thing is, Xue Tao didn’t have a happy life, and she really didn’t like being a courtesan, ‘cause men used her for sex. She really wanted to get married, so she wrote this other poem:
A pair of mandarin ducks nestle in the pond,
Inseparable from dawn till dusk.
And when they have a fledgling to care for,
With one heart nurture it amid lotus leaves.
It was real hard for her to get married, though, ‘cause of her low status (under patriarchy, no less) plus her supposed love affair with the poet Yuan Zhen, who was the governor of Sichuan. He even wrote a poem for her, like so:
Delicate is the Brocade river, elegant is Emei mountain,
Both nurtured the poets Zuo Wenjun and Xue Tao.
Your ready tongue is eloquent as a parakeet’s,
Your poetry as dazzling as a phoenix’s plumage.
Poets all pause in their writing,
Each lord dreams of an adroit writing brush.
Separated by mist and water, I yearn for you.
The clematis will be blooming, the rosy clouds aloft.
There’re more, of course. But this wasn’t to be. Yuan Zhen left Chengdu, and Xue Tao set up a school instead at Bijifang or Green Cockerel Lane. She called it the “House for Reciting Poetry,” or Yinshilou. She became a Taoist, and went to work instead of feelin’ sorry for herself. Which is just as well, ‘cause even when Yuan Zhen came back 10 years later, he totally forgot to send for her even though he was about to, but sent for another singing girl instead.
Of course Xue Tao’s total awesomeness didn’t like, end there. When this dude, Li Deyu, came to Chengdu to construct a building called the Border Command Tower, to guard against the tribes that wanted a piece of China. Xue Tao wrote a poem ‘bout it too, which basically said, “It’s real good that you have this tower and all, but don’t attack the tribes, keep it safe for errbody, yo.”
Guess what? Them peeps listened to her.
So even though there was no happily ever after ending for Xue Tao (sorry Disney, I ain’t giving you some heteronormative shit to chew on, nuh-uh) she managed to rise from her lowly position. See, religiousity was a way for people to overcome their baseness, and by cultivating herself with the way, and living the contemplative life, she was able to rise from her base position.
After she died, she was like, really famous. I mean, even her calligraphy received praise, ‘cause a Song Dynasty writing manual was all, “Check this out! Her strokes so look like Wang Xizhi’s, yo.” (Wang Xizhi was famous fo’ his calligraphy in the Jin Dynasty) Xue Tao even made herself some good writing paper, which meant that she was pretty good with her hands, too. The well she got water to make paper is also named after her - don’t laugh - it’s a pretty big deal! The well is in Wangjiang park in Chengdu.
Of course, the governor of Sichuan wrote an epitaph on her tomb, honouring her, and you can’t get any more bad-ass than that.
Oh wait, you can. See what she wrote to her ex-bf:
Sending old poems to Yuan Zhen
The urge to make poems:
everyone’s got it.
But I alone
rich subtleties of scenes.
I sing of flowers beneath the moon,
loving what’s still and pale,
or write of willows at rainy dawn
for sake of their angled fringe.
Women like Green Jade*
have long been kept
hidden in secret depths.
And yet, I always write
as I please,
on my scarlet poem-slips.
Grown old, one can’t collect one’s work
and fix up all that’s wrong,
so I send these poems to you,
as if shown to teach a boy.
* Green Jade means the dutiful Confucian woman, by the way.
She kicked his ass so hard, showing him that she was wayy better than that, and not one to be messed with. She showed errbody the power of words and what they could do, makin’ the best of what she’s got. That’s awesome right there.
11 months ago · 9 notes