Children and Childhood in Chinese Poetry, from Tao Yuanming to Lu You and Yang Wanli
Keywords:兒童, 童年, 陶淵明, 陸游, 楊萬里, children, childhood, Tao Yuanming (ca. 365-427), Lu You (1125-1210), Yang Wanli (1127-1206)
LANGUAGE NOTE | Document text in Chinese; abstract also in English.
How were the images of children outlined in ancient China? In the course of coming of age in accordance with Confucian ethical norms, children were regarded as “miniature adults.” For this reason, “matured children” were always praised, while “naïve children” were prone to negation or repulsion.
Tao Yuanming’s (ca. 365-427) poems deserve our attention. Tao wholeheartedly represents the image of “naïve children.” Bravely going against the Confucian denigration of such children, Tao wrote about them and thereby achieved epoch-making significance.
No other poems on this topic were written after Tao’s during the Six Dynasties period until Du Fu (712-770) in the Tang. Like what Tao did in his poetry, Du vividly depicted the images of naïve children in numerous poems. Most noteworthy is that Du Fu for the first time wrote about his own childhood in reminiscence and nostalgia. This unique representation mode is not found in Tao Yuanming’s works; it was Du Fu who initiated this new poetic theme.
In the Song, the theme of children established and developed respectively by Tao and Du was widely adopted. It is evident in Su Shi’s (1037-110) and Huang Tingjian’s (1045-1105) poetry, but the poems by Lu You (1125-1210) and Yang Wanli (1127-1206) draw our special attention. Lu and Yang are probably most productive in writing poems about children in pre-modern China. Their poems patently deepened the themes of children and childhood.
Like Tao Yuanming, Lu You and Yang Wanli were closely tied to their respective homelands and wrote numerous poems praising their idyllic life. While Dufu’s writing is not about his own homeland but villages on strange soils, idyllic poems still constitute the majority of his compositions. The images of children are basically set in the context of their idyllic poems. The themes about children in Chinese poetry are related to the themes of rural society and farmland space. The present essay is an elaboration on these observations.
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