Monday, March 31, 2008


Li-Ch'ing-Chao (or Li Qingzhao), 1084-c. 1151 -

Writer and Art Collector. Li-Ch'ing was a scholarly writer, painter, and art collector of great note, specializing in bronze and stone inscriptions. As a woman who was forced by war to become a refugee, her poetry and writings range from the political upheavals of China during the early years of the Sung Dynasty to musings about her personal feelings.
Li Ch'ing-Chao came from a family of well-known scholars and administrators. She led a protected, intellectual life, competing with her father's friends in writing poems. For women, the opportunity for education in this period depended mainly on one's family background. When she was eighteen Li Ch'ing-Chao married Chao Ming-ch'eng. Their marriage was one of equals who shared the same passion for the arts and for a desire to preserve China's rare works. Their collection of calligraphy and paintings became one of the finest and largest in the nation.
Li-Ch'ing lived in a time of social and political upheaval. Her family followed the Sung court when nomadic peoples forced it to flee South from its capital on the north China plain. After the death of her husband, Li-Ch'ing was constantly in flight, following the route of the fleeing court. She questioned the corruptness and military weakness of the Sung regime. At one time she wrote, "I would follow Mulan- a brave girl they say? But youth and ambition are over."
She married again in a brief marriage during which her husband abused her both verbally and physically. She appealed for a divorce, and also charged him with misappropriating military funds. She won her suit, but since, according to Sung law, a wife who brought a lawsuit against her husband must be confined, Ch'ing had to spend some time in prison. She lived out her last years, isolated and lonely.
"A friend sends her perfumed carriage/And high-bred horses to fetch me.I decline the invitation of/My old poetry and wine companion.I remember the happy days in the lost capital.We took our ease in the woman's quarters.The Feast of Lanterns was elaborately celebrated -Folded pendants, emerald hairpins, brocaded girdles,New sashes - we competed/ To see who was most smartly dressed.Now I am withering away,/ Wind-blown hair, frost temples.I prefer to stay beyond the curtains, /And listen to talk and laughterI can no longer share."

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