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Sima Xiangru

Sima Xiangru (179 BC-118 BC), a prominent essayist and poet in the Western Han Dynasty, is best known for his fu (rhapsody). His representative works, Rhapsody on Sir Vacuous (Zi-xu fu) and Rhapsody on the Imperial Park (Shang-lin fu), are the most outstanding, influential and classic representations of fu in the Han Dynasty. The time lag between the creations of these two works is as long as a decade, however, they are so well-structured and consistent in content that they are usually treated as a single fu.

Sir Vacuous, Master Improbable and Lord No-such are three fictitious characters made up by Sima Xiangru in Rhapsody on Sir Vacuous and Rhapsody on the Imperial Park in the form of dialogues. The rhapsodies go as follows: Sir Vacuous was sent by Chu as an envoy to Qi and the King of Qi dispatched all of his chariots and horsemen to go out to hunt with the envoy. When the hunt was finished, Sir Vacuous called on Master Improbable in the presence of Lord No-such. They aired their view on the reception of King of Qi and commented on others’ views. Sir Vacuous deemed that King of Qi was bragging since Qi could hardly compare with Chu while Master Improbable thought that Sir Vacuous should be grateful for the king’s warm and generous reception and Chu was by no means more powerful than Qi in any aspect. In contrast, Lord No-such criticized Sir Vacuous, Master Improbable as well as vassal lords of Chu and Qi. Later, he depicted the magnificence of the Imperial Park of the Son of Heaven and the extravagance of the barricade hunt staged by the emperor in exceedingly elegant diction. However, in the end, the emperor found it wasted too much, so he dissolved the feast, ended the hunt and promulgated series of regulations benefiting his people; thereupon his country witnessed a thriving and peaceful period.

Rhapsody on Sir Vacuous and Rhapsody on the Imperial Park are the norm of fu both in content and form. Sima Xiangru portrayed the prosperity and magnificence of the great empire and promoted the notion of a unified nation. He also depicted the aspirant, confident and high-spirited people during the booming period in ancient China from multifaceted perspectives. Rhapsody on Sir Vacuous and Rhapsody on the Imperial Park by Sima Xiangru present a grandiose and romantic picture and are simulated by numerous later writers of fu, yet still remain as unexcelled masterpieces.


Editor: Feng Hui

Key Words

Tea   West Lake   

Temple      Su Dongpo 


Fans   Embroidery

Garden     Fuzimiao

Zhonghua Gate

Nanjing Salted Duck

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