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Emperor and Ci Writer Li Yu

Li Yu (937-978), the last emperor of the Southern Tang (937-975), was also the master of ci (lyrics with a much more fluid form than those used by the great Tang poets). He styled himself Chongguang. His hometown was Xuzhou City (in today's Jiangsu Province), or Huzhou (in today's Zhejiang Province) as another saying. Also known as Li Houzhu, he was the sixth child of Li Jing, Emperor Zhongzhu, and came to the throne in 961.

The Southern Tang had sworn fealty to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) in the later period of Emperor Zhongzhu. Surrounded by erudite civil servants and beautiful courtesans, Li Yu led a carefree life of luxury and indulgence. At last his country was destroyed by the Song and he himself was exiled to the new capital Kaifeng, where the emperor Zhao Guangyi, Emperor Taizong of the Song Dynasty, poisoned him. A fatuous and incompetent emperor, he scored prominent achievement in ci. Meanwhile, he was uncommonly talented in calligraphy, painting, music, poem and articles.

Li Yu's ci was divided into two periods by his surrender to the Song in 975, respectively with different styles. His ci of the early period had already showed his extraordinary talent and outstanding skill. However, the subjects of his ci were of narrow range, mainly representing love affairs in the court. Whereas some works related to the sadness of parting and lovesickness blended by feeling and settings are quite readable. In later period, the emperor was reduced to a prisoner. Living in humiliation, he was overwhelmed by the sorrow at the downfall of his country and sentiment of nostalgia, and has been wearing a woebegone look from dawn until dark (from Learn by Heart by Wang Zhi). Achievement of his ci in the later period greatly surpassed that of the early period. To the tune of The Beauty of Yu and Reminiscence were his representative works in the later period, mainly expressing his nostalgic feeling towards his country and the past. Knowing the past had gone, he still cherished the illusions.

Wang Guowei, the famous scholar of modern times once said, "With a wider range of subjects and deeper feelings, Li Houzhu expanded the scope of ci from 'popular' topics, like love and nature, to more serious matters."

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