Li Bai also commonly known as Li Bo is a Chinese poet known for his romantic poems and his nonfiction book about immortality. He was so extravagant in his life; he loved wine drinking and associating with different people from various cultures. He was also a very confident and faithful man and most of these aspects were evident through his novel and poem publications. He was so interested in joining politics that he accepted a role as senior advisor to an Emperor’s son who went ahead and lost in the elections. Li Bai went and got banished. He spent the rest of his life living among the peasants and not writing many poems at the time but he changed his attention from divine pictures to worldly images. Under exile, Li Bo observed the harsh conditions the Chinese people were living. This essay will attempt to explain the cultural identity from one of his poems “Chiang Chin Chiu”.
The poem “Chiang Chin Chiu” is from a Chinese cultural setting. For instance, an extract from the poem, “See the waters leap down from Heaven” refers to the altitude of the upper section of the Yellow River. In the lower sections of the river, the watercourse flows towards the plains and the silt forming sediments raising the riverbed. This is what is commonly known as a hanging river. The Yellow River was an origin of human civilization in the ancient Chinese and was responsible for the culture of the northern part. The poet uses this river to explain the ups and downs of life, explaining how the river flowed from the high places, through the plains and in to the sea. In this presentation, the poet tries to explain the ups and downs of life.
In the poem, the poet has expressed the need to celebrate the joys of life and encouraged people to drink wine. In the poem, “Snatch the joys of life as they come and use them to the full; do not live the silver cup idly glinting at the moon”. This extract indicates that the poet’s culture encouraged and practiced wine consumption to a large extent. In addition, the poet also writes, “Only might drinkers of wine have left a name behind.” The relationship between ancient Chinese culture and wine was very close and extensive. In the ancient times, poems were composed with the aid of wine and wine was a part of the process. Wine culture involved drinking games, drinking vessels and customs. In the ancient china, wine was significant during two periods; first, it was used to perform the functions of religion for instance during sacrifices and secondly, it was used to perform the function of art, literature and entertainment. The poet writes that, “Let him send to the tavern and fetch wine to keep our tankards filled…let him call the boy to take them along and pawn them for good wine, that drinking together we may drive away the sorrows of a thousand years.”
Li Bai also expresses the meat-eating culture of the people in the area through the poetic lines, “Roast mutton and Sliced beef will only taste well if you drink with them at one sitting three hundred cups”. The meat-eating culture is mostly favored by the winter conditions explained in the poem since the people in this culture believe that beef and mutton eating help keep the body warm and improve on circulation. Mutton meat was aesthetically associated to beauty and this consciousness was extended to the sense of touch, smell, taste and hearing which spread to the mental consciousness. The poet also attempts to explain the Chinese culture of accompanying meals with wine. Drinking of wine together with meat is believed to eliminate food poisoning and assist in effective digestion of the food. They also have a habit of making toasts in the dining table to celebrate particular achievements. This culture was a way of bringing people together. The blend of meat eating and drinking is insisted in the poetic lines stated earlier in this paragraph.
Li Bai in this poem also highlights some important aspects of the Chinese musical culture. “But listen, please, and I will sing you a song. Bells and drums and fine food,” This shows that music was a very important element for ceremonial purposes. Music was believed to induce respect in the presence of authority and hence the reference of musical activities when the prince of Ch’een held a feast in his palace. Mention of musical instruments such as bells and the drums also support the Chinese musical culture by characterizing their specific sound and the harmony they create in the festivals.
The moon was one of the most important elements in the Chinese poetic culture. Ancient poems and people in generally drew inspirations from the moon. From Li Bo’s poem, this is evident as he writes, “Do not leave the silver cup idly glinting at the moon. The things that Heaven made men were meant to use.” The poet exemplifies the moon and the heavens which is an indication of supremacy for the two. The Chinese people and poets magnified and worshipped the moon. The moon was viewed as an inspiration and the carrier of emotions and drew the yearning of beauty and purity, love and family. The poet has used Heaven, indicating that he believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, who was responsible for human life and that the Supreme Being made everything for the purpose of human life satisfaction.
In conclusion, the author of the poem attempts to explain the Chinese culture through various figurative mentions such as the drinking culture and the division of the social classes to demonstrate the sufferings of the peasant population that have to toil to feed the royalty in the High Halls.
Ward, Elizabeth. Li – T’ai-po: Remembered. 1 (2008): 33.