Su Dongpo 苏东坡 is the style name1 by which the Song Dynasty polymath Su Shi 苏轼 (1037 -1101) is better known. Su Shi had the courtesy name 'Zizhan'2 - his style name in full was 'Dongpo Jushi' which means 'hermit of the Eastern Slope'. He was born in Meishan, in what is today Sichuan

Su Dongpo was an accomplished exponent of prose, poetry, the 'ci'3 songs which became so popular in the Song era, and also adept at calligraphy and painting. His achievements even included minature rock garden design, (familiar to us in the West by its Japanese name bonsai) cookery, and qigong4. Su Dongpo came from a literary family - both his father Su Xun and younger brother Su Zhe were famous throughout the Empire for their writings.

He passed his jinshi5 examination in 1057, and served as a local official in a variety of different places, as well as holding posts at central institutions. The latter included a period as a scholar of the Hanlin Academy, and as a secretary in the Ministry of Rites.

Su's political stance was a mixture of both reformist and conservative tendencies, which in the struggles between these two parties for ascendancy during his time had the unfortunate effect of bringing him under attack from both sides, and thus making his public career a very rocky ride. He was banished twice, once being sent as far as Zhanzhou, present day Zhan County on Hainan Island, a tropical island some hundred or more kilometres off China's southern coast, and about as far from the centre of power as one could be at that time.

Su Dongpo's thinking was founded on a basic Confucian framework but suffused with Buddhist and Daoist ideas. Politically, he upheld the Confucian ideal of acting as servant to the putative enlightened ruler to bring order to the nation, but his private world-view, especially at times of personal crisis, took a great deal from Buddhism and Daoism, it has been characterised as 'a boundless optimism that transcended the world of material things'.

Here are what will be links to some translations of his work.


1 Chinese 号 'hao' a name a gentleman would adopt to express some aspect of his life, ideas or personality.

2Chinese 字 'zi', this was a name a gentleman would assume upon maturity.

3 A type of lyric poetry, often set to music, with lines of differing lengths. It had strict tonal patterns (Chinese is a tonal language) and rhyme schemes. It originated in the Tang Dynasty but was only fully developed in the Song.

4A Yoga-like system of deep breathing exercises thought to develop the bodies' inner essence, particularly associated with Daoism.

5The examination in the Confucian Classics that qualified a gentleman for service in the Chinese Imperial bureaucracy.

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