Last year we were fighting at the source of the Sang-kan
This year we are fighting on the Onion River
We have washed our sword
s in the surf of Parthia
We have pastured our horses among the snows of the T'ien Shan
The King's armies have grown grey and old
Fighting ten thousand league
s away from home.
have no trade by battle and carnage
They have no fields or ploughlands,
But only wastes where white bones lie among yellow sands.
Where the House of Ch'in
built the Great Wall
that was to keep away the Tartar
There, in its turn, the House of Han
lit beacons of war.
The beacons are always alight, fighting and marching never stop.
Men die in the field, slashing sword to sword;
The horses of the conquered neigh piteously to Heaven
s and hawk
s peck for human guts,
Carry them in their beaks and hang them on the branches of withered trees.
Captains and soldiers are smeared on the bushes and grass;
The general schemed in vain.
Know therefore that the sword is a cursed thing
Which the wise man uses only if he must.
- Li Po (701-762)
This poem, written in about 751, is based on a folk song that originated in the Han dynasty, and refers to Han emperor Wu Ti (141-87 B.C.E.), whose armies doubled the size of the Chinese empire. Though written about an earlier example of expansionism, Li Po's poem is nonetheless a veiled protest against similar policies carried out by the T'ang government of Li Po's time. This poem also reveals the influence of Taoism on Li Po, with the last two lines echoing verses of the Tao te ching:
Arms are unblest among tools and [are] not the superior man's tools. Only when it is unavoidable he uses them... Rejoicing at a conquest means to enjoy the slaughter of men. He who enjoys the slaughter of men will most assuredly not obtain his will in the empire.