Cao Zhi: The Life of a Princely Chinese Poet

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9780835112475: Cao Zhi: The Life of a Princely Chinese Poet

Cho Zhi (192-323) was the son of Cao Cao (155-220), the famous -- sometimes thought infamous -- adventurer, general and politician at the end of the Later Han dynasty (25-220). Cao Zhi was a younger son but had such great talent that there was at one time a prospect that he might become his father's heir. If that had happened he could have been a king. However, his elder brother, Cao Pi (187-226), became the heir and the two brothers' rivalry over this question had a major effect on Cao Zhi's life.

Their rivalry was probably aggravated by Cao Pi's jealousy of Cao Zhi's brilliance and greater poetic gifts, and possibly over a woman who, according to some stories, inspired one of Cao Zhi's greatest poems. After Cao Cao's death, China became formally divided into the Three Kingdoms which gave their name to that period of Chinese history. Many of the traditional stories in early Chinese novels and plays derived from that period. But, in all the stirring doings at the time -- the "Robin Hood" age of China -- Cao Zhi played little part. With all his gifts, his faults of character and the distrust of his brother, by now King of Wei, frustrated his chance of giving real service to the state. Many of his poems reflect that frustration.

Cao Zhi is, however, a far from unimportant figure in Chinese literary history. He lived at a time of division, of change and of constant warfare and popular distress. Buddhism was spreading fast and new poetical forms were coming into use. Cao Zhi is one of the first figures in Chinese history to be remembered as a poet alone, and not as an emperor, statesman or general who also wrote poetry. He also wrote essays which contained some of the earliest literary criticism of writers of his age. He was also renowned as a calligrapher -- and as a bon viveur. His life was in large part a tragedy of wasted gifts -- but he does not lack touches of comedy.

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About the Author:

Hugh Dunn was born in Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia in 1923 and educated in Brisbane, first at school (Brisbane Boys College) and later, after service in the Australian Army during World War II, at the University of Queensland. His interest in Chinese affairs started during his war service in New Guinea and the Philippines and he was able to follow it up in earnest when he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where he studied classical Chinese language, history and philosophy from 1949 to 1952. (He later lectured on classical Chinese for one year at the University of Toronto, Canada.)

His family's tradition of journalism took him briefly into that field with the Courier-Mail in Brisbane before starting a long career with the Australian Foreign Service. He has served in all continents except Europe, but most of his assignments have been in Asia. He was appointed Ambassador to the People's Republic of China in 1980. Other recent service has been in Latin America (as Ambassador to Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, and Paraguay) and Africa (as High Commissioner to Kenya, Uganda and Seychelles and Ambassador to Ethiopia).

The present book had a "gypsy begetting" during this period. Hugh Dunn's first translations of Cao Zhi's works were made when he was still at university and his manuscript took several forms and lengths before a version suitable for publication was finally evolved. He hopes to return to the study of classical Chinese -- as well as of modern China -- when professional obligations permit.

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Hugh Dunn
Published by China Books & Periodicals
ISBN 10: 0835112470 ISBN 13: 9780835112475
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