The pioneer, and the greatest representative of this new age was Tu Fu, with many new allies and followers to extend and magnify the new literary movement in the latter half of the eighth and the first half of the ninth centuries. Thus a most brilliant period in the history of Chinese literature was created.

We might be justified in saying that Chinese literature of the seventh century was the literature of childhood in which poetry consisted of games and play of a high order. At the imperial court and in the mansions of the aristocrats occasional poetry played even a positively inferior role. The literature of the K’ai Yüan and T’ien Pao reigns was only a literature of adolescence. In spite of the stylistic liberation, the contents of literature were still on the whole shallow and superficial, consisting largely only of the singing of heavy drinkers and self-appointed hermits. These decades might be justifiably labeled as shêng T’ang of the high tide of T’ang with reference to peace and prosperity in the political and social scene. From the vantage point of literature, however, the period of greatest glory came later and it was not until after the rebellion that full maturity in literature was attained. From the middle years of Tu Fu to the death of Po Chü-yi in 846, both prose and poetry embarked upon the highway of realism, returning from the romantic celestial realms to the world of man.

Tu Fu (712-770), also known by the courtesy name, Tzǔ-mei, was a native of the county of Hsiangyang in present-day Honan Province. His grandfather, Tu Shên-yen, was a famous writer in the latter part of the seventh century. In his youth, Tu Fu had to face greatly reduced family resource and was compelled to undertake extensive travels along the China coast, which travels widened his intellectual horizons and made a lasting impression on his plastic young mind as he recalled later in a poem addressed to Wei Tsi:

奉贈韋左丞丈二十二韻 杜甫

At thirty-eight he submitted three fu compositions on the three imperial ceremonies after the reception of which he was offered an official post which he declined in preference for another minor position. Despite his humble circumstances, he befriended other poor poets like Chêng Ch’ien who were all concerned with the degeneration political and social situation. It was during these years that he wrote his poems of satire such as “The Ballad of the Beauties” and “The Ballad of the Was Chariots.” That he long remained in obscurity was probably a great blessing in disguise, for in his humble circumstances of riding donkeyback for thirty years he not only watched at close range but also actually participated in the deprivations of the masses. Hence, he was able to discover the latent dangers with which the T’ang Empire was faced before the actual volcanic eruptions, although in conformity with the taste of the time, he also was a member of the fraternity of the drinking poets. Even then, however, in his drinking songs, people heard his voice of sorrow:

醉時歌(贈廣文館博士鄭虔) 杜甫

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