From the Wellsweep to the Shallow Skiff: life and poetry of Wang Anshi (1021--1086)
Wang Anshi, who as prime minister oversaw imperial China's most massive economic and political reform program, was also one of the Northern Song dynasty's greatest writers of prose and verse. This study aims to introduce his poetry, particularly the celebrated verses from his retirement at Jinling (1076-1086). Also included is a relatively detailed study of Wang's life and thought, as a background for the 107 poems that are translated.When anecdotal and official sources are combined with Wang's writings, one finds a complex personality. Dedicated to his political mission, Wang relentlessly pursued all practical knowledge that could benefit the people. Though he seldom compromised with his opponents, he seems to have been more tolerant and less arrogant than he is usually depicted. The poetry of his retirement reflects his love of nature and strong Buddhist leanings, overarched by an apparent conviction that his political mission had succeeded. Evidently he had given up the "well-sweep" (economic and technical projects) to relax in his "shallow skiff" (pastime of retired statesmen); earnest indignation was replaced by optimism. Yet an uneasiness evident in some of the poetry complicates the picture.As a poet, he developed steadily throughout his life in the direction of serenity and frankness. His technique was among the subtlest and most rigorous of any poet in the dynasty, this in spite of the fact that he considered poetry a pastime or a tool, and spent most of his attention on public affairs. His poetic craft inspired Huang Tingjian (1045-1105), though we probably should not consider him a co-founder of Huang's school of verse. Rather, Wang's poetry covers a broad range, and represents Northern Song poetry at its best and most characteristic.
- East Asian studies