Lady Xu Mu: Poetess and Patriot

 August 23, 2010

Lady Xu Mu, of the Ji clan, was a princess of the Wei State in the Spring and Autumn period (770-746 BC). She was the first recorded female poet in Chinese history. Born in 690 BC in the Wei capital of Dingchang, she married Duke Mu of Xu, and became known as Lady Xu Mu.

The state of Wei was on the lower reaches of the Yellow river. During the war-torn era in which she lived Lady Xu Mu feared for the safety of her home state and was firm in her resolve to do all she could in its defense.

With this in mind, her intent was to marry the emperor of the neighboring and more powerful Qi Kingdom to form an alliance against foreign aggression. But her parents insisted that she marry the Duke Mu of Xu, which meant leaving her beloved home.

Far from Wei and homesick, it was in Xu that Lady Xu Mu wrote her highly acclaimed poems Bamboo Pole and Spring Water that expressed longing for her home.

King Yi of Wei, her uncle, was an incompetent ruler. When Di armies invaded Wei in 660 BC the country was more or less undefended, and King Yi was killed.

Seeing her nation in such distress, Lady Xu Mu returned to Wei in a chariot, calling at states neighboring Wei along the way to solicit their military help. But Xu agents pursued her chariot and compelled her to return. Thwarted, Lady Xu Mu penned the poem, Speeding Chariot, a scathing comment on the weakness of the state bureaucracy which framed her determination to save her motherland.

Happily, Lady Xu Mu's appeals for help provoked a response, and the mighty state of Qi rode to the rescue and resolved Wei's crisis. The kingdom later rebuilt its capital elsewhere, and the Wei regime carried on for another 400 years.

Lady Xu Mu was both appreciated by her contemporaries and admired by later generations. Her poem Speeding Chariot was widely read among Wei subjects and passed down through generations. Liu Xiang of the Western Han celebrated Lady Xu Mu, her bravery and patriotism, in his biography of her that appeared in his Heroines of Antiquity.

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